Tag Archives: J Dilla

Kongoloti Records Offers Alternative Lusophone Music With a Dose Of Activism


The colonized African countries of Mozambique, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, São Tomé, and Príncipe, along with Brazil, are connected by both common history and a shared Portuguese language. But while you can dance to Angolan kuduro in a bar in Maputo, or listen to Brazilian bossa nova in Cape Verde—thanks in part to RDP África, a popular radio station broadcasting music from Brazil, Portugal, and Lusophone Africa—the Lusophone, or Portuguese-speaking, world can sometimes seem like a closed circuit. It’s not easy for artists to break out.

The Mozambique-based record label Kongoloti Records is out to change that. The label takes contemporary music from Lusophone Africa—the melodic sounds of Northern Mozambique, politically-charged Angolan hip-hop, or J Dilla-inspired beats from Maputo—and brings it to the rest of the world. “We were intrigued by how much music from Lusophone Africa people really knew, so we started this journey,” says Milton Gulli, who founded the label in 2012, a year after moving to Maputo, Mozambique from Portugal.

Gulli, the son of Mozambican parents, was already a successful musician in his own right, well known in Portugal for playing in bands like Philharmonic Weed, Cool Hipnoise, and the Afrobeat collective Cacique’97, with whom he is still touring. In Mozambique, he is also one half of successful hip-hop act Simba & Milton Gulli, which released A Tribe Called Quest tribute that reimagines ATCQ classics in Mozambican and Brazilian musical vein.

“When I was in Portugal, I used to look up contemporary Mozambican music, but there is very little online,” he says. “Then I arrived in Maputo and realized that there are lots of musicians doing interesting stuff, so I decided to found the label to give them a platform.” Gulli says. Initially, the mission was simple: get artists online, help with their social media presence, and get them “out there.”

But five years later, Kongoloti has become more than just a record label. “We kind of do everything the artist needs, from the recording, mixing, and mastering, to booking shows, and making their videos and promotional material,” Gulli says. The focus of the label has also grown to encompass alternative music from Southern Africa as a whole which, with the exception of the country of South Africa, is underrepresented on the international stage. “Most of our artists are Portuguese-speaking, but we also have an artist from Swaziland who lives and is big in Mozambique. We are open to anything that is original, different, and in some way connected to the Lusophone world.”

There is one requirement, though: Kongoloti artists must have a penchant for social and political change. “We are always looking for artists who have a message, and I like to think that all of our artists are conscious artists,” Gulli says. “In a way, I see us as an activist label.”

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At 21, Choker Is Already A Jack Of All Trades


Photo by Tyler Smith.

There’s a kind of internal tug-of-war that takes place any time a listener discovers a new musician. They want the artists to succeed financially, sure, but only if they can remain our little secret. That struggle will doubtlessly go down the minute people start discovering Choker, an emerging 21-year-old jack-of-all-trades whose debut album, PEAK, is a deep dive into his brilliant mind.

Like other artists from Detroit, Choker’s music bears the influence of J Dilla and Slum Village, while opener “Mango (Mountain Version)” evokes shades of Frank Ocean. The beats are hazy and drowsy, and the lyrics reflect Choker’s vulnerability—he sings and raps about self-doubt and falling in and out of love. “I’m never stagnant emotionally,” he says. “So whenever I’m making music, it’s going to reflect how I feel at that moment.”

Though he is quiet and reserved, Choker’s talent is impossible to deny. He’s mellow, but excited when the topic turns to the possibility of people discovering his music. Consider this interview an introduction; he won’t need one for long.

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For Illa J, ‘Home’ Is Where The Heart Is

Illa J

Photo by Robert Winter.

It would be easy for singer-songwriter John Yancey, known artistically as Illa J, to coast on the growing legend of his older brother, hip-hop producer J Dilla. But over the last 10 years, Illa J has worked to create his own lane, and to make the music in which he’s personally interested. In that time, the Detroit native has released albums with rappers Frank Nitt and Slum Village, and production duo Potatohead People. While these projects have mostly featured Illa J as an MC, his artistic abilities extend far beyond that—for one thing, he can sing. In fact, he was singing long before he ever wrote rhymes; he just never released a project that highlighted that skill.

All of that’s changed with his new record, Home. Produced by frequent collaborator Calvin Valentine, the soul-sampling songs are the perfect backdrop for Illa J’s velvety voice. We spoke with Illa about his creative approach to singing, vocal training, and what home means to him.

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A Guide To Jneiro Jarel’s Forward-Thinking Beats

Jneiro Jarel

Jneiro Jarel is relaxing in his home in New Orleans, relaying anecdotes about J Dilla, MF DOOM, and Phife Dawg. If you’ve been following the MC and producer’s career to this point, this roll call won’t surprise you: Jarel’s future-pitched beat science is something of a connection between these revered hip-hop artists. He twists and repurposes curious samples, creates woozy melody lines, and processes drum sounds so they hit home with an authentic thunk. Then, when the mood takes him, Jarel drops the sort of producer-on-the-mic brags that Dilla was so fond of (On “Big Bounce Theory” off his album Three Piece Puzzle, where he talks about being “futuristic with the beats” before commanding, “Easy listening, pay attention when / I’m on the mic device spitting it right, my man”).

Getting lost in the prolific Brooklyn-born artist’s vast vault of music is like being given a glimpse at the DNA of modern hip-hop. In the midst of plotting upcoming recording projects—including a collaboration with A Tribe Called Quest’s Jarobi White and Bahamadia, a project with Afro-Cuban multi-instrumentalist Bill Summers, and ensuing adventures with the Micröclimate ensemble he heads up—we got Jarel to walk us through his extensive back catalogue.

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Vibesounds Wants To Be Detroit’s Next Great Hip-Hop Producer


Detroit is the historical and present home to some of hip-hop’s greatest producers: J Dilla, WaajeedKarriem Riggins, Black Milk, 14KT, and Apollo Brown. While he’s just starting to come into his own as a producer, Vibesounds is looking to make his own mark in the city’s scene.

Born Yohancé Carter, Vibesounds has been writing music for quite some time, methodically working on his craft. Practice is a driving force behind his debut instrumental album, H.E.R., which reflects on the past few years of Carter’s life after a failed relationship and subsequent alcohol abuse. But like the work of the aforementioned Detroit luminaries, H.E.R. is full of methodical beats that’ll keep your head moving, complete with sharp snare hits and deep kick drums. We spoke to Vibesounds about his path to H.E.R., his process, love, and recognition.

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