In Conversation with the Prolific Detroit Beatmaker, Tall Black Guy
Jacky Sommer of Analog Soul interviews one of her heroes—plus scores THUMP an exclusive mix in celebration of his new album.
Jacky Sommer is one half of the beloved Brooklyn house and techno duo, Analog Soul, along with her twin sister Kathryn aka Dat Kat. Originally from the Bay Area, Sommer has had a vibrant life and career in electronic music thus far, from working as a buyer in NYC's seminal record shop DanceTracks, to having a show on the famed East Village Radio. You can also find her gigging all around the city at many of its best clubs and parties. Always one with top-notch taste, we heard Jacky has often cited Detroit's prolific beat-maker, Tall Black Guy, as a prime influence in her own work. In celebration of TBG's stunning new album, we asked Jacky to interview one of her heroes.
My introduction to Tall Black Guy began in 2014 when someone turned me onto "Sade's Taboo." There are hundreds of Sade remixes, obviously, but I had never heard anyone flip one of her tracks the way he managed to. It was classic Sade, but he had created an entirely new groove. I remember thinking, "who is this guy, and what planet is he from?" And so began my obsession with one of the most prolific beat-makers of this generation.
I certainly would not have imagined that just a couple years later I'd be calling him on Skype to talk about one of his musical projects, his latest album Let's Take a Trip on First Word Records. The album, perhaps a deeper, more introspective journey than some of his past work, offers his signature, yet always surprisingly fresh, sample style. Inspired in a complex interpretation of hip-hop, soul, and jazz grooves. Below, I got a chance to talk to Tall Black Guy, aka Terrel Wallace, about his Detroit and Chicago origins, the concept behind the new album, and the brand new mix he's specially curated for THUMP.
THUMP: How have your Detroit origins influenced your sound?
Tall Black Guy: I started making music in Detroit but I was never actually a part of their scene. I was born in Detroit, but then left to Chicago with my family, so those are the two places I've been at pretty much all my life. I didn't really get a chance to build and collaborate with a lot of people in Detroit.
But anyways, I would say really that my connection [with Detroit] is just with music in general. Detroit didn't really come until later when I started really studying the likes of Motown and Stevie [Wonder] and just a lot of the different heritage that came from [the city]. But as far as my overall influence I don't really think it came from Detroit per se.
So then would Chicago have something to do with it?
Yeah, kind of. I mean, only because I had kind of went out and got my name out [there in Chicago] and got my bearings there. So as far as collaborations and just getting introduced to a lot of different things, I would probably say [Chicago] was of some type of influence. But really it was just me listening to all different types [of music] just on my own accord, as I got older. I think those are all the things that kinda developed my sound. Eventually anyway.
How long have you based in the UK? How has that influenced you?
It'll be exactly five years in December. But as far as musically, I think the creativity out [here in Europe] on a lot of things, is really high. For some reason [people in Europe] just like to experiment and take things into a different direction. Take the broken beat stuff for example, which is awesome. But the average listener in the states might not know what to do with that type of music. Or, you know, different types of house music. Even some of the EDM stuff. I'm not into that but I'm just saying. But [Europe's] a little more open to things that's like that. I don't know why that is though.
Well, you specifically said broken beat, so can you give me an example?
Oh, I'd say Kaidi Tatham, or 2000 Black. Or even like 4hero. Stuff like that, that's really forward thinking. You have to have a certain type of ear to even want to digest something like that, because there's a lot going on. But it's awesome though! The musicality has some type of soul in it though, so it's definitely dope.
Who are your top five emcees of all time?
Emcees! Oh man. Definitely Common, I still like him. Prodigy was one of my guys at one point in time. Black Thought, for sure. Even Rakim because he was like one of the first thought provoking emcees, at least when I started listening. Nas would have to be in there still.
Top five producers of all time? You can go anywhere with this one. It can be electronic. It can be hip hop.
DJ Premier for sure, Pete Rock, Lonnie Liston Smith. I love [Lonnie's music], it's heavy. Let's see who else I think is dope on the different side. Mizell Brothers. He did a lot of the blue note stuff. Timbaland. Neptunes.
What was the first record you bought?
Probably like the 69 BOYZ; what was the song they did? The famous one? Oh, "Tootsee Roll!"
What was the first record you sampled when you started producing?
Oh man. Probably this guitar player named Pat Metheny. It was one of the records my dad had. I think the record was called Offshore.
Do you play any instruments?
Keyboard a little bit.
As a hip-hop and jazz-influenced producer, you do a lot of sampling. What are your challenges, if any, or the freedoms, you have doing sample based production?
A lot of the stuff over the last few years has been pretty much me playing a lot of that [hip-hop and jazz music]. So it sounds like samples. But when I do edits, obviously you're taking on an existing piece of music. But even on the basis of sampling, how I use it now is just for sounds. I know how to manipulate sound to fit into any situation that I want it to. So I could play you the sound from its original form and then I can turn it into something completely else and then it becomes my sound now.
Your album just dropped. What was the story? What was the process? Where did it come from?
The album started around 2013; I had just finished 8 Miles to Moenart. I had started just vibing and having ideas in my head—how I wanted to actually construct the next album, and I made a conscious decision to put myself more in there. Meaning, I would try to attempt to sing and just do some different stuff that I wouldn't do on anything else. So the first track I actually did start was the "Come Fly With Me;" it's the one where it sounds like it's a voice going up and down. But that's me actually sampling myself. The reason why it took three years is because of performances. I was doing shows and I had other obligations to do. So, I would go do tracks sporadically. But then some serious life stuff start happening. My cousin had passed away very suddenly, he was only like 24 years old. So, that was the beginning of it. And then just like different life stuff. Why do you continue to keep doing this when it's taking so long?
Then all of a sudden after I already had like five or six tracks done, I had a dream. The dream took place on the train, which I was listening to music on. And I was like, "Man, I think that might be the premise of the album." So from that point on, I started getting all these different ideas of how to construct that into a conceptual album. I started getting train sounds, listening to all types of stuff to try to pull that story together. The premise of the album is just about taking a journey. However your journey leads you, you know you're going to get to the destination that you need to get to.
Let's Take a Trip is available for purchase on Bandcamp.