One compilation. Two CDs. Sixty-one tracks. No household names. And no popular hits. It’s a bold recipe for a mix, but if anyone could pull it off, the good money would be on professional cratediggers Christian “Kon” Taylor & Amir Abdullah, particularly when paired up with Japanese groovetaster DJ Muro. Muro has over 100,000 LPs, joining that illustriously small group of DJ’s who need to rent a separate house or apartment for their collections (Gilles Peterson being the chef de bande). Cratedigging has cost Amir girlfriends and serious funds over the years. DJ Muro’s releases his own Kings of Diggin’ mixtapes, and has also dropped compilations for Blue Note and Stones Throw. Funk appreciators will know Kon & Amir’s now almost legendary On Track mix series.
As per the Diggin’ series motto, all tracks make their compilation debut. The only novelty is that these tracks have likely never been anywhere near a compilation, or indeed a record store with shelves that have been dusted anytime in the past ten years. Chances are that these tunes have never even seen a shelf, but were instead confined to immobility in knee-high crates. But if, as expected, more than a few of these tunes have been pulled from the dollar bins, the gold mine is dusty indeed.
So that’s a check for the first hallmark of any good mixtape—the possibility of discovering something new. You will do nothing but. Check two: does it flow and is it good?
The edge of Kon & Amir’s selection is that the tracks are all rare grooves from Brazil and other Latin sources, although most of these tunes sound like good old bass-heavy mid-tempo Harlem or Bay Area funk, even cornerstones Azymuth on “Caca a Raponsa”. Unico Black’s “A Vida” even has Brazilian vocals, a nice touch. Elsewhere, Matthew Larkin Cassell throws down a laidback, folky Roy Ayers-vibe on album opener “In My Life”. Harmony Cats’ “Cats’ Theme” dives into a delicious sunkissed bridge, hitting home somewhere between Isaac Hayes and Lonnie Liston Smith. Wess & The Airdales’ heavily-played “Vehicle” has that delicious dancefloor sing-a-long sax-theme.
DJ Muro’s mix is more hectic and high-tempo, averaging less than two minutes a track, with straight cuts between songs and styles ranging from creaky rhodes and speed-shuffled drums to mambo excursions and infectious rolling bass—all on a bed of spanking breaks. There’s even a French disco tune. It takes some concentration to follow the pace, but then again, this is the dancefloor mix with purpose to allow the mind to pause.
Kon & Amir want to teach, to impart their discoveries, but only those breakheads with a strong funk frame of reference will find this compilation satisfyingly educational. The Kings of Diggin’ is the kind of mix that puts semi-knowledgeable music appreciators to shame and makes you wish you had a second simultanous lifetime to peruse obscure recordstores for even more obscure records. On the other hand, the compilation inspires you to do just that: the passion and dedication shine through. The pain is pretty bad, but outlasted by the inspiration. The music helps too, a solid selection of funky energetic tunes. And it’s great for a party, as long as you let people know not to ask you for any background info on the tracks.