As a native Detroiter, the Motown sound was one of the first things I absorbed from Detroit. My mother is another born and raised Detroit resident, who graduated Central High School in the 1960s. The Motown sound of the mid 1960s the soundtrack to her youth. So it was common for her to play Motown records as she cleaned the house, and I played with my toys during my adolescent years.
The Temptations stood out to me as a child. The mix of the five part harmony and pitch in Eddie Kendricks’ voice caught my ear, and the song “Papa was a Rolling Stone” had a texture, tone, and pace that felt different than anything I had ever heard.
Fast forward to my teenage years, I began to collect music for instrument, rhythm, and harmony samples to use in my own hip-hop. In my pursuit of sound the production of Norman Whitfield stood out as the most engaging, charismatic, and creative collection of Motown music. Whitfield’s vision of layering vocals, horns, and leading music through a rhythm section was dynamic, and is unparalleled to this day. So in 1999, 2000, and 2001, as I walked lock step with popular and local rap acts like the Almighty Dreadnaughtz, DMX, Rock Bottom, and Jay-Z, my inherited 1989 Buick Century played just as much Undisputed Truth, Temptations (with Dennis Edwards), and Eddie Kendricks.
Norman Whitfield’s presence at Motown challenged the intentions of Berry Gordy, who sought to create an uncomplicated sound for America’s youth. Whitfield pushed forward to infuse the psychedelic vibe and revolutionary grit that was becoming more and more recognized by young America. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led protests, demonstrations, and rallies, masses of college & high school students joined him. These students loved to dance to Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, but with acts like Sly and the Family Stone entering the national scope, a need to shift the Motown sound was recognized. Norman Whitfield led the transition of the Motown sound with Marvin Gaye. The look of choreographed singers in matching suits transitioned to afros, dashikis, and medallions. This transformation, which made Berry Gordy apprehensive, was most prevalent in Marvin Gaye’s masterpiece What’s Going On.
As a child when my Mother played What’s Going On, I was too young to follow the social commentary in the music, but now, having grown up and made music of my own, “What’s Happening Brother”, “Inner City Blues”, and “Mercy, Mercy, Me” are quintessential examples of having a presence of mind to resonate with all people. Motown is Revolutionary.
So, in recognition of the Motown sound I love the most, I honor this tradition Sunday, April 3, 2016 at 6PM at Tony V’s Tavern, 5756 Cass Ave Detroit, MI. I will be joined by Joe “Pep” Harris, lead singer for The Undisputed Truth. The Undisputed Truth made the 1971 #1 single “Smiling Faces”, produced by Norman Whitfield. I will be blending my brand of Hip-hop with the Soul of the city to perform Motown Message: A Revolution in Song.