The world turns. Seasons change. Technologies innovate. The record spins.
|This is part 6 of The G2 Guide to #WFHWeek.|
The rise of remote employment
As Millennials and Gen Z start to fill the modern workforce, more companies are embracing the benefit of flexible remote employment policies. With over 50% of employees around the world working from home at least once a week and 68% of employees around the world working from home at least once a month, policies towards remote employment are innovating right alongside the industries that power that employment.
The return of vinyl records
In almost a parallel timeframe, another rise has occurred in the global market. This rise did not begin with some major advancement or innovation in technology, but rather a revitalization of 100-year old technology thought to be on the verge of extinction just ten years ago: the vinyl record.
According to Nielsen, vinyl sales in 2018 increased 15% over the same period the previous year with record-breaking sales during the week of the 11th annual Record Store Day. Even as digital streaming has increased, vinyl records have found a niche in the music collector community among those who still cherish a physical copy of their favorite music. Couple that with the rise of special edition new-release vinyl records, the market is in the midst of a revitalization.
So, you’re probably asking yourself... Where does the idea of remote employment and vinyl records meet? The answer? My home in the Pilsen neighborhood of Chicago for #WFHWeek 2019.
When I first heard that the G2 content team would be joining OwlLabs alongside other hybrid companies like HubSpot and Lola Travel for work from home week (#WFHWeek), I was excited to really put myself in the mindset of a remote employee for an entire week. I also saw a great opportunity to catch up listening to a bunch of new vinyl records I had picked up over the course of a busy spring and summer.
I wanted to take some time to share my thoughts on the impact these records had on me that week. A strong motivator to get going on a project, inspiration when I hit a rut and friend when I started to feel a bit alone after a few days, these records helped me power through a productive week as a remote employee.
So here’s my breakdown of the 15 records that comprised my soundtrack to #WFHWeek.
Brockhampton - iridescence
Released September 2018, Brockhampton brings a powerful, genre-defying maximalist approach to their major-label debut album. The opening track, NEW ORLEANS, flows seamlessly into a rebellious antithetical approach to the second song, THUG LIFE. Gems like TAPE, SAN MARCOS and TONYA keep the listener engaged in an emotional and ethereal journey across the 48-minute album. The 15-song double LP features siren-loop beats, timely interludes and dissonant hums showcasing the eclectic voices of the self-described boy band.
Sade - Never as Good as the First Time
Released in 1985, this extended remix single of Sade’s hit “Never As Good as the First Time” features the singer floating above a bass-driven remix on side-A contrasted with a brilliant live instrumental version of “Keep Hanging On” on the b-side. The British-Nigerian singer speaks on the world as she sees it in the mid-80s, delicately weaving a metaphor of power, greed, love, and desire:
“It is a possibility, the more we know the less we see
Second time, is not quite what it seems
Natural as the way we came to be
The second time, won't live up to the dream”
The New Tony Williams Lifetime - Million Dollar Legs
Recorded at Caribou Ranch Studios in Nederland, Colorado in the mid-1970s and released in 1976, I came across this demo pressing at Twist & Shout in Denver almost 45 years later. The jazz giant – formerly of Miles Davis’ Second Quintent – provides thunderous drums for this classic fusion record. From the beginning, guitarist Allan Holdsworth is featured in a leading melodic role alongside keyboardist Alan Pasqua and bassist Tony Newton. The 43-minute album features an eclectic array of jazz fusion elements, including altered harmonics, distinct improvisational vamps and the powerhouse rhythmic grooves that Tony Williams is known for. In classic Tony fashion, he ends the record with a picturesque drum solo, proving why he is one of the best to ever pick up the sticks.
Another gem from @twistDenver, this album was recorded at Caribou Ranch Studios in Nederland, Colorado in 1975. Almost 45 years later, this demo pressing found its way to my collection. 🤓— John Thomas Lang (@johnthomaslang) July 29, 2019
Tony Williams Lifetime - Million Dollar Legs pic.twitter.com/ykaNRRxhHw
Rufus (ft. Chaka Khan) - Ask Rufus
The third album featuring Chaka Khan continued to establish Rufus as a funk & soul pioneer in the mid-1970s. However, the brilliance of this record is rooted in the powerful voice of Chaka Khan. The opening song, "At Midnight (My Love Will Lift You Up)" features multi-layered Chaka Khan harmonies captaining a funk spaceship straight to the soul. Bassist Bobby Watson co-captains the ship with his behind-the-beat bass lines, tethering to drummer André Fischer so naturally, you get the impression they are each just an extension of each other.
One of the greatest gifts to the world is the voice, the vibe, and the inspiration of @ChakaKhan.— John Thomas Lang (@johnthomaslang) July 29, 2019
Her greatness is embodied in this record alongside Chicago funk legends, Rufus. #WFHWeek pic.twitter.com/xJBq68wvFR
Evelyn “Champagne” King - Music Box
Released in 1979, Evelyn “Champagne” King’s second album serves as a prelude to the upcoming decade of soul, R&B, and pop dominance of the 1980s. Boasting classic disco-era “four-on-the-floor” rhythmic elements, the album harkens back to the glory days of disco while staying true to its roots in R&B. Evelyn’s distinct, soulful vocals runs are smattered throughout the two-sided LP. My favorite track has to be “Let’s Start All Over Again,” a change-of-pace compared to the disco stylings of “Music Box” and “Steppin’ Out (parts 1 & 2).” Perhaps the most unique feature of this album is the split track ending Side-A and starting Side-B, providing a little treat to the listener after flipping the record.
Boogie - Everythings For Sale
Boogie’s debut studio album arrived courtesy of Shady Records on January 25, 2019, almost a year after he signed to Eminem’s label. The album is a journey through the Compton rapper’s psyche as he raises his son while simultaneously skyrocketing his career in a rap landscape of quick money and clout chasing. The album delicately shows off Boogie’s attention to detail with tracks like Soho (featuring J.I.D) and Skydive (parts I & II). Trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah lends his chops to “Whose Fault,” intersecting the roots of hip hop in jazz and indigenous music. Emotional and visceral raps complemented by versatile and ethereal beats weave together the best of Boogie’s previous mixtape greatness with the power of label post-production. One of the best albums of 2019 so far.
Mick Jenkins - The Water[s]
The fourth in a line of powerful mixtapes, The Water[s] finds Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins asserting his lyrical mastery over beats supplied by a diverse group of producers and beatsmiths. Chicago singer, theMIND, opens the mixtape with a haunting lyric – “witness the end of our fair lady, a million pieces lost at sea” – juxtaposing the beginning of The Water[s] with an immediate ending, signaling the emphasis of the cyclical nature of water throughout the record. Jenkins describes water as the source of all life and symbolizes truth throughout the mixtape, connecting his previous mixtape, “Trees & Truths.” Mick’s influence on fellow Chicago musicians, hip hop culture, and the city as a whole is clear with “The Water[s]” being the ultimate representation of that.
Chaka Khan - I Feel For You
The album borrows from a lot the post-disco electro-boogie stylings of the mid-1980s, especially the distinctly Chaka-esque cover of the Prince song, “I Feel For You” released roughly five years after the original recording on Prince’s self-titled album. The album features flawless mediant-related modulations, setting the groundwork for a lot of the harmonic advancements of the era. I Feel For You also showcases the broader synthetic instrumentation the era is known for. Perhaps the most impactful track, “Through the Fire” showcases the Chicago soulstress’ broad range, both vocally and stylistically. The song has clear staying power, evident by the sample being used to launch the early career of Kanye West with his song “Through the Wire,” chronicling his recovery from jaw surgery in the mid-2000s.
Clear Soul Forces - STILL
The Detroit rap collective of Noveliss, Ilajide, L.A.Z, and E-Fav bring a clear and distinct style of lyrical sparring over beats with a clear influence from another Detroit hip hop revolutionary, J Dilla. The balance of each individual’s flow and rhyme scheme ping-pong off barnstorming boom-bap beats thrusting across the frequencies. They feed off each other as few rappers can – intimately understanding each other's tendencies – setting in motion a cipher of sound and rhythm known only to CSF listeners. Adored by loyalists, yet one of the most unheralded groups in the modern rap scene, the forces were strong on this early 2019 release – the group’s first since 2015.
The BARSiest of BARS from Detroit are currently blessing #WFHWeek. @TheNoveliss, @Ilajide, @flowz4daze and @e_fav = your favorite rapper’s favorite rappers.@clearsoulforces - STILL pic.twitter.com/rVtd0QrKYM— John Thomas Lang (@johnthomaslang) July 30, 2019
Faith Evans - Limited Edition DJ Promotional Sampler
This rare find from Reckless Records in Chicago is a real treat. The sampler features club hits from her album Faithfully and let me tell you… it slaps. From the beginning, it’s nearly impossible to not dance to the driving beat and floating timbre of Faith Evan’s voice cascading over the listener. The b-side starts with a soulful duet featuring Carl Thomas and wraps with a remix of her hit, Faithfully. Rare finds like this get me excited about being a vinyl collector, I will definitely cherish this record for years to come.
I spent Wednesday in and out of virtual meetings or on the patio at Nana Organic in Chicago.
Jamila Woods - HEAVN
Critically acclaimed as one of the best albums of 2016, Jamila Woods’ debut album HEAVN draws upon a rich history of impactful neo-soul coming out of Chicago. Collaborating with other Chicago artists like Chance the Rapper, Noname, Saba, and Kweku Collins, this album provided the soundtrack to #summertimechi for a lot of its residents in the summer of 2016. HEAVN successfully displays the power of an activist voice in music, shining a light on the institutionalized segregation and racism of the city from which Jamila hails. While tackling these issues directly, Jamila also paints a picture of the black woman as a warrior for justice, peace, and perseverance and providing a path forward to a better world. She sings of the value of self-worth in “Holy” stating what I view as the mission statement of the album: “Woke up this morning with my mind set on loving me.”
Jamila Woods - LEGACY! LEGACY!
It was only fitting to follow up Jamila Woods’ breakout debut album with her 2019 return, “LEGACY! LEGACY!” In a similar vain to HEAVN, Jamila features some of Chicago’s top talent like theMIND, Saba and Nico Segal to round out her Chicago-centric sound. What strikes me the most about “LEGACY! LEGACY!” are the titles of each track. Jamila is clearly paying homage to some of her favorite creatives with names like, “Zora,” “Baldwin,” “Basquiat,” and “Sun Ra.” Jamila carries on the legacy of these giants in her lyrics, voice and musical production on the album.
Rufus & Chaka Khan - Masterjam
1979’s Masterjam opens with a brilliantly-produced drum fill complementing a clear bass line asserting the group’s funk dominance from the opening seconds. Rufus and Chaka continue to progress the four-on-the-floor styling of the 1970s with skirting vocals and powerful bass-driven harmonies. It is clear that the Chicago funk group is transitioning from the styles of the disco-era and discovering a more soul-focused sound heading into the new decade. As always, Chaka shines on this album with her powerful vocal range, dynamic phrasing, and forever-cool tone and timbre.
Carole King - Tapestry
Widely regarded as one of the best albums ever made, I consider this a must-have for any vinyl collector. You can understand my joy when I came across this original pressing at my favorite record store in Chicago, Pinwheel Records. Carole King’s voice resonated throughout my childhood and brings me peace no matter what mood I might be in. Her passionate phrasing, beautiful timing and persistently-perfect vibrato shines throughout this record. Couple that with the grit of her message, Tapestry holds its place as one of the best albums ever recorded.
Skyzoo - In Celebration of Us
It was only fitting to end #WFHWeek with a celebratory moment. The Brooklyn rapper’s early 2018 album was the perfect way to bookend a productive week of music and marketing. Skyzoo takes a break from ghost-writing for some of your favorite rappers to paint a picture of empathetic resolve, which has been at the core of his entire career. Known for his lyrical prowess, In Celebration of Us furthers Skyzoo’s elevation and evolution, lyrically. Now a father, the wordsmith paints a picture of a shifting life, moving from a life of hustle to a life of a family. The celebration lies in the movement. The celebration lies in his progression. The celebration lies in us.
Wrapping up #WFHWeek with a celebratory moment. 🍾— John Thomas Lang (@johnthomaslang) August 2, 2019
One of the best to do it, Sky has inspired me in ways I can’t even begin to describe. #FGR #FlyGuyEtiquette@skyzoo - In Celebration of Us pic.twitter.com/2pOi1uhZ73
As #WFHWeek came to a close, I reflected on the week that was. I was in a great space, mentally and physically. I felt rejuvenated and refreshed. I was productive and efficient. I gained a world of empathy for remote employees and the challenges they face every day they log in to start their day.
The world turned. We innovated. The record spun.