19 spoken word house classics, starring Marshall Jefferson, Moodymann, Duke Dumont, Luke Solomon, Blaze and many more…
We’re talkin’ house…quite literally. No other genre of music enjoys such an inspirational relationship with the spoken word. Since the earliest days of house music, the scene has embraced raconteurs who have tales to tell and thoughts to share. The concept resonates with equal impact in the devotional club environment, where it can elevate feelings of unity and euphoria to new levels; or in your headphones, where it provides the perfect accompaniment to setting yourself adrift with only the music and your imagination for company.
The seams of spoken word house records are deep and rich, so what we have here can only serve as a snapshot – but one we hope inspires you to dig further.
If there’s one thing house music likes talking about – it’s house music. However, where the hip hop scene tends to self-mythologise, house errs towards celebration and explanation. This is the case with our opening selection, which goes back, way back…to a very early Trax release from 1986. The mysterious Willy Wonkarecites house music’s first history lesson live and direct from Chicago. What is this thing called house? Listen and learn:
For many, an early introduction to the combined power of spoken words and house grooves came when enterprising DJs mixed Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech (readily available on the B side of Stevie Wonder’s Happy Birthday) over Fingers Inc’s Can You Feel It. This was swiftly followed by preaching of a different kind, as the now legendary Chuck Roberts “jack boldly declared let there be house” acapella was dropped over Can You Feel It and numerous other tracks on its road to ubiquity. It is rarely heard, however, in its original form on this Rhythm Control 12” (1987) – enjoy it here, but if you are lucky enough to track down a vinyl copy, it’ll cost you a pretty penny:
As house music exploded into the mainstream through the 1990s, splintering into myriad sub-genres, many of them several steps removed from the original sound and spirit, there were artists who wanted to remind the world how it all began, and what it was all about. The spoken word was an obvious way to hammer this point home, and was used to stunning effect on these two classics, both featuring lyrics that have entered the lexicon of house.
Both Todd Terry (Yeah Buddy as Royal House) and Joey Negro (Together Forever as Raven Maize) had used the naggingly catchy riff from Together by Exodusin the early days of house – in 1997 Eddie Amadorutilised it as a backdrop to House Music– “it’s a spiritual thing, a body thing, a soul thing…”:
Meanwhile in 2002, Blaze clearly feared house was losing its way – “I remember house when house was more than just a name to package this sound, this groove, this emotion...I remember house when it was a spiritual thing…”
Another favourite theme of spoken word house, one guaranteed to ignite the dancefloor, is…well let Kraze’s 1988 smash enlighten us:
One of house music’s greatest singing voices, Roland Clark, went for a talkin’ vibe in 2000 with the wonderful I Get Deep. On a similar tip to Blaze, Clark hints at frustration with newcomers to the scene who “know what is what but they don’t know what is what, they just strut – what the fuck?”*…so Clark gets deeper, “I just stare up in the booth at the dread man spinnin’ the song” (a nod to Shelter resident Timmy Regisford – the track is inspired by a night at the NYC club)…and by the end of his stream of consciousness oration, he is ready to welcome all: “so for all you hip hoppers, you doo woppers, name droppers, you pill poppers, come into our house…”:
(…*this line was famously sampled by Fatboy Slimin Star 69…indeed so taken was Norman Cook with Clark’s track, he then sampled the whole shebang on Song For Shelter, with the vocalist getting full credit).
In 2016, Italian house stalwart Dino Lenny created a spoken word anthem for a new generation that perfectly caught that magical vibe of discovering house music in a club environment for the first time, with “a story about a man that walks into this big, dark room… in this room, worries and all the rules, what he can’t do and what he can do just vanish! The only thing that counts is respect. Respect your brother…and this room is a MAGIC ROOM!”
Spoilt for choice with both the original version and Luke Solomon remix being stellar, here we feature Seth Troxler’s re-edit:
Music’s relationship with chemical stimulants is decades, even centuries old…their role in the creative process for many artists and the pleasure of listeners and dancers undeniable. Via its spoken word strand that we are celebrating here, house music has arguably articulated this better than any other musical style…as witnessed with our three picks:
1995. New York man about town and Time Out NYC clubs editor Adam Goldstone hooks up with Rob Rives, aka Floppy Sounds. Rob regularly engineers for Francois K at Axis Studios, and in downtime at the studio, they bring in sultry vocalist Miss Yvonne. Superstars of Rockare born, and the trippy Orange Sunshine is the first in a triptych of sumptuous singles from this sadly shortlived combo:
1996, and original Chicago house master Marshall Jefferson teams up with German duo Chris Liebing and Andrew Wooden. Subject matter - self-explanatory. Result - stupendous:
2001. It’s the inimitable Green Velvet and his brain cell-killing little pills: “I've been the one to party until the end, looking for the after party to begin, I'm going down to La La Land…”:
If there’s one label that has the talkin’ house vibe coursing through its veins, it’s the Classic Music Company. A journey through their catalogue is spoken word nirvana. Where to start? Well here’s three, from 1999, 2004 and 2017 respectively – two decades of vox pop brilliance:
One of electronic music’s most enigmatic figures is Detroit’s Kenny Dixon Jr, better known as Moodymann. An elusive figure who inspires slavish devotion amongst his fans, rather than give interviews, he consistently leaves clues in his music as to what his influences and ideologies are, and is thus not averse to the spoken word – witness this brief intro track from 2014’s self-titled album:
So rarely does Moodymann talk in public, that when he does so, people listen – and many of them do so with their samplers at the ready. When he gave an extended interview to Red Bull Music Academy in 2010, opening up like never before, within months Dutch production team Homeworkmade it the foundation of I’m Into This:
Also in 2011, Berlin’s Oliver Dollar released Doin’ Ya Thang, sampling Moodymann talking to clubbers at a gig…the cheering crowd and Dixon’s off the cuff commentary on his set (“I don’t even know what I’m gonna play…what d’y’all motherfuckers wanna hear?...nah I ain’t gonna play no more of my shit, I heard that shit a million times”) make for a spoken word house classic when paired with Dollar’s thunderous groove. “We have two categories – we have that good shit, and we have that other shit…” – this definitely falls into the former category:
The thirst for spoken word house tracks shows no sign of abating, and recent months have already thrown up plenty of worthy successors to those we have already featured.
Duke Dumont’s Red Light Green Lightwould fit neatly into our Talkin’…clubbing section, a spiritual heir to Kraze’s The Party:
Coming at things from an altogether different angle, late 2018 saw French house pioneer Etienne De Crecy (of Super Discount fame) team up with vocalists Delilah Holiday and Baxter Dury, who in recent years has stepped out of his late father Ian’s shadow, and put down a marker with his own brand of what he describes as “confessional narrative.” It’s a culture clash that creates a potent brew that will be appreciated by all spoken word devotees:
Meanwhile you may have noticed Chicago talkin’ house pioneer Mike Dunn hasn’t featured as yet…we are about to rectify that, but before we do so, let us point you in the direction of our recent feature on the man behind God Made Me Phunky, Let There Be House, Welcome 2 Da Cluband other spoken word gems, which you can find here.
Mike is back as guest orator on a new release by Dave + Sam from the Classic Music Company, whose mastery of talkin’ house we have already featured. “Jack til the world blow up, groove til the world blow up…”
We leave the last thoughts to Roland Clark – never truer words spoken:
“And in this temple we all pray in unity for the same things, the rhythmatic pause without cause, bass from those high definition speakers…we get happy, we stomp our feet, we clap our hands, we shout, we cry, we dance…because we love house music, and on this night it brings us together.”
Like those? Try these! 10 more talkin’ house gems…