Khari Lucas, a.k.a. Contour, Brooklyn, N.Y. Credit: Gabriel-Moisés Rivera
Music is best enjoyed out loud, in the open. If you’re reading this, open this playlist, crank the volume up, and enjoy. Consider it a gift from Taja Cheek to you.
“Skin Closure,” by Contour. Onwards! (2022)
I feel a sense of déjà vu listening to “Skin Closure,” by the South Carolina–based artist Contour; he tiptoes on the edge between familiar and elusive. I know I haven’t heard music like this before, but I do hear a reverential nod to Black music’s deep and rich past: R&B from several eras, jazz and its offspring, evocative samples, a casually crooning voice with lyrics delivered something like a sermon. (Uncoincidentally, he says several times toward the middle, “I know I’m preaching to the choir.”) The lyrics are meandering, beautiful, and mysterious, but he stops to repeat especially important phrases so that we are sure to hear every word. In this case: “The price of life, I know I can’t afford.” It’s a mantra familiar to many musicians as conversations around equity, particularly around streaming and touring, have recently reached a fever pitch. Some artists, including Santigold, have been outspoken about the emotional and financial tolls of touring, and artists’ pitiful payout on streaming services continues to be a much-discussed grievance. But the music feels urgent for other reasons. It’s the sonic equivalent of a feeling: sinking into a velvet couch; incense swirling around; an aunt reaching for a hug as she tells you a hard truth; wistfully remembering a family cookout. I’ve spent many nights lately sitting quietly with too many thoughts, searching for calm and comfort in the midst of an overwhelmingly turbulent era. Contour reminds me that there is beauty in brooding.
“Feel,” by K-HAND. On a Journey (1995)
“Feel” is an outlier disco-adjacent track from the pioneering techno and house producer K-HAND’s first-ever record released on the German electronic music label !K7. It feels like a tornado of an infinite groove: steady four-on-the-floor kick drum, syncopated percussion, and woozy horns. The title is as visceral as the music — instant transportation to the club. It seems like the whole world is interested in club music these days. The mainstream often flirts with underground dance music, and that’s been especially true since the launch of Frank Ocean’s series of club nights shortly before the pandemic and the recent releases of Drake’s “Honestly, Nevermind” and Beyonce’s “Renaissance.” Despite Black electronic musicians’ immense impact on culture as a whole, we’ve seen far too many Black pioneering musicians pass away far too soon without the recognition they deserved, K-HAND among them. She died in the summer of 2021, leaving behind a tremendous legacy as her music continues to influence a new school of Black electronic musicians shifting culture in their own ways.
Taja Cheek is a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and vocalist from Brooklyn. She released her self-titled debut album as L’Rain in 2017.