Brooklyn-based DJ Spinna's studio dexterity allows him to segue between producer, remixer and in-the-mix DJ without missing a beat. Since the '90s, he's provided beats for the New York hip-hop elite. He's also worked hard grinding up hip-hop, electronic, funk, soul and jazz influences into his own solo production work, including his first solo album, Here to There (BBE, 2003). Additionally, Spinna (aka Vincent Williams) has created some of the most meaningful parties in recent times: Wonder-Full, an all-night tribute to Stevie Wonder, and Soul Slam, a head-to-head dancefloor battle between Michael Jackson and Prince.
Spinna's musical taste runs a wide gamut, immediately apparent in the breadth of his production work. George Michael, Mary J. Blige, De La Soul, Gang Starr, Michael Jackson, the Jungle Brothers and Zero 7 have all tapped him for his keen ear as a producer/remixer, while his work in jazz is equally commendable. Spinna has also collaborated with Gilles Peterson, Joe Claussell, Kenny Dope and Jazzanova on the wheels of steel; Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Pharoahe Monch rocked over his beats when Rawkus Records was in full force; and Spinna even started his own label a few years ago, Wonderwax, to have complete control of his creations and feature artists such as Rich Medina and Blaze. More recently, he's been helping newer artists like Platinum Pied Pipers and Goapele get their sound correct.
An obvious passion for Spinna lies in an encyclopedic knowledge of music and vinyl. At first glance inside 21st Century Music in Lyndhurst, New Jersey, the surroundings didn't immediately reveal a crate-digger's paradise. But in the basement, packed with thousands of baseball cards, comic books, movie posters and an assortment of vintage toys (ALF dolls, Rocky bobble heads, Batman & Robin everything), the real secret unfolded.
“This guy's got everything,” Spinna says. “I don't know where he gets this stuff. I've been coming to him for eight years, and every time I come I'm blown away.”
Wall-to-wall albums fill every nook and cranny as Spinna thumbs through pile after pile of 12-inches, his personal weapon of choice. “Twelve-inches are collectable,” he says, “a lot of time because they were promo-only or imports.” His face lights up while he speaks, revealing an inner child that shines through on his playful, soulful dancefloors, as it also does on his newest release Intergalatic Soul (Shanachie, 2006).
The 13 original tracks and cover of Kraftwerk's “Computer Love” of Intergalatic Soul feature a variety of vocalists — including N'Dea Davenport, Lizz Fields, Stephanie McKay and Little Brother's Phonte — flowing over Spinna's driving yet meticulously clean beats. The album offers a mix of thwacking hip-hop and thumping dance beats, various flavors of soul and funk vocals, sure-footed rhyme schemes, easy-flowing electric piano, bouncing and gritty bass and spacey delayed-out effects, sounding more like a mixtape that an eclectic DJ would compile. Only this DJ created the beats on his own.
Spend a few hours with Spinna, and you learn a lot, especially when it pertains to rare 12-inches. He was especially excited to find a box of Fela Kuti and Afrobeat albums delivered that morning, opening the box with the giddiness of an archeologist uncovering rare treasures. Indeed, Spinna is one such treasure himself, tracing the lines of funk and soul to remind his listeners where music has been and where it's going. Choosing carefully from dozens of records he unearthed one early spring afternoon, he narrowed it down to his top 10 old-school favorites.
“I Like It” (Motown)
I'm just discovering right now that it's available as a 12-inch single. It's a pretty common R&B record from the '80s, but it's good to have this 12-inch in my collection. I know it might seem a little cheesy to rock this, but the truth is, it stands up and works on the dancefloor.
“Frisco Disco” (Rampart)
This is a classic b-boy extravaganza. This is one Grandmaster Flash used to kill back in the day. Here you have the original picture disc, which is pretty enough to hang on your wall. So if you don't want to cut it up….
“King Tim III” (Spring)
Many people consider this to be the first rap 12-inch ever made. Whether that was true or not, I'm not sure; it did come out before “Rapper's Delight.” It's a banger no matter what. It doesn't get played out as much as the Sugarhill Gang, but it's just as important.
It's the “DWYCK” test pressing with the a cappella, which is what makes it special. It came out on Gang Starr's Hard to Earn [Chrysalis, 1994], but this is the real deal. This is one of those songs that defined the era.
Computer World (Warner Bros.)
This album is a classic in quite a few genres: hip-hop, house, electro, techno. It's the precursor to programmed drum beats. A lot of people have covered songs from this album, but I did a cover of “Computer World” on Intergalactic Soul. That song is not one of the more popular tracks. It was my way of paying homage to these guys. I think I kind of flipped this thing.
“Black President” (Arista)
Everyone knows Fela is notorious for making hour-long tracks, but this cut clocks in at 18 minutes, 20 seconds. What kills this record is Fela's vocal performance. He does this call and response, and every once in a while he does this yelping thing real loud. When I play it out, that's when people lose it.
Bob Marley “Exodus” on a God-damn 12-inch. Seven minutes, 38 seconds with the instrumental on the flip side! Need I say more?
PIECES OF A DREAM
“Mt. Airy Groove” (Elektra)
This is one of those staple b-boy records that you used to hear DJs cut up at the block party or roller-skate rink. It got a lot of radio play too, but it's definitely classic.
“Voices Inside My Head” (A&M)
When I first heard this in 1980, it was during legendary Frankie Crocker's radio show on WBLS. He used to play a variety of music, which is why I'm so diverse today. I had never heard of The Police before, and I thought they were a black group. When I saw the three white faces on the cover, I was shocked. When I played it and heard the reggae influence, I became a fan ever since. The drum break on this track is pretty special to me. The flip side on this is, “When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around,” which makes this one of those rare 12-inches that you can rock both sides out live.
“R U Hot Enough” (Trax)
I was just asking about finding some Trax vinyl, and here it is. In my early house days, this is one of those records that always amazed me. It wasn't the typical house beat, four-on-the-floor; this was kind of funky. It was one of those songs that made people look up to see what was going on.