With powerhouse production trio Organized Noize, Sleepy Brown orchestrated Atlanta’s hallmark sound of the 90s; his slow-cooked southern-fried G-Funk providing hits for TLC, Outkast and Goodie Mob. However, by 1998 and post-Aquemini, his desire was to take centre stage. The dizzying result was Sleepy’s Theme and their wonderful throwback LP, The Vinyl Room. Their vintage, 70s soul-steeped magnum opus was promptly passed on by Jimmy Iovine at Interscope, released only on CD on a limited scale, and mostly…um…slept on.
To mark the 20th anniversary, Be With Records finally present the album on the format it was so clearly inspired by yet seemingly destined never to appear on. The inaugural vinyl edition of this landmark record boldly arrives as a DJ friendly double LP, fully remastered and pressed loud and heavy at 180g. Elegantly housed in a sleek, sumptuous gatefold jacket, adorned with an appropriately pimped-out purple foil layer, it features printed lyrics across two double-sided inner sleeves.
Blending organic instrumentation from one of the tightest, greasiest, yet sophisticated bands in the land, The Vinyl Roompresented dreamy melodies, warm synth textures, stately horns and wayward beats. Brown conceived his “garage funk band” as adhering to the sonic touchstones of Blaxploitation and he achieved it. Featuring keyboardist/singer Eddie Stokes, drummer Victor Rico Cortez, guitarist Bill Odum, vocalist Keisha Jackson and the late Pimp C, the sound was always going to be in the pocket.
While it eschewed contemporary trends, the underground sound was nevertheless fresh and grounded in the hat-tip spirit of hip-hop. With Sleepy bragging that there were no samples, The Vinyl Room comprised a richly textured, mesmerizing and confident sound where the recurring themes were women, cars and weed. As he explained, “the music of the 70s wasn’t computerized, it was just realness from the heart and that’s what we captured.” Indeed, Brown wasn’t just inspired by bygone funk; he grew-up in it. As a boy, he travelled to gigs with his music playing father and founder of the legendary Brick: Jimmy Brown.
The album lopes at a weed-stoned pace, with sweet falsetto leads, spoken word raps and honey-coated female background vocals with just enough superfly sensibility to give you a contact high. The luscious bass grooves, silk-soft cymbal pats, raindrop-drowsy keyboards and country-fried wah-wah guitar licks conjure Bobby Womack in the lab with Marley Marl, Isaac Hayes laced by Dr. Dre or Curtis Mayfield bring introduced to DJ Quik.
Opener “Can’t Let Go”, with its heist movie aesthetic, morphs into a strung-out love song as Sleepy slurs compellingly throughout. Pimp C’s low-riding beat for “Simply Beautiful,” a bouncing track brilliantly inspired by Barry White’s swaggering “You’re the One I Need”, is exceptional. Perhaps as a nod to the great Brick, the horn section on “Grind On” is quietly joyous and profound whilst “Curse On You” is a dark groover and features a great vocal from Cee-Lo Green. “Still Smokin’”, another rousing track, is a peculiarly laidback anthem; hypnotic, hot and smooth. Perhaps the highlight of the entire piece, “Choked Out Saturday Night” sounds like the old Atlanta. Like rolling in a Cadillac about 12 midnight, going to club after club, passing the churches and juke-joints, preachers and pimps, lush trees and the red dirt.
The last word goes to Sleepy, from his recent interview with RBMA: “I just wanted to do the most funkiest album ever. When you play the album, I just wanted you to just sit back and just ride out. If you’ve had a long day, play the album. If you’re smoking, if you don’t smoke. Whatever you do, at that time when you got to relax, throw that on.”