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V/A - Don't Stop: Recording Tap

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Artist: V/A

Album: Don't Stop: Recording Tap

Label: The Numero Group

Review date: Mar. 7, 2008

Call it “eccentric disco.” In its quest to unearth forgotten R&B from the labels and musicians who were not the winners, Chicago’s mighty Numero Group edges itself into the post-soul ’80s. This set of relics from Tap, an imprint controlled by a paranoid Harlem cult leader named Jeremiah Yisrael, takes a vivid picture of the era at large. It’s dominated by (sometimes gorgeously) overproduced disco-soul, but acknowledges the arrival of rap, albeit as a cutesy novelty. It’s not that far, superficially, from the mix one would hear on one of those feelgood-funk stations that sprinkle some Sugarhill Gang on their Donna Summer and Barry White. But, in its texture and essence, it’s quite another thing.

White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra allegedly chipped in on one Tap session, but it didn’t help make any of these records a hit, and it didn’t make this collection’s assembly any less of an ass-pain. According to Numero’s openly catty liner notes, Yisrael’s fluid spending couldn’t wash away his sub-charming personal qualities, or his utter unwillingness to give his records any sort of congruent promotion. He alienated his biggest stars (e.g., Missy Dee & the Melody Crew, whose exhilarating rap track “Missy Missy Dee,” punctuated by a traffic whistle, got buried in personality conflicts and bungled business moves) and refused to trust anyone outside his esoteric spiritual fold. And when his hustle didn’t feed back according to his script, he preferred to let his dreams die violently. (All of the artifacts pictured in the notes bear ugly stains.)

As Arnie Love’s resilient “We’ve Had Enough” and Jackie Stoudemire’s sad and beautiful “Invisible Wind” sweep from the speakers, it’s easy to wonder why a lot of these songs weren’t massive hits, and it’s a fun mental exercise to look for their flaws. How could Yisrael’s brutal office politics, all by themselves, have stopped these records from winning over a few important ears? As with Numero’s Eccentric Soul library, the Tap oeuvre bears its share of potentially off-putting eccentricities, there for the talent-scout nitpicking. Tap’s best singers, Jackie Stoudemeire and Annette Denvil, are palpably insecure and a bit too theatrical, respectively. (Gloria Gaynor never sensed any threat here.) Its superior female rap trio, Missy Dee & the Melody Crew, was confrontational and aggressive for its time, while the fellas (Fabulous 3 MCs, who were reportedly chagrinned that their “Rub a Dub Dub” got buried at the expense of “Missy Missy Dee”) were half-assed and silly, even for their time. Charismatic singer Love never quite found his niche. None of the math worked out.

But for now, that’s fine. Whatever amazing lives these people could’ve had under different aspects, this stuff is all the more striking and loveable, as of this writing, for its flaws. And it’s even more affecting when coupled with Numero’s notes, detailing the troubled lives that they actually did live out. Once again, the losers have a more interesting tale, and their anthems are more risky and compelling. Again, Gay Talese might shake his ass to this.

By Emerson Dameron

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