There’s a very small circle of names that seem to be associated with the best funk, soul and R&B music that has been fused with hip-hop during the last two decades. One innovator that consistently reappears is the unassuming Ali Shaheed Muhammed, who came to fame as a member of A Tribe Called Quest in the early 1990s. Appearing to be more comfortable behind the boards or turntables, Muhammad is the perfect example of letting one’s resume speak for itself. With that, he holds the quiet distinction of possessing a body of work that is approaching its third decade, without a single bad record to blemish his track record.
Adrian Younge, on the other hand, is one of the modern soul movement’s more recent purveyors of brilliance. Younge is amassing his own impressive body of work, adding a soul revivalist sound to collaborations with established artists including Ghostface Killah, Bilal, and PRhyme (a.k.a. DJ Premier & Royce Da 5’9”). That’s why it feels like a gift from the musical gods that the two have become frequent collaborators, and have now delivered a full-length LP of original music.
Perfecting a unique artistic chemistry since first coming together to compose the score of the 2009 film Black Dynamite, the duo kick off The Midnight Hour with the equally cinematic opener “Black Beacon,” which allows listeners the opportunity to get settled in for this musical ecstasy. Proving to have an ear for—or personal connection to—the creators of quality music from the past few decades, the duo tap Ladybug Mecca from Digable Planets for the “Rebirth of Slick” redux “Mare.” “It’s You” is another soulful recollection, as Muhammad reconnects with Raphael Saadiq for a Lucy Pearl reunion minus Dawn Robinson.
The arrangement and composition of the album is flawless, making it highly fluid and difficult to pinpoint its brightest of consistently bright moments. The pleasant surprise inclusion of one of the all-time great male vocalists, Luther Vandross on the “So Amazing” reboot, however, is sure to be an immediate crowd pleaser. Other collaborations with industry titans such as CeeLo Green on “Questions,” Marsha Ambrosius on “Don’t Keep Me Waiting,” and Bilal on “Do It Together” rival if not surpass lasting cross-genre efforts like the Branford Marsalis’ Quartet and Terence Blanchard’s arrangements for the 1990 Soundtrack to Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues.
Lesser known, yet promising, artists Karolina and Loren Oden command attention as well and attempt to steal the show as their voices soar alongside the organ and flute imbued sonics on “Feel Alive.” The songs without vocals have personality all their own and are as full-bodied as a stand-alone wine. “Gate 54,” “Redneph in B Minor,” and “Better Endeavor” transport you to wherever your perfect atmosphere is, whether it be a secluded river cottage or inner-city jazz bar.
The Midnight Hour is a prime example of how to expertly construct a great album with a multitude of different voices and influences, taking cues from its predecessors the 1997 Love Jones Soundtrack and Robert Glasper Experiment’s Black Radio (2012). This an album good enough to be purchased in multiple formats, download for the car to escape the strains of post-work traffic or add to an impressive vinyl collection to accompany a stay-at-home date night. I expect it to stay in my personal rotation for the duration of 2018 and very easily for years to follow.
Notable Tracks: “Better Endeavor” | “Feel Alive” | “So Amazing” | “Together Again”