- Moodymann has a singular approach to DJing. His sets span the entire history of African-American music and his hometown of Detroit. Plenty of DJs might reference hip-hop, soul, disco, house, techno and new wave as influences, but few would try to cram them all into one set. His persona behind the decks, effectively an alter-ego of Kenny Dixon Junior, is a complicated one. At times he wants to avoid the audience entirely, obscuring his face with a mask or hiding behind a sheet. But other times he's happy to be the centre of attention, using a microphone to shout party-stating banter and, on one occasion at a roller rink, joining the dance floor mid-set to help sell T-shirts emblazoned with his image. Most often he plays music that people love, but sometimes he seems to intentionally clash with the setting and earlier DJ sets. Whatever the case, his style is completely inimitable.
Moodymann has often said he plays music that represents his environment. In one interview he said he primarily plays records that are on rotation in his Impala. You might argue that his idea—playing music that sounds great for a cruise around Detroit—is pretty much perfect for a mix album. And yet despite his nearly 30-year career, DJ-Kicks is Moodymann's first. His only other venture into the format was for his own Mahogani label, which was closer to a greatest hits collection. It may have taken him a long time to release a mix in this way, but the quality of DJ-Kicks makes it worth the wait.
At 30 selections, the tracklist is remarkably long, but nothing feels rushed. In part, this has to do the 11 re-edits Moodymann deploys to help the mix move along at a brisk but unhurried pace. The first hour largely sticks with smoky, head-nodding hip-hop beats from the Jay Dilla school of thought. There's work from local Detroit figures such as Andrés, Platinum Pied Pipers and Danny Brown associate Dopehead. This forms a foundation while leaving space for left turns aplenty. There's African funk from Triogo, Flying Lotus and Andreya Triana's "Tea Leaf Dancers," folksy guitars from José Gonzales and house from Berliner Daniel Bortz. On paper, there's no way things should all hang together coherently. It's credit to Moodymann that they inarguably do.
Around the 50-minute mark, the mix diverges unexpectedly into soulful house. Names like Kings Of Tomorrow and Joeski—two bastions of smooth, diva-lead vocal house—could hardly be less fashionable in 2016. Played in another mix, these records might miss the mark, but here, played adjacent to obscure future-jazz, they make a fantastic impact. What's more, these songs, like a lot of this DJ-Kicks, are seemingly plucked from the bargain bins. Moodyman has ignored obvious or hyped tracks in favour of sleeper hits from artists that, in the main, have only small followings. For that reason, the mix has an enviable originality.
Things take a truly bizarre detour an hour in. Anne Clark's "Our Darkness," recorded in 1984, is a mix of glacial new wave synths and heavily accented, foreboding spoken word. The original is an odd track in and of itself, but the version here is a live recording from 2012. It sounds like a cross between "The Exorcist Theme" and earnest BBC Radio 4 poetry. You can only guess why it was included. It might've been inspired by The Electrifying Mojo, the Detroit DJ who impacted Moodymann more than any other and was known for his fondness of dystopian imagery and '80s synth music.
That selection speaks to Moodymann's obvious mischievous streak. He has a penchant for the inexplicable, whether that's his own complex mythology, brading his hair mid interview or randomly slipping incredibly expensive singles into his album sleeves like Wonka's Golden Tickets. Like so much of his DJ-Kicks, and indeed KDJ's music in general, these idiosyncracies can be enjoyed on a very immediate level or probed for hidden depths. It's a quality that continues to make Moodymann one of the most rewarding names in electronic music.
01. Yaw - Where Will You Be
02. Cody ChesnuTT - Serve This Royalty
03. Dopehead - Guttah Guttah
04. Jitwam - Keepyourbusinesstoyourself
05. Talc - Robot's Return (Modern Sleepover Part 2)
06. Beady Belle - When My Anger Starts To Cry
07. Shawn Lee feat. Nino Moschella - Kiss The Sky
08. Jai Paul - BTSTU
09. Flying Lotus feat. Andreya Triana - Tea Leaf Dancers
10. Nightmares On Wax - Les Nuits
11. Rich Medina feat. Sy Smith - Can’t Hold Back (Platinum Pied Pipers Remix)
12. Julien Dyne feat. Mara TK - Stained Glass Fresh Frozen
13. Little Dragon - Come Home
14. Andrés feat. Lady - El Ritmo De Mi Gente
15. Fort Knox Five feat. Mustafa Akbar - Uptown Tricks (Rodney Hunter Remix)
16. Daniel Bortz - Cuz You're The One
17. José González - Remain
18. Big Muff - My Funny Valentine
19. Les Sins - Grind
20. Tirogo - Disco Maniac
21. SLF & Merkin - Tag Team Triangle
22. Joeski feat. Jesánte - How Do I Go On
23. Kings Of Tomorrow feat. April - Fall For You (Sandy Rivera's Classic Mix)
24. Soulful Session, Lynn Lockamy - Hostile Takeover
25. Anne Clark - Our Darkness
26. Peter Digital Orchestra - Jeux De Langues
27. Noir & Haze - Around (Solomun Vox)
28. Marcellus Pittman - 1044 Coplin (Give You Whatcha Lookin 4)
29. Lady Alma - It's House Music
30. Daniela La Luz - Did You Ever