Rewind: Lil' Louis & The World - From The Mind Of Lil' Louis

  • One of the founding fathers of house paved the way for generations to come on this 1989 LP.
  • Share
  • When he was 12 years old, Marvin Louis Burns had his first DJ gig, selecting music for one of his mother's parties. It was the beginning of a career that changed the history of house music. Music was ever present in Burns' childhood home. His father was a guitarist who did session work for Chess Records, which meant young Marvin picked up instruments starting at a young age. But DJing would soon become his primary creative outlet. As a young teen, he made the rounds, playing records at Southside Chicago establishments as soul morphed into disco, laying the foundations of house. That was when he earned the nickname Lil' Louis, building up a following with his selections and tape edits. Although Frankie Knuckles and Ron Hardy are often credited as forefathers of House music, Lil' Louis should be thought of in the same bracket. During the '80s his parties would cater to an urban teenage crowd that was reinterpreting the vibes from the Warehouse and Muzic Box. Venues such as The Bismarck Hotel and The Pavillion were packed with Black youth who followed Louis's parties religiously. These parties would have a profound effect upon future innovators like Theo Parrish who vividly recalled how Louis would run the gauntlet of styles, not only playing the much-hyped beat tracks that were defining the genre, but also setting the pace with familiar material like Stevie Wonder's "As." Louis's early steps into production included mixes on Marshall Jefferson "7 Ways" (under his Hercules alias) and "I Can't Stay Away" by Ragtyme (the group that would go on to become Ten City). These versions were followed by singles on Dance Mania—"Frequency / How I Feel," "The Original Video Clash," and "7 Days Of Peace / War Games." These cuts would become local club hits, further cementing Louis's place as a DJ and an artist shaping house music. Eventually, he would start his own imprint, Diamond Records, a sub-label of Armando's Warehouse Records, where he would release the game changing "French Kiss." The epic slow-down track would shoot to number one on the Billboard US Dance Charts—it was the success of "French Kiss" that led to a label deal with Epic Records. From The Mind Of Lil Louis would be one of few albums from the wave of early house artists to make it to a major label. Like many DJs who transitioned to producing, Louis's record contained bonafide club tracks as well as some journeys away from the dance floor. Signing to Epic gave Lil' Louis access to a professional studio and a budget to flesh out his ideas on a scale unbeknownst to most house artists of the time. It's interesting to note that a large share of mixing duties for the album are handled by EBM group Die Warzau, a connection made during his days of playing at the legendary crossover Chicago alternative club Medusa's. The album roughly conforms to an A-side, containing the "hits," and a B-side containing the more artistic vamps. Nearly every song on the A-side separately appeared on a 12-inch single, while the inverse is true for the B-side. The aforementioned singles featured multiple versions, harking back to the art of mixing different edits for various scenarios. Louis really encapsulated the spirit of his parties through tracks that would prove timeless—half the songs are still getting significant play 30 years later. As a central figure within a nightlife that was changing under electronic persuasions, Louis really knows how to write a club track. "Wargames" is, for a lack of a better word, bananas. Unhinged, simple jacking music, reportedly a Chicago favourite. The album version is significantly shorter than the earlier 12-inch mixes but still packs a punch. "I Called U" is probably the most original take on a fictional phone call as the basis for a song. Narrated by Louis, the simple house beat is brought to life by not only the jazzy piano strides but by the tone of his stalker's voice and repeated use of an analog phone ring. Fellow house legend Larry Heard lends his signature production on "Touch Me"—the pads that are used are pure Mr. Fingers. This is the first time we hear Louis step to the forefront as a vocalist, singing rather than just talking. "Blackout" has religious overtones, mixing Bible verses with Louis's own preaching atop a composition that has resembles his most well-known work, particularly the "French Kiss"-reminiscent synth line. To say that "French Kiss" is one of the most infamous, influential early tracks in electronic dance music is an understatement. Not only did it chart in multiple countries, but its overtly sexual style got it banned in many places. This track was rinsed in both house and techno circles, becoming a key component in the formation of the European rave scene. It was ubiquitous during the Second Summer of Love that birthed the modern European dance culture. There are numerous remixes available, but the album version rearranges the sections, giving more personality to the moaning female vocalist. With the B-side Louis looks beyond house music. The BPMs are significantly lower for much of the latter portion of the album, which sounds more like a late '80s indie R&B record. The only track that became a single is "Nyce & Slo." A novel take on sounds typically reserved for higher tempos, this track remains a secret weapon for the discerning DJ. Larry Heard returns for "6 A.M.," which marks the B-side's only nod towards 120 BPM territory. Once again the keys are reminiscent of Mr. Fingers, but the standout performance comes from alto saxophonist Alfonzo Hunter. Although Hunter plays on various Louis tracks, his sax playing here is especially spectacular. "Insecure," meanwhile, is one of Louis's first overt attempts at R&B. He takes on lead vocals for that one, while on the next track, "The Luv U Wanted," a female vocalist named Antigua takes the spotlight. Joi Cardwell makes an early appearance, playing piano in the emotionally charged "Brittany." The finale ,"Lil Tanya," is a blues song by Louis's father Bobby Sims, who treats listeners to an excellent guitar solo. This is a fascinating instance of Louis showing off his pedigree, while simultaneously exposing audiences to the roots of soul music, and therefore the roots of house. From The Mind Of Lil' Louis stands as a landmark to the fledgling genre that was about to enter the world stage. Louis was a visionary in many regards who set his sight beyond the relatively small world of club culture. By incorporating various elements into his style, he would push back against the dominating narrative and monotony that would become associated with the term house. There was always more to it than just simple beat tracks and jacking disco loops. Lil' Louis had an innate understanding of house as a branch off the soul music family tree. On his seminal 1989 album, he made a timeless attempt to draw this connection for the masses.
  • Tracklist
      01. I Called U 02. Blackout 03. Tuch Me 04. French Kiss 05. Wargames 06. 6 A.M. 07. Nyce & Slo 08. Insecure 09. The Luv U Wanted 10. Brittany 11. Lil Tanya