Before Adrian Younge was writing orchestral music with a hip-hop flair, he was a law professor by day and a DJ by night. During this period, he became obsessed with classic soul from 1968 to 1973 — music that he says resonated in ways this country had never seen before. Younge, a multi-instrumentalist from Los Angels, aspires toward a similar feeling on his new album, The Midnight Hour, with Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest.
“1968 to 1973 was a pivotal moment in our time culturally,” Younge says. “When there is a lot of civil unrest going on, that is something that usually galvanizes artists in creating something new and special to respond to whatever madness is happening. You have this whole movement with soul, where we are saying ‘I’m black and I’m proud,’ and you can hear how that is reflected in the music.”
In addition to the powerful message of the period, Younge wants to bring back its lavish musical production — lush orchestrations behind heavy funk beats. On this Checkout podcast, he walks us through his Linear Labs studio in Highland Park, home to a plethora of rare vintage instruments, from the Mellotron (hip hop’s first sampler) to the Theremin.
Younge not only plays all the instruments in his studio and growing recording catalogue; he’s also devoted to documenting his orchestral soul music to analog tape. And he’s still drawn to live performance: here he is with Muhammad playing a recent NPR Tiny Desk Concert.