The two saltiest crate-diggers in Brooklyn pick out the most heart-wrenching gospel-house love songs in existence.
Francis Englehardt and Paul Nickerson of Slow to Speak/Dope Jams
When it comes to rip your chest open, toss your bleeding heart into the air proclamations of love (and lamentations of love lost) nothing beats the soul-wrenching sounds of gospel-house. And when it comes to digging in the crates to shift out the sweet stuff from the shit, nobody beats Slow to Speak, the DJ duo behind Dope Jams—possibly the greatest dance music record store that has ever lived and died in New York City. (Well, it was definitely the saltiest. Check out the list of rules that used to hang in the shop before it shuttered in 2014 to get a sense of the duo's brand of endearing assholery.)
To mark the sappiest day of the year, Dope Jams will be throwing a Valentine's Day ball at Good Room, where they promise to "unleash their inclusive dance music esotericism on Brooklyn once more." The party will be graced by a very special surprise guest, who happens to be one of the artists name-checked below. To whet your appetite—and hopefully your sex drive—we asked Slow to Speak's Francis Englehardt and Paul Nickerson to pick out the top ten gospel-house love songs in existence. Their descriptions of each selection, per usual, are absolutely choice.
Michael Watford - "My Love" (Full Vox Mix)
Michael Watford is the definitive voice of house music. His instantly recognizable vocals graced countless records during Dance Music's golden years, from "Luv-4-2" to "Michael's Prayer" to "Holdin On." He was one of the first in the genre to land a major label deal alongside Ten City and CeCe Rogers, and there was no greater ambassador to the power and potential of this music than him. "My Love" is his magnum opus—a six-minute, relentless raw-as-fuck plea for a woman's love. Produced by Masters At Work during their prime, his one-take vocal over Kenny's drums and Louie's keyboards are the definition of synchronicity. Untouchable.
CeCe Rogers - "No Love Lost" (Tribal Mix)
Released in 1994, this is the conclusive post-breakup anthem. Seven years prior, CeCe Rogers had sang of hope and possibility on his anthem "Someday," but here we find him in a much more fragile state, trying to move on after placing a woman on a pedestal and getting dropped by her. The driving tribal drums and piercing keyboard stabs slam home his point and make this a monster on the dancefloor. This was a massive record in Boston at The Loft and anywhere else you would find DJ Bruno playing. I'm not so sure it was very popular elsewhere though. You have to make sure you find the "Special Limited Edition' 12" as this version wasn't included on the commerical 12" of this song.
Cassandra Wilson - "You Don't Know What Love Is" (Joe Claussell Remix)
Joe Claussell at his best! You can hear how hard he worked on remixes back in the day. The time he took. The sincerity that used to come through in his music. This and maybe "The Prayer" with Jephte Guillaume are his best work in my book. The way he sucks you in with the sappy solo and totally flips the song half way into it. Untouchable. If you heard this record at Body & Soul back in the day you are probably used to the "Violin Mix," which to this day has never surfaced anywhere. He really should be credited with getting live percussion back into house music in the late 90s and early 2000s. Before Body & Soul got popular, everyone was still trying to make New Jersey house vocals, and he came in and just totally turned things upside down.
Romanthony - "What $ Love"
Very few have made as many dope original sounding records as he has. There have been plenty who have ripped off other people's sound and made great records but to truly have your own identity is rare. When you hear a Romanthony record you know it's his. When you hear his voice there is no question who is singing. He truly was one of the greatest to ever make house music.
Shazz feat. Ken Norris - "Innerside" (Artform Vocal Remix)
Produced by Blaze in 1999 during what could be considered their third wave, the keyboard work of Josh Milan is almost paramount to the vocal of Ken Norris here. This vocal declaration "Love Is Alive" is made believable by Milan's synth work. House music vocals only went downhill from here, so listen and enjoy one of the last great ones!
Mary J. Blige - "Reminisce" (M.A.W. Remix 1)
This is one of those classic Masters At Work records that fell through the cracks. Whoever did A&R on this record and decided it shouldn't come out is crazy! Maybe that's why it's back to back with their remix of Jamiroquai's "Emergency On Planet Earth." Apparently Jamiroquai wasn't a big fan of the remix they did back in the day. Another truly amazing statement as it went on to become one of their most popular reworkings.
T.M.V.S. - "Don't Be Shy"
Tommy Musto & Victor Simonelli team up for one of their dope collabs. They were also behind the classic Underground Commitment 12" "I Know A Melody." Man, Victor Simonelli knew how to use that classic house piano sound just right!
Barbara Tucker - "Stay Together" (Soulful Mix)
This was her last real dope record in the 90s. You got Little Louie Vega on production, John Ciafone of Mood II Swing on the beats, Kenny Bobien & Joi Cardwell on back-ups and the legendary Masters At Work bassist Gene Perez. How can you go wrong here? A who's who of NY underground house. And if there is any question of whether or not Barbara Tucker can still sing, here you go…
Peven Everett - "I Can't Believe I Loved Her" (Calypso Mix)
There are few men who are loved as much as they are hated in house music. Peven Everett just happens to be one of those men. His legendary disregard for his fans could only be forgotten by records so good you have to imagine a different person made them. Or maybe he just proves a perfect point. It doesn't take a "good person" to make good music. So often being a nice guy somehow gives people a free pass to make shitty music. I think we need more people like Peven. Piss everyone off and make a dope record!