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THE STUYVESANTS: Musicology

Maryland bred production duo, The Stuyvesants, slowly crept onto the scene with their nods to classic records of yesteryear. Now living in Brooklyn, members Allan Cole and Darien Birks share their favorite tunes, album covers and their future plans.

Interview: Aimstar
Images: Ashley Posey

For former Thomas Pullen middle school classmates Allan Cole and Darien Birks, music and design are just two elements of the arts that they simply can’t live without. Far from their hometown in Maryland, and living just blocks away from each other in New York, Brooklyn to be exact, the two music conaisseurs, who often helped their friends come to terms with the normal pitfalls of life over listening sessions at the crib, eventually pooled their talents together to streamline their passions. Combining all of their influences thus far and the new ones they find along the way, from music to visual design, together they are The Stuyvesants, a Brooklyn-based production duo, who does nothing half-assed.

Why pay homage to Brooklyn, then, if you’re from Maryland because Maryland has some dope music swag too, you know?

Allan: You know, I haven’t lived in Maryland in like 10 years. I definitely moved up here to do more stuff like this. Down there, there’s definitely stuff going on, but it’s a different climate. There isn’t as much and the things that are going on down there are on a smaller scale, not to say that’s what made me want to do stuff up here. Once I had a taste of New York and Brooklyn, it just all started to click. Brooklyn is definitely my home. While my family is all in Maryland, I don’t call any other place home but Brooklyn. We just took a liking to it and just really loved the vibes that we get out here, you know.

Darien: More importantly, we use the inspiration that we got from living in Brooklyn—this is where the idea came from and we’re both living here, and we wanted to have that old, soulful vibe with it, so it all kind of worked. We figured, hey we came up with the idea while we were living here, we might as well pay homage to that moment, more so than where we’re from. [Laughs] Everyone knows we’re from Maryland, it’s definitely not a secret.

Music from the ’70s was awesome, but there were so many different genres happening at that time. What is behind your fascination with Soul music?

Darien: Yeah, your parent’s collection, you know. My father was like a hardcore Parliament fan. Imagine being six or seven years old, singing the words to Parliament. [Laughs] That’s kind of weird, right? But it was forced on me, you know what I mean? So Soul was just like already ingrained for me. My ears have been trained to love Soul music, to accept it. It speaks to me; it speaks my language. I guess that’s why I really fell in love with it.

Also with regards to our records, the first or the second, now that I think about it, every song that was on, either wasn’t specifically sampled from a Soul record. We also pulled influence from Latin, Jazz records…

Allan: A couple Reggae joints, Dub…

Darien: Yeah, so it all comes from a lot of different places, but then we try to meld it together to make it sound the way we want it to sound. But Soul is definitely one of the influences, the biggest I’d say. That’s just something that Black folks have. [Laughs]

Allan: [Laughs] Oh yeah.

Darien: So it’s a part of us.

Is this just about the love of making music or… let me ask this, what’s SD Records

Allan: It’s kind of a moniker that we’ve been using for a little collective that me, Darien and another one of our friend’s Lawrence started, for creatives that are, both, into design and music. It isn’t anything official at all, but it is definitely kind of our stamp that we put on the records, so that you know where it came from. It’s not an actual label or anything, like we don’t have an office for it yet. It’s just our stamp that we throw on everything that we do together.

Darien: SD stands for Something Different.

I’m glad that you said that. What do you think is different that you’re bringing to the music space?

Darien: Go ahead. [Laughs]

Allan: Our approach, our taste in music is just a little bit off. It’s not your regular Hip-Hop stuff. It’s not what you expect by just looking at us. You wouldn’t guess that we’d be on the type of music that we’re on, you know what I mean? I think our selection, as far as the stuff that we sample, the way that we put together the music, it’s coming from a little bit of a different angle—not to say that it’s completely new, but it’s a different way of reappropriating things that we’ve been inspired by. I guess that would be the goal of the sound, I would say, and with that you’re going to end up with something that is going to be different.

Darien: But one of the main things that we felt like was missing [from the music space] were people who actually gave a damn about the craft of it, people who actually gave a damn about where it came from. You know how the industry slowly shifted to where you have to be a packaged gimmick—you have to do this, you have to look like that, you have to talk about this—to me, that’s just corny. What was missing was just letting the artists [or producers] be themselves. So you have a lot of new people coming into the game with no originality because they could just be made. That, to me, takes away from the integrity of people’s music. They’re going to rap about what someone told them to rap about, or this producer is going to make this type of beat, because that’s what’s hot right now. Why not just do what you really feel is dope, for the sake of making dope music?

We’re the type of individuals that definitely don’t follow anybody. We’re going to be weird innovators, probably until we die. If we’re sitting around and we have an idea, we’re not go around to talk to anyone about it, until what we come up with is a real solid concept and execute it. I think a lot of times people don’t give a shit and don’t really think things through. I think that’s one of the things that we’re bringing to the table, at the same time, being friendly, humble, love being around—we’re more so fans of it than anything. We’re always on the hunt for some new music to listen to. I don’t know, some things you just want to see change.

So how do you hunt for new music these days? I tried buying a hard copy cd recently and it was hard as hell. And I remember being a DJ way back in the day…

Darien: You was nice with it! DJ Amy A. [Laughs]

Allan: [Laughs]

Ya’ll got jokes. I’m just saying [Laughs], I remember digging through crate upon crate. But these days, there are barely any record stores left.

Darien: Oh no, there are definitely stores! I’ll tell you what though, the records in New York are fairly expensive because it’s New York City and they know what they have. If you go in there, you might only get three or four records, really good ones, and you’ve spent $100+. We also go to a convention in Baltimore and you can clean up, literally. I’ve collected so many records and like haven’t spent a lot of money on a lot of them, so it’s good to have that outlet. NYC definitely has shops and I love all of them. I spend all of my money in there and digging in there is theraputic. You’re looking at artwork, you’re taking it in. You get woozy from sniffing the dust. [Laughs]

Allan: [Laughs] Fingers be mad ashy…

Darien: [Laughs] When you leave, it looks like you just stuck your hands in some flour. You know, you get in there and really get involved with the record. You scrutinize the record: you look at it, you open it up, you see which musicians were playing on this album. Who produced this album? What’s the label? Do they have any more of these records? How long was this guy out? You start paying attention to things like that. And then all of a sudden, it becomes a weird obsession and you have to have records….I’m in that dark place right now. I gotta go to rehab or something, because I will raid your grandmother’s closet! [Laughs]

Allan: [Laughs]

Darien: [Laughs] Like if you took me to your grandmother’s house, I would go talk to her and say, “Look, do you have any records lying around that you don’t want?”

Allan: [Laughs] He ain’t lying neither…

Darien: [Laughs] I do it all the time. So going to the record store plays a major part of what we do. Even if we weren’t making music, we’d still be listening to records. We’d still be hardcore about it. It’s not just about samples for us, it’s about the music.

Are you looking to work with artists? I heard a couple of murmurings…

Allan: We’re just trying to be real selective about which artists we work with, but yes, a few have approached us about working on some stuff. We’re also interested in working with bands at some point, so that we can bring some live instrumentation to what we do, for sure.

What is your prized record in your collection?

Darien: On vinyl? That’s a tough one. I’d say my most prized record is Ramp Come Into Knowledge (1977). I have an original pressing of it and that’s my prized gem because the album is rare and it has beautiful music on it. You ever heard the song “Daylight”, Amy? *sings “Daylight”* That is a dope record, that is a timeless, timeless record. I’m in love with it. There’s an alternate version of “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, a cover of it, by this band that Roy Ayers produced as well. It’s actually insanely better than Roy Ayers version, but nobody knows about it. It’s kind of obscure.

Darien: For me, it’s just one record that kind of has a story behind it too. The record is from this group called Azymuth, a Brazilian Soul group and I just fell in love with it as soon as I heard about them. I found out about them in college, just by googling stuff online, and pulling up really obscure stuff. I was just like “I really love these guys’ music”, but then I found the records, which is a little bit tough because they’re a Brazilian-based band and most of their stuff is out there. So it’s really tough to find their stuff here, until come to find out, a couple of Christmases ago, I was at home digging in the parents’ stash and I found one Azymuth record in my father’s stash. He had it for years, I think since the late ’70s, but I just never noticed it in the crib. When I first starting making music, I would always dig through his stuff, but never saw this record in there. But as soon as I saw it, I stole it. It’s in my crib right now. [Laughs] The Telecommunication (1982) joint.

Okay, best album covers.

Darien: Damn. That’s a good one. [Laughs] Ohhh-kaaay, I’m tripping. [Laughs] In general, I’m going to say… you know, that’s a really hard question, right? There are so many amazing record covers. I don’t even know if I could answer that question!

Allan: I don’t even know where to start! [Laughs] Geez.

Okay, top three best album covers.

Darien: Okay, in Hip-Hop, Too $hort Born to Mack , that cover was ill. It was just white space and this man was sitting in a Cadillac, on hundreds! [Laughs] I don’t even know if I can get through this…

Allan: I don’t know if I have any of those slots, really. I can just list a bunch. I can’t think of a favorite one, I mean, geez that’s tough.

Fine, you can list them. [Laughs]

Darien: Definitely Too $hort, then oh! I’m looking at my shit right now, Dennis Coffey’s Finger Lickin’ Good. And let me tell you why I like that album cover, because it’s a Black woman sitting there and she’s got like a green cape on, it’s weird. She’s sitting there, with a bucket of chicken in between her legs and she’s holding a drumstick. [Laughs]

Allan: OHHHHHHH! That joint! [Laughs]

Darien: And on the back of it, there’s a man’s hand coming out of the chicken bucket, reaching towards her face. I fucking LOVE this album cover. [Laughs]

Allan: [Laughs] Wow…. I’m just going to pretty much throw out all the Ohio Players’ covers, because pretty much they got it all—like the Honey one was dope—every single one was ill. They all had the same concept, where it was mad overly sexual and it was just awesome. They just had that typography. That’s what everything was about! So when you see that joint you’re like, yep, that’s the ’70s for you.

Okay, best score.

Allan: What you about to say? I know mine…

Darien: A lot of people would say Shaft, but I’m not going to say Shaft. I’m going to go with Coffy by Roy Ayers. I’m going to go with that.

Allan: That’s what I was going to say, is Coffy. But wait, what was the one where they sampled, “Yeah, that nigga’s who style is chump.” What movie is that from?

Darien: Oh yeah!! Oh my god, how could we fucking forget?! That’s The Education of Sonny Carson. The Education of Sonny Carson is ILLLLLLL! I have that on DVD! [Laughs]

Allan: [Laughs]

If tomorrow came and you couldn’t make music, what would you be doing?

Darien: Can we still listen?

[Everybody laughs]

Download the latest EP by The Stuyvesants entitled, The Finer Things Vol.1 and Vol. 2, HERE.

Follow The Stuyvesants on Twitter, @TheStuyvesants @Flwrpt @AllanCole

Images by Ashley Posey for STARK, shot exclusively at Liquid Love in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, NY.

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