Spirit Of The Boogie: Kon & The Gang
In the mid 2000s, when the repute and records of Boston DJ duo Kon and Amir began to break out of the hip hop cognoscenti and onto vinyl that you could actually buy in UK record store, it would be fair to say that their arrival was met with confusion. Who were these guys? And just what bag were they in?
The aesthetics were pure hip hop, from the script and sleeve design to the way they looked themselves on the cover. But the tracklisting on that Uncle Junior compilation was far from it. The soul, funk and disco they’d selected wasn’t even of the solidly breaks-based ilk usually showcased by hip hop DJs revealing source samples or new discoveries on comps. Milton Wright, 100% Pure Poison, Hudson People, James Mason, Leon Ware, Mighty Ryeders – many of these records were already well loved on the UK soul scene, others less known, but just what were they doing in the hands of these two US street DJs and why was it that the only guy in the record store who knew who they were was the breaks obsessed, deep digging, hip hop guy?
Only perhaps in hindsight is it now possible to understand where Kon and Amir were coming from back then. Subsequent releases such as BBE’s “The Kings Of Diggin” and the start of their “Off Track” series on the same label had done little to clarify who they were or what we were likely to hear from them in a DJ set or future collection. They contained a far greater depth of knowledge and a wilful obscurity, but remained in the soul and disco vein. Not only that, but one of them, Kon, had started to include his own exclusive edits of tracks on the collections. “At the time Amir and I did those comps not too many people got them,” says Kon over the phone from New York, where he now lives. “Just a few guys in Chicago seemed to really be on them, but few people outside of that city had really heard of Rahaan and Sadar Bahar at that point. Now there are a lot of people digging rare disco. But back then, those comps were ahead of their time.”
Indeed it took time for the rest of us to catch up with the musical world view of Kon and Amir, a journey that has hardly been assisted by Amir submitting Latin mixes and Kon adding an album of new dance music productions to their catalogue. “I think people are a lot more receptive nowadays to hearing mad rare dusty stuff next to a house record, next to an uptempo Big Daddy Kane track,” says Kon. “I know it because I’ve done it. That wasn’t so much the case in 2005.”
It turns out that first impressions of Kon and Amir coming from the world of hip hop had not been incorrect. The reason the hip hop obsessive at the store had heard of them was thanks to their “On Track” compilations, mixes of obscure breaks culled from their combined collections that they’d been self releasing since the mid 1990s. Detached from contemporary rap music because of the negative aspects of its lyrics and a dumbing down of the music and culture, these two traditional hip hop lovers had devoted their energies to earlier eras of inspiration, ones discovered on long sessions scouring secondhand record stores. As true vintage vinyl devotees it was natural that while looking through every record in a store they wouldn’t just be picking up breaks.
“When disco was at its peak, 1979, my mother was taking me to the club with her,” says Kon. “The Crusaders “Street Life” and “Off The Wall” were brand new records on the streets and I witnessed that there. That made a massive impact, it shaped me forever.”
While Kon and Amir’s joint compilations and DJ appearances have done much to cement their longstanding collaboration, since establishing themselves they have branched out into their own individual areas of expertise and enthusiasm. Amir has mined Latin music, a long held love and Kon has developed his studio skills, first through the production of DJ edits, then with the construction of original new music.
“Getting your chops as a DJ, being able to read a room, having faith in your sound and ability, once you’ve done that it’s natural to want to customise your music,” says Kon of his DJ re-edits, which have been universally praised by some of the best known DJs now playing disco. His 2013 original artist album, the electronic dance, soul and disco displaying “On My Way”, also for BBE, was a natural progression in his development as a producer.
“House music and disco are synonymous,” says Kon in 2016, after the full revelation of his musical palette. “I call it dance music.” Kon’s latest release “Kon & The Gang” sees him returning to curating a compilation, but again it’s in a completely different vein to anything he’s done before.
“The compilations I did in the past with Amir they’ve been dusty records, unearthing old music,” he says. “So, I thought why not take that concept and model it after what Red Alert and Funkmaster Flex were doing in the late 90s with their compilations, where it was all original music, with the hot rappers of the time.”
“Kon & The Gang” sees Kon compile (and mix, on one format) a collection of completely new, unreleased music with a commonality of disco. He has gathered the music from a close knit group of likeminded friends and peers. “They know my tastes,” he explains. “They’re aware of my vibe and I’m a fan of theirs. I’m a fan first. I started to reach out and I thought, if I can get enough good material together, I can pull this off.”
Containing musical contributions by several talents du jour including Seven Davis Jr, Bosq, Eli Escobar, Scott ‘thatmanmonkz’ Moncrieff, Joy Jones, Osunlade, Rainer Truby, Serge Gamesbourg, Caserta and Kon himself (including the highlight “Can’t Get Enough”), Kon & The Gang is a thoroughly modern take on disco, offered with full acknowledgement of its house music descendant and of the disco re-edit scene from which most of these producers have evolved.
“It’s a fusion and it’s definitely grown out of the edits scene,” says Kon of the music Kon & The Gang contains. “Every single artist on there has done edits. First of all we’re all DJs and, in the truest sense of the word, edits are just our DJ tools.”
From B-boy and hip hop enthusiast through helping lay the foundations for today’s thriving rare disco and re-edit scene, to a producer and compiler of contemporary music, it’s clear that Kon has a restless urge to develop within music. When asked about ideas for the future he excitedly expresses a desire to follow up this compilation with one containing similar mid tempo and disco tempo inclusions but from friends best known for producing hip hop “Lord Finesse, Tall Black Guy, Just Blaze. I’d love to get some tracks in this vein from guys like that,” he says. Wherever his journey next takes him it’s sure to be somewhere we can’t currently predict. We can only say that we’re hoping to be along for the ride.
Kon & The Gang is available HERE on Vinyl & Digital formats
Words By Marc Rowlands