Q&A: DJ Spinna On Perception Records, New York Soul In The '70s, And Why A Tribe Called Quest Sampled "Submission" Better Than Anyone

Categories: Interviews

"If you want to get a grasp on what was happening musically in the early '70s in New York City, especially in the soul arena, Perception Records is one of the prime labels to be checked out." So says respected DJ, producer and record collector DJ Spinna, who handily happens to have compiled the best of Perception Records, plus its sister label Today Records, for Best of Perception & Today Records, a new compilation released last week.

Perception Records amassed a roster and release schedule that dipped into a range of genres with glee—Dizzy Gillespie, the Fat Back Band and Astrud Gilberto all recorded for the label—but there was a unified production sound that kept the vibe consistent and relevant to New York City at the time. Having grown up with the label sound-tracking his early years, here's Spinna's guide to the venture's most valuable vinyl releases, the mystery surrounding the label's missing masters, and his favorite hip-hop samples from the Perception and Today vaults.

Before compiling this project, did you know much about Perception and Today Records?

I knew quite a bit because Perception slash Today is a label that I pretty much grew up with. It's been a part of my childhood, especially with the Fat Back Band and Black Ivory; those were artists and groups that were played in my household as a kid. And one of those songs, the Fat Back Band's "Street Dance" is probably one of my favorite disco-funk tracks of all time. Also, being a record collector and a producer looking for samples over the years, my Perception Records catalogue pretty much catapulted into probably having a majority of the soul slash funk stuff they've released.

Can you remember the first Perception Records release you bought yourself?

Like I said, I grew up with a lot of their stuff, but when I started getting into collecting beats and samples and digging for rare records, the Dizzy Gillespie album Matrix was the first one I came across.

The label put out a really varied roster of artists, right?

Yeah, it was quite varied. I'd say the focus was soul but they definitely had their share of folk, rock, spoken word and a lot of jazz records. There's a few things that didn't make the compilation that I have, but it's really a jazz, soul and funk label for the most part.

What are some of the songs that didn't make the compilation?

There's a seven-inch that I have—I think it may have been a one-off and there's no albums attached to the group—but it's this group called Velvet that I happened to have a copy of. Then there's a Lena Horne record, and another person who I think his name was Otis Clay who had a very expense rare seven-inch. Let me check that. [Spinna goes off to check the artist's name.] Otis Smith is the artist. Wow, this goes for crazy money! It's called "Let Her Go."

Otis Smith, "Let Her Go"

Is the label's catalogue an accurate snapshot of what was going on in New York City at the time?

I'd say so. A group like Black Ivory—they were a Harlem-based group and Leroy Burgess got his start with that group. He went on to be a big disco-boogie producer and songwriter, which you can tell by the music Black Ivory were making. They were definitely part of the New York soul scene and probably had a major influence on a lot of male groups from that period.

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