New & Cool: Naked Music NYC Merges Soul And Hip-Hop

Production wizard recruits top artists in both genres for LP that offersstripped-down sound.

What do you get when the best musicians who have played on highly

influential "new soul"-style and hip-hop records get together in New


City to play the music they love?

You get music that is naked, stripped to its barest soulful essentials.

This is what the group Naked Music NYC and their upcoming debut album

What's On Your Mind? (OM Records) is all about.

"For me it was a labor of love. On this record, I finally got to play


music that I really loved," said 31-year-old Jay Denes, Naked Music's

primary songwriter and ringleader. Denes works out of a Soho recording

studio where he has produced jazz/soul/hip-hop-influenced groups such as

Groove Collective and the Repercussions, as well as a number of


dance and house records.

As a worldly urban musician and artist, Denes knows a lot of people, and


lot of people know him. So, realizing that he had the perfect


to recreate the classic soul music that he loves -- music that traces


lineage from the legendary Sam Cooke through R & B masters Marvin Gaye,

Curtis Mayfield and Al Green -- he recruited a group of top hip-hoppers


soulful artists and went to work.

"For the other musicians this record was made in the

'hey-do-you-want-to-play-on-my-record?' school of record-making," Denes

said. "They are all people who are my friends or people I've produced


for, and have done them favors and they do me favors. Because of where I


in New York a lot of these people happen to be the best, world-class


The "cats" he's talking about include Jonathan Maron, whose list of

bass-playing credits include Maxwell, D'Angelo, Groove Collective and


Repercussions. Dave Boonshoft, who plays uncredited on a number of


hip-hop records by RUN-DMC and Naughty by Nature, also plays bass on a

number of songs. Bob Power, who has served as Denes'

mentor and friend, contributed guitar to the album. Power has engineered

and occasionally performed on a number of the most influential hip-hop


soul records of the 1990s, including classic albums by current big-name

artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu, De La Soul and the

Roots, among others. In addition to these players, Denes enlisted the


of vocalists Ada Dyer and Catherine Russell to provide the passionate

vocals that are at the center of Naked Music NYC's songs.

All of this talent and experience helped produce an album of mellow,

soulful, and powerful grooves one would expect of players who have


helped define the sound of records by new soul artists such Badu,


and Maxwell. "It's Love," What's On Your Mind's first song,

assertively announces what the album is all about. Sounding both old and

new, it mixes a mellow funk backbeat with a subtle bass, flute and



But why is this style of soul music making such a comeback? "Classic


has never really gone away," answered Bruno Ybarra, an OM Records

representative who is also a longtime soul music aficionado and

soul-spinning DJ. "But soul music has gotten so commercialized nowadays,

it's no longer intoxicating in its simplicity. But artists like Erykah


and Maxwell are taking it back while moving forward, and in the process


keeping soul music alive. People want that."

The album's title track sounds like it's the long-lost cousin of Marvin

Gaye's "Mercy Mercy Me," with its distinctly similar conga sound and


arrangements. Other songs such as "3 A.M." and "Love is Everything"


like they could have been written in the '70s, though the more modern


less refined production gives away the fact that this is a contemporary


"The record definitely owes its existence to classic soul and what I


'the big three' of the new artists out there: D'Angelo, Maxwell and


Badu," Denes said. "They've made it possible for the new genre to have a

place in the record industry world again." [Mon.,

Feb. 16, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]