thatmanmonkz is one of those producers who we’ve been supporting since the early days of STW, so its been a real pleasure to see him grow into the position we always hoped he would. While his label Shadeleaf has been a home for a lot of his own material, it’s also been a platform to bring many talented friends more into the limelight. Deep house is the foundation, but a thatmanmonkz creation also comes packed with soul, deep musicianship and a contagious passion for the process as much as the final product. His debut album, Columbusing, finds a home on Jimpster’s Delusions of Grandeur and is described by monkz as a love letter for his experiences of and influences from American music. Musicians, producers, singers and MCs join him throughout the record to help achieve this tribute in a tasteful yet imaginative way.
With a creative inspiration fuelled by two personal losses at the beginning of his musical career, monkz is focussed on making every day and every action count. This interview was no different, as he goes into a level of detail that really brings the record alive. A testament to an album that offers a fine compendium of his inspirations and collaborations to date. If you’re not convinced to buy the record before opening this article, a read through monkz’s track-by-track guide should do the trick.
1. ‘Air’ feat. Khalil Anthony
Despite us working for a little while before, this was the first track we did, the first time Khalil and I were actually ever in the same room/studio. I’d made a few beats knowing he was coming through, he heard that rhythm track first up, and straight away had something that felt perfect for it. We put it down there and then, and Pete Simpson helped out with some live bass after the fact, when he heard it. With its positive message, it always felt like a natural set starter to me, and with the opportunity to do an album, I always kinda knew this would be a good introduction to that, in the way that it would let listeners know that it was going to be more stylistically varied than my EPs had been previously.
2. ‘Jus Anutha Wunna Deez’
This one really feels like a thatmanmonkz track to me, based on what I’ve done so far and, in some ways, a logical progression of that style. It was one of the last tracks to come together for the album, and easily one of the fastest to complete. Definitely a nod/homage to KDJ and Theo and those guys, and it’s pretty rare for me when a whole track comes together in a day and doesn’t really need looking at again. Jimpster straight away got it and signed this one off for the record. In some way these ones become personal favourites in the complete opposite way that the ones that take lots of planning and effort do! Also, this track is the only time I’ve nearly got a sample source past the man Kon. In the end I didn’t, and he spotted it, as he would! But still, I’m taking it as a small moral victory.
3. Boogie Down feat. Erik Rico
After hollering at Erik via Facebook, I was really excited to have him aboard as I’d been a fan of his for a long while, since I first heard ‘Wanting You‘. I wanted to deliver him something that he could get his teeth into, so (and this will sound strange) I used the Bomb Squad (Public Enemy producers) as my main inspiration here. Sample-wise, I really threw the kitchen sink at this one, with the sheer amount of things that I used, and the change-ups within the one track. Knowing Erik was a great musician as well as a vocalist, I asked him to get on the keys as well as the mic to give the track that live and musical lift it required, and was pretty amazed at how quickly he got it, wrapped it, and how little I actually had to do when he passed me back what he’d done with the track. He’s a bad bad man.
4. Sum’ Ol’ Nex’ Ish
This track evolved from a studio mess around with my great friend Pete Simpson. He’d been listening to a lot of Robert Glasper, as had I, and really wanted to do something with a jazz piano vibe, instead of a rhodes or synth which were certainly my standard go-tos. I wanted to somehow give a little nod to (or my own take on) afrobeat, Latin and broken beat – all styles and genres that I have listened to a lot over the years. Fusing that sort of feel rhythmically with Pete’s jazz idea seemed like a natural fit. It wasn’t really overthought or planned meticulously, just a vibe from a jam that felt right and didn’t need overcooking.
5. A Fly New Tune feat. Ta’raach
There was always going to have to be some hip-hop on the album, and I’d been a fan of Ta’raach for the longest. As it turned out, he was a mutual friend of my man Recloose, so I got to him that way. I’d told him I was trying to do a golden era type track for my LP and, unsurprisingly, he got it straight away and absolutely smashed it out of the box with one verse! From my end it’s very much a nod to the Native Tongues and to Pete Rock with the filtered baseline. That music was so important and formative for me that I felt I had to reference it. It’s hopefully leading to a few more tracks with Ta’raach too!
6. Turn It Out feat. Dave Aju
I’m a huge fan and supporter of Dave Aju’s productions and vocal stylings, and really think he should be much better known for it! We’d been chatting for a while, swapping promo’s and such, so, I asked him if he’d like to put down some vocals on an album track for me, and sent over a couple of raw rhythms. He picked this one and absolutely nailed it in a summer jam, ‘BBQ-type feel good way. I had to call upon Sheffield keys player extraordinaire Bennett Holland to come help me try and capture the musical side of the funkiness Dave had blessed the track with. The Delusions guys knew this one was onto something straight away, so, It’s going to be the second single, and Dave has done an absolutely killer remix of it himself!
7. Another Night Under The Glitterball
This piece originally started life as a rhythm track idea for a potential remix, but when that idea/project fell through, it seemed really obvious to reinterpret and finish it, as it had something about it as a raw drum track. It felt like a ‘monkz record, based on what I’m most known for so far I guess. As it came together Jimpster at DoG was his usual amazing self with ideas to twist it up slightly and arrange it more effectively. I love doing those part-organic, part-sampled, part-synthetic house records that can work in the right club environment, but also be a semi musical home listener as well. A definite nod to disco, hence the title, but hopefully in a funk/jazz fusion kind of way.
8. I Can Hardly Breathe feat. A Brother is…
Though I keep getting asked to pick a favourite from the album (and claim that I can’t)m secretly, if my arm was twisted, this would probably be the one. I’ve been working with Pete Simpson since I started making music, and he’s been such a big influence on me, that I had to get him on the record in as many ways as I could. The current state of the world, and particularly the US, was making us both very angry, so we discussed doing something with an overt political reference, like Marvin Gaye had on the ‘Whats Going On’ album or something along those lines. He sent me the raws for this track, and this vocal absolutely left my jaw on the floor as only he can! He came up with the A Brother Is… alias to represent a more conscious and political side of him, and, boy did he. I’m very, very proud to have worked on this record with him!
9. For Bae
The vocal used here is something I’d heard many times, and is from a huge and beautiful US gospel record that many, many people will know very well. It’s probably the most club friendly track on the LP and yet, in some ways, it’s the most personal. Upon finishing the chop and the rhythm track, it felt like it was headed in a fairly obvious gospel referencing direction, like so much of the best house music does and always has. So, rather than ignore that, I asked Bennett Holland to provide some organ and rhodes over the top of what I already had to make it feel more organic. I sincerely hope I’ve been respectful to the source material and its message on this one. That’s something I’m always conscious of as an artist who loves and works with sampling!
10. Moon On The Hill feat. DJ Kali
A long story here, which I’ll try and abbreviate! Kali had appeared vocally on a Shadeleaf release a year or two ago, so we were speaking through that, but, he let me know he was producing himself and sent me a batch over. I was really feeling this one in its raw demo state, and asked if I could contribute to it musically with some production ideas. He was down, though we weren’t originally sure for who, or for which project. As the album started to come together we discussed it some more, and, here it is. The players in his Raw Standard crew really are awesome musicians, and they’ve got something really special coming together as a crew that I’m sure you are going to hear much more about! For my part, I felt that I really needed something cool, calm, and jazz based on the record too.
Now, this one was fun. It came together later on in the project, but, was always somewhere in the back of my head, in that I’d been exposed to so much great Jamaican music over the years, particularly with living in a place like Sheffield, and with some of the artists and musicians I’d worked with in the past. Even though the album is, in many ways, a love letter to my experiences of and influences from US music for most of my life, the idea of not referencing any Jamaican musical influences too felt a little alien. This one, I guess, is me trying to fuse the dancehall influences I’ve had, with things like jazz and dance music, to hopefully create something of it’s own that is still very respectful to the origins it came from, a bit of a microcosm of the idea for the whole album really.
12. Baked feat. Malik Ameer
Working with Malik Ameer is a pleasure, and an honour. You honestly have no idea how inspirational this guy is! We’d been put in touch via Khalil (Malik produced Khalil’s debut album, which I remixed) and, upon hearing him emcee, I asked him if he’d be up for jumping on the LP. He was keen but was on tour in Europe, so had to record this one late in the day, on the fly, really quickly. His vocals here should give you an idea of what a beast he is! We are currently working on an LP together, with him as the featured artist/emcee, and it’s absolutely vocally astonishing. I look forward to you hearing that! Again, my man Bennett Holland helped give it the musical touches and flourishes we felt it needed, as he so often does, for so many of us!
13. Take U 2 My House feat. Khalil Anthony
Because it happened in an unusual way, and the serendipity of it, I feel really lucky to have met Khalil. It’s one of those situations where I really think we bring something out of each other when we collaborate, that it is unique to the two of us and other work we do. He really makes me think as a producer, and experiment, and is prepared to try pretty much anything in the studio. This one starts as a fairly obvious hat-tip to the Purple One, who we both are huge stans of (particularly K!). My idea was to have it turn from a tongue-in-cheek 80’s boogie/funk jam into a Detroit techno kind of vibe for the club. He got it straight away, and delivers one of my favourite vocal performances that he’s done with me so far; so full of character. He has a new LP on the way, so I can promise there’s a lot more to come!
14. For Those I’ve Lost Along The Way
Since I started as thatmanmonkz, what people maybe wouldn’t know, is that around the time it started kicking off I lost my best friend (who is the character on the Shadeleaf logo) and my father within a very short space of time. As difficult as that has been for me, I know a lot of people have hard times in their lives, so, I don’t want to dwell on it, other than saying that I try and use it to fuel creative inspiration, and to feel like I’m giving everything my best shot with the fragile one shot that I have. I had to make a musical reference to it a little selfishly really, so, this is that track. All the sample sources on this one have direct references to death or passing, and that was very conscious on my part. My friend Xander Wright did a great job on the live percussion, helping me get more of an organic feel for it. The end section just felt like ‘an end’, to the album, or maybe to something a little more spiritual for me personally.