Tuxedo – the love child of neo-soul star Mayer Hawthorne and hip-hop record producer Jake One – released their second album earlier this year. Here’s why we think it’s one of the best albums of 2017.
Back in 2015 Tuxedo, the heavenly pairing of Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One, released their debut self-titled album together. We said back then how great the album was: a throwback to the funk and boogie of the eighties, heavy in bass synth and catchy grooves; an all-round excellent debut release. Earlier this March the duo released their follow-up, the equally exciting and funky Tuxedo II.
The two developed a friendship dating back to the early 2000s, sharing mixtapes of 70s and 80s funk with each other. From there they began to write and produce together, creating music that would eventually wind up on the first Tuxedo album. They also worked together to craft ‘Henny & Gingerale‘, a Mayer Hawthorne fan favourite, on his How Do You Do album, and ‘Designer Drug‘, another Hawthorne classic (which was only released as a bonus track on his Where Does This Door Go album). The two recorded some tracks together Hawthorne’s Where Does This Door Go, but they track’s didn’t mesh with Hawthorne’s typical brand of neo-blue-eyed-soul, so were left off.
The album opener, ‘Fux With The Tux’, formed the basis of a three-song EP released in January, and featured a guest spot from the artist formerly known as Snoop Lion. The song features another classic Tuxedo infectious groove, a simple if frustratingly catchy lyric, and a performance from Snoop Dogg that’s better than anything he did on attempt at the funk on his album Bush (although, to be fair, ‘Peaches & Cream’ with Uncle Charlie Wilson is pretty good).
The album’s centrepiece, the single ‘2nd Time Around’, is a pure funk delight. It’s catchy, it’s fun and it’s an accurate description for the return of Tuxedo: it’s even better listening to them the second release around. It’s even launched the Tuxedo-branded Ho! Button, which is available from Tuxedo’s website (you’d be surprised how often the Ho! Button comes in handy on a day-to-day basis).
‘Take a Picture’ follows in a similar groove and also features another infectious lyric, as does ‘Rotational’. ‘Shine’ features the excellent Gavin Turek, who provides backing vocals for much of the album, duetting with Hawthorne. She really is Tuxedo’s secret weapon, giving the album another edge, and really does, pardon the awful pun, shine on the record, and dazzled in her performances with the group across the US and Europe.
The second-half of the album follows the first, with more catchy, infectious funk. ‘U Like It’ is an epic mid-tempo groove perfect for bouncing too, while ‘Back in Town’ is an up-tempo stomper complete with horns to create one of the best songs on the album. ‘Special’ is equally, well, special, as is ‘Living 4 Your Lovin’’. But perhaps the real surprise is the ballad ‘July’, delivered superbly by Hawthorne and One, and a welcome change of pace to finish the album off with. And if you like ‘July’, take a listen take a listen to their NPR Tiny Desk concert to see it performed to perfection – as well as special stripped-back versions of ‘Do It’ (from the first Tuxedo album) and ‘2nd Time Around’.
All in all, Tuxedo II is a highly impressive album. The Tuxedo duo are canny operators of the funk, knowing what works best and when. They’re aided in their quest for the funk by none other than TFSR favourite, and legendary DJ, John Morales. Morales mixed part of the first Tuxedo album too, and once again lends his unrivalled experience in creating epic funk and disco jams to the Tuxedo duo. Morales also created three M&M mixes from the first Tuxedo album, on ‘Watch the Dance’, ‘The Right Time’ and ‘So Good’. Here’s hoping some extended M&M mixes of Tuxedo II emerge soon (Sly & Robbie have, however, released their dub version of ‘July’).
While the duo are undoubtedly influenced by the disco, P-Funk and G-Funk eras (as well as hip-hop and rap) Tuxedo’s brand of funk sits best with the early eighties funk; the post-disco era defined by the grooves of such acts as Evelyn “Champagne King”, Con Funk Shun, Rick James and Cameo. The difficulty with producing albums that are heavily influenced by the sounds of the past is that they often just end up as mediocre parodies of what’s gone before. Hawthorne and One avoid that entirely. Their Tuxedo grooves are retro without being old, managing to sound fresh and familiar at the same time. It feels like Tuxedo II has been more successful than their first album, if only for the mammoth US, Europe and Asia tour that the group have just completed (following several DJ sets in Europe in April). Their sound, their cleverly crafted songs and lyrics, and superb production and vocal work all add up to an album full of funky, disco greatness that’s infectious without being repetitive. It’s one of our favourite albums of the year, and likely to be one of most played albums ever.
There were two years in between the release of Tuxedo and Tuxedo II. I’m not sure I can wait that long to Fux With the Tux again.