Marcellus Malik Pittman. When other children were playing combat with G.I. Joe action figures in the early 80’s, Detroit native Marcellus “Malik” Pittman was playing his radio at maximum volume, listening to the sounds of “the Wizzard” and the “Electrifying Mojo”, in addition to the jazz outputs of Rosetta Hines. Malik began his DJ pursuits for college parties, wedding receptions, “old school parties” in the early 90’s. In 1993, Malik released his initial work of production with local Hip-Hop collective “Home Grown”. Shortly thereafter, he released “Essential Selections, Vol. 1” on the Sound Signature label, headed by Theo Parrish. In 1998, Malik forged a working relationship with Rick Wilhite, Theo Parrish and Kenny “Moodymann” Dixon, collectively known as the 3 Chairs. As production artists and selectors, they have helped to define an integral part of the Detroit sound.Malik’s sound has been around the Detroit and surrounding areas, as well as internationally, spanning Canada, the UK, Germany, Japan and Paris. His dedication to production ushered the discontinuation of his latest residency with Northern Lights in Detroit. Malik is currently heading his own label, Unirhythm, which will release his upcoming projects.
We should always pay attention to the musicians whose names already sound like music, which is the first reason to pay attention to Marcellus Pittman, and not the last. Try saying it out loud. Three syllables up front, two on the flip, like a little song, or the name of a neo-noir private eye, or maybe an ancient gladiator, or a brand of pricey cuff links, or the elementary school where America’s greatest jazz musicians learned long division.
Pittman is a DJ-producer from Michigan, a student of Chicago House and Detroit techno, and a member of a flyover avant-garde that includes Omar-S, Hieroglyphic Being, Theo Parrish and others. And while Pittman has released five great tracks across two separate pieces of vinyl this year, his music hasn’t generated the same talk that his peers’ albums do. Maybe Pittman knows the great ocean of music reaches us in little waves. His new songs aren’t all available on the major streaming platforms, making them hard to find, the same way that the ocean can be hard to get to.
If you go surfing for Pittman’s music on YouTube, you’ll probably land on footage of him hanging out in record stores, answering questions about his spoils. “Music is a really precious thing,” Pittman says during an interview at Phonica Records in London in 2016, reminding us that the pursuit of new sounds is infinitely more “sacred” than the weekly grocery run. In a similar interview, filmed at Amoeba Music in Los Angeles that same year, Pittman does more shopping than talking, snapping up ruffled rhymes from Gang Starr, some elastic boogie by Melba Moore and the survivalist disco of Sylvester Johnson.
These videos reinforce old ideas about a DJ’s role as guide, tastemaker, treasure-seeker and pleasure-freaker — but what’s interesting are the kinds of records Pittman gravitates toward. He seems to like things plush, dense, saturated, luscious, thick. So why are his dance tracks so stark, so lean? It’s easy to make a deduction: Building a rich vocabulary allows him to deploy his own sounds more judiciously, the way a poet might place words on a page. What stays out makes what goes in all the more important.
That’s one way to explain the thoughtfulness radiating from Pittman’s two new vinyl singles. Every sound carved in these black spirals feels considered and essential — that curvy bass line on “Can’t Forget About You”; the erratic heart-thumps of “Love Is All”; that polyrhythmic wink on “Creepy Crawlers 2”; the itchy punch throughout “Revenge For Nothing”; the cosmic hissing of “Red Dogon Star.” Listening to them one after another can feel as profound and uncomplicated as ocean surf lapping at your feet.
Pittman did release a proper full-length album once, way back in 2012. He called it “Pieces,” maybe to draw our attention to how his bumps and clicks make up the whole. The album’s cover, however, suggests something else. It’s an image of the empty cosmos, evoking the negative space that gives Pittman’s music its shape, its character, and ultimately, its mystery. We’re dancing to what isn’t there
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