Moodymann is an outspoken and confrontational bad-ass, a press-averse Motor City militant who’s definitely not afraid to piss people off. He’s also a brilliant producer of often-transcendent music—are there any songs in the house universe more spine-tingling than “I Can’t Kick This Feeling When It Hits”?—and a magnetic, discerning and, at times, downright fun selector, mixing up soul classics, roller-skate bumpers, bluesy and dusty house, and various deep Detroit-isms with apparent glee. In other words, the artist is a man of many, er, moods—and over the 75 minutes of his mix for !K7’s first DJ-Kicks release of 2016, we’re treated to both somber and starry-eyed versions of the the man born Kenny Dixon, Jr. While the set might not be quite as dramatic as one might expect from such a mercurial kind of guy, it does zero in on the brain’s pleasure centers from myriad angles, hitting the mark with a veteran’s skilled accuracy.
The set commences with the shimmering, string-drenched soul of Yaw’s “Where Will You Be,” its doomed-love lyrics gliding effortlessly over angelic guitar strums. The slow jams continue, with varying degrees of forceful weight weaving in and out of the mix: Cody Chesnutt’s organ-and-horn–led “Serve This Royalty,” a song that’s equal parts confidence and doubt, segues to Dopehead’s Detroit street-life ode “Guttah Guttah,” a meaty hip-hop number featuring a sample from a particularly luscious version of “Let’s Stay Together.” Later, the beautifully busted R&B of Flying Lotus’s “Tea Leaf Dancers” glides into the blunted lushness of “Les Nuits” from Nightmares on Wax—a cut that still raises goosebumps after all these years—followed by the cosmic-soul ethereality embedded within the Platinum Pied Pipers’ version of Rich Medina’s “Can’t Hold Back.”
And so it goes for the first half of the mix, with nary a four-to-the-floor kick to be found—and the mix is all the better for Moodymann’s patient build. When the 120-bpm oomph finally does appear, after the spell cast by the rhythmic interplay that’s come before, it’s almost a bit of a shock. But it’s a good kind of shock. Things get kicking with Rodney Hunter’s boogie-blessed remix of Fort Knox Five’s “Uptown Kicks”; Daniel Bortz’s lightly Afro-Latin–tinged “Cuz You’re The One” follows, with jazz-funk disco from the ’70s-era Nigerian combo Tirogo, Rhodes piano-led bliss courtesy of Kings of Tomorrow, and blissful electro-boogie from Marcellus Pittmann among the tracks following in quick succession. The final two cuts could almost be construed as a mission statement from Moodymann, with Lady Alma’s “It’s House Music” (“house music’s gonna make you groove” might look like a trite lyric on the screen, but from her lips, it’s pure gold) and, finally, Daniela La Luz’s heartbreaking jewel of a track, “Did You Ever,” ending the party with something of an emotional roller coaster. It would be wrong to describe Moodymann’s DJ-Kicks set as a feel-good mix—it’s much more than that, brimming with the highs and lows that real life can offer—but it is a joy to listen to, and that in itself is plenty.