Hip-hop has been re-contextualizing and riffing off of older musical styles for decades now, so I always appreciate artists who come at that conversation from the opposite direction. Take El Michels Affair, a relatively new NYC band whose upcoming album Enter the 37th Chamber consists of a dozen or so classic cuts from the Wu-Tang Clan and its members, reinterpreted as instrumental soul numbers. If that sounds like it could be a cheap gimmick, trust me, it’s not. Saxophonist Leon Michels put together El Michels Affair a few years ago with other session musicians who, like him, had played with such distinguished acts as Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings and Antibalas. Within a few years, they’d ended up backing the Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon in concert. So the ensemble approaches the Wu-Tang material with genuine appreciation and artistry, bringing out some of the original influences that RZA’s brilliant production drew on in the first place.
Enter the 37th Chamber won’t be out til April 21, but for now you can stream El Michels Affair’s delightful version of “C.R.E.A.M.” below or download it as a free MP3. If you like that one, just wait til you hear what these guys did with “Da Mystery of Chessboxin'” and “Incarcerated Scarfaces.” Anybody else feeling this ensemble’s sound?