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Record Store Recs: Producer Bongo ByTheWay Shares The Music Of His Mind
With the unprecedented global disruption of COVID-19, it's important to support the music community however we can. With Record Store Recs, GRAMMY.com checks in with vinyl-loving artists to learn more about their favorite record stores and the gems they've found there so that you can find some new favorite artists and shops.
Nigeria-born, Los Angeles-based producer Bongo ByTheWay, a.k.a. Uforo Ebong, has crafted tantalizing beats for heavy-hitters in R&B—including Jazmine Sullivan and H.E.R. on "Girls Like Me," Ant Clemons and Justin Timberlake on "Better Days," and several Teyana Taylor joints—as well as in gospel and hip-hop, Pop Smoke among them. In the latest Record Store Recs, he brings us to his favorite L.A. digs and into the records that shaped his rich sound.
What are three to five record stores you love?
Amoeba Music in Los Angeles
The Record Collector in Los Angeles
Vinyl vendors at Melrose Trading Post in Los Angeles
Why do you love these shops? What goodies have you found there?
Amoeba is one of the records shops I've always rocked with. It's pretty well known, but the location at Hollywood in L.A. recently closed [and is moving down the street]. There's another store on Melrose called The Record Collector that's pretty dope too. The most frequented place I get my vinyl records from is the Melrose Trading Post; they have a few booths that sell records but I don't know the vendors' actual names.
As a producer, I'm a big texture guy. I love the different textures of music and vinyl records have an innate texture of their own because of the medium. That grittiness, tone and the overall feel is incomparable. Even though you can synthesize sounds to get that feel, at the end of the day, there is nothing like vinyl. You can find some great, classic records at these shops, so it's always a unique, memorable experience every time. For the most part, I solely pick up vinyl when I visit [these stores].
I collected a few record players, too, over the years. It's turning out to be a collection as well! I have one that Keyshia Cole gave me, a few that I got from record shops and another one that I bought from Urban Outfitters—that's another place I purchase records from. They have a good section of new vinyl releases too.
Ebong with Erykah Badu's 'Mama's Gun'
Please share a recent record or two you bought at one of your favorite shops. What do you love about that record/artist?
Those records and artists remind me of my time growing up. Anything Marvin reminds me of those years discovering music and sound. I'm a sucker for old school '70s soul—so all those obscure groups that begin with the word 'the' was it for me. The Manhattans, The Main Ingredient, The Four Tops. I was always enamored by that whole sound and movement. Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder are two of my all-time favorite artists and they both complement that appreciation of music I have, which developed from childhood.
It's funny looking back at those times because I remember vividly, as a teenager, my childhood best friend Lawrence and myself having hardcore, intense debates on who is better: Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye. He would tell you I was always #TeamStevie but recently I've been opening up to more Marvin Gaye and now find myself listening to him a bit more often today.
Another funny memory with Lawrence came to me recently when I picked up Stevie Wonder's Music of My Mind. When I was vinyl shopping, I saw the cover to Music of My Mind and it made me think of the time when we made a whole album on a four-track tape recorder, in one take, just for the hell of it. Once Lawrence finished everything, he drew our mockup album cover that I thought was so cool at the time—it was a jewel, abstract graphic.
From that moment to today, I thought he came up with the concept by himself. Come to find out, it was an exact copy of Stevie Wonder's Music of My Mind album artwork. [Laughs.] He just drew it over! I only realized it recently because I never saw Stevie's cover art until I was at the vinyl shop that day. I was like, "Wow, Lawrence, you motherf—." [Laughs.]
Erykah Badu's Mama's Gun album changed my life, so I had to cop that one. That album is a strong example of how an R&B album should be created, even though it's neo-soul-driven and not what some would think of mainstream R&B per se. The way she expressed different concepts and ideas, the overall album cohesion was well done and stands the test of time today. That's what I love and appreciate from albums like Mama's Gun, Things Fall Apart by The Roots (1999) or anything from Slum Village.
Ebong with Marvin Gaye's 'In Our Lifetime'
What's an upcoming or recent release you have your eyes on picking up?
No new releases come to mind because I never know which albums will have a vinyl edition. Also, you never know what you may find when shopping for records and I like that. It makes that moment of stumbling across a record even better. I will say that I've been collecting any J Dilla records that I can find; I have a few in my collection right now.
What were the first CD and first vinyl you remember purchasing?
The first CD I bought had to have been either Slum Village's Fantastic, Vol. 2 (2000) or Madlib's Shades of Blue (2003). The first vinyl purchase was another Stevie Wonder joint… Innervisions (1973)!
In your opinion, what can music fans do to better support Black artists and businesses?
Stream their music, for sure. That's the most obvious and easiest way to show support for artists. Also, if there are people that you are real fans of, there are always other ways you can support them. Take me for example. Because there are people who want to support my work but can't directly, because they aren't in the industry or buying beats does not work for them, I have my #ByTheWay merch that they can cop to show their support and appreciation.
So that goes for artists alike. Support the music and their other business endeavors—especially right now when touring, which is the main means where most artists get revenue from, is nonexistent. The same goes for Black businesses. Share and promote that business you frequent because people will check out their friend's recommendations faster than anything else. That third-party endorsement matters, and it could prevent a business from falling on hard times.