Masters At Work pt. 1 (TN-009)


M.A.W. in Muzik Mag in 1997

Editor’s Note: this is the first post from our intern Chinua. He’s a big fan of French touch, but we’re trying to teach him all about the history of house and techno too. To start him on the right path we gave him an assignment to learn all about M.A.W. and tell you what he learned. So please give a warm Soul Clap blog welcome to our young gun, ChinChin.

In the late eighties, Carl Kenneth Gonzalez and Luis Fernando Vager, better known as Kenny “Dope” and “Little” Louie Vega, but best known as Masters At Work, first met through mutual friend Todd Terry after Vega took interest in Gonzalez’s “A Touch of Salsa”. The turn of the decade saw the start of a solid repertoire of dance-floor essentials under a number of monikers, starting with their single “Blood Vibes”. Masters At Work’s influences include latin, jazz, hip-hop, disco, soul, Larry Levan, David Mancuso, Red Alert, Chuck Chillout, Tony Humphries and even The Clash— in essence, the sounds of the eclectic New York City they knew.

Born in Brooklyn in 1970, Dope took to the emerging hip-hop sound, following radio DJs like Marley Marl, Teddy Ted and Awesome Two. As a teen he worked in a record store and DJ-ed on the side. It wasn’t long before Dope founded a DJ crew called— you guessed it— Masters At Work, doing up block-parties left and right. Nor was it long before Gonzalez crossed paths with Todd Terry. Here’s the deal: Terry borrowed the Masters At Work name for releasing tracks (Alright, Alright & Dum Dum Cry), and in exchange Dope got to play with Terry’s production equipment.

Whereas Kenny Dope provided Masters at work with the hip-hop style beats and disco grooves, Louie Vega brought in the latin and soul. Bronx-native Vega was born into a latin music-driven family (his uncle is Hector Lavoe), clearly setting the tone for his music career. Vega’s big sisters exposed the young teenager to clubland, and half a decade later he found himself spinning at the Studio 54, making and breaking latin freestyle records. By this time, Vega and Todd Terry were on vinyl-sharing terms, which explains how Vega hooked up with Dope.

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The Cover Girls – Wishing On A Star (Magic Sessions Vocal Dub) [Epic – 1992]
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The Cover Girls, one of the first Latin freestyle acts to make it big on the charts in the early nineties, released their version of the much-covered “Wishing On A Star” in ’92. The single went on to place ninth on the Billboard Top 10, making it kind of a big deal back then. It was around this time that Masters At Work started churning out remixes of pop artists, converting radio music into minimal, dubby, dance floor beats.

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Masters At Work – The Ha Dance (Ken/Lou Mixx) [Cutting Records – 1991]
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Cutting Records, which has fallen off in recent years, was once an integral part of the electro (that is, real electro), house and and freestyle scene in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. They are responsible for putting out the electro classic, “Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)” by Hashim. Cutting Records also released many of Masters At Work’s early tracks, including their debut single, Blood Vibes, as well as their debut album, titled The Album. The Ha Dance (Ken/Lou Mixx) accompanied their Blood Vibes release, and includes a sample from this classic comedy. Can you find it?

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Chris Cuevas – Hip Hop (Masters At Work Dub) [Atlantic – 1991]
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Who the heck is Chris Cuevas? I don’t know either, but the stripped down skippy beats and chopped up piano synths on this track embody the early M.A.W. sound to a t and helped lay the foundation for the whole Strictly Rhythm NYC thing and later the UK garage thing. So listen, understand, download, and play for dancefloor destruction, even today.

Comments

  1. Henry G says:

    Nice one Chinua!! Keep em coming :)

  2. Chinua says:

    Thanks, mate. Hope to see you at Baton 320!

  3. G says:

    Can you please, pleeeease put the link back up for ‘Chris Cuevas – Hip Hop (Masters At Work Dub)’ . Someone nicked the vinyl off me whilst I was DJ’ing back in the 90’s and reading your blog reminded me of it. I loooooove that track!!!

  4. […] accents. Like, one minute he’s playing a brand new release and the next he’s mixing Master’s At Work “The Bounce”, or K.O.T’s “Simon Says Bounce” (wait thats weird, they […]

  5. […] from where we left off, it’s the crack of the 90s, and Little Louie Vega and Kenny Dope Gonzalez are well on their […]