“Oh man, journalists always get so many things wrong,” Mayer Hawthorne smiles cheekily at DJ Mag across the table.
We’re sitting in a pub in London’s Southbank, watching the Michigan-born soul singer eat a plate of bangers and mash, flanked by Seattle hip-hop hero, Jake One. Together, the duo are Tuxedo, a new funk project that’s been in the works for over five years, with the duo finally releasing their first self-titled LP, ‘Tuxedo’ this March.
‘Tuxedo’ is a homecoming of sorts, with Mayer — aka Andrew Mayer Cohen — returning to the outlet of his first LP, ‘A Strange Arrangement’. Signed by label boss, Peanut Butter Wolf to Stone's Throw Records back in ’08, it was the powder keg that launched Hawthorne’s career, and would eventually lead him full circle with Tuxedo.
“I mean, we had an offer (for the album) from Pitbull. Pitbull wanted to sign it. But I just don't think they would have really got it,” Mayer tells us, completely straight-faced. “[Stones Throw are] such students of music history, they're one of the only places where we could have really made this work.”
Diplomatic to a tee, it’s safe to say that Pitbull probably wouldn’t have “got it”, with Tuxedo a faithful ode to the music that Jake One grew up with, and the tunes to which a (slightly younger) Hawthorne would eventually become devoted.
“That kind of music — funk, soul and the early ‘80s stuff — that was the first kind of music I remember from being a kid, so it always had a fond place in my heart,” Jake tells us, recounting just how a hardened hip-hop beat maker got into soul music’s fluffy outskirts. “I remember being a kid and hearing my parents play 'Oops Upside Your Head',” he chuckles, “You know, it was the music of my childhood.”
Somewhat of an unlikely creative paring, the two met through their mutual love of rap, when Hawthorne played a show in Seattle in the mid-naughties under his lesser-known hip-hop pseudonym, Haircut.
A mutual appreciation for the funky (James Brown) and the obscure (jheri curl boogie records circa ’82) led the duo to begin to toss ideas about, Jake writing the beats and Hawthorne penning the melodies; turning the tracks into what he calls more “traditional” songs.
“Well, you know, James Brown and George Clinton are the godfathers of rap music,” Mayer muses, making the duo’s union via rap seem less of an anomaly.
Despite Mayer’s three well-received LPs and countless worldwide tours, it’s the full scope of Jake One’s (real name Jacob Dutton) past achievements — his production credits include Drake, 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg — that’s set to really stun non hip-hop connoisseurs. Not that it’s a competition. The two fit together with an easy harmony, their relationship stretching far beyond professional compatibility and into friendship — perhaps the secret behind the authenticity they’ve managed to achieve with ‘Tuxedo’.
There’s little doubt that making a funk-inspired record in 2015 is something of a risk.
With the fear of becoming a plastic-wrapped pastiche an omnipresent conundrum, Tuxedo have wisely chosen to build upon a template rather than simply regurgitate. “We don't want to just redo. That would be boring. It's about taking the era that we come from — the G Funk era — and making it different and new."
“I don't think we would allow ourselves to do something corny. It's just taste, you either have the ear for it or you don't,” Jake says.
“Yeah, there's a fine line between keeping it G and Kenny G,” interjects Mayer. We laugh. Indeed.
Instead of touring ‘Tuxedo’ with a full band, the duo has decided on something different. When DJ Mag meets them they’re in the midst of a whirlwind European DJ tour, that sees them present the LP as part of a nightclub set.
“At the moment, we're doing dual DJ sets, but hopefully we'll get to bring the whole band out at some point,” explains Hawthorne. “This music is so much fun and the whole record is about dancing, so the Tuxedo show is all about dancing.” Mayer smiles warmly.
“Just making people dance, that's the root of it.”
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