I don't know if I'll be able to cover everything else that happened in 2020 with this blog post (part 1 discussed Teresa Bright's album, part 2 Soul Time in Tokyo), so let's see where this goes! After all, it's already the first week of January 2021 and I've hit the ground running with running the label.
On December 31, 2020, the music community received some of the saddest news of the year: hip hop's most inventive, innovative rapper MF DOOM had passed. It came as a shock — his art transformed so many people's lives, from his early days with KMD, the seminal Madvillain collab with Madlib, and subsequent collabs with all levels of artists. The news that he left his body on October 31 — Halloween — was, if I can say this, a relief: his last hoorah for the people, departing on a day where all of us are supposed to be wearing masks (Halloween masks, that is: the ongoing pandemic has us all wearing masks daily).
After the initial shock of the news, my mind went to the artist known as blank check, a beatmaker whose music we released digitally in spring 2019 (which saw a subsequent vinyl release on Grand Gallery Tokyo).
blank check had recorded a couple of DIY covers of Madvillain, specifically "Meat Grinder" and "America's Most Blunted" some years ago, and the thought occurred to me – let's release those, in tribute. Not knowing what the cover art would look like, I first made the point that it'd reference the original album cover with the signature "orange square". Then, looking through my photos I'd taken early that day on a peruse through the Wahiawa Botanical Gardens, an idea struck me: the photo I'd taken, looking up to the sky through the garden canopy, was snapped just seconds before I heard the news. Perhaps DOOM's spirit was somewhere in that sky, at that moment. It was enough for me to know that as a designer, this would make for a subtle reference and a solid tribute.
So with such swift movement, we added one more release to 2020: tribute to madvillain by blank check (AGS-059).
DOOM ran with beatmakers Madlib and J Dilla, together their creations affected an entire generation of music fans worldwide.
Dae Han attributes much of his musical inspiration to Dilla, in beat making as well as musical approach and ideas. The young drummer / keyboardist dropped his debut album BLUE on Aloha Got Soul in February 2020 — looking back, it already seems feels like so long ago when BLUE released.
BLUE had been in the works for a while before it became what it is today. I recall hearing the early demos of it — Dae had invited me to Nelson Cho's studio, Lightworks, for a preview — and early on I had a sense that this could eventually attain a timeless quality. Fast forward to many months after that meeting, Dae presented me with the final mixes of BLUE and my assertions were confirmed: this album (EP?) was in fact, something that could stand the test of time.
Listening to BLUE today, I'm grateful that Dae Han decided to release his first album on the AGS label. He's a true connector, willing to bring together all kinds of musicians and artists, creators and friends. There's no limit to what Dae Han is willing to do, and that I really appreciate about him. I resonate with that — after all, it is my goal to have Aloha Got Soul connect with all kinds of artists, creators, and people in Hawaii and around the globe. The idea is to not pigeon-hole ourselves into any troupes or stereotypes, but to act with earnest intentions and pure passion to break any moulds that might hold ourselves (and Hawaii) back.
That was AGS-031, our 31st release on the label. In all, we dropped 27 (!) releases last year! A handful of them were digital-only — something that we hadn't focused much on in 2019 — which I'm happy to pursue because it allows us to expand our catalog more quickly. (Vinyl production today requires approximately 5-month's lead time... wild!). And it gives our fans and new listeners more music to dive into.
For that, I couldn't be more excited for.
Here's a list of what we released this year (TBH it excludes the three CD releases we did with Light Mellow in Japan, except for the compilation).