Taking Listeners on a Journey: Tall Black Guy and The Art of Musical Appreciation
During a recent Cipher Show interview where he discussed the modern music fan’s inability to sit with one album for an extended time, Grammy award-winning producer 88-Keys said, “We live in a playlist society.”
This may be true, but Terrel Wallace AKA Tall Black Guy is rejecting this societal norm by creating and listening to music at his own pace. “It’s easy to collect a lot of records, but when you actually know all of your stuff from front to back it gives you an advantage,” he says. “You can do so many different things with it.”
Though many people believe sample-based producers need an endless supply of vinyl to fuel their creative process, Tall Black Guy sees his record collection through a lens of quality over quantity. “I don’t even really collect a lot of records,” he explains. “I go back and listen to all the stuff I already had anyway. Nine times out of ten I’m gonna hear it a little differently.”
This willingness to engage in the dedicated study of music has helped shape Tall Black Guy’s signature sound. Residing in the UK by way of Detroit, he has wowed fans for years with his keen sample flipping abilities.
“I listen to the small subtleties in tracks and ask, ‘How did they create that effect?’ Then I’ll try to emulate it myself.”
His instrumental project Tall Black Guy vs. Michael Jackson demonstrates a flair for the unique and could serve as a case study for how to turn well-known samples into something beautiful and unrecognizable. Even the most dedicated MJ fans would need repeated listens to understand how he turned “Billie Jean” into something that sounds like a lost Slum Village track or how he flipped “Beat It” into an ominous, neck-snapping hype anthem. Tall Black Guy may have started out with a smaller, niche audience, but beats like the aforementioned ones have grown his fan base in both size and notable listeners — now boasting music heavyweights like Giles Peterson, Jazzy Jeff, and Questlove.
Despite his growing notoriety and impressive resume, Tall Black Guy keeps a very workmanlike approach towards his music. When asked about his daily routine, he prefers the idea of daily practice and learning to a specific regiment. “Something will be happening with music every day,” he tells me. “Whether it be research, watching interviews on YouTube, or reading material and books. It might not even be making no music, it might just be learning about different aspects.”
And again, it all comes back to the simple act of sitting with music and being a willing understudy. “I do a lot by listening,” he says. “I listen to the small subtleties in tracks and ask, ‘How did they create that effect?’ Then I’ll try to emulate it myself.”
Tall Black Guy’s same sense of appreciation and patience that informs his listening also guides his creative process and decision making towards his own projects. In a world where artists face increased pressure to release material at breakneck speeds, he resists the urge to churn out sub-par releases. “I’m not going to just put up anything,” he says. “For myself, I’d rather just put out the top-notch stuff that I create at that time. And as I get better, I’ll keep adding to that.”
“It’s easy to collect a lot of records, but when you actually know all of your stuff from front to back it gives you an advantage.”
And while he is cautious about the volume of his releases, he acknowledges that, “It’s a fine balance. You can definitely put out the upper echelon stuff, but at the same time you don’t want to wait too long. I usually try to post at least one thing every month, just to keep the people interested.”
More than merely hold our interest, Tall Black Guy hopes to “take the listener on a journey.” This is especially true of his anticipated upcoming release Let’s Take a Trip. He was cautious about giving away too many details, but he admits feeling a mixture of excitement and a need to stop tinkering with his work. “I’ve been listening to this thing non-stop for the last few months,” he says. “I’m getting to the point where I think I’m done, because if I keep adding stuff it will drive me insane.”
Fans who are familiar with Tall Black Guy’s other releases will recognize names of featured guests like Diggs Duke and Ozay More. What can they expect from the new project? “More live instrumentation, so I’m doing a lot of the playing,” he says. “I got different live instruments on there like horns and stuff like that.”
If his previous releases are any indication, Let’s Take a Trip will be an unforgettable journey for both new and long-time listeners.