The Gleaming Sword
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The Gleaming Sword

Darondo’s “Didn’t I” is Making Up for Lost Time

A sample scavenger hunt helped unearth a not-so-forgotten 1972 soul cut.

Darondo’s 2005 compilation album, Let My People Go

It’s getting to be a chore to listen to future funk. I make weekly trips to that corner of Bandcamp, allured by its anime-inspired cover art and creatively colored vinyls. But these are wary visits, guarded attempts to find the next album I can leave on repeat, or single to add to an ever-growing playlist of mid-20th century-inspired dance cuts.

My most recent voyage unearthed Songs for Distance, the latest release by artist Pop Up! on Business Casual. To be fair, the album is less future funk, and more hip-hop-adjacent sampling, but Bandcamp’s genre tagging system is a pluralistic affair. (Perhaps the most apt genre-descriptor for the album is “plunderphonics,” though that seems a bit reductive and disparaging to the work that goes into producing a track, sample-driven or not.)

Regardless, my listening session was going well until track six, “Stop Look.” A flip of the similarly titled “Stop, Look, Listen” by The Stylistics, Pop Up’s track sent me down a loop of playing the group’s self-titled debut album. Russell Thompkins Jr.’s falsetto soul vocals and lyrics are a fitting salve as the potential return to life pre-March 2020 lingers around the corner.

That listening session eventually honed in on the album’s fifth single, “People Make the World Go Round.” This tangent lasted even longer — I had recently revisited “People Make the World Go Round” thanks to a first watch of Marvel’s Luke Cage. Though it only plays once in the series, the song speaks to the weightiness of Luke as a Black hero and a Black man. His role is a balancing act. In one moment he’s hailed a hero and the next he’s demonized, perceived as another trouble-stirring Black man in a hoodie.

Keep in mind, this journey down the Stylistics rabbit hole all happened before the Pop Up! cut even ended. So imagine my surprise when at the minute mark the Stylistics fade out and give way to a familiar, raspy voice asking for forgiveness.

“Stop Look” by Pop Up!

I’ll spare you the 15 minutes of agony I had while playing a 24 second snippet of a song over and over to try and trigger an identification. The sample, Darondo’s “Didn’t I,” is a tough mental find considering it’s not hooked up to any proper album release. A number of websites place the release date as 2005, when an enjoyable, if ill-conceived compilation album released by Ubiquity Records included the song, right next to Black National Anthem candidate “Let My People Go” and the seedy, womanizing “Legs.” (No wonder Darondo is apologizing on “Didn’t I.)

(If you’re really curious, my thought process went something like this: “I know those chords, but whose voice is that? Ok, this song was definitely sped up in the sample, but who rapped over it? It sounds like a Kanye song, but I don’t think it was his voice. I stopped listening to Kanye after Ye, so it has to be pre-2018. Who did Kanye produce for? Was it Big Sean? His “Outro” on Dark Sky Paradise! Wait, that’s DJ Dahi. Thank God that’s over.”)

Thanks to Pop Up!, and the number of other artists who flipped his work (Vic Mensa, Curren$y, Kendrick Lamar), Darondo has earned the recognition that skirted him in the 1970s. Well known as a lavish dresser, Darondo’s whine of a voice is characteristically suited to capturing the battered Black psyche barely a half-decade removed from the Civil Rights Movement. At the time, however, “Didn’t I” was limited to some 35,000 records sold and local radio play.

A 2007 interview with SF Weekly suggested that Darondo was set to drop a proper album before the end of the decade. That record never seemed to drop, though 2020 did give birth to compilation Listen to My Song: The Music City Sessions. “Didn’t I” might be better suited as Darondo’s lightning in a bottle moment, with sample flips being the next best chance at hearing his unsung greatness.

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Brandon Johnson

Brandon Johnson

Forever hunting for my new favorite music sample. Founder of tripleot.com & abrandbox.com. 🌴🦩

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