“Why is anyone bothering? They’re just going to sweat out all the drugs.”
These fine words were spoken to me as the speaker exited and I entered the bathroom at around five in the morning in a steaming warehouse loft in Brooklyn a couple years ago. The occasion was a night of seriously grooving house music featuring three DJs, one of whom was Rick Wilhite, the Detroit deep-house hero whose best-known alias is “The Godson.” The room was long and narrow, fully painted white, and lit with red bulbs and gels. There were two air conditioners on full blast at open time—it had been in the 90s that day. Within an hour, the ACs both died. Sweat covered nearly every surface within an hour. Did that stop anyone from dancing? Or, for that matter, taking drugs they’d just sweat out again within minutes? It rather encouraged it.
Wilhite, who'll be at the Hook and Ladder this Friday, ran the Detroit record shop Vibes until 2008, and his music—humid, bumping, irresistibly paced, reframing grabby little details from classic R&B tracks in ways you hadn’t previously considered—was tailor-made for that red-lit loft environment. Wilhite’s catalog is easily accessed via 2009’s immaculate Rick Wilhite Presents Harmonie Park Revisited (Rush Hour/K7), which spans the mid-’90s to the late ’00s; he’s also part of the occasional Detroit house all-star team 3 Chairs, along with Theo Parrish, Marcellus Pittman, and Kenny Dixon Jr., a.k.a. Moodymann.
As a DJ, Wilhite has been a hard-liner for vinyl. “Right now, depending on how intelligent you are with computers, you can become a DJ overnight,” he told Resident Advisor in 2010. “I don't see how it's a good thing at all. . . . The whole entertainment industry has created people that really have no passion doing what we do, as a producer, as a remixer, as a DJ.” As if to prove his point, shortly after that interview Wilhite’s FACT Mix 198 (November 1, 2010) appeared. Heavy on the work of his Detroit peers—including Omar-S, Aaron-Carl, and Andrés—it’s as good a Wilhite entrée as you could ask. Start the player and suddenly you’re there, exuding toxins along with a couple hundred of your favorite new strangers.
It opens with a snatch of Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Can’t Hide Love” that ricochets into the ether, before Moodymann’s “Shattered Dreams” lands bass-first and imperturbable and establishes the patient groove and heavy, smoky atmosphere. That’s why it’s such a lift when, around the 19:20 mark, the air suddenly clears when Wilhite brings in the Urban Cru’s “Go (Chez Damier Classic Mix).” That track is so airy it’s almost gaseous, but it works perfectly here, and it allows Wilhite to go into decidedly weirder territory—see Parrish’s skittering sketch “Black Mist,” beginning at 39:30. Good parties often get a little strange.
Chosen by the Funk Presents: Rick Wilhite
With: DJ Nola and John Hardy
Where: The Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge
When: 10 p.m. Fri. Oct. 13
Tickets: $10/$12; more info here
Each Thursday, Michaelangelo Matos will spotlight a different DJ set—often but not always new, sometimes tied to a local show but not necessarily—and discuss its place in the overall sphere of dance music and pop.