King of nothing

By DAVID DAY  |  July 27, 2006

Kings of Diggin’ spotlights 17 rare loop-worthy jams put together by Kon and his NYC-based partner Amir. (There’s also a bonus CD from Tokyo beathead Muro.) Amir discovered the groove for OutKast’s “So Fresh, So Clean,” and he recently left record mecca Fat Beats to work for the indie hip-hop label ABB. Kon still lives in Dorchester, where he has lived most of his life. The two correspond often, get together rarely. For this high-profile release, however, they had two recent Boston release parties, one at Middlesex Lounge, one at Vertigo in Faneuil Hall. The compilation itself is an international blend of Brazilian, Latin, European funk, and something Kon calls “West Indian urban disco.” It kicks off with the dreamy folk funk of Matthew Larkin Cassell’s “In My Life,” which, it turns out, is Kon’s favorite vintage-record find of the bunch: “He’s a cool dude. He’s now a teacher in California and he surfs.” Kon had heard of the private-press recording but couldn’t find it anywhere. (And that means anywhere.) So he had an idea. “A friend of mine works at Warner Bros. and has access to publishing, so he looked him up and wrote him a pretty charming letter and got in touch with him. And I was like, ‘Yo, pass that info and then I can hit him up.’ And I took it to another level and got to acquire the masters, worked a deal out to launch this guy’s stuff. I got my record directly from him. He’s a good guy, a down-to-earth dude. . . . I just want to get his music as far out as it can go. That’s my thing.”

Expect to see Cassell’s rare LP up on eBay soon — Kon’s compilations usually ignite the rabid vinyl market. “A prior compilation that we did, I had this great record that I saw go for $1000 on eBay. That’s not indicative of the true value, it’s just what some fool with a lot of money wants to pay. But that’s . . . a lot of money for a record.”

Kon has waded through the muck for a stack of water-damaged goodness, and only he knows the value of some of his finds. “Most of the tracks on the mix I got through 10 years of contacts. But I’ve found things around my way, in Dorchester. Very expensive records for 50 cents.” He smiles. “I keep my composure. Never let them see you sweat! But meanwhile you’re like, ‘Oh my God! I’m about to get this for 50 cents!’ Those are the joys. But I also pay $400 for a single record. You just got to do it. If you’re me.

As the crowd swells at Middlesex, requests for “old school hip-hop” (“You know, Biggie Smalls, Snoop Dogg?”) and directions to the bathroom are par for the course, but Kon takes it in stride. “That’s a typical night, ‘What are you playing can you play this?’ ” He laughs. “No one really appreciates what we do here, Americans don’t. I’ve done interviews before with various European publications. But I can’t read them!” And he persists in renouncing his throne. “The true Kings of Diggin’ would be the forefathers of what we now call hip-hop culture: Kool Herc, Bambaataa, Flash. They pre-date hip-hop as a music. There wasn’t a section you could go up to in a record store. You had to get some kind of rock record or something funky and make it up!”

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