Today’s funk and soul DJ is either an imitator or an innovator. A DJ who plays the standards — going from hit to hit — can be found at bad taverns, late-night commercial radio, and most weddings. A true believer commits to his or her own history of funk, one that incorporates region and genre, disco and electro. So when the Cambridge-based Soul-Le-Lu-Jah crew needed to start off a new Wednesday party at the Middlesex Lounge, they called on one man, Philadelphia’s Cosmo Baker.
TRUE BELIEVER: Soul-Le-Lu-Jah’s “DJ army” storms the gates at Middlesex Lounge with help from super DJ Cosmo Baker
“Normally, I’m a hip-hop DJ, if you wanted to break it down. But there’s a lot that fits within those confines,” Baker says on the phone from his home in Brooklyn. “Being from Philadelphia, with its rich DJ history, you kind of have to run the gamut from funk to soul to original breaks to deep funk and bringing it all together.” As one-third of the world-champion remix crew the Rub, Baker has led the charge to put funk back into modern style, and his lengthy tours, from the US to Canada to Europe and back, have him spreading his meme worldwide. He recently returned from touring with Kanye West DJ A-Trak, and his crew’s releases (most notably the “It’s the Motherfucking Remix” series) catch buzz online like Mr. Telephone Man.
His appearance in Cambridge January 10 is a precursor to what appears to be the year of Cosmo Baker. “We’ve got a bunch of stuff coming out right now, between me and the other guys in the Rub,” he says. “The CDs that we put out, we try to be consistent with that. We’ve got some ‘Best Of’ mixes coming out: Best of Reggae, Best of Hip-Hop, Best of Dancehall. Other than that, I’ve got a good amount of solo stuff coming.” In addition to a high-visibility remix of Talib Kweli, Baker is plotting a sequel to his XXXplosion mix project and work with talented MC Plastic Little, all related to the resurgence of funk hotbed Philadelphia. Sean Quinn, on the other hand, is the guru of Boston’s rising funk tide. As the de facto captain of what he calls a “DJ army,” Quinn’s Soul-Le-Lu-Jah night at ZuZu in Central Square has hipsters and their friends falling out of the club every Saturday.
“For our new night, we wanted something that fit the vibe of the club,” says Quinn on the phone from Boston. “And Cosmo, well, all his remixes and mix CDs, are amazing.” When Quinn wanted to launch his new night, Soul Touch, he and fellow soul DJ PJ Grey immediately called on Cosmo. “It’s through PJ that I ended up linking up with this gig,” Baker says. One of Quinn’s funk corporals, PJ Grey hosts the Galactic Fractures radio show (on WMFO) and popular website. “It’s something that I’ve had on my radar for a few years now,” Baker says. “He’s right up my alley when it comes to what I’m into musically. For the past year or so, we’ve been corresponding, sending mixes back and forth.” This correspondence brings Baker to Cambridge for this special appearance, where the celebrated hip-hop head gets to spin his classic collection, some of which can be sampled in a mix atwww.thePhoenix.com.