Passing by someone performing in the subway, a common critique might be, "Wow, that person is pretty good," but would you ever go beyond dropping a tip in the hat? Sure, you can respect the time and energy that most of these performers put into their craft, but if it isn't being spotlighted by some tried-and-true cultural institution then chances are you would just walk on by.
That would be a crying shame because there is deserving talent at every pit stop, not the least of which is a fellow by the name of Damon C. Scott, an imposing figure with a soft interior and a pristine voice, rich in experience from a life hard-lived. Scott can be an intimidating character, banging on his drum and belting out standards and pop tunes in the NYC subway like his gone-viral cover of Adele's "Someone Like You" as seen below. While many would just pass by Scott or get wrapped up in the novelty of such a tender voice coming from such a large figure, DJ and producer Morgan Geist sees Scott as the powerful asset that he is, particularly when it comes to his own productions.
Geist is perhaps most famous as one half of the production duo Metro Area with his cohort, Darshan Jesrani. You could throw out classifications like house, disco or even boogie when discussing the duo's catalog, but we're trying to avoid that, remember? Through a couple of fated connections, Geist sought out Scott and asked him to contribute vocals for his Storm Queen project to be released on his Environ imprint. For Geist, Scott's uniquely weathered voice was exactly what he was looking for, "... I think my favorite parts of his voice are the lows and the growl. I think there is a delicate aspect to some of the sound palette in this project and the strength and rawness of his voice provides contrast."
Indeed, Scott's voice is well suited to the vibe Geist is trying to convey. In contrast with Metro Area, Storm Queen is more raucous, cutting and to the point, paying homage to the great anthems of House music by wearing its heart on its sleeve. Actually, in mentioning those massive tracks of yesteryear, Scott and I shared our first little moment together. Upon realizing that Scott had experienced the glory days of Chicago House music (yes, that's where House music originated. You thought it came from Sweden?), an era that I idealize with great nerdy fanaticism, we broke into an impromptu sing-a-long of Marshall Jefferson's, "Move Your Body," screaming over the phone at one another. It was then that I realized that we weren't so different from one another. The passion was there even though we came from vastly different backgrounds.
Growing up, Scott was surrounded by music. His mother, Sherry Scott of Earth Wind & Fire fame, assured that Scott would find music wherever he went, though not by forced piano lessons, but from something more organic. His mother was briefly married to fellow Earth, Wind & Fire member, Wade Flemons, who had a profound impact on Scott when he was young. Scott reminisces, "Wade was a musical force in my life, he had a Buick Riviera. I'll never forget this car. You heard the sounds and then you saw the car, oh man, it was unforgettable. If sound meant anything to you at all, you would remember the sounds of your life."
It would seem like the perfect upbringing to come into one's own as an artist, but Scott still needed a push to recognize his gift because he felt he didn't fit the mold. "As a youngster, I grew up as a husky kid, clothes never fit, shoes too small, so no one knew how to dress me."
"When my mom and I lived in Pasadena, CA, the ladies in the complex would hear this kid coming out of the apartment singing, 'Always and Forever.' The ladies saw me and said, 'Hey, you singing?' I said, 'Yeah.' The women asked, 'Where you going?' 'I'm going to the store.' 'You got money?' 'I got a quarter.' 'I'll give you a dollar if you come and sing for us.' I sang like my life depended on it and for the next 30 years it kind of did."
Scott, a former member of Chicago's infamous Black Gangster Disciples, never knew his father, has been to prison three times and has struggled through an addiction to crack cocaine. "I was a crackhead who didn't know where my next meal was coming from..." Despite a life filled with tough luck that would break a lesser man, Scott has kept on a steady path to emerge on the other side, becoming the focal point of Geist's infectious productions. With its bouncing bassline and ravenous lyrics, their latest collaboration, "Let's Make Mistakes" was even featured as Pitchfork's best new track, not that that should determine how you feel about it.
While it may be easy to categorize this story as one of redemption or to label this post as just another concerned with the "rising popularity of dance music in North America," I believe it should be taken at face value. It's just another story that we rarely notice or care to pay attention to because the circumstances seem so familiar, so average as Shuja Haider has previously explored.
If there is some sort of clichéd moral to the story, I suppose it would be to not reserve cultural critique for the museums and concert halls, but to be prepared to engage with anything and everything. You may find that the most culturally enriching experiences are more accessible than you thought. And as for popular opinion, the only critic that truly matters is the one in your gut.
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