There are several misleading elements concerning Adrian Younge Presents the Delfonics, a new album being released on the WaxPoetics label on March 12.
Let’s start with who’s presenting who, here.
Younge is a thirtysomething L.A.-based producer.
The Delfonics are one of the biggest vocal groups of all time who, with arranger/producer/songwriter Thom Bell, helped create the lushly orchestrated, heavily harmonized soul sound for which this city became known. “La-La Means I Love You,” “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time)” and “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love)” — these songs are universally cherished for their heaven-high vocals and dreamy sentimentality. Hip-hop’s finest have sampled them. Quentin Tarantino sets scenes to them.
“We are the sound of love,” says 68-year-old William Hart, Delfonics’ founder, lead singer and co-writer of its catalog of hits. “My songs had to be clean and had to mean something, always,” he says in a deep baritone wildly different than his signature high vocals. “Still do.”
Sitting in his home in Wyncote, Pa., Hart points out the other misnomer in the new title. While multi-instrumentalist/producer Younge provides the new album with an eerily sparse sound unfamiliar to Delfonics fans, the vocals are Hart’s alone.
After 47 years in the Delfonics biz, this is Hart’s major-label solo debut.
“I own the name ‘Delfonics.’ Older people know me. This new sound is just to shock them into reality,” he chuckles. Hart recalls how one of his influences, Smokey Robinson, pursued solo stature. “Even he had to get people used to ‘Smokey and the Miracles’ before he could be just ‘Smokey.’ That’s me now. Boom.”
By singing solo, Hart is fulfilling his dad’s dream, something that started when the family lived at Second and New in Kensington (“the city’s funnest neighborhood”), where William ran produce from the wharf with his brother Wilbert. “My dad always wanted me to sing solo,” says Hart. “But back in the day, the fun thing to do was have a group.”
Young Hart liked the idea of putting his head and voice together with brother Wilbert and their friends. “We were Philly’s answer to the Temptations. That was a good idea, right?”
Fast-forward to the present and you find, for such a clean, God-fearing writer — “there’s no sex in our songs, just the suggestion,” Hart says — the head Delfonic is cool with MCs as coarse as Notorious B.I.G. and Wu-Tang Clan sampling his hits. “Ever go to Starbucks and get a nice black cup of coffee? You put a little cream in it, then a little more, there’s a pleasant taste. Then that taste takes over. When rappers use my songs, they’re taking advantage of that cleanliness, sweetness and creaminess.”
Hart’s sense of his own sweetness and elegance, to say nothing of his natural curiosity, is what made him take up Younge’s offer to collaborate back in 2011. Younge, a music-maker used to modernizing vintage-soul sounds (see his blaxploitative soundtrack to the Adult Swim show Black Dynamite), met Hart through a mutual music-industry friend, who got the two together on the phone. No sound files were exchanged; just one phone call and Hart flew to L.A. to work with Younge.
It was blind faith on Hart’s part, a “gut feeling,” he says, that made him want to start work immediately. As soon as he arrived at Younge’s fully stocked retro-phonic studio, he commenced co-writing 13 new songs with Younge, like the sparsely arranged “Stop and Look (And You Have Found Love)” as well as “Lovers Melody,” the latter track surprising for its introduction of Hart’s baritone voice into his music.
“It’s called range,” says Hart with a chuckle. “And it’s all natural. People hear this new album and they can’t believe that I can still sing as high as I always did. They think Adrian sampled me from the old days. It’s all real. And like everything else in my life, it’s a gift from God for which I am grateful.”