I hate to admit it, but the first time I heard a Joe Bataan record, his distinct vocals had been replaced with the warm eccentricities of hip-hop’s resident hook artist, Bilal. Fresh off a major film release (Smokin’ Aces) and another highly-anticipated album (Finding Forever), Common had dropped the Karriem Riggins-produced “Play Your Cards Right.” It was a high octane musical adventure that found Chicago’s native son spitting with the sort of hunger that has demanded his insertion into music’s illustrious canon. But this is only half the story.
The greatest aspect of hip-hop is, perhaps, the learning experience inherent in any kind of engagement with the art form. More than any other genre, hip-hop has served as a graduate level study in the history of sound and this was no different. With a legacy built around soul samples and classic breaks, I had, once again, found myself enamored with a throwback melody transplanted into a modern context.. Instinctively, I did what I’ve grown accustomed to ever since touching my first rap album years and began, as the cliché would have it, digging in the crates. As dove deeper into the catacombs of music’s past, I came across the name Joe Bataan. Hip-hop had, for perhaps the millionth time, exposed my complete and utter ignorance.
Introduced to “Under The Street Lamp,” I knew I had found what I was looking for. It was the breadth of Common’s 2006 composition—filled with that same horn-centered melody. But even more than that, I was able to hear what truly made Bataan one of the most important figures in the Latin soul movement. His voice was a raw reflection of the urban background he called home, and yet it carried the stylish cool of the classic doo-wop scene. He may not be a household name, but Joe Bataan is clearly something beyond comparison.
Once again, hip-hop taught me valuable lesson in the arena of pure, unadulterated soul music. I suggest you take a lesson from Karriem and Common. Joe Bataan is not to be slept on.