Melvin Bliss, R.I.P.

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(via Turntable Lab)

There are few examples of hip-hop's capacity for preserving obscure nooks of our cultural past than the second life of Melvin Bliss, a relatively obscure 1970s singer whose "Synthetic Substitution," a throwaway B-side, became one of the most frequently sampled songs of the late '80s and early '90s. The-Breaks has a fairly exhaustive list of "Synthetic" samples, Fat Lace has the YouTube links, and here's a Matthew Africa "Synthetic" mix from a while back.

Bliss passed away yesterday. It's unlikely he would have been famous enough to merit all that much more fact-checking beyond nailing down his place of birth and exact age (he was believed to be in his 70s). But thanks to old soul devotees like Wax Poetics and others who have wondered where "those drums" came from, we can begin to affiliate a life with that mysterious, perfect name. A soul man named Bliss? Can't be real. (It wasn't...) Above: a clip of the song in question. Just an irrepressible groove, some murky keys and grimmer-than-you'd-expect lyrics about society gone screwy. Also: the trailer for a documentary on Bliss' life, which will hopefully see the light of day.

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Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. More

Hua Hsu teaches in the English Department at Vassar College and writes about music, sports, and culture. His work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, Bookforum, Slate, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe Ideas section and The Wire (for whom he writes a bi-monthly column). He is on the editorial board for the New Literary History of America.
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