Chicago’s a big city, its musical genius is even larger and the stories of the people behind it can break your heart. But some of the stories can fill them back up, like when a music man is just scrappin’ and manages to finally break through.
This is true of Eric Welton, better known to the record-buying public as Emmaculate. DJing since the ’90s, Emmaculate is not a new name but an incredibly versatile sound spanning several hit records has made people take another look.
It says something when a single producer can make one my favorite acid house tracks and one of my favorite soulful house songs just a year or two apart. Emmaculate did this with the nasty bite of the Chicago squelch tribute record 2087 on Terry Hunter’s T’s Box and then the mesmerizing Isis on Osunlade’s Yoruba Records.
There are a lot of people who don’t have stories behind their songs. They’re loops, and they were released because management was bitching at them to get their ass back out there on the circuit. Emmaculate’s tracks do have stories behind them. They have stories, and they ARE stories — stories that lead into and bleed into one another, like verses into verses and one chapter following another. He sat down to talk about some of them, as well as put together our latest 5 Mag Mix.
Listen: Emmaculate – A 5 Mag Mix #91
Congrats on the success of “Isis.” I saw that was charting very high — what number did that peak at on Traxsource?
Thank you very much! The EP as a whole reached #1 overall on the Traxsource singles chart. The Yoruba Soul mix of “Isis” was #1 on the Soulful House chart for over three weeks, and reached the #2 spot overall. My original mix and Terry Hunter’s remix of “Isis” both did very well on the Soulful House chart as well, and the track “Guardians” also charted in Afro House.
You release a lot of your stuff on T’s Box and Terry Hunter’s sublabels. How did this one end up in Osunlade’s hands?
I actually met Osunlade at Mi Casa Holiday back in like 2012. He was very humble & approachable. We stayed in contact mostly through social media over the years, and one day in a text conversation he asked me what I had been working on. I told him about this project I wanted to do named after my disabled daughter, Isis, and my late mother, Alice. My mom was a professional abstract artist, and I wanted to use a painting she did years ago named “Isis Angel” as the cover art — being that she made that as a tribute to my daughter as well. He was all into the idea, so I sent him rough drafts of the tracks. He felt like the project was a great fit for Yoruba Records and offered to put it out. Terry gave me his blessing on it and even offered to do a remix… and there you have it! It was really a blessing to have both of them involved, especially being that this is the first release they’ve ever been a part of together.
Let’s talk about T’s Box then, how did you wind up working for Terry Hunter?
Well, I first met Terry back in around 2002 or so. I was making a name for myself as a producer/DJ in the Chicago hip hop & R&B scene more so, but also was involved with Julius the Mad Thinker and the 3 Degrees crew in house music. Terry has also always had a foot in hip hop & R&B also, so we crossed paths a few times. Chicago is small, as you know. I always had a great respect for him dating back to the first record of his I bought in 1991, “Symphony Of Love.” And, he always showed me respect as an up-and-coming producer.
In 2008, he had heard some of the house stuff I co-produced with Julius and encouraged me to do some of my own, and he would put it out on his new label T’s Box. I said ok cool, but I was too wrapped up in the other stuff I was doing and never took him up on it. Fast forward to 2017, I finally put out a track called “Fenix” on my and Julius’ label and sent it to him. That sparked a great conversation that led to me starting do some engineering work for him. I had this song with Kaye Fox called “Do It” and approached him about releasing it. He agreed, did a remix also, and we put that out in late 2017.
All of this just led to us finally locking in and really working and talking a lot — building on ideas and how to grow things. It just evolved organically into me managing the day-to-day operations of his labels and also mixing the majority of his records.
He’s always had a pretty strong family vibe with the people around him, they usually stick around there and work on their own projects too. Has he encouraged you to get yourself out there more?
Absolutely! Terry is a very family-oriented dude, and I am also. That’s a big part of why we click. T. has been very encouraging and given me great guidance on my career. He’s “been there/done that” with what I’m trying to do, so I listen. And, loyalty means a lot. There are a lot of people trying to jump on peoples’ backs like stepping stones out here, and Terry is conscious of that. I’m free to work with any labels I want, but home is home.
T’s Box, unlike quite a lot of labels, does a lot of studio work — I mean real studio work, with musicians and vocalists and everything else. What goes into your job there?
Well, my job at T’s Box on the creative side is primarily final mixing. So, when Terry finishes his original records and remixes, he sends them to me to mix, and we go back and forth until we’re completely happy with it. Joey Fernandez is also an important person in that process. As you pointed out, he uses a lot of live musicians such as bass, guitar, horns, and even strings sometimes. So, the mixes can be a bit more complex than the typical electronic production. In my own production it’s the same thing. I love working with musicians and creating music in the vain of the stuff we love from the ’70s. And in order to do that, you can’t only use the computer and software instruments.
As far as vocals go, I’ve gained years of experience working with great singers in R&B & house. So I’ve learned how to properly treat vocals in post-production and mix them. We pride ourselves on working with great artists & musicians.
Do you have any stories from behind the curtain there, so to speak?
Sure, here’s one… So, I cut these live horns for the “Isis” song that were based on my original idea and then fully arranged by Ryan Tedder. Terry was in the studio for the recording session also. Once I sent the final to Osunlade, he texted me, like, “Hey, are you married to those horns?” I said no, I’m never married, what do you think? He suggested that the track grooved better without them, but we agreed I should keep the sax solo. So, I’m telling Terry about this on the phone and he says, “Man, that’s crazy ‘cuz when we were cutting them, I thought he might say that. But, I can use ’em for my mix and kinda base it around the horns.”
So Terry’s came out hot with his drums and different interpretation of the synths and keys along with the horns I took out. Sometimes it goes like that. I’m just glad we salvaged them because the session was expensive a f!
I noticed that a few labels that barely survived the distributor cataclysm in the ’00s are back and tentatively putting out vinyl. T’s Box is one of them. I thought 2087 was one of the best acid tracks of 2018 (or 2019 when the vinyl came out). What can you tell me about that record? And why issue it on vinyl?
Thank you man! That project was really me geeking out and making some tracks that paid homage to the ’80s Chicago house music that inspired me in the first place! Cats like Larry Heard, Armando, the Phuture crew, Adonis, Mike Dunn, Marshall Jefferson, Lil’ Louis… just to name a few. That deep & acid house is what I learned off and made me really want to learn to DJ and make music. The title simply meant 1987 influences meets the future = 2087.
As far as the vinyl goes, there definitely is a growing wave of vinyl sales. Terry had a deal already going to start pressing vinyl and just hadn’t moved forward with it yet. We started with his and Greg Winfield’s smash “I Found Love” featuring Kadesh, and then did a couple after that also. We just felt “2087” would be dope to press since it was so underground & different. T’s Box has a brand new Bandcamp page with all the vinyl releases available now!
As a producer who are your influences? Who made (and still makes records) that blow your mind?
In the beginning, it was the ’80s Chicago guys… the names I mentioned before, Steve Hurley, Chip E, Ten City, etc. And then disco producers like Patrick Adams, Leroy Burgess, Gamble & Huff… way too many to think of. Then in the ’90s there was Terry Hunter, Paul Johnson, Cajmere, DJ Sneak, Glenn Underground. MAW, Roy Davis Jr…. just so many dope producers. I’ve also always been a big hip hop head. DJ Premier, Dr. Dre, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, Erick Sermon, No ID, Jay Dilla, DJ Quik, etc, etc.
Right now, I’m really feeling Opolopo, Atjazz, Coflo, Osunlade, Terry of course, Louie Vega, Kenny Dope, Joey Negro, Manoo, GU aka CVO… there are so many making great music right now! No shade to anyone I forgot. Way too many to name all of them. I also find myself going back to a lot of ’70s music to study their arrangements and instrumentation. I especially love ’70s fusion jazz. The funk/soul/jazz fusion… disco or not.
As a DJ — same question. Who is a DJ that you will call in sick to work to see the night before?
Again, there are a lot of great DJs out there! I love hearing Wayne Williams & Alan King play. Mike Dunn always kills it. I listen to Rahaan a lot — and try to figure out his damn records! I love Sadar for the same reason. Djeff is an amazing DJ. Julius the Mad Thinker has always been one of my favorites. Terry is an obvious choice… his rotary EQ game is nasty. GU is an alien. Karizma is one of the best I’ve ever seen live. Call in sick to the job I don’t have? Jazzy Jeff & DJ Scratch!
What do you want to see in the 2020s?
I want to see more unity and mutual support. I want to see people voluntarily supporting the culture where it counts most: the economy. Buy the records, stream them on legit sites and apps, pay that cover charge, buy that merchandise, pay that DJ properly!! The truth is… we need that circulation for this thing to survive.
I want to see more love and less hate. When you see someone else getting an opportunity that you haven’t gotten yet, don’t let your first reaction be to criticize or hate. Let it be inspiration. The law of attraction is real, and more love will get you more love. Focus on the art and the love you have for what you do. And just say no to the bootleg man.
Now what do you fear we’ll actually see in the 2020s? (Musically, I guess, but predict the end of the world here if you like.)
What is to be will be. I try not to put energy into fear. I believe in creating your own reality, so the 2020s will be a beautiful time. Bad stuff will happen, but there’s no yin without yang. Let’s collectively keep this beautiful culture going and teach the youth so it can continue.
As for the world, I said in one of my very few rap verses a long time ago (yeah, lol) — “The earth’s not coming to an end, the people are,” based on an old George Carlin stand up. Inevitably, we will be outta here. But, it won’t happen in our lifetime. Hopefully the orange tanning bed champ won’t prove me wrong with WW3.
What do you have coming up for us?
Tons of music. I have a new single dropping on Nervous Records soon featuring Carla Prather and written by Byron Stingily titled “Never Fall In Love With A DJ.” I produced a song for Randall Dean titled “More of the Same” that just came out. I have some tunes I’m finishing with Jon Pierce, Black Widow, Ron Carroll, Ten City, Terry Hunter, Shannon Chambers, Meagan McNeal, Wayne Williams & Koffee, and Coflo that will all be out sooner than later. I plan to create a lot of new music this year as long as God continues to wake me up everyday. And we have a ton of new music dropping on T’s Box & T’s Crates as well as the new imprint Terry & I just launched, Mirror Ball Recordings. We’re really excited about that new venture! Tons of dopeness coming on that!
What can you tell us about this mix?
These are just some records I love. I have a diverse taste, so I just play music I love. Expect a few unreleased joints in here too! Thank you for the interview!