Tall Black Guy’s debut LP, 8 Miles to Moenart, opens with this sample from The Cosby Show: “Just because a guy is tall and black, it doesn’t mean he has to be great at basketball.” It’s not that Terrel Wallace, AKA Tall Black Guy couldn’t ball – he played against Dwayne Wade in high school – and as he readily admits “I am really tall” – but fortunately for us he decided to swap his hoop dreams for tempo dreams: Over the last couple of years a steady flow of releases and remixes has established him as one of the most versatile and compelling producers around. His flips of Michael Jackson, Al Green and Darondo classics, his victory in Robert Glasper’s remix contest and the release of Tempo Dreams, the project he helmed to present the creme de la creme of international beatmaking talent, cemented his position at the vanguard of contemporary beatmaking. This status is confirmed with the release of his stunning solo LP. It’s a deep, intensely personal record based on his hometown of Detroit that’s at turns beautiful, brooding and haunting. Okayplayer sat down with Terrel–now based in the UK–just before the record’s release to let him guide us through his city.
Okayplayer: Where is 8 Miles To Moenart grounded?
Tall Black Guy: It’s my experience of being in Detroit, straight up. I was born there, but moved to Chicago. Whenever I went back I’d see the decline in the city and more people leaving. When I was kid, you had people and families living in houses in my block on the Eastside, but fast forward thirty years and there are ten houses on one side of the block, eight of those are boarded up, kids are running wild and all other kinds of craziness. It made me depressed and I just took from those experiences. In the short span I stayed there a lot of stuff happened, a lot of family issues and stuff like that, which is why the album’s kind of dark.
OKP: Is “There’s No More Soul” about Detroit then or soul music in general?
TBG: Probably Detroit, but you could say in general too. Some cats are making music for other reasons rather than trying to put that good energy out there. They’re just trying to make a quick buck and preach nonsense to these kids, man, that’s why that sound bite makes so much sense after that track. People don’t make records about social change. Music can be a progressive form of activity, whereas today it’s mainly recreational. There’s got to be some kind of message in your music. It’s cool to put out beats, but as I don’t rap or sing, I try to find different ways to convey what I’m thinking to encourage or uplift people. Music is very powerful in the sense that you don’t know what it’s doing to you subconsciously, so if you listen to a lot of music with a bad message it can really weigh you down. You are what you eat, so I wanted to be one of those people who feeds good things into the world.
OKP: So it’s a really personal record then?
TBG: Yeah. It’s me playing everything and my emotions going through it. It’s the culmination of the last four years since I taught myself keyboard. I completed the whole project when I moved to the UK, but I had a good portion of it done when I was still in Detroit. Musically it’s pretty much where I am right now. My playing has progressed, but I still do all the things I did before – I still sample and I still like to chop – but now I put the plan on top of that and that opens up a whole new thing.
It’s all original music on the album – Diggs Duke played sax and piano on “There’s No More Soul”, but I played and programmed everything on all the other tracks. I used to sample everything, but it came to a point where I’d be taking six, seven, eight samples and putting them all in one key. It was like my own little band, like how Pete Rock used to do it. He’d take some bass from here, some guitar from there, horns from here and make that his composition because he couldn’t play himself. I started out the same way before I converted to playing.
OKP: So you’re really playing everything? Even the beatbox on “The Motor Is Running”?
TBG: Yeah, that’s me, I got that from my cousin. When I was about 10, she used to do beatbox battles at high school (they called her “Bopper”), before she started doing the background music for ciphers. That was my introduction to music outside of my parents, and as the years went by I’d make sounds with my mouth, whether it was beatbox or melodies, until one day I decided to start making music. But sometimes I still use beatbox techniques to come up with beats.
OKP: Did you have music classes as a kid? We hear a lot these days about American schools cutting back drastically on the music system and art education across the board.