Wino Willy and His Astral, Dusty Boom-Bap

Photo used with permission from the artist.

When Jersey-born MC and producer Wino Willy (aka Charles Corpening) moved to New Orleans in 2018, it was the culmination of a personal and musical journey that began in his youth. Upon arriving, Corpening would connect with a crew of producers that brought a fresh sound to New Orleans' underground music scene. Consisting of Wino Willy, deliciousbeets, AKFA, and friendkerrek, Bag Season's producers collectively built their buzz playing at Counter Sessions, a monthly producer showcase held at the Sea Cave arcade in New Orleans' Bywater neighborhood.

After spending his teen years attending school in China and performing beat sets from Shanghai to New York and various points in between, Corpening was already a veteran artist by the time he got to New Orleans. His debut album, Burlap was released in 2019 and the album is full of slick and insightful rhymes. On the production side, Burlap's hazy, ever-shifting, boom-bap production gives the album a sound that is as nuanced and complex as it is hard as nails.

For his follow up project, Welcome Home Brother Willy, Corpening tapped into the dustiest jazz crates to craft a bizarre, instrumental hip-hop opus. Culling vocal samples from Sun Ra's 1974 cult film Space Is the Place and '70s Blaxploitation, Welcome Home Brother Willy is a trippy musical journey augmented by odd vocal samples that dart in and out of the mix. (Preorder it on vinyl now through Fat Beats.)

Speaking with Reverb for this piece, Corpening talks about the specific sound that he was aiming for when cooking up the music on his trusted Roland SP-404 and MPC1000.

"Basically, I was like, How do I combine this astral, spiritual jazz with grimy, dusty, b-boy aesthetic boom-bap beats? I was using the SP-404 and the MPC1000. I recently upgraded to the MPC Live because I've got a baby on the way and I wanted something that I could use on the move."

SPs & MPCs on Reverb

Thematically, Corpening explains that the initial inspiration for the album came to him in the form of some truly strange and impactful dreams about the state of the world.

"In the beginning of the pandemic, like March 2020, I was having a lot of crazy dreams induced by stress. I had a dream that my uncle [legendary jazz bagpipe player] Rufus Harley and Sun Ra came to me in a spaceship. It was like a journey through time, but also this duality similar to Space Is the Place where you have this high, next level of spirituality, versus some Squid Game-level capitalism."

If the pressures of the pandemic weren't enough, when Hurricane Ida touched down in late August, Corpening and his family were among the many New Orleanians who were forced to temporarily relocate. For the time being, Corpening is living in Atlanta and working with a stripped-down setup consisting of an MPC Live and an SP-404.

When building a track, Corpening prefers to start with a drum pattern. As opposed to programming a new pattern from scratch each time, he has stored up a library of his own self-created MIDI drum grooves that provide him with a quickly accessible rhythmic template for each track. Once he selects a pattern to use in the MPC, Corpening will swap out kicks, snares, and percussion sounds until the right combination of sounds matches the groove.

"I need to be able to cook quickly and effectively. In 2020, I probably made a thousand beats. So, I took some of my favorite joints, isolated the drums and then isolated the MIDI patterns so that I can go and manipulate them. So it's basically like making my own breakbeats in MIDI, so I can change the sounds however I want. I saved a folder of all of these ideas and then I'll load them in and I can find the sounds that I want to use," he says.

One striking aspect of the Wino Willy sound is his approach to manipulating samples. In Corpening's hands, small snippets of rich jazz chords and licks are mangled with effects and pitched down in the SP-404. Unlike most producers who record or load samples directly into the 404, Corpening loads samples into the MPC, uses the SP-404 as an effect box, before bouncing them back into the MPC to chop up.

"I use an MPC by using the output channels running it into the SP, and then running it back into the MPC. That's my process. On the MPC, they have the multi-channel outputs. There is a way that you can send a signal from in here, independently from the master channel. Typically, what people do on these is send a master channel into the other master channel. I'm not doing that," Corpening explains.

He continues: "I run it from the bus channel. I'll do this for my sample. I'll take from channel three or four, go into the inputs, then you can affect that and then go back into the MPC through the sampler channel or through anything that can pick up that input one and two. It will take the effects from the 404, so I can get that gritty, grimy sound in the clean machine. It's like an effects processor. I've seen people do this, so this shit's nothing new. I've seen people do this with the [Korg] Kaoss pad. I've seen people like Dibiase do this with MC-101. It's an old concept."

With several promising collaborations and new projects to be announced in the future, Wino Willy is getting back into the swing of things after a year that was wrought with challenges and change. While cooking up a batch of beats at home, Corpening expresses optimism about the future and ends our conversation with a word of determination and an understanding that music-making is his purpose.

"I sometimes feel like when we go through these difficult times, that's the moment when you have the most clarity. So when I'm cooking up music, if it's fly to me, I'll worry about how it translates later, because this is what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm here and I'm doing it."

Visit Wino Willy's website and follow him on Instagram to keep up to date with the producer. Order the vinyl release of Welcome Home Brother Willy through Fat Beats.

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