With new album 'Soulful Storm' in stores now, the Baltimore house legend talks us through the records that, for him, map out his career
One of the most revered DJs and producers working in the soulful house arena, Baltimore native DJ Spen has been a fixture on the house and garage scene for over a quarter of a century. But then then you knew that.
Emerging from an R&B backroom past into the house spotlight as part of the Basement Boys collective in the mid-90s, Spen has since gone on to release vocal house anthem after anthem, whether working as Jasper Street Company, alongside regular partner-in-crime Karizma, as one of The Muthafunkaz, or simply as DJ Spen. But then you knew that.
Most recently, soulful house lovers have been in raptures over Soulful Storm, Spen's most recent long player, which dropped a couple of weeks ago on Quantize Recordings, the label Spen has been running – alongside wife Kelly and fellow ex-Basement Boy Thommy Davis – since 2012, following the closure of his previous label Code Red the year before. But then you knew that.
What you probably don't know, though, is which 10 records Spen sees as having been the most pivotal over the course of his long career, or what he thinks of them.
Good job we're here then, innit? Take it away Mr Spencer…
1. Numarx – Girl You Know It’s True (Studio Records, 1987)
“I was a teenager when I wrote this song with my Numarx crew. I never imagined what the song would later become and all the controversy that would go with it! Still, it taught me a lot about the music industry.”
2. DJ Spen presents Jasper Street Company – A Feeling (Basement Boys, 1995)
“This was my very first dance music production. I had been working as a songwriter and pre-producer for five years at that point. I really felt like I was ready to do my own production, and that record turned out to be a very successful start. This was the very first Jasper Street Company record.”
3. Mary J Blige – Beautiful [Spen & Karizma Remix] (unofficial, 1999)
“This wasn't an official release, but it was one of the first projects I did with Karizma, which turned out to be a long production partnership.”
4. DJ Spen – Craze At Midnight (Chez Music, 1999)
“This was a track I literally put together in one day, from instrumentation to finalising the mix. As luck would have it, that was one of the biggest songs of my career.
5. Jasper Street Co. feat Ann Nesby – Praising His Name (Basement Boys, 2002)
“This was the first time I worked with Ann Nesby. She was sick when she came into the studio and I had no idea how the song was going to turn out, but it was phenomenal. Ann is a true professional and I couldn’t have been happier.”
6. DJ Spen presents DJ Technic – Gabryelle (Defected, 2005)
“This was probably the first record that I did after leaving Basement Boys Productions. I didn’t think it would be as popular as it eventually became. When DJ Technic first did the track, it was a raw track with beats and a violin sample, but when I sat down with musicians Gary Hudgins and Irvin Madden, it became something way more than that. From that union, we formed the production entity The Muthafunkaz and had quite a few successful projects.”
7. Ron Hall & The Muthafunkaz feat Marc Evans – The Way You Love Me (Defected, 2008)
“This hailed the beginning of a lot of firsts for me. It was one of the first records I did at Code Red Recordings, which also marked the beginning of my relationship with Defected as a label. It was also my first time working with Marc Evans as a vocalist. We did a lot of great records with Marc, but this one has always been extra special. I wrote the hook for my wife.”
8. DJ Spen & The MuthaFunkaz feat Ann Nesby – It’s So Easy (Code Red, 2007)
“This was another really popular record with Ann Nesby. It was the first time I worked with her outside of Basement Boys. The song was initially intended for Marc Evans, but Ann loved it so much. She came into the studio and laid the vocals perfectly!”
9. DJ Spen feat Michelle John – You Are My Friend (Quantize, 2021)
“This song was a long time coming, its very special to me and had been playing in my mind for such a long time. To have it on my new album with Michelle John’s vocals is amazing.”
10. DJ Spen & Jovonn feat Tasha LaRae – Soulful Storm (Quantize, 2021)
“This was the last song made for, and the title track of, my new album. It’s really a storm or combination of many different sounds. You have the raw rhythms and beats, vocals, spoken word and of course instruments.”
Words: DJ Spen, Russell Deeks
Soulful Storm is out now on Quantize Recordings. Buy/stream it here.
Tags: DJ Spen, Quantize, Code Red, Basement Boys, Defected, Marc Evans, DJ Karizma, Ron Hall, Ann Nesby, Numarx, Thommy Davis, Jasper Street Company, Milli Vanilli, Mary J Blige, DJ Technic, Michelle John, Tasha LaRae, Jovonn, soulful house, vocal house, US garage, Baltimore