We look back on an essential '90s house record.
Hand made the tracks while living near Belle Isle Park in Detroit. But Project 5, and the rest of her catalogue, have little in common with the city's smooth, jazz-like house sound, usually associated with acts like Moodymann and Theo Parrish. Drum-focussed and heavy on swing, Hands productions are closer to the jacking sounds of Chicago and New York, the cities in which she spent her formative clubbing years. "I would go to Paradise Garage on weekends, and after the club closed for the day I would go to the record shop nearby and buy the records that were played," she said in a 2010 interview.
The upbeat records played by Paradise Garage's resident DJs, headed up by Larry Levan, would inform Hand's style for years to come. Like Levan behind the decks, Hand would get strange, unexpected results from disparate samples and sounds, generating new meaning by chopping simple phrases and pairing them with fat, swinging MPC beats. That's certainly the case on Project 5, especially its slamming B1, where Hand reworks snippets of vocals from Meshell Ndegeocello's "Who Is He And What Is He To You," a smooth neo-soul song released in 1996, into a peak-time bomb. "That was my style at the time," Hand said. "I felt the track would sound good with her voice. So, one snippet—boom."
That B1 has the qualities—funk, rawness, emotion—that made so much '90s house timeless. The production is relatively simple, but it oozes warmth, transmitted through the sampled chords and vocals. The same goes for Project 5's A1, which was re-released as "Candle Lights" on a later EP. This time the mood is romantic, as the sampled vocal—again, heavily edited—cuts through the pads and tones gliding across the tumbling groove. "It's a lovey-dovey song," Hand said about the track, which is just one of many love-themed tunes in a catalogue full of references to romance ("Love Games," "Touchin Me," "Know How To Love Me"). Less romantic is the A2, though it also has a relationship theme. This time it hints at betrayal, pushing a mood far darker than the one found on the B2, the EP's fourth and cheeriest track. Like some of Hand's other music, the B2 is just on the right side of cheesy, with a big vocal and a big melody.
But such obvious moments are rare in Hand's discography. Most tracks have a feeling that might change depending on the state of your love life. These intense moods, always changing from track to track, are Hand's speciality, and partly why so much of her music remains timeless. Project 5, which gets still regular play by top-tier DJs today, is an exceptional house record that never quite garnered the attention it deserves. Thankfully, that won't stop DJs from playing it for another 20 years.
Rewind is a review series on RA where we dip into electronic music's archives to dust off music from decades past.