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Inspiration Information: Leon Michels

Take a trip Upstate into the depths of the 37th chamber.
Photos by Chase Pellerin


When Leon Michels name first appeared on a record, he was 16. That release was Thunder Chicken, and the group was his high school band, The Mighty Imperials. The record was essentially an homage to The Meters, at the time it was near pitch-perfect for the budding retro-soul scene.  While that release was an early step for Michels, aspects of it have almost become trademarks of his work: a unique raw-yet-disciplined approach to his sound and songwriting, and a soulful genuineness that has a sense of humor one minute and a sense of solace the next.   

From Thunder Chicken he joined Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings while simultaneously releasing his own work under El Michels Affair, starting with Sounding The City and followed up by the Wu-Tang inspired Enter The 37th Chamber, an album that would lead to his work being sampled by Ghostface, Jay-Z, J. Dilla, Travis Scott, and J. Cole. The projects kept rolling. He helped to found Menahan Street Band and added to his already storied resume by working with The Black Keys, Adele, and Dr. John to name a few.

This road has ultimately led to Big Crown Records, the New York-based independent label that Leon now runs with longtime friend and DJ Danny Akalepse. What makes this endeavor special is the balance and consistency that has been created not bound by a single genre.

Listening to new outputs like Liam Bailey's 'Champion' or Holy Hive's 'Hypnosis', Brainstory's 'Mnemophobia', Paul & The Tall Trees' 'Beware', or Lady Wray's 'Come On In', there is little overlap in genre, if you could put any of them in a single one to begin with. But when you hear those songs in sequence it is clear that the artist's personality leads while that Big Crown soulful-genuineness engulfs everything that remains. Each artist is on board for a reason and all contribute uniquely and whole-heartedly to the Big Crown sound. 

“Running a label that’s just one kind of music can be limiting. I know that, personally, things can’t be the same thing over and over again. You have to push into new something different, new directions—but keep hold of that aesthetic that got you here.” 



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