Singer-songwriter and rhymer Maimouna Youssef (aka Mumu Fresh) first made national waves by crooning the unsettled hook on The Roots’ banger “Don’t Feel Right” off Game Theory (2006). An early entertainer, the Baltimore native had begun performing songs with her family while still a toddler. Mumu released her first full-length in 2011, appropriately titled The Blooming.
DJ Dummy The Genius was also born to do it: His website bio reports that “by the tender age of 7 he had his hands on the turntables” and soon after had garnered attention for his performances as a battle DJ.
Both from-the-cradle artists connected touring in support of Common. 2014 saw Mumu and Dummy first collaborate on a full album, the mixtape-styled The Reintroduction of Mumu Fresh. It was an intriguing conceit where Mumu rapped and sang new lyrics over familiar pop melodies by the Beatles and Lorde, sampled and skewed by Dummy.
However, Vintage Babies—both the album and the project itself—are a brand new thing. On August 29th, Mumu and Dummy dropped their new self-titled debut, with a little help from friends Common, Eddie Bryant, and Irvin Washington.
With a name like Vintage Babies, you already have some idea of their sound. The “vintage” promises a culling of classic sounds from the soul and R&B back catalog; while the “babies” pledges that Youssef and Dummy are doing something fresh and new (and after all, they’ve practically been doing it since birth).
First single “Shine Your Light” offers a poppy, bubblegum feel on the hook, but doesn’t shy away from darkness on the verses: in the space of a few lines, Mumu traverses topics of prison recidivism, killings by cops, and missing black girls.
Second single “Say My Name” recalls everyone’s favorite Destiny’s Child hook in the title, but this song is cut from a wholly different cloth. Gorgeously sung in a classic soul style, it’s a very of-the-minute meditation on public reaction to killings of brown people (particularly inspired by the case of Sandra Bland). Mumu demands:
“If I should die tomorrow at the hands of the policeman/And the paper say, we’re going to call it a suicide/Would you even question why?/Would you believe in my innocence?/Would you even come to my defense?/Would you believe in the good I’ve done?/Or will my name be smeared and my story unsung?”
The thematic heavy hitters are balanced by more lighthearted diversions like “I Got a Feeling” and “Do Your Own Thing”. The former brings a funky, party-starting Latin vibes, while the latter’s infectiously danceable R&B and empowering lyrics glisten with rays of optimism. Dummy’s production work shines brightest on the Common-showcasing “Never Lie to You”. The use of the dizzying, ascending chordal progression and the breakdown alone display a mastery few battle DJs ever touch.
Ultimately, what impresses most about Vintage Babies is its versatility. You could let this album play start-to-finish at your next get-together and most would just assume it’s simply a party record. Or you could just as easily log an intimate hour with it on your headphones and find yourself enmeshed and enraptured by the lyrical depth from Mumu and nuanced production from Dummy. There’s plenty of gold here—it’s up to you how you want to dig it.