When Dudley Perkins met Georgia Anne Muldrow at a BBQ in Los Angeles more than two years ago, she was basking in the glow of her recently released 2004 debut, Worthnothings. Entirely self-produced, its dark yet hopeful mix of hip-hop and deep soul captured her as a larva struggling to metamorphose into a butterfly. "Cool in this nothingness/I'm on my way I guess/Freedom and emptiness/Glad to be on my own," she sang on "Nothingness."
A lot has changed since that grill-out. Perkins, a hip-hop veteran with several albums to his credit, and Muldrow, one of the most evocative and challenging soul artists to emerge in recent years, have become romantic and musical partners. They have a new label, ePistrophik Peach Sound. This fall, they'll release their first full-fledged collaboration together, The Message Uni Versa, as G&D. And they say they're on a mission to spark a global love revolution. No, seriously.
"Music is a very spiritual creation," says Perkins at home in Las Vegas, where he and Georgia recently moved. In a conversation where they trade the phone receiver back and forth and issue quasi-religious proclamations, the two announce that they've embarked on a spiritual and physical diet together.
"We're trying to be more pure in our expression," says Muldrow. "We stopped drinking, and we stopped smoking [cigarettes]. Last year was a compromise. We started getting ourselves to health, and a lot of things started opening up. The whole sound started opening up."
Do they still smoke weed? "Of course! Every day!" she quickly answers.
They make for an intriguing power couple, this prince and princess of avant-garde soul. On his 2006 album Expressions (2012 a.u.), Perkins railed against apathy, preached love, and warned of Armageddon in an impressionistic sing-song as Madlib's emotionally resonant tracks flowed underneath. An inaugural member of Madlib's Invazion, Perkins has known the brilliant producer/MC since they were kids growing up in Oxnard, CA. Madlib contributed to several of Perkins' projects as Declaime, from the 1999 EP Illmindmuzik to the 2001 album Andsoitissaid. It wasn't until the 7-inch "Flowers," however, that Perkins discovered his talent for singing in a rough but emotive croon filled with intense feeling. He evolved from a straight-ahead rapper into a maker of what he calls "expressions."
Muldrow, meanwhile, specializes in a gumbo of free jazz, neo-soul, and grungy weed-hop. After brisk sales of her self-released Worthnothings EP on CD Baby and kudos from Jneiro Jarel, Osunlade, and Sa-Ra Creative Partners, she became the first female in the Stones Throw camp in 2006. Four months after reissuing the EP, the label released her crazily brilliant follow-up, Olesi: Fragments of an Earth. On the back cover, she's lighting up a bowl of herbs, almost as if she were preparing her listeners for the deliriously freeform journey within.
Both Perkins and Muldrow are unapologetic provocateurs. Their talents avoid pithy descriptions and easy analysis. Muldrow's Olesi is a masterwork of fiery political statements, cryptic rhymes, and chanted phrases. From the primal scream of "New Orleans" to the magical "Because," its ruddy topography can take several listens to map. "I was trying to send a message of love to those who wanted to receive it," she says of the album. "I can't worry about [those] who don't like what I'm doing, 'cause that only stops your own production. It's a blessing that those who care do care."
Perkins has his own haters. "I get a lot of critics in magazines and stuff, saying, 'Oh, that dude can't sing.' And you know what I say back to all them critics who criticize me? You can't either," he says, breaking into laughter.
For all his bravado and philosophizing, however, Perkins seems conflicted about his work with Madlib. As Stones Throw arguably grew into one of hip-hop's most important labels, he became frustrated that his two albums, 2003's A Lil Light and 2006's Expressions (2012 a.u.), drew little attention. Critics argued that he couldn't sing, and that he just sounded weeded out, confirming his belief that the albums were marketed to the wrong audience. It hurt him because, like a modern-day soothsayer, he believes his words were given to him by God.
"For some reason, mysteriously, my music got to no black people when it was a very focused, black, powerful, African rhythmist music. And it didn't get there. It got to surfers and grunge dudes' guess, people who wear crazy clothes and tight pants and shirts and stuff," says Perkins.
In an essay commemorating Stones Throw's 10-year anniversary for RE:Up magazine, label head Peanut Butter Wolf compared Dudley to oft-sampled R&B/funk veteran Eugene McDaniels. "Dudley was inventing his own brand of music here. You can't really put it in an R&B category and it's not neo-soul. I think that's why his albums with Madlib don't get the same attention that, say, a Jaylib or Madvillain would. I'm confident that they'll stand the test of time though."
Despite the partnership, both remain prolific, recording a dizzying amount of music alone and together for an array of international imprints. There is Sagala, a surreal and vivid excursion into psychedelic funk Muldrow made under the guise Pattie Blingh & the Akebulan 5. (Perkins and Muldrow trade rhymes on "Rebelyouthwithskill.") Less successfully, they united with producer and UK DMC champion DJ 2Tall for Beautiful Mindz, spontaneously dropping winsome platitudes over 2Tall's rangy and uneven beats.
Like hippie radicals transplanted from the early '70s, Perkins and Muldrow can seem flaky. But you can't doubt their sincerity. They truly believe that their music has revolutionary potential. Even when their work, particularly the 2Tall collaboration, sounds monotonous and undeveloped, it possesses emotional honesty.
"This year's a new thing," says Perkins. "We're taking over this music with God involved. God said move with it like this, and He's assimilated an army for me, a powerful army. Not no underground army... We hit the Earth now."
"I believe in his message. I think that people really need to learn how to love each other," says Muldrow. "We try to bring the best of ourselves to the music, and let it speak for itself."
With Muldrow, Dudley Perkins has found a fellow traveler whom he respects and empathizes with. "Georgia Anne Muldrow is a very special gift. She's cranking them out right now," says Perkins, who calls Muldrow "Miss One."
"It's the mothership!" says Muldrow, comparing her pairing with Perkins to a cosmic, funk-imbued adventure. "I think it's very special. His message is brilliant. The person that he is is brilliant. He's a special human being and I admire him very much, so I do my best to make it funky for him and make sure it's something that he can spread his message and love with."
With ePistrophik Peach Sound, the two hope to present their collective vision to the world. Earlier this year they quietly issued "America," a 12-inch single by L.A. singer Jimetta Rose. Upcoming releases include recordings from New York singer Eagle Nebula (Cosmic Headphones), LMNO (Funk Verses), and Perkins' 16-year-old daughter Ms. Dezy (Hip Hop Education School) with Muldrow as the in-house producer.
"I only see better things happening from now on. The people that are down with us, the people that understand–the fellow musicians that we know–it's just wonderful that they're willing to work with us," she says. "I just get to be in service all the time. And it's a beautiful feeling."
Muldrow and Perkins' G&D project is the jump-off. The Message Uni Versa is suffused with optimism, sublimating the anguished yearning of their solo efforts for bouncy keyboard-funk tracks. Metaphysical musings and calls for self-improvement lace the lyrics. "G&D is such an important project because I see that as a project where we both opened up to ourselves," says Muldrow. "Olesi was me rambling about myself. But G&D is about bringing the message of life to your speakers, promoting healing, understanding, listening, and all of that."
"Dudley/Declaime has got the new thing. Georgia Anne–Miss One–has got the new thing. We are down with One-ment," says Perkins. "If they sleeping on it, they sleeping on God real hard. But that's cool. Everyone wakes up eventually."