Seven Davis Jr. releases his debut album Universes via Ninja Tune – his most honest and heartfelt musical statement to date. Recorded in LA, San Francisco, Amsterdam and London, it’s a unique exploration of his musical landscape, traversing tempos and flipping styles with typical panache but always embedded in the bedrock of soul and funk. Deeply personal, the record brings a positive message rooted in freedom, integrity and self-improvement: “Finding your place. Knowing yourself. Being where you belong.”
Born in Houston, Texas, before relocating to Northern California, Seven Davis Jr. was raised on the classics – from Michael Jackson and Prince to Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. He studied gospel and jazz singing, channeling the spirit of heroes Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Burt Bacharach. During his teenage years he discovered dance music, specifically house and jungle, which coincided with a period of substance abuse and a downturn in his fortune and wellbeing. However, dragging himself up and out of this abyss, Seven emerged from these dark times stronger and more resilient than ever, determined to spread positivity through his music.
SDJR‘s early Bandcamp output was more closely aligned to Los Angeles’ vibrant left-leaning electronic underground. Nurtured by the Hit+Run crew, he owes his first official release to Kutmah (who bagged ‘Thanks’ for his Worldwide Family Vol.2 compilation on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood imprint in 2012). It was the only four-to-the-floor jam on an album curated by a DJ who is rarely drawn to that style and that fact alone is significant.
When he’s making straight ahead house music, the swing is reminiscent of classic Todd Edwards and the drums bump ‘n’ shuffle like Tuff Jam and Derrick Carter. And the vocals… well at times it’s like he’s channeling the spirit of George Clinton, offset with the sweet character of Peven Everett – the perfect balance of rough and smooth – it’s that undeniable funk that hooks in the hip-hop fans, the cats that don’t generally mess with “house” music. “Good Vibes” (feat. Julio Bashmore) nails this dynamic in a whirlwind 3 mins 18 secs that recalls Daft Punk at their boisterous best – proof that sometimes all you need is a chopped-up disco loop and a hook.
Elsewhere on “Universes” Seven brings a similar soulful energy that Moodymann or Theo Parrish purvey. “Sunday Morning” picks up where Seven’s “Wild Hearts” 12″ left off, a mighty ditty with the cheeky mantra “I bet ya never had a love like this before?” sitting pretty upon bustling drums and bass punctuated with snatches of guitar. “It’s about having healthy confidence in yourself and what you can offer the world,” says Seven. There are more introspective moments on the record too – such as “Fighters” and “Afterlife” (feat. Kutmah) – that explore murkier downtempo depths. Seven refers to them as “ballads”.
Seven is a unifying force and the well of support for his endeavours runs deep, from Mos Def to Four Tet to Julio Bashmore and way beyond. As an intergalactic soul record Universes delivers on all fronts, admirably showcasing the breadth and depth of SDJR‘s productions and the honesty and humour that makes his music so instantly recogniseable. Catch him in this cosmos before he jets off to another time and space.