As a producer and a DJ, Parrish has been showing the way for nearly 25 years. His music is irregular and intimate, warm and momentous, and it demands action. “I’m not interested in making theoretical music,” the Detroit-based visionary told the Wire magazine in 2011. “I make music which is primarily, first and foremost, to be danced to,” or “at least be moved to, if not physically, then mentally, emotionally.”
“Wuddaji” bears that idea out, even in a year without dance floors, even with Parrish continuing to resist the easiest path through 4/4 time. He loves accenting rhythms in unexpected ways, making us feel time in places where we didn’t anticipate it. Bom. There. Klak. There. Pah-pah-pah-pah. All that right there. Get your body properly calibrated to the beat, and your heightened temporal awareness might start to feel like life extension — something you can catch in micro doses throughout “Wuddaji,” and especially during “Radar Detector,” a track where mossy kicks and brittle snares materialize in clenched clusters. And yet, no matter how congested the rhythm becomes, the tempo stays reliable, forging ahead, making progress.
This is forward-motion music with the thrust of history at its back. That’s because, like any great DJ, Parrish is an intrepid historian, and his fluency in Black music runs unfathomably deep. Through drum kits and drum machines, analog keyboards and digital samplers, his tracks draw on the venturesome melodies of jazz, the tactile timbres of soul and the dependable rhythms of house — and if you switch all of those words around, you’re still talking about Parrish. He knows jazz rhythm, soul melody and house timbre, too. His ability to hear everything seemingly allows him to push outward in every direction.
Does music have any direction other than forward through time? John Coltrane once told Wayne Shorter a famous riddle about his musical pathfinding, explaining that he was interested in “starting a sentence in the middle, and then going to the beginning and the end of it at the same time . . . both directions at once.”
As a whole, Parrish’s music moves in similarly impossible directions. Each track charts its own course, but each path moves forward. In that sense, Parrish’s discography doesn’t follow a trajectory or an arc. It radiates outward from a core. Get yourself swept up in the metaphor, and his music suggests that true human progress needs to be an omnidirectional thing.
Or, if that’s too much, here’s a simpler way of understanding Parrish’s grand rhythm idea, on “Wuddaji” and everywhere else: Remember reciting that kid prayer “step on a crack and you’ll break your mother’s back” as you walked down the streets of your childhood? The game involved taking tiny stutter steps and long strides without altering your pace or losing your momentum, regardless of where you were going. And as you played this game, you weren’t really thinking about your mother’s spinal integrity. Or John Coltrane. You probably weren’t thinking about anything at all. But your body was doing something profoundly intuitive with motion, rhythm and time.
Parrish’s music has always spoken directly to that intuition, to the kinaesthetic intelligence that governs all negotiations between body and clock. He likes to get our hands involved whenever he can, inducing reflexive claps and snaps — like during “Hambone Cappuccino,” the curtain-raising track on “Wuddaji” where snapping fingers punctuate a fussy keyboard phrase, first as an instructional gesture and then as a tacit acknowledgment of your presence. The more you listen to the song, the more you might feel like the song is listening to you.
That empathy is formally verbalized on “This Is for You,” one of the most beautiful cuts in Parrish’s sprawling catalogue, co-written and sung by Maurissa Rose. “For the way that you give sacrificially, brother, this is for you,” Rose sings over a stippled conga pattern, celebrating Black perseverance in a voice that’s both tender and exultant. On the keys, Parrish repeats a sequence of rich chords, melody rising like a sharp breath, then lowering like a calm exhalation.
It would be sheer euphoria to hear this track inside a nightclub, but for now, we can only hear it inside our bodies, with Parrish’s time-expanding rhythms teaching us to move in ways we haven’t moved before. Don’t let the revelation pass you by. You have more time than you thought. You have more you than you thought. What are you going to do with it?