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Heiruspecs Picks 10 Great Jams for Your Summer Block Party

St. Paul's treasured hip-hop band prep for their 'Summer Classic' by sharing their favorite summer classics

Nate Ryan|


Ignore the seasonal doomers: Summer's not over yet. My proof? Heiruspecs' "Summer Classic" is happening this weekend at Keg & Case Market, and surely even so esteemed a local hip-hop band could not legally get away with giving an event that name unless it was going to be 1) classic and 2) happening in the summer. I rest my case, your honor.

The 'Specs (does anyone call them that? should anyone call them that?) will be joined by party-rockin' state Rep. Maria Isa (in her non-official capacity) and revitalized rap crew Unknown Prophets for this free show. Drinks and food will be provided by Clutch Brewing Company and Chef Mateo Mackbee of Krewe Restaurant. In short, this will be An Event, and it would have been a great opportunity to sit down and catch up with the group.

But 1) I'm lazy and 2) I was on vacation. And so, Tom Sawyer-like, I got Heiruspecs to do my job for me instead. Since Saturday's event is billed as a "Block Party," three members of the crew shared their favorite summer block party jams. You'd do well to take their soundtrack advice next time you throw your own to-do: These fellas are experts.

Chris "Felix" Wilbourn

Summer jams are all about uplifting, feel-good vibes. Here are two of my favorites—plus a backup (because one is so obvious), and a bonus track (because my initial impulse was to only list house songs). 

DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, “Summertime”

It features a sample from Kool & the Gang’s “Summer Madness and will be heard every summer at block parties for millennia to come. Drop this twice at your BBQ and no one will question you. 

Stardust, “Music Sounds Better With You”

This legendary house song, which samples Chaka Khan’s “Fate,” was inescapable on mainstream airwaves when it first dropped—a rare feat for a couple of house producers. But dance legends Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk) and Alan Braxe are hard to ignore. Good vibes all around make this earworm a summer staple. 

Bill Withers, “Lovely Day”

My alternate (again, because "Summertime" is SOOOO OBVIOUS) is an oldie but a goodie, with a super-uplifting vibe and an unbelievably long high note at the end. It’s got horns. It’s got romance. It bops. What more could you possibly want in a summer jam?

Honorable Mention/Deep Cut: Blaze, “Lovelee Dae” 

A 1997 house song featuring a Grover Washington Jr. sample and a simple vocal refrain: “It’s a lovely day and the sun is shining/Everywhere I go I see children smiling.” Sounds like summer vibes to me!

Sean "Twinkie Jiggles" McPherson

A great block party needs songs that cross generations. I picked out a couple of songs that have had a second and third life due to being quoted or resampled in later works. Part of this is just a numbers game—if your source material locks with the grown folks and the interpolation locks with younger people, that’s more people dancing to the music. The other part is that the songs that cross generations are often the greatest songs on planet Earth. 

Tom Brown, “Funkin’ For Jamaica Funk”

I heard this one plenty of times before I never knew who it was. In fact, I remember Pavielle singing it at a live show years ago and I realized I had to hunt down the source material. You're in good territory with a block party tune if it starts with some friendly chatter between the players. That’s a dead giveaway there’s a good vibe in the studio and that’s gonna come through at your party. 

Jodeci, “Get On Up”

Credit to my colleague and former co-host Sani Brown from the Current and Carbon Sound for turning me on to this song. (I only knew the biggest Jodeci hits from growing up.) They built a feel-good song from a mellow Quincy Jones sample. This song doesn’t fill a dance floor—everyone just bounces a little more happily wherever they are. 

The Blackbyrds, “Rock Creek Park”

This is a song that will find you from every different direction. The guitar lick gets sampled ALL THE TIME in hip-hop. The vocal hook gets quoted and reconstituted constantly. The sexy female voice moaning “Come on, do it” hits me right in my erogenous zones. And the upper register synth and flute solo continuum connects the song to the G-funk universe in an engaging way.

Josh Peterson

Guitarist Josh Peterson didn’t write an introduction to his songs, he just dove right in head first into recommending a song from the National for a block party. Spectacular. 

The National, “Fake Empire”

I have a bit of a reputation to uphold. Since first spinning the iPod click wheel to the National's Alligator when Sean and I were driving to Chicago for Lollapalooza in 2006, he has regularly (and not incorrectly) drawn attention to my appreciation of the band. So I had to pick something from their catalog. It may feel like a stretch—the National's mostly melancholic and mid-tempo numbers hardly match the desired block party mood.

But consider that “Fake Empire” offers many different things for revelers with many different agendas. Looking for a night of idyllic, carefree summer frolicking among fruit pastries, adultified beverages, and avian friends? As long as you conveniently ignore the chorus, Matt Berninger will sing that right into existence for you. Want to join with your fellow humans in somehow making the world a better place? Let that chorus motivate you to reject apathy and do something together. Or maybe you, like me, don't really even key in on lyrics at all for the first dozen or so times you hear a song and you just want some cool musical happenings. Between the crowd-pleasing four-over-three polyrhythm of the piano and the vaguely Mingus-esque chaos of the horn outro, you're in luck there too. 

Paul Pena, “I'm Gonna Make it Alright”

One of the great things about a summer block party is that someone in control of the aux cord/bluetooth connection will throw on a rad song that you've never heard and that the algorithm would likely never have fed you. With apologies to those who are already in the know about the grossly under-appreciated Paul Pena, this tune may hit that mark. And unlike “Fake Empire,” it doesn't require over-the-top verbosity to rationalize inclusion on this list. The sick Meters-y groove, some fun slightly twangy guitar leads, the tasty organ playing, and the great vibes will make it an ideal fit for your summer block party playlist. If you can track it down, also check out the song “Gonna Move” from Paul Pena's album New Train (unfortunately not on streaming services). 

Heiruspecs, “The Pushback”

If you thought we'd make it through this without any blatant self-promotion for our upcoming Heiruspecs Summer Classic, sorry to disappoint. We've played this song enough times at summer parties (including even a boat party, if you consider playing for a few kind and talented people from TPT a party) in the Twin Cities over the last 15 years that it must be in the canon of quintessential summer block party songs by default at this point. 

Heiruspecs Summer Classic
Keg & Case Courtyard
When: Sat. Aug. 19, 4 p.m.
With: Maria Isa, Unknown Prophets
Tickets: Free; more info here.

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