If you are of a certain age, listening to Tuxedo may give you flashbacks. “Tuxedo,” the name of the album as well as the act, is the soundtrack to a high school prom that never was, circa 1978. At least it never was for producer Jake One and singer Mayer Hawthorne.
The former is known for hip-hop work, while the latter has made his name evoking that '70s era, although he wasn’t even born until 1979. Nonetheless, he’s done several albums of smooth soul, with Curtis Mayfield, Isaac Hayes and even Barry White among his inspirations. The original material they’ve made here as Tuxedo funks things up a bit more, and stylishly so. In the best way, it evokes that combo of feigned suave and flop sweat that is the prom dance floor. You can practically feel the polyester.
The song “The Right Time” is just a couple of ba-de-yas shy of an Earth, Wind & Fire tribute. Chic, Shalamar, The Brothers Johnson, it’s all here, hit right on the head -- the skittering strings, the cooing background vocals and, most importantly, the synth bass. When they play such songs as “So Good” live, there’d better be someone on stage wielding a keytar.
Both Jacob One and Hawthorne grew up on hip-hop, but there would be no hip-hop without '70s soul. It was a Snoop Dogg track that in part inspired this project. Listening to his old hit “Ain’t No Fun,” the two tried to figure out the source of a '70s funk sample he’d used. Stymied, they decided to write their own song around it, the result being this album’s “Number One.” And the song “Do It” originally turned up a couple of years ago in a film soundtrack version fronted by Pitbull. Here, though, without the rapper, it’s pure soul-funk.
It can be a fine line between evoking a '70s prom and seeming like a lame prom band, especially given the hipster-nerd stage persona Hawthorne embraces, with his signature black-rimmed glasses and natty lounge-singer attire. But his considerable, credible vocal chops, first and foremost, keep things on the right side of that line. And with every note, he and Jake One are never less than loving in their craftsmanship.
There, though, is the ruffle. As with such other retro-referencing artists as Sharon Jones and Fitz and the Tantrums, as fun as they are, there’s a nagging question: Why not just listen to the old records that inspired them? Well, Tuxedo has an answer for that. Suit up, get on the floor and, as another song of theirs puts it, “Watch the Dance."