The Delfonics is the quintessential sweet-soul group. Hailing from Philadelphia, the crew formed in the mid-’60s, with the definitive original lineup as lead vocalist and songwriter William Hart, his brother Wilbert Hart, and mutual high-school friend Randy Cain (later replaced by Major Harris). With the help of producer/arranger Thom Bell—and with William’s signature falsetto—the Delfonics set the tone for all other sweet-soul groups that would follow.
Between 1968 and 1974, the Delfonics had twenty charting singles and won a Grammy for their massive hit “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time).” Out of their twenty hits, William Hart wrote or cowrote eighteen of them, thirteen with collaborator Thom Bell, like “La-La Means I Love You,” “He Don’t Really Love You,” and “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love).” After five albums, the Delfonics would break up for good in 1975. Brothers William and Wilbert parted ways and over the years often toured separately with different forms of the group. But over forty years after writing his first hit, lead singer and songwriter William Hart has put his unmistakable falsetto back on analog tape and reinvented the Delfonics brand for a new generation.
Los Angeles producer/composer Adrian Younge envisioned a modern-day Delfonics album and pitched the idea to William Hart, who hopped a plane from Philly to L.A. and began work on a new album for Wax Poetics Records. Younge helped to reshape the Delfonics by bringing on board two excellent young vocalists, Loren Oden and Saudia Mills—as well as Om’Mas Keith on the single “Stop and Look (And You Have Found Love)”—to work alongside William.
Adrian Younge is a self-taught multi-instrumentalist who traded in his MPC sampler for a carefully curated studio of authentic gear, rocketing to international recognition after composing the original score for the 2009 cult comedy Black Dynamite. The release of his 2011 psychedelic-soul concept album, Something About April, generated a large following in the hip-hop community, leading him to produce the upcoming Ghostface Killah concept album, Twelve Reasons to Die.
Coming from a hip-hop background, but immersing himself in classic soul, Younge brings a unique perspective on modern rhythm and blues. “I was studying Delfonics stuff for years,” Younge reveals. “I studied Delfonics to do the Black Dynamite stuff. I’ve been a fan, and I’ve just studied their music for so long that when I got the opportunity to do this, it just really blew my mind.”
From the very beginning, it was Younge’s intention to create an old-school Delfonics vibe but offer a very hip-hop-informed perspective. There are distinguishing musical elements that Delfonics fans will recognize, like the electric sitar guitar, the French horn, string arrangements, and the tympani. “I want people to expect something classic but not expect to hear the same thing rehashed,” Younge says. “I want to push it forward. William and I strived to push this forward.
“William has a very open mind,” Younge continues, “and he’s progressive. He didn’t just want to do things that were like old Delfonics stuff; he wanted to take that old style and make it a little bit more modern.”
“I think we’re a good team,” Hart says. “He doesn’t read music and neither do I; the combination is definitely outside of the box as far as music as it is known is concerned. We’ve come up with some very, very odd—and very different—moods.”
William skillfully wrote his vocals around Younge’s drum-heavy productions, but being such a seasoned songwriter, it wasn’t difficult for him to take this more modern approach. For William, no matter the music, his poignant songwriting always remains a constant. “I write songs for everybody to enjoy,” he says. “Your Grandmother can listen to it, your children can listen to it, and this is the way you should think when you’re writing.” William concludes, “I’m an artist; just give me the canvas, and I’ll paint the painting.”
“The Delfonics represents that classic soul era from the ’60s and ’70s that our older generation has grown up listening to,” comments DJ Rhettmatic of the Beat Junkies. “Adrian Younge represents the generation that grew up on the classic ’90s golden era of hip-hop, yet has the knowledge and the aesthetics of the ’60s/’70s musical era, from a young Los Angeleano point of view.”
“We did everything that they would have done in the ’60s,” says Younge. “I don’t have any computers in my studio; it’s all analog tape, all old equipment.” Explaining the vibe of the album, he says, “It’s quite conceptual. It’s deep and cinematic from an Italian [soundtrack] perspective, also from an American perspective as far as old music is concerned. It sounds like an album that the RZA from Wu-Tang would sample.”
“The Delfonics album is definitely important,” says A-Plus from legendary Oakland hip-hop crew Souls of Mischief. “They have been heavily sampled by the hip-hop community. Many of us grew up listening to them from our parents.”
While the Delfonics stayed in America’s musical consciousness for generations, getting perpetual spins on oldies stations, the 1990s saw a definitive rediscovery for the Philly group and William Hart in particular. Not only did countless hip-hop producers borrow their riffs for beats, but, in 1996, the Fugees famously interpolated “Ready or Not Here I Come (Can’t Hide From Love)” for their hit single off the multiplatinum smash record The Score. That same year, William provided guest vocals to Ghostface Killah’s “After the Smoke Is Clear” off his debut album. Things are coming full circle for Hart, whose new Delfonics track “Enemies” was sampled for the upcoming Adrian Younge–produced Ghostface Killah album, Twelve Reasons to Die.
Younge even constructed a hip-hop-centric music video for the single “Stop and Look (And You Have Found Love),” which stars William and vocalist Saudia Mills, who is also featured on the cover of the album and the 7-inch vinyl single. “I wanted to create a world where William was relevant in these past generations, not just one,” says Younge of the video’s purpose. “So that’s why I chose the ’90s as the middle ground. So it’s like he’s still relevant now in the present, he was relevant back in the day, and he was relevant in the middle, which was the ’90s.”
The extra hip-hop hype is adding to the excitement surrounding the release of a new Delfonics record for the modern generation. “Who wouldn’t want to hear a new Delfonics album?” A-Plus asks rhetorically. “Produced by Adrian Younge? Get outta here!”
“It means everything to me in my career,” says William Hart of the album. “This is my top moment. Everything to me at this point in my life is showing me that I can do it over and over again, if given the chance. I respect Adrian for seeking me out and Wax Poetics for taking me on, because there are a lot of people that couldn’t see the science we used for this.”
“That guy is a genius,” Younge says of William. “I learned a lot from him. It was just one of the best feelings of my life as far as music is concerned. The first time I heard his voice on one of my songs, I was just totally mesmerized. Because I know his voice so well, so to hear him on something that I created was just crazy.”
“This album that I’ve done with the great Adrian Younge is the beginning of the rest of my life in music,” Hart says. “I just want to carry the legacy of the Delfonics.”