This Album Changed My Life: Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On (1971)
Paul Alwright, FKA Lethal Dialect, on the soul singer’s seminal recording
Paul Alwright: What’s Going On, by Marvin Gaye, showed me you needn’t sacrifice musicality for lyricism
I rediscovered What’s Going On sitting on a bus to Thomastown a few summers ago. I’d picked it up for a pittance at a HMV closing-down sale some years earlier, I think with the intention of mining it for sampling, but in the meantime I’d grown uninspired by the narrow soundscapes of sliced-up samples and looped-up drum breaks, and so it was left to gather dust.
Musically, I had started to develop an insatiable appetite for all things organic – but I’d still come back to the hip-hop canon for its brand of poignant poetry and visceral vernacular. As I settled in for the bus journey, Marvin Gaye’s lyrical depictions of civil unrest, drug-pusher plights and the despair of the disenfranchised painted pictures as vivid as any of the urban poets’, while the dense instrumentation and delectable harmonies satisfied my hunger for the organic in a way that hip hop couldn’t.
If Nas’s Illmatic album had an older and wiser predecessor, it would be What’s Going On. It’s a seminal album that showed me you needn’t sacrifice musicality for lyricism, or vice versa. – In conversation with Niall Byrne
Paul Alwright, FKA Lethal Dialect, will release a new album, Hungry, in 2018 that will feature Damien Dempsey, Maverick Sabre and more