SoCal Crate Digging

Rare and unique R&B releases found at thrift stores in Southern California.
Listen here.
Duke: Promo EP (200x) 
Found without a case and stuffed in between all the jewel cases containing the crap that people usually buy, another unknown local artist demo containing 4 full tracks. There's no date of release but it was pressed around the time that MySpace was relevant so guessing 2003/4-ish. Owing to some of the titles that seemed slightly comical (notably "Hungry 4 Dat Butt"), it was initially assumed that maybe this was something else but fortunately he turned out to be early to mid 2000s contemporary R&B very similar vocally and musically to Ne-Yo (he's dressed like him too I guess.) No guesses as to who he is though. His MySpace address has long since been taken down and he doesn't appear to be on CDBaby or any of the usual sites. (July 2018)

Touch Me Touch U 4:27
Hungry 4 Dat Butt 4:14
Dry Yo Tears 4:12
It's Me Again 4:46

Kimberly Hunter: My Point Of View (Rhythm Hunter Publishing, 2004) 
Another lucky find at the thrift store while going through the last of the dregs that I have left over the years...another forgotten artist - still sealed - and a mixture of contemporary R&B and hip hop soul similar to Mary J. Blige, Beyonce and many others from the early to mid 2000s era. I initially passed it up as it had a CdBaby address on the back but turns out neither she nor this album are on there at all. As with this guy I found back last year, I don't know if they ever were. Aside from a random allmusic entry (which states the CD was released in 2004), I cannot find anything about this artist anywhere but I am assuming she is from my local area... (June 2018)

No barcode.

Remind U Why 3:40
I Saw You 4:01
Happy 4:12
Feel The Same Way 4:27
What I Need 4:29
Kinky & Freaky 2:53
That Was Me 3:55
Kiss & Make Up 3:01

Harold Brown featuring Jackie Jones: S/T (Mature Sounds Of Newark, 199x)
Mostly instrumental smooth jazz music, this is not something I usually listen to but there are a few great modern soul tracks on here, one of which “I Won’t Say No” has since gone on to become one of my all-time favorites. It was one of the only things I ever found at this particular store which seemed to have some sort of an ‘arrangement’ with another local crate hunter, mainly for rare hip hop music. Again, this CD is not an artist from around my area but from New Jersey. I don’t know much about him but he was originally 1 half of a jazzy boogie-soul duo called The Notorious Eggroll in the late 80s/early 90s with another female vocalist Eva Sklar. Sklar also features here on 2 tracks “Ballroom In The Sky” and “I’ll Love You Forever” along with featured vocalist Jackie Jones (April 2018)

If I Could 5:02
I Wont Say No 4:47
Sunrise 5:10
I'll Love You Forever 5:36
So Amazing 4:19
Justin's Theme 3:20
Baby,Baby,Baby 5:17
The Gift 5:11
Baby Be Mine 5:52
Can't Find The Road 4:13
If I Could 1:06

Klockwerk: Masters Of Time (PEP Records, 1996)
 Another classic indie find from the Midwest at my local thrift store. Not super rare but as good – if not better – than a $500 find I just posted on my main page (Under Presha – “The Essence Of Time”) a few days ago. It was an early endeavor from R&B singer Avant (then known as Myron Avant) who wrote six of the tracks presumably when he was just eighteen years old. It spawned two singles “We Can Do This” (1994) and “I’ll Do” (1996). The group hailed from Cleveland, Ohio. (April 2018)

Smooth It Out 5:38
I Will Still Love You 4:01
Sorry 5:33
Let Me Love You 5:45
Falling 4:19
Missing You 6:00
Faithful 5:48
Why Should I Kick It 4:40
On You Like Klockwerk 4:15
The Love That I Have 5:56
I'll Do 3:58
We Can Do This 3:32
IV Taste: S/T (Step Records, 200x)
I am usually not a big fan of gospel music but this album was actually surprisingly good. Found in the heart of the ghetto in the same bins I found 3 'Til 3, Clearthur Lee and many more local gems, the above mixed gender group hails from Pomona and has such an urban contemporary R&B feel that if it wasn't for the lyrics and the occasional female vocals, I would swear I'd stumbled upon another Jagged Edge or similar early 2000s group. There's no date of release but definitely early 2000s judging by the sound which is mostly male vocals with the occasional female and/or rap verse. I don't know much about the group but they released a second album "This Is The Way" in 2009. (April 2018)

No barcode.

Judgement Day    4:39
That's Love    4:22
I Heard You Call    3:17
I Got To Praise Him    2:56
Crusified (sic) My Savior    4:03
Real Friend    4:13
Worship Thee    4:55
One More Chance    5:14
Give You What You Want    4:20

Cleer AKA Clearthur Lee: Further Unreleased Work (One Wood Productions LLC., 2006)
Further unreleased project from Palm Springs-based artist Clearthur Lee and recorded under his later moniker of "Cleer." Originally from Montgomery, AL, I found at lot of his work collecting dust in my local thrift store back in '15, including 2 whole CDs of demos he recorded back in the early 2000s and a few singles he recorded as Cleer. While his early work was very much inspired by Luther Vandross, Gerald Levert and other soul and R&B greats of their day, his later work was much more contemporary-sounding and featured production from Marc Kinchen (SWV, Beyonce et al.) He released three singles to CDBaby between 2007-2009 but it seems his album "On A Cleer Day" was not released. The above single was also not released although it did serve as a b-side to a later single "Perfect Man." Also featured are two tracks (albeit in excerpt form only) from his unreleased album. (April 2018)

So Good (Main) 3:53
So Good (Instrumental) 3:00
Beautiful (Snippet) 1:10
Work It Out (Snippet) 1:22
Darcell: Self-Titled (Crayton Entertainment, 2008)
Another interesting find and inspired by classic soul artists such as Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross and others. Originally from Dallas, Texas, the artist Darcell Crayton moved to Los Angeles to pursue his dream with only $200 to his name and lived in his car, showered at the local gym and “fought and clawed” until he could get an apartment. His dream finally came true in 2008 with the above album which was released via his own label Crayton Entertainment. Hand signed in black marker by the artist himself. (April 2018) 
Stay 3:50 
How Do You Feel? 3:35 
Love Is Alright 3:57 
Love Someone 4:03 
Summer Days 4:21 
Loveland 3:10 
Family 4:10 
Let's Make Love (Angela's Melody) 4:06

The artist's demo can be found here.

Baby Love: Demo Tracks (EP) (EDE, 2003)  
Found on a shelf of random CDs that had been sitting collecting dust and dirt for years, another CDr demo, this time from an unknown female R&B group "Baby Love" from Atlanta, GA [as from the phone number given.] There's no information about them anywhere and the five tracks featured I had to give approximate titles to as there was no artwork with this demo; basically what you see is what you get and came in a shop brought jewel case. Track 4 is a fun bounce-inspired number while all other tracks are 2000s contemporary R&B in the style of Cherish, Blaque and other Millennial groups like them. Some tracks have a slight underground "CD Baby" sound but the production - aside from a few discrepancies in the volume - is otherwise great. Once again, no information can be found about them; this was undoubtedly a project that never went beyond this demo and I was lucky enough to find it in my town. Another fantastic exclusive brought to you by Jewelz Smooth.... just remember where you heard it first. (October 2016)

Just Enough For Me 4:08
I Like 3:12
My Time 3:14
Crush On You 3:26
Hate Ur Guts 3:28
Shawna: Demo (EP) (Richard M. Hancock Music, 1999)
Although slightly poppy for my liking, here is another obscure find that I stumbled upon. Sadly not the best production; the 4 tracks featured mostly sound like they were programmed into a keyboard and the slower ones especially are more adult contemporary pop than R&B. The two upbeat songs ("Let Me Know" and "It's Alright") are more like pop songs with rhythm, blues and funk influences although both feature an unknown rapper. Not the greatest voice sadly. The disc itself a generic labelled CDr and comes complete with back artwork and a booklet that appears to have been cut out and constructed by hand. Inside there are lyrics, some credits and even a handwritten dedication from the singer herself but unfortunately no information about where she's from...(October 2016)

Let Me Know 3:38
Tears Of Joy 4:22
It's Alright 3:43
Thinking Of You 4:07

Marva King: Grown & Sexy (Sampler) (Marvalous Works Entertainment, 2008)
A further rare find from 2016 that I almost forgot about and originally from Flint, Michigan. Having a career that dated back to 1981, she worked with Prince in the late 90s and between 2007-2011 she was a member of his band The New Power Generation. In 2004, she released an album “Soul Sisah” via Expansion Records in the UK but the vast majority of her solo stuff in the US is quite hard to come by and the above album in particular was not even released as far as I can tell. Today she is mostly known for her starring role as Helen in the Tyler Perry movie “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.” (October 2016)

Honey Tonight Interlude 0:04
Afro 2:09
Chocolate 1:33
The 1 1:16
Do You Interlude 0:38
Holla 1:29
No Fantasy Interlude 0:06
Grown & Sexy 1:21
Don't Go There Interlude 1:21
Share 2:06
Afro H-Money Mix 1:39
The Flesh 2:05
If You Say So 1:44
Sistah 1:51
Misty 1:04
Lovely 1:02
Big Ups (Acapella) 4:18
Strictly D (aka Darrin Houston): Never Going To Leave (CDM) (Strictly D Records, 199x)
A classic indie find from Chicago-based singer/songwriter Darrin Houston and taken from his album of the same name. Found at my local swap meet (flea market), it was one of a few scant things I found in the dusty boxes while trying to throw off the attention of a young couple nearby who – armed with their “smart phones” - were going through everything and scanning the barcodes on the back. Though not as exclusive as some of the other things I’ve found around here, Houston’s album of the same name is quite sought after in collector’s circuits. Why this single is credited to “Strictly D” as opposed to his full name Darrin Houston I don’t know but Bernie Mac appears on the front cover (middle row, all the way to the right.) (November, 2015)

Never Going To Leave 4:26
Never Going To Leave (Remix) 4:46
Never Going To Leave (Instrumental) 4:34
Loving You 5:14
Saidah: Straight From The IE (On Fire Management, 2006)
After spending most of my time in thrift stores looking for rare and unique finds for 99c or less, I finally decided to check out a few independent record stores in my area and came across the above CD that looked quite interesting. The artist, who was originally from Chicago, had some local success in the mid 2000s which in turn led to a stint supporting Ciara on tour. The style of music is mostly upbeat urban contemporary R&B with a light, breathy vocal a la Ciara, Ashanti and many other new generation of "sweet but slight" singers in the 2000s that appeared in the wake of Aaliyah's death. Though not a huge fan of the music from the mid-2000s, tracks I enjoy are the Ciara-esque "Round And Round", "Party 2 Nite" and the rowdy "5150" which includes an interpolation of Kelis' "Caught Out There." Originally found in a slightly more upmarket town (Riverside) in 2015, at the time it was still available to purchase from so I never posted it up until now. As of 2017 and due to the fact that it was only ever available to buy as a psychical CD only, it has since disappeared from online purchase completely along with 3-2NV.  (October 2015)

Where My Girls At 3:52
round&round 3:31
Party 2 Nite 4:02
Superstar 3:48
Universal Love 4:35
Stay On My Grind 3:36
1 Nite Stand 4:48
Can't Have Him 3:16
5150 3:39
Us Against The World 4:43

Ricky Michael: A Diamond In The Rough (EP) (Jet Set Int'l Records, 199x)
Another obscurity, this time appearing to be a demonstration CD-R made for Jet Set Int'l Records, which from what I can gather was a local label based out of Montclair, CA. Their Discogs entry only includes one other artist from the Philippines and I don't know at all if they are linked to the half a dozen other labels with a similar name. Found inside a folder of loose CDs at our local junk store, there was no cover art and the artist, a male, appears to be an obscure one. I only managed to find one sole piece of information on him from around 2002 that says he is originally from Ghana but I don't know how accurate it is. The style of music is mainly a mixture of mid 90s New Jack Swing and later contemporary R&B. On track 1 he seems to be inspired by Teddy Riley and Michael Jackson - even down to the style of singing - whereas track 3 is straight up contemporary R&B a la P.Diddy's Bad Boy camp in the early 2000s. The vocals on both sound drastically different but according to the disc the same guy sings on all 3 tracks. (January 2015)

Where Are You Now 4:03
How Does It Feel 4:51
Can't You Hear My Cry 4:44

Devora: Running (CDM) (Self-Released, 1997)
Another obscure find at our local thrift store and the most obscure thing I have found yet. No information about the artist - a female - anywhere but unlike the others the disc appears to be professionally made. There is no record company and from what I can tell it was self-released. It is apparently from 1997 but the sound is very late 80s/early 90s soul-pop somewhat reminiscent of UK singer Jaki Graham or perhaps Regina Belle. (January 2015)

Radio Version 4:05
Main Version 5:04
Instrumental 5:00

Daniel: I Luv U (CDS) (Five By Seven Entertainment, 2002)
Another interesting find at the thrift store and found in the same plastic tubs full of the older, neglected stuff that I’ve been going through for a while now. The artist Steven Daniel has since gone on to have an accomplished career in TV and is mostly known for his role as Lionel on the NBC sitcom “City Guys” but did have an earlier career in music that not many people know about, including a hip hop/gospel album titled “Hiphopcrisy.” This single may or may not have been part of this but the style is neo-soul-ish R&B in the same vein as D’Angelo, Musiq and others. (November 2014)
I Luv U 5:03
I Luv U (Soul Mix) featuring Terrell 3:46 
The album this track came off and a further release by the artist can be found here.    

3 'Till 3: Come On In (EP) (Big Disc Entertainment, 199x)

As a rule I don't really listen to male R&B but I was actually surprised to find that I really, really liked this group and they are, in part, one of the main reasons why I have started up this new page, joining Nik over at R&B-Music-You-Never-Knew-Existed and others in showcasing to the world amazing R&B that many know little about. Found in the junk bin in among the rubbish that that the store couldn't get rid of.... this amazingly smooth male R&B trio, similar in style to Jodeci. I don't know where they are from but the contact information on the disc gives out an L.A. phone number. There is no back cover (I don't know if it ever came with one to be quite honest) and the disc itself is just a standard CD-R with an inkjet-printed label on it. On the outset it is very D.I.Y. but the production here is very well polished - basically they sound like a mainstream group. I don't know what year they are from but the sound is most definitely very mid-90s and features production from Michael Wells, founder of L.A. Earthquake Records. Truly, a great find and one of my best yet. (October 2014)

Come On In 4:40
The Taste Of Ya Love 4:13
Don Cha Wanna Know 5:00
If It's Feelin' Alright 4:33

Clearthur Lee: "What's Going On" (EP) (One Wood Productions, 199x) 
 Also found in the junk bin in among the rubbish, another demonstration from a smooth male indie R&B artist. There's no date of release but the manufacturing year of the CD was 1998; it was manufactured by Apogee Electronics in Santa Monica, CA, a company specializing in digital audio software and recording. Again, there is no back cover and the disc itself is just a standard CD-R with a very basic label printed on it. The artist in question now goes by the title of "Cleer" and has a few (mid-2000s) releases on CD Baby. None of the tracks on the above CD are featured on any of them though. The tracks included here are Lay, Lay, Lay, Move On Up (2 versions, one with a rap and one without) and Passion And Desire. Move On Up is a New Jack-influenced cover of the Curtis Mayfield song of the same name whilst the other two (particularly the lovely Passion And Desire) are amazing smooth R&B cuts. Another great find that I am very pleased to share with the world. At least, if nothing else, it is good to see this particular artist still doing something...(October 2014)

Lay, Lay, Lay 4:25
Move On Up (With Rap) 3:50
Passion And Desire 3:36
Move On Up 3:56

 Clearthur Lee: S/T (EP) (Decor Records, 2000)
A further demonstration from local artist Clearthur Lee that I rescued from the trash at a local thrift store. The date on this one is 2000 and was supposedly made for Decor Records. I know for absolute certain but I don't think that this is the same label, out the UK, that manages and releases mostly hippie and acoustic rock drivel. Again the disc is just a CD-R with a label stuck to it but it does come with a very basic back cover. The disc and inlay state four tracks Just Can't Wait (Radio Mix), Just Can't Wait (House Mix), Move On Up (Latin Mix) and Move On Up (Radio Mix) but there are actually 9 tracks on this disc. Including the ones I just mentioned there are 5 additional original tracks. They are all untitled so I basically had to come up with the names myself - Home, You Should Not Be Lonely, Back On The Road Again, Close Your Eyes and Are You Willing. They are all R&B tracks though Back On The Road Again is more of a country song. My personal favorites are the last two tracks on the disc, which are gorgeous smooth R&B cuts. Sadly this is the final thing of interest from Lee, who now goes by the moniker of "Cleer." Unfortunately anybody hoping that his recent stuff sounds anything like this will be slightly disappointed but at least, if nothing else, he is still making music. (October 2014)

Just Can't Wait (Radio Mix) 4:21
Just Can't Wait (House Mix) 6:23
Home 4:06
You Should Not Be Lonely 4:03
Back On The Road Again 3:51
Move On Up (Radio Mix) 3:45
Move On Up (Latin Mix) 5:00
Close Your Eyes 4:44
Are You Willing 4:30

 LaTonya Holmes: S/T (EP) (ESMG Music Group, 200x)
 Another unique release by a local artist found in the bowels of a thrift store. It wasn't in as good condition as the others; though it was in perfect working order, the disc had more scratches than what I would've ordinarily of liked and the thermally printed label on the front had started to wear a bit in places, revealing a 700mb Imitation CD-R beneath it. There was artwork though it did not fit properly in the jewel case. The artist in question has an 2006 EP on CD Baby but only one of the songs on this CD (So Sensitive) are featured and it is in a slightly different, finished arrangement. The others (Keep It Movin', I Want Love and You Don't Know) presumably are demos and are predominantly smooth R&B with G-Funk and Neo influences. There is no date of manufacture although I am guessing, seeing as her EP was released in 2006, this demonstration was from some time post-2000s...(October 2014)

Keep It Movin' 4:22
I Want Love 3:46
So Sensitive 4:06
You Don't Know 5:05

Athena Cage: "Moods" (Promo CDr) (The Puffin Co., 200x)
Not really indie but another unique and surprising find in the junk bin at our local thrift store, this time from former Kut Klose singer and Priority Records artist Athena Cage. It was in poor condition (the inlay had sustained some notable water damage) but fortunately everything was in perfect working order. It appears to be a very early industry presentation to promote Cage as a solo artist and features a brief biography and snippets (ranging from 1 to 2 minutes in length) from her then untitled debut LP. Ordinarily this wouldn't be much of a big deal but many of the songs heard here are demos and did not go on to appear on the track-list. One "Seize Life" features an appearance by her former mentor Keith Sweat. I believe he was initially supposed to have more of a role on the project but by the time the album was finished he was nowhere to be seen. Instead Cage opted for more of a pop-crossover sound by recruiting the likes of Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins and Steve Rhythm instead. The disc, which is a thermally printed CD-R, was manufactured for The Puffin Co., an entertainment services company in Washington DC. Cage's full finished album can be found here while a further track that was cut from the project can be found here. (October 2014)

Main Presentation    17:02
'Til You Come Back To Me    2:31
He Changed His Mind    2:02