Music trivia question: What Brooklyn-based artist was signed to hip-hop staple labels 4th & Broadway and Island (as in Island Def Jam) and remains relevant today by reason of a brand-new CD?

If you guessed MC What’s-His-Name from the What’s-It Crew, you’d be absolutely wrong. Rewind back to the 1980s. Throughout the decade, a pattern was established in the dance music genre—that of utilizing authentic soul vocalist to augment the bass heavy track. Think of some of the vocalists of that era who did it. Luther Vandross, Me’Lissa Morgan, J “D-Train” Williams, Gwen Guthrie, Jocelyn Brown and Joe Church (RIP, brother) were all mainstays of club records. And not to get it twisted, the songs had an authentic quality.

With his self-titled album that debuted in 1998, this artist kept that ball rolling while also giving a peek into what his future career direction in music would be. Two singles from that project were cover songs, John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and “Free” by Denise Williams. Aside from declaring his allegiance to jazz and soul music, he also displayed brilliance in interpreting classic tunes. Figured out who he is yet? If you haven’t, he’s Will Downing.

Back with his 18th studio CD, “Chocolate Drop,” Downing has, on the low, established himself as the quintessence of consistency. Of the new project, he assures, “That adult consumer that says there’s nothing out there for me, and you hear a project like this—not just from me—it’ll take you back to period of time where you really loved music.”

Teaming again with keyboardist Chris “Big Dog” Davis as his right-hand production and writing collaborator, Downing assembles another stellar collection of originals, coupled with some daring and captivating R&B renderings, which have become staples of most of his projects. Joining the rank and file of cuts that have been sophisticatedly soulerized (that’s a new verb) are “Does Your Momma Know About Me,” “Let’s Get Closer” and the Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr. ooopppsss Whitney Houston classic “Saving All My Love for You.”

“I’m a student of real songs and real song writing, so I understand there’s more to a song than a beat, a bassline and a hook,” says Downing. “There’s communication in the least, and in a great song, there’s substance.

“Men, especially in prior generations, were never really expressive in sharing certain things, but would use a song to convey their thoughts and feelings. That’s something I saw growing up and I adopted as tradition in my music.”

While proud of his latest opus, the technological era in which we currently reside brings about a stark reality. “I still set out to produce what I feel is good quality music,” says Downing. “The hard thing is realizing what it is now. When you put out these recordings, you don’t even see it as a means of support. All it is now is a glorified business card. I put it in your hand as a way to say, ‘Hey, I’m still alive, I’m still creative, I’m still active, and come check me out at a show.’ That’s the only thing they can’t take from you, the live performance.”

Downing has two area shows slated this weekend, April 11, at BB Kings Blues Club and Grill, 237 W. 42nd St., and at the State Theatre, 15 Livingston Ave., New Brunswick, N.J. For tickets and other information, contact the respective venues at 212-997-4144 and 732-246-7469 or visit

Holla next week. Until then, enjoy the nightlife.