Led by multi-instrumentalist, writer, and producer Leon Michels, El Michels Affair are an R&B-rooted band synthesizing vintage groove-oriented jazz, soul, funk, rocksteady, Afrobeat, and hip-hop.
The ensemble has been active since the early 2000s with singles and full-lengths for labels such as Daptone and Fat Beats, and more commonly for Michels ventures Truth & Soul and Big Crown. The Affair's recorded output, including the debut LP Sounding Out the City (2005), the Wu-Tang Clan tributes Enter the 37th Chamber (2009) and Return to the 37th Chamber (2017), and Adult Themes (2020), has been interspersed with numerous associated projects. These include Antibalas, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Michael Leonhart Orchestra, and Menahan Street Band, as well as the Expressions, the Decoders, the Arcs, and the Olympians. Michels and company have been involved with high-profile sessions for the likes of Mark Ronson, Dr. John, and Lana Del Rey, and have had their works sampled by numerous rap producers.
While in his teens, Leon Michels played in the Mighty Imperials, the Meters-inspired house band for Brooklyn-based Soul Fire label. They gained notice in the deep funk revival circuit with "Thunder Chicken," on which Michels -- 16 years old at the time -- built his reputation for balancing humor and deep emotion with a raw, bottom-heavy production aesthetic. After a long tenure with Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Michels established his more flexible El Michels Affair. They debuted on Soul Fire in 2002 with the 12" single "Easy Access," and in 2003 issued their first 7", "Detroit Twice," for Daptone's Misty subsidiary. The founder of the former label sold his studio and equipment to Michels, who, along with partner Jeff Silverman, started the Truth & Soul label. El Michels Affair's Sounding Out the City, originally released on Fastlife in 2005, became Truth & Soul's first LP release with a subsequent 2006 pressing.
El Michels Affair's on-stage backing of Raekwon sparked a tour with the rapper and other Wu-Tang Clan members. Additionally, the band started a series of instrumental singles that re-created Wu-Tang classics and collaborated with Raekwon on a new version of "The PJ's," originally produced by Pete Rock. This activity culminated in the band's second album, Enter the 37th Chamber, released in 2009 on Fat Beats. After several short-form releases (including an Isaac Hayes tribute) and outside collaborations (highlighted by Michels' co-writing and co-production of Aloe Blacc's global pop hit "I Need a Dollar"), El Michels Affair returned with another Wu-flavored set, Return to the 37th Chamber, issued in 2017 on Big Crown, another label co-founded by Michels. Over the next couple of years, Michels contributed in varying roles to recordings by Lee Fields & the Expressions, Lady Wray, Charles Bradley, the Carters, and Marco Benevento, to name only a small fraction of his collaborators. Adult Themes, the fourth album from El Michels Affair LP, arrived in 2020. ~ Andy Kellman & Marisa Brown, Rovi