Three months after the untimely passing of DJ International co-founder Benji Espinoza, the label has officially relaunched. Now under license to U.K. publisher Last Man Music, the seminal Chicago house institution has formally resumed activity with an Anthony Thomas cover of Joe Smooth‘s 1987 anthem “Promised Land.”
The story goes that Joe Smooth (real name Joseph Lorenzo Jr. Welbon) hatched the idea for the original while accompanying Farley “Jackmaster” Funk on a European tour, inspired by how the music of his hometown had broken down cultural barriers on dance floors overseas. Thomas, who sang on the original, opted for more distorted vocals and disco-reminiscent strings on the update without deviating far from the composition of the source material.
After launching in 1985, DJ International gave a home to releases from artists whose names would come to be virtually synonymous with Chicago house. In partnership with BBC Radio 1 DJ Pete Tong, the label released a 1986 compilation titled The House Sound of Chicago, Vol. 1 that exposed British audiences to music by the likes of Steve “Silk” Hurley, Fingers Inc. and Marshall Jefferson, among others.
Even under the ownership of Last Man Music, DJ International has stated in a press release that Co-Founder Rocky Jones will remain in charge. To gear up for the relaunch, in August the label shared a posthumous Frankie Knuckles single titled “Carefree (I Am A Star)” from the upcoming Jackmaster 7 compilation for which a release date has yet to be announced.
Stream or purchase the Anthony Thomas cover of “Promised Land” in digital format across platforms here.