Funk is not a fad, but you could’ve been fooled otherwise. No need to delve into Wiki histories of the genre’s Boom Box War defeat by the 808s of “Rock Box” and Rick Rubin. Or the occasional renaissance’s in the SP’s of Dr. Dre and DJ Quik, Erick Sermon, the Lords of the Underground, and any West Coast vet with a copy of “More Bounce to the Ounce.” After all, provided you had a G and a few vials of the right street pharmaceuticals, you too could have Funkadelic by proxy.
But with hip-hop’s shift away from sample-based productions, so went its reliance on the funk. Other than the noble failure that was Fonk, it’s hard to think of a recent record that can be described as the progeny of Parliament. Snoop Dogg’s “Sexual Seduction,” was played largely (and lucratively) for laughs. Meanwhile, the deism of Dilla has usually led to bran flake-bland chopped soul samples and misguided flirtations with electro. Also, 9th Wonder.
Other genres have incorporated elements of the funk, but our generation is more Chromeo than Cameo. No codpiece. It’s anachronistic music and accordingly, it often involves calculated poses. Rarely do we see the spine-tingling groove of classic funk– instead, it’s late legatees usually pull from it’s most glossy white lined incarnation. From T-Pain exhuming the ghost of Roger Troutman in order to freak with a stripping Britney Spears midget, to Wallpaper’s ironic funk frottage, the Lords of Underground were right: we lived by the funk and now we have died by the funk.
So it’s been a pleasant development to see Dam-Funk and Big Boi help resuscitate the genre in ways that far exceed timid revivalism. Of course, the latter’s no stranger to the funk, having collaborated with George Clinton a decade and a half ago and generally been the half of Outkast that doesn’t listen to Syd Barrett records while rocking a platinum wig and inhaling Tempeh. Having been subjected to the Raekwon syndrome of having years to hone a long-awaited album, Sir Lucious Leftfoot has a sense of timelessness– both uniquely contemporary and paying homage to the older gods.
It’s modern funk with all the post-Zapp signifiers: talk boxes, rainbow synths, clapping drums, but one that laps up against everything from soul to Southernplayalisticadillcmuzik, to alt-rock (Vonnegutt is more Paluhniak). It’s an uncompromised record, one poppy enough for the mainstream but dirty enough to satisfy the snobs. When Jive asked for “Lollipop,” Big Boi dug deeper to his core influences and created a consistent, coherent and well-executed vision. While his previous solo effort “Speakerboxx” was solid, it lacked an aesthetic of its own. While arguably inferior, Andre’s album was clearly the product of a singular vision that sputtered as much as it soared. It was not an Outkast record and neither is Sir Lucious Leadfoot. It’s clearly a Big Boi album: lush, bright, and deliriously funky.
While Antwan’s partner aimed to be Prince’s successor, the temporary vacancy has been snatched by Dam-Funk–at least, as much as it’s possible to compare someone to Prince. No one is like Prince. That’s why Prince is Prince. So don’t listen to me, listen to Jody Watley who blogged that Dam’s recent performance at the Troubadour, “reminded me of the first time I saw Prince at The Roxy at his Los Angeles debut concert. It was raw, sexy and funky. Just as it was with Prince, it was easy to recognize that you were witnessing something transformational. Dam-funk blends classic sounds of the 70’s and 80’s with his own gangsta swagger and signature modern electro sound, turning it into a new and intoxicating brew.”
Back at You Just Like a Pit
After all, Andre 3000 has released as many songs in the last five years as Prince cut in his last pancake and pianos orgy. And like his childhood hero, Dam-Funk is seized by the compulsion to constantly make music. Thankfully, he doesn’t believe the Internet is over, releasing roughly a song a week since the release of Toeachizown late last year. Not all of them are great, but played from a booming system in the broiling heat of a Los Angeles summer, they’re almost always enjoyable. His latest is the MC Eiht remix of “Hood Pass Intact,” from the 12-inch maxi single he’s releasing on Stones Throw.
Though his hardscrabble North Pasadena upbringing and years spent playing keyboards for Westside Connection and Eiht have always been evident in Damon Riddick’s wrathful drums and West Coast hydraulic thump, the MC Eiht remix is Funk’s first major collaboration with a rapper since signing to Stones Throw. It’s more of a portent of things to come than a fully realized effort, but it offers a new wrinkle in his evolution. It’s a freeway tested alternative to Big Boi’s simmering Southern grooves, a weirder version of what Dre might have done had he continued down the funk road after Doggystyle. It’s little surprise that the good Doctor invited Dam to work with him several months ago (which he had to turn down due to a schedule conflict). There are collaborations with Eiht, Nite Jewel, Steve Arrington, and Jody Watley in the pipeline. There has even been preliminary talk about doing something with Freddie Gibbs. To quote another good Doctor: where they’re going, they don’t need roads.
In the meantime, “Hood Pass Intact,” and whatever other random tunes he’s been giving away stay in heavy rotation. It’s rare to hear a musician with such audible joy in their music. Forget authenticity, I gravitate towards honesty and integrity. There is a reason why both Big Boi and Dam-Funk struggled to see their debut solo records to market. They stayed true to the music they wanted to make and have been rewarded for that obstinacy (at least critically). The funk has been dormant for a long time, and whether or not others will continue to wring new elements out of it remains to be seen. Dam’s advice is as good as any: “no matter what you do, keep it from the heart…[and] true from the start…no matter how many busta’s wanna try to hate on you…stay up, stay strong, and always stay cool.” Granted, that may sound a little corny, but it’s hard to hate on something so funky.