Art by El Ronzo
Deen wears vintage suits to cop loosies
I know this shit is about to sound like a backhanded compliment but there’s definitely a use for some of these cultural tourist ass niggas that synthesize old sounds into new sounds that serve as introductions to the old shit for the masses. Or in other similarly Englishy words, even though a muthafucka like Mark Ronson comes off as a hack on first glance, especially now (given the conversations we’ve been having about cultural appropriation in the last few months) there’s room for cats that can give the great unlearned masses shit that can cynically be described as ‘Soul for Dummies’ or ‘Adultz Bop Funk’.
I made you slog through that semi-labored intro to tell you this: I like Mark Ronson—or more accurately, I like Mark Ronson’s music—even if I choose to feel some kinda way about it. And while I’m confessing sins, I might as well let y’all know that I actually prefer his ‘solo’ work to the albums produced for other artists and is most acclaimed for—you know, the Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen stuff. I’m probably sexist or something—I ain’t fixing that though.
The advantage a guy like Ronson has over a guy like say… Diamond D, when putting one of these compilation style albums together is that he makes pop music. Unabashed, chart-seeking, commercial licensing, pop music. Ain’t a thang wrong with that. Well that and having Jeff Bhasker riding shotgun (this would be like Dr. Dre making an album with someone like Scott Storch doing co-production on every son… oh wait). However, that gives Ronson carte blanche to explore all sorts of random genres and ideas within his own brand – it’s a ‘brand’ when your music has been in more than 5 commercials; ‘aesthetic’ for less than 5. I have to admit that the results of his genre blendings are pretty darn palatable to these ears.
But what’s even better is the man’s Rolodex. It must be nice to be able to ask Bruno Mars for a favor or two. That’s a surefire method of ensuring that you’ll make a hit, especially when you combine that ambiguous-looking and talented elf with enough sonic references and suspiciously familiar vocal refrains to fill a Will Smith album. “Uptown Funk” is the song I’m referring to and I know I’m going to get tired of that shit eventually, but I’ll eternally be amused at the thought of Michael Chabon biting a Trinidad James lyric for a Mark Ronson song featuring Bruno Mars’ vocals—even though that didn’t actually happen (Chabon contributed lyrics to 9 of the 11 songs on the album—some hilariously pretentious shit that actually works).
Mystikal pops up in his inimitable James Brown form to provide one of the album’s highlights in “Feel Right,” but the true highlights for me are a trio of songs featuring Kevin Parker—the lead singer/idea guy from what should be your favorite band of the last 5 years, Tame Impala. Parker’s psychedelic leanings and droned vocals are an excellent fit for whatever the fuck it is Ronson does. Andrew Wyatt from Miike Snow also shows up on a couple songs and might be better at imitating Stevie Wonder than Eddie Murphy used to be. Oh, that reminds me, Stevie Wonder shows up to play his harmonica or whatever. That’s pretty cool but I’d be more impressed if he played a fucking ukulele—or did some damn vocals. Then again, I’d hate to see Stevie’s quote for doing some new vocals for one of these new jacks—I’m sure Drake can back me up on that. Ronson even finds room for a new name in the form of one Keyone Starr, a pretty decent singer I wouldn’t mind hearing more from, provided she keeps the Nate Dogg aping to a minimum next time around.
I know I fired more than a few shots and it’s only mid-January but I’m happy to go ahead and put Uptown Special at the top of my 2015 leaderboard. ‘Funk for Dummies’ ain’t half bad at all in the hands of an expert synthesist like Mark Ronson. I mean, it’s kinda white n’shit, but it ain’t bad at all. Besides, you’re gonna be stuck hearing this shit on radio and in commercials all year, so you might as well try to enjoy it. I know I will…