‘They Can’t Stop Me with this Record Now”: An Interview with Zackey Force Funk

Evan Gabriel speaks with Zackey Force Funk about his forthcoming LP, the modern funk scene, and young producers.
By    June 15, 2018

This past New Year’s Eve, I got to see Zackey Force Funk rock a set, tucked into a cramped bar in Little Tokyo. The energy he brought to his performance was unlike anything I’d ever seen at Beat Cinema. His energy was incredible, popping and jockeying back and forth while blasting his own production and singing live. This very raucous style serves as Force Funk’s coat of armor, so to speak. “I can’t play instruments, I suck at singing, I can’t write, I don’t know how to do any of this stuff. But I have a style,” he says.

Having initially linked up with XL Middleton through Eddy Funkster, Force Funk would go on to lay vocals over an electric beat that would become “Press Play.” This song led to Zackey signing with MoFunk Records. Originally from Tucson, Force Funk has only been in Southern California for roughly five years, but he’s already embedded in L.A.’s strong modern funk scene. He’s scheduled to perform alongside XL Middleton, Monique, Brian Ellis, Egyptian Lover, and plenty of special guests June 16th at the Grand Start Jazz club for Modern Funk Fest.

Force Funk grew up around 29th Street in Tucson, AZ. He’s done time in Winslow State Prison.  At the age of 44, he’s become a brilliant stylist hardened by a street education, incarceration, and industry relationships turned sour. But that doesn’t taint the music. If anything, it fuels it to new velocities. “As long as the streets and these gangsters love you, you will always live,” he tells me over an early morning call from Long Beach.

Bodyrock Shotgun is an album built for doing damage. Whether on the dance floor, on the interstate, or for someone faking the funk. Force Funk will be the first to tell you how this album bleeds its West Coast roots through and through. Production comes courtesy of a score of producers, from Brian Ellis, XL Middleton, and Boy Dude. Maybe most distinctive about his style is Zackey’s knack for hitting those sensual falsetto lines that seems to whiz around your head before you realize all the vocals are coming from him. Simply put, Force Funk wants you to dance, to experience what’s dark and happy all at once.

There’s the possessed sounding refrain on the chorus of “Satis-Fakshun” that sheds light to this contrast. Owning up to his alias, Bodyrock Shotgun fires to a start with the XL Middleton produced self-titled track. “Part Time Lover” takes its time, with sparse production and heavy synth lines.

Since Force Funk began producing on pirated software given to him from his brother, music has arguably serves as the most transformative path in his life. It’s painfully cyclical that nearly 12 year after Low End Theory started, the very canopy of influence that fell over Force Funk during the early MySpace days, and would soon lead to his connecting with DJ Kutmah and the release of 2009’s “This Is The Force Funk Sound” [HNR03] megamix, this album comes out in the same summer that one of L.A.’s most legendary residencies will end. Force Funk uses music as a beacon to guide his frustrations, the dark parts of life that naturally walk through his past. “Music is my therapy,” he tells me. He will go on to repeat this a lot during our conversation. —Evan Gabriel

When did you start making music?

Zackey Force Funk: I always loved music and I actually had a record store as a front for years that did well. I actually sold it to Murs. I’d always been around it. And I would see all these musicians that could play anything, they could pick up a any instrument. They had talent but they had no style. And I always felt like if I could just get in the studio with this person and tweak this thing or that thing…I was coming from a graffiti background and I saw that anyone could learn art, but do they have style? So I learned that they can coincide. So I just wanted to bring my style to music. I just didn’t know how to make it. But through trial and error and friends, I learned how to do that. It’s really kind of climaxed with this record.

How did you link with XL Middleton?

Zackey Force Funk: I knew what I wanted to create. No one is really making those boogie and funk sounds except here on the West Coast—San Diego, L.A., Frisco—so I knew I had to come out here early on and mess with XL because he was making the sounds I wanted. We met and clicked. He’s a down motherfucker. He produced like half of Bodyrock Shotgun.

What age did you transition from the graffiti background?

Zackey Force Funk: When I had the store, I was in my twenties. There was this kid, Eaz, he’s super famous, and he would come through Tucson and paint these beautiful fucking murals. All the people who drove by through it was beautiful, but all the graffiti writers nuked this dude. He didn’t know anything about letters. I couldn’t understand what they were talking about. To me, he was a great artist.

One day, these motherfuckers had a battle in Tucson, and they had that great artist battle a graffiti writer. They each had three of the same cans and they each had to do three of the same letters. That artist dude painted his letters, and the structure looked like that of a six-year-old. He had no style. It looked fucking terrible. He painted it beautifully. But the structure of the letters looked stupid. The graffiti writers’ letters looked super dope. They were sloppy, but that’s when it hit my like a bolt of lightning: Is that what style means?

That sounds like a pivotal moment.

Zackey Force Funk: I got super excited because I wanted to paint graffiti and I wasn’t a good artist, I wanted to make music but I couldn’t make music, but there’s a way to exist and be better than all these people, just with style alone. You don’t need technique if you have great style. That’s why when I perform or I DJ, I try to do things differently because I can’t sing and I can’t play. I try to act my stuff out while performing and just have a style that no one else has.

A lot of these people are not real. They are no gangsters. They can try to play gangster in their music or whatever, but I’ve called them out. I’ve only been here five years and have already been in all these traps from Watts to Inglewood, and I don’t see these motherfuckin’ artists out here. I can call that to their face. And maybe I’ve sabotaged myself that way. But either way, they can’t stop me with this record now. Who cares if the record label doesn’t sign you, or you don’t get booked. If gangsters and cholos are bumping that shit in their cars on Sunday, that’s all you should care about. I think that’s starting to sink in with some of these producers.

Are these producers from a younger generation?

Zackey Force Funk: A lot of them, yeah. In the Chicano/Cholo scene, it’s culture, it’s passed down. It’s a Mexican thing, to be honest. Who gives a fuck if the industry doesn’t like you? For the first few years that’s who I felt, until I got around it and it was too fake to handle. I don’t know man. It hit me like a bolt of lightning, as long as the streets don’t turn their back on you it doesn’t matter what the entertainment industry thinks of you.

When I’m dead they will still be playing my music at these crazy ass Cholo parties. That’s what this record came down to, making this music for the gangsters. I don’t make any money on my music. I never have and I probably never will. It puts me in a different position, especially in L.A.

Is that good for you?

Zackey Force Funk: It’s given me freedom. When I was hanging around some of these record execs, I felt fake. I didn’t feel like myself. I didn’t know what they wanted. And know in this position, I’m just doing exactly what I want. When I was nineteen I was living a rockstar life. And that’s what I thought it was going to be like when I came out here and started hanging with these records execs. But it’s not. Most of them are just fucking nerds. No disrespect, but that’s just not my scene.

What’s your process for making music?

Zackey Force Funk: Music is my therapy, dude. You’ll see me sing at Modern Funk Fest. But that’s why I don’t ask for money. I don’t know how I could ever become an artist that gets paid because then it would become a job rather than my therapy. I really have to do these things to get shit off my chest or just make me feel better. Especially when I go perform live, I get out everything. I don’t even rehearse. I just go up there and go bat-shit crazy. And I feel so much better when I get off, I do. Same with my music. I don’t get paid for it. I just have to do it. It’s like my fucking counseling.

I build rockets for a day job. I work 12 hours a night, work Saturdays. It’s an insane job man. It come down to this fucking record again dude. This fucking Bodyrock Shotgun. It’s like, they still can’t stop it man. Even more now than ever. The music is just getting bigger and I’m starting to give a fuck less. I just work so much. I’m actually making the best music of my life, and I’m getting more and more resources.

You’ve played alongside and opened for a score of acts, including Thundercat, Tobacco, and Egyptian Lover. Do any shows stand out as especially crazy in your memory?

Zackey Force Funk: Fuck yeah. Last year I went to Tucson and did a show for homecoming, and I was fucked up. For the first time ever, my parents came to my show. I was faded. My mom was so happy though because the crowd was stoked, she started crying. It was so surreal. That was the one that really sticks out, seeing my mom walk in during the middle of my set.

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