Category Archives: Blogging

Gratitude: Thank You’s From Andresmusictalk

i-wanna-thank-you

Its been three years since Henrique Hopkins and I began Andresmusictalk as a blogging partnership. Its grown in many different directions since then. There have been many stops and starts. And especially in the previous year,sometimes more tributes to music icons than articles on new music itself. On the other hand,2016 was also Andresmusictalk’s most successful year in terms of content,viewership and above all interactivity. So for today,my first article of the year,wanted to thank everyone who participated in its most successful year.

Henrique of course has continued to be a strong jelly maker-consulting me on ideas in the back round whenever he has the chance. Often times,my own family are inspiration. And this year,my new boyfriend Scott. Of course,Andresmusictalk took on two new content creators this year. One is veteran All Music Guide columnist,currently sports writer Ron Wynn. He has contributed album and band reviews regarding genres not normally covered by this blog-such as American roots,blues and world musics. Zach Hoskins came by way of his own blog Dystopian Dance Party following the tragic death of Prince.

Zach has contributed many tributes regarding the Minneapolis sound as well as recent funk/soul music,as well as acting in a similar consulting position as Henrique has. This year,some events occurred that changed my perception of the blog forever. Beforehand,it was more than tempting to view the success of Andresmusictalk in terms of stats,and the numbers of people viewing it. Generally I tried to share my content with the artists I was writing about whenever it was possible. It wasn’t until this year that I actually started receiving some feedback in this regard on Facebook.

Many of the artists whom I share this blogs content with on Facebook is session musicians. One ongoing conversation Henrique and I have had is that session players generally get unheralded or even unnoticed for their contributions. Though I’d never call hum particularly unsung,Brazil’s Paulinho Da Costa is one such artist I shared related content with. A percussionist whose played on thousands of sessions in the pop and jazz world,he sent me a message of best wishes for my acknowledgement this past summer. Wanted to show him my sincere appreciation for that here today.

Lisa Coleman of Prince’s Revolution wrote me back on stating that she was interested in looking at a review I did for Prince’s “DMSR”-the indirect beginning of my “Prince Summer” concept. Narada Michael Walden also expressed similar interest in an Amazon.com archived review of his latest album. But most important was a message from Junior Giscombe of “Mama Used To Say” fame. My re-post of the review of his debut album Ji moved him to tell me  that my support helped him move forward and that love of music made him want to do more even better. That email was moving beyond words to me.

Over the last 366 days,Andresmusictalk has become a lot more than it set out to be. It started out as the work of a disabled man who couldn’t work in the traditional way. And deeply wanted to share his newfound musical/social understandings with the world in some way-with the help of a close friend. Now,the content is actually making a difference to some of the people I write about. And with the addition of new commentators on it (and perhaps more to come),Andresmusictalk is growing into a family of its own kind. So wanted to thank this family for everything,and hope for even more in the year to come!

 

 

 

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Filed under 2016, Blogging, Music

The Cover Story: Sometimes,It Really Was About Races

cover-story

All eight of the late 1950’s to mid 60’s album covers have two things in common. All of them feature white people’s faces on the cover. And all of them are by black artists.  This topic first came to my attention when my father purchased a coffee table book called 1000 Record Covers by former DJ/record company exec Michael Ochs. One section of the book specifically featured a series of album covers by black artists with the faces of white people on them. It even pointed out how,in general in the case of Motown,other albums by black artists featured cartoons on the covers.

Mister Ochs book brought up the reason for this-one I’ve generally accepted as the most prominent truth. During the late 50’s and halfway into the 60’s,the civil rights movement in American was making it clear for the 20th century that black lives did matter. Yet the American South in particular were concerned that albums by black artists would sell better to the area’s more heavily racist population if the artists faces weren’t pictured. This was done in many different ways. The reason why putting white faces on covers stood out so much for me is because it went along with a similar matter of the day: cover songs.

In the 1999 PBS documentary Record Row: The Cradle Of Rhythm & Blues,the topic of white artists covering songs from black artists was brought up. In that docu,the late Jerry Butler and Dick Clark gave counterpoints on the matter. Clark pointed out that most radio stations in the early civil rights era wouldn’t play original versions of songs by black artists. So,for example it was more common to hear Pat Boone’s infamous cover of “Tutti Fruiti” than Little Richard’s original.  Clark contended that this was a big deal over nothing as the original artists eventually got their due.

Jerry Butler’s comment on that issue was that it was easier to feel a personal injury was less severe is one wasn’t experiencing it themselves. He cited the higher levels of sales by white cover versions of R&B/soul songs by black artists. And the economic/racial schisms behind it. So taking all this together,the elimination of a black presence on 50’s and some 60’s R&B/soul/jazz/doo-wop songs and album covers comes across as yet another method by which white Americans subsidize black Americans,their accomplishments and creative innovations.

Is any of this shocking today? In doing research for this article,it would seem this matter is rarely discussed online. Even as part of America’s musical history. There are some personal observations I have about the matter though. Seeing a white infant on the cover of a James Brown album was particularly eyebrow raising. Especially in light of JB asserting he was black and proud eight years after said album was released. As far as the Isley Brothers’ This Old Heart Of Mine? That album came out in 1966,the same year as the founding of Oakland California’s Black Panther Party.

Miles Davis is especially interesting in this case. His autobiography with Quincy Troupe made it clear many times that he resented,as he stated “white people always trying to take credit for what black people did”. I know some who cite Miles as being a reverse racist for saying such things,in fact. He was known to have vocally objected to having a blonde white woman on the original cover for his 1957 release Miles Ahead. This lead him to fight Columbia records for his wife Francis to appear on the cover of his 1960’s album Someday My Prince Will Come. In the end,Miles’ point was entirely reality based.

One topic Henrique Hopkins and I often discuss is the rap segment of Michael Jackson’s song “Black Or White”-where the rapped bridge states “its not about races,its’ about faces/places”-even saying “I’d rather hear both sides of the tale”. As of this writing and the presence of president elect Donald Trump and a strong resistance to the idea that racism is still a problem has me thinking a lot. Sure there are many people who feel blackness in America can stand up for itself on its own terms. At the same time,people should understand history so it doesn’t repeat itself (in some form) in the future.

 

 

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Filed under 1950's, 1960's, 1966, Blogging, Dick Clark, Jerry Butler, Michael Ochs, Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, racism

Prince & The Corperate World: The Emptying Of The Royal Purple Music Box

Prince artwork

Today I was going to bring you an article about Prince’s hip-hop oriented period-focusing on brief explanations of songs with video links attached. Unfortunately,many of them were not to be found. Since Andresmusictalk got started,I’ve only dropped hints about how deeply affected writing about Prince has been by the late musician’s contentious relationship with the worldwide web. In an effort not to focus too much on negativity,not to mention the mans tragic passing,I’ve avoided going into depth about it. But it seems the time has come to try and set the record straight about this matter.

Without doubt,this blog would not be possible if YouTube did not exist. It allows for the music discussed in it to come to life to the ears of readers. And many contemporary writers with a musical focus likely have similar views. Much as with David Bowie,Prince had a very early advocacy of the internet during it’s rudimentary,trial and error days of the mid to late 1990’s. He even developed separate websites for individual albums and songs,which wasn’t typical and still isn’t.  He even developed interactive CD-ROM content during that allowed interaction with his music in a very futurist manner.

In 1993,Prince also began a legal battle with his label Warner Bros. The purpose of this was not only to secure rights to his own music catalog. But also to release his swelling amount of recorded content as he saw fit. Warner’s had long worried Prince’s enormous wealth of recorded material would glut the market with one man’s music. This resulted in Prince changing his name to a symbol that couldn’t be pronounced in order to gain his creative autonomy. This helped secure him a position as a champion for artists rights. And doing the unconventional in order to allow this precedence to be set.

Then towards the end of the early aughts,something went terribly wrong. During a 2010 interview with the UK’s Daily Mirror,Prince declared that the internet was completely over. That computers and gadgets were no good. While (likely) shyness on his part often resulted in random hostility towards his admirers throughout his career,it came to a fevered pitch in the 2010’s. He sued fans for $22 million dollars for what he saw as bootlegging live shows he never officially released on physical media. He also began yanking any and all content related to him off YouTube and most major streaming sites.

Prince would’ve seemed to have become,according to music and law educated friends I’ve spoken to,what is officially referred to as a vexatious litigant. This means a party that sues not so much to resolve a legitimate legal matter,but rather to to subdue and/or harass subjective enemies. While the subject matter of Prince’s problems with the internet is explored in major online and offline articles,it’s seldom brought out that Prince sullied the legitimacy of his own agenda by acting in a hostile manner towards people helping to project his art onto a medium that was the future of music distribution.

Now the man is gone. And the reasons for his anger at his music being online is still mired in speculation. Was he being paid unfairly? Was seeing himself in the past reminding him of the physical pain he lived with in the present? Was he selfish? Out of touch with reality and the future of recorded music? Well during this time, his Paisley Park organization became increasingly cultish even from where it had been for some time. And still with fans trying to do tributes to his music by posting on YouTube,even an official Vevo channel for his music videos. This content is still often yanked down.

By alienating the internet, Prince missed out on one of the most tremendous opportunities of his professional career. Official Prince YouTube and other streaming channels could have focused on musician related content such as a Prince guitar camp,or tutorials on music production. He could have put exclusive musical content from his vault up as well. Now as physical media’s fate in the music world remains unclear,will Prince’s music meet the same fate? With record labels paying artists for content on YouTube via the channels known as Artist-Topic? Prince’s concerns over profit do seem to have been baseless.

The vast musical catalog of Prince’s recordings and concert footage has inspired at least two generations of music lovers. Not just to sing and dance but to pick up instruments, start bands and stand up for sexual and political liberation. Whatever Prince’s reason for cutting himself off from the internet,his artistic vision should not be allowed to die with him. I wanted to end this by encouraging you,the reader to create hashtags and Tweets focusing on finding an honorable way to get Prince’s music back online through YouTube,Spotify and iTunes again. Thank you!

 

 

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Filed under 1990s, 2000s, 2010's, activism, Blogging, internet, online streaming, Prince, Vevo, vexatious litigants, Warner Bros., YouTube

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/6/15 Rique’s Pick : “We Know We Got to Live Together” by Eugene Blacknell

Today’s Anatomy of THE Groove is special because I’m introducing a new to our blog that expands the definition of “New Funk.” The interest generated in Funk music by Hip Hop artists and movie directors and producers such as Quentin Tarantino and The Hughes Brothers also helped generate a wave of Funk re issues as well as wide releases for songs that were obscure even in the 1970s and ’80s. I guess it was natural that after the main hits of the big bands had been somewhat exhausted, the desire to hear classic era funk from lesser known artists would become greater and greater. In the case of today’s 1973 rediscovered Funk stomper, “We Know We Got to Live Together” by Eugene Blacknell and his band The New Bohemians, what we’re dealing with is a single that was released and played regionally but didn’t see widespread release until the ’00s. The region Eugene Blackwell came from and made his music in was my region, The East Bay Area of Northern California. Blacknell had a reputation as an ace guitar player who led bands from his teens on, making a handsome living playing in bars and clubs before the introduction of the Disc Jockey into the club scene. “We Know We Got To Live Together” is an anthemic, super funky, swaggering cut that fits right in with the very best of mid 70s funk. The song is so anthemic in quality that now, films have begun to use it as fresh music that has the classic funk sound, but by virtue of it’s obscurity, still fires the imagination as new music.

The song begins with a guitar riff from Blacknell, super funky, with bass notes leading up to a funky chord pattern. The guitar part is played through a wah wah of course, and the rhythmic feel is funky and laid back. Funky drum fills come in next and the sound is big and phat. The rest of the band kicks in and they strike up a stone cold groove, bass super funky in both note and feel, with the organ chiming in. The groove that Blacknell and his band gets is one that is so funky it could almost serve as a representative of mid ’70s laid back funk! The vocals come in and they’re super direct and down home soulful. The lyrical story laments several problems of the time and comes to a point where they say, “we’ve got to realise/its not the way/we want it to be.” After this the song goes to the vocal refrain of “We’ve Got to Live Together”, and under this vocal the band strikes up another super funky groove. When the lyric returns, Blacknell lays out the bleak mid ’70s scenario, taxes are going up and jobs are scarce. In this environment, the musician takes up the task of telling the people’s story “Help this population/understand this situation.”

The song next features a funky break, with the wah wah and the keyboard playing a call and response, with the wah wah letting a chord linger out and the organ answering with a tumbling piano riff and the vocals saying simply “Stay Together.” Blackwell then says, “Keep peace with me/I’ll keep peace with you/let me live and love my own way.” The song then goes to my favorite part, a heavy stomping tom tom drum lead part with Blacknell’s wah wah chiming on, that leads to the refrain “I’m so glad/Trouble don’t last always/no it don’t!” When I first got this CD back around 2007, that refrain, sung in Blacknell’s down home soulful style was my rallyinig cry, and it never failed to lift my spirits with its soulfully earnest optimism (and realism).

Eugene Blacknell and his various bands recorded many excellent sides in the 1970s and early ’80s, as well as performed and brought the funk to many audiences. It’s an amazing testament to the power and durability of the recorded mediums that their music has been rediscovered and accepted as part of the fabric of it’s time, regardless of it’s reception in that time. It also very useful for me as a Bay Area native to imagine what exactly the Bay Area sounded like in 1973. The message of “We Know We Got to Live Together” of course, is the right one, and its stated here in a very soulful and sensible way. We as people should be well aware of the alternative. But the groove Blacknell and co strike up is one that is highly distinct, funk that is laid back yet aggressive, a strong reputation of the hand clapping, whistle blowing, foot stomping mid ’70s. And I’m so glad it didn’t stay there, but that we now have it to enjoy for our times.

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Filed under 1970's, Blogging, crate digging

Anatomy of THE Groove 01/17/15 Rique’s Pick : “Forest Green” by Butcher Brown

One of both my blogging partner Andre Grindle and myself’s favorite subgenre’s of funk has to be jazz-funk, instrumentals in particular. The sophisticated funk flavors of George Duke, The Headhunters, Herbie Hancock, Roy Ayers, Weather Report, Grover Washington Jr, The Crusaders and many other bands were a key point in my musical development, usually coming from the turntable of my mom and dad. If pops were still living, I know he’d dig “Forest Green” by Butcher Brown. Butcher Brown is a furiously funky quartet from Virginia. They first came to my attention on Mult Instrumentalist Nicholas Paytons 2013 release, “Numbers”, itself one of the funkiest and best musical releases of last year. The members are DJ Harrison on keys, Keith Askey on guitar, Andrew Randazzo on bass, and Corey Fonville on drums. “Forest Green” is the type of intense, kaeladescopic, frantically funky song that hasn’t been heard in quite some time. It was most def at the top of my personal funk charts for last year!

The song begins with a unison lick, played by the bass, and several keyboard sounds, including one with a wah wah. The opening lick is both brighter in tone than the rest of the song and also lands mostly on the upbeats. The instruments sustain their last note for a few bars and the drummer Corey Fonville, introduces the intricate fills he laces the whole track with. Then the main riff starts, which is also played in unison by several instruments, including the bass, guitars and keys. The main riff is agressive, very sharp and on top of the beat. The lead keyboard has a somewhat harsh, quacking filter tone to it. After that main riff is played, the band plays chords, with the bass playing the root of the chord and the keyboards and guitar playing sustained suspended chords. The clavinet sound has a wah wah attached to it, which makes the suspended chord come at you another kind of way. The melody goes through that cycle and when it reaches the end of it, Andrew Randazzo plays a fleet fingered bass line that leads you right back to the top of the cyle. DJ Harrison plays a melody type line on what sounds like a processed Rhodes, but gives you the feeling of machines or computers talking in an old science fiction movie.

The band soon switches to another intense section, lead by Randazzo’s bass playing a simple two sixteenth note line and leaving a lot of space.The whole band kills it on those two notes, jamming away furiosly, with Fonville’s drums leading the way with fills, leading you back up to the beginning of the pattern, and the band hitting a chord sequence before the new pattern begins. In between this there is plenty of room for DJ Harrison to jam on clavinet as well as playing his repetitive computer style melodic lines on top of that. After this the song comes back to the melody used at the beginning of the song, with Fonville going totally free on the drums, playing funky linear lines like Mike Clark of The Headhunters. The song basically repeats this two section pattern, with Fonville’s drummings becoming more powerful and noticeable as the song progresses, Harrison adding all kinds of beautiful texture on keys, Randazzo making you think about Paul Jackson on bass, and room for Keith Askey to solo over the top on guitar.

“Forest Green” is a terrific achievement and statement. The band sustains a high level of intensity and virtuosity over the course of an over six minute jazz funk piece. The song both grooves and takes you different places at the same time, with texture as well as punch. And its a great introduction to the tunes on their album “All Purpose Music.” Butcher Brown is most definitely one of those independent groups to watch. I’m looking for more great music from them and their label Jellostone!

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Filed under 1970's, Acid Jazz, Blogging, Crusaders, drums, Funk

Anatomy of THE Groove 1/09/14 Rique’s Pick : “Sing a Simple Song” by The Budos Band

“Sing a Simple Song”, first written and performed by Sly & The Family Stone on their landmark 1968 album “Stand”, is one of the prototypes of funk, a clear cut example of how it is done. It stands alongside songs such as Sly’s own “Thank You”, “Cold Sweat”, “Shotgun”, “Tighten Up”, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, “Respect”, “Funky Broadway”, “Express Yourself”, “I Thank You”, and many other songs that took the advance gaurd in delineating how to drop the funk bomb. In the case of this song, the funk formula was a monster two bar riff with a rolling consistency and some sharp, sassy syncopated accents, played with a sharp attack. Everything is based on the guitar and bass riff, and the riff itself has become one of the cliche’s of funk, a style of phrasing musicians return to regularly when soloing or playing. This is backed by Greg Enrico’s funky straight ahead drums, long extended horn notes and the joyful singing of the mixed choir that was Sly & The Family Stone. Daptone Records Brooklyn New York based The Budos Band’s rendition of this classic on their 2005 debut gives you this funk staple in a raw uncut form. Doing a song like this is a great realization of that portion of the Nu Funk movements goals. The Budos Band and their associated groups at Daptone Records make music that cleary evokes the glory of funk musicians coming up with their parts together and recording as a unit, in the style of the original bands.

The song begins with an extremely funky vamp that basically loops the second bar of the “Sing a Simple Song” riff. The harmonized bass and guitar play over drums and percussion, repeating the riff in the manner of an ostinato. This particular piece is the part of the song that grabbed me the most when I first heard it. In particular it reminded me of several things Miles Davis and Teo Macero put together on Miles’ landmark 1969 “Bitches Brew” album, which was in itself influenced by Sly and songs such as “Sing a Simple Song”. Miles would go on to base a section of his song “Right Off” from the Jack Johnson soundtrack on “Sing a Simple Song” as well, with that riff going on to become one Miles returned to for the rest of his career. The Budos Band’s opening vamp has the same repetitive, cut tape quality that Miles and Teo got on songs such as “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down” and “Pharoah’s Dance.” They got it by extensive manipulation of tape, creating vamps that repeated themselves over and over, and The Budos Band achieves a similar sound here, which also has a very Blaxploitation scene quality.

After the vamp repeats the drummer kicks it off into the main groove. The bass player plays the classic riff to the song with guitars playing the same riff but harmonized on different notes. The whole sound is dark and skeletal, with the horn section playing a sustained rising riff behind the rhythm. Other horns come across that, playing where the voices of the Family Stone would be, adding the “Hey, Na Na Na Na’s” of the song. The Bands instrumental vibes stretch out and elongate the classic riff, atoning for the abscence of the joyus vocals. At around 1:20 in the music changes up to an extremely funky rendition of the chorus lead in. At 2:05 they hit the famous break section of which Greg Enrico’s drums have been sampled extensively. The song ends on a return to the opening “Miles Davis” vamp, only with more participation from the horn section.

The Budos Band’s rendition of this classic reminds me of what one would probably have heard from a nightclub funk band in the early ’70s, and I mean that as praise, not a slight by any means. Which means its a great vibe cut and would be excellent music for movies and various scenes. The band succeded in capturing a dark and funky undercurrent to this most joyful of funk songs (“Try a little do re me fa so la ti da!”) by incorporating the vibe of one of the countless musicians it influenced, sounding at times very much like the opening vamp on Miles Davis’ “Pharoah’s Dance.” They also show that live band instrumental funk is very much a part of musics present and (hopefully) future!

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Filed under Blogging, Funk, Music Reviewing

Anatomy of THE Groove 12/19/14 Rique’s Pick : “1000 Deaths” by D’Angelo And the Vangaurd

The Godfather of Soul James Brown used to have a kind of a test for how funky a record was. He once remarked about Kool & The Gang’s “Funky Stuff” that it was so funky, he had to pull over his car while he was driving because if he didn’t, he’d have wrecked from grooving so hard. The militant, grinding, insistent on the beat groove of “1000 Death’s” from D’Angelo’s long awaited third album, “Black Messiah”, fits my criteria for such a recording. This song perhaps carries the theme of the album as well as any other found on it. The title is a variation of a quote Julius Ceaser by Wiliam Shakesphere, “Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.” This saying has been quoted in many forms over the years, but has come down into the popular urban lexicon from actor and rapper Tupac Shakur, who said it in the form of “A coward dies a thousand deaths, A soldier dies but once.” D’Angelo takes this idea and crafts a narrative that fits the last five to six years of renewed militant activism, from the Oscar Grant protests, to Occupy Wall Street, from the Egyptian Revolution to the protestors facing off against militarized cops in Fergueson, Missouri. D crafts a vicious, pounding funk jam that goes inside a soldiers mind, framing this battle as a righteous one instituted by “Yahweh (Jehovah) and Yehushuah (Jesus) themselves.

The song begins with some distorted guitar and Questlove’s snare drum tapping out some practice notes, but they serve almost as if the instruments are beckoning your attention to the vocal sample that is about to play. Khalid Muhammed, the controversial 1990s era Nation of Islam minister is the speaker, talking about Jesus, but not the white, European image of him that has been sold. He speaks of Jesus as a sun burned man with skin of brass and “hair like lambs wool”, and also a man who was a revolutionary and turned down Satans “New World Order.” Not only does Muhammed’s speech provide the spiritual grounding for the album theme of a revolutionary “Black Messiah”, it also links D’s music and song to the great legacy of ’90s revolutionary hip hop that sampled speeches by leaders like Khalid Muhammed. In fact, Muhammed’s voice can be found on the intro to Public Enemy’s classic “Night of the Living Baseheads (“the way many of us act….we’ve even lost our minds.”) As Minister Muhammed continues to speak in praise of nappy hair, the funky revolutionary beat revs up, with Questlove providing the sort of solid eighth note kick based back beat drumming that provided so much of the foundation for hip hop. They are able to get a sound on the drums that is very reminiscent of the late ’60s, early ’70s funk drum sound that hip hoppers of D and Questlove’s generation cherished so much.

Distorted wah wah guitars lace the track as D’Angelo introduces a wicked, chugging slap bassline underneath Minister Muhammed’s speech. D chokes and hammers on two high bass notes before going to a muddy, drilling, dead pitch, percussive bass line, only briefly breaking out some melodic notes as accents. The bass sounds like marching music fit for basic training the world’s funkiest army. Underneath another sample begins to play, of Chicago Black Panther Minister Fred Hampton, one of the greatest of the Panther leaders, a devoted community activist murdered in his sleep by the police in the late ’60s. Minister Muhammed’s speech provides the more emotional basis for D’Angelo’s soldiers battle, almost like a fiery black cleric urging his charges into battle. While Chairman Fred provides the more rationed reasons for resisting capitalist colonialism. D’s vocals come in, as distorted as ever, almost having a quality of being sung over a cheap walkie talkie. His character talks about getting over his fear and going over the hill in battle. The music keeps pounding and going forward, like a soldiers relentless marching with Questlove’s relentless hi hats pushing it forward.

D’s lyrics and vocals sound like the interior dialouge of a person about to go into battle: “I can’t believe I cant get over my fear/They’re gonna send me over the hill/Ah the moment of truth is near/They’re gonna send me over the hill”. He goes from that insecurity to a kind of a thrill of being in battle, the complete opposite, reckless side of war.

That’s when the chorus comes in, where the music switiches up to a massive, heavy pentatonic riff, reminiscent very much so of pre-1976 Funkadelic. It’s a riff in the style of Rock, with several instruments playing the same line, and the chorus serving as the inspiration to D’s scared soldier, “It’s War! That is the Lord!/I wont nut up when we up thick in the crunch/Because a coward dies a thousand times/But a soldier dies just Once.” The song rides out with several minutes of pure early P-Funk style funk rock jamming, with Questlove upping the intensity of his rhythms, strong guitar soloing and the Vangaurd’s voices wailing.

“1000 Deaths” is a very interesting song, for one, it’s one of the most on the beat things D’Angelo has ever done. D is known for his laid back, lazy swinging rhythms but this song is a whole nother thing, aggressive and on top of the beat. And it is fitting due to it’s militant subject matter. The song is open to many interpretations, but what D gave us for sure is an aggressive, funky, intense track. On top of that he layers speeches by black activists to support a narrative of a soldier conquering his or her fears. Of course, there are many kinds of social justice soldiers, including Dr. King and his activists in Selma, as well as the Black Panthers. D’Angelo has created a powerful piece of art that can inspire in many different contexts. And sadly, I feel it will be more and more necessary as America in particular faces more and more confrontation over issues of social justice. But I’m glad D has done his part with super heavy funk!

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Filed under ?uestlove, Blogging, D'Angelo

Anatomy of THE Groove 10/03/14 Rique’s Pick: “Chicken Grease” by D’Angelo

When D’Angelo and his fellow Soulquarians and other collaborators such as Questlove, James Poysuer, the late great J Dilla, Raphael Saddiq and Pino Palladino got together to produce what would become the landmark smoky funk masterpiece “Voodoo”, they took a deep and studious approach to their craft. What came out of that is an album, that, as Saul Williams spoke of in his wonderful liner note essay, distilled the essence of many of the great artists of the Funk/Jazz/Soul boom into D’s brew. One of the most prominent flavors in that brew was the mercurial and kalaedoscopic funk of the artist who went back to his birth name, Prince, in the same year D’s album was released. “Chicken Grease” is a funky stepper from that album that is my pick for today’s Friday Funk Feature. The song takes it’s title from one of Prince’s funk music concepts, a name he has for a sixteenth note, droning, unaccented funk guitar figure that goes back to things such as the intro to The Average White Band’s “Pick Up the Pieces.” D’Angelo includes that “chicken grease” guitar part in this song, but the track itself was a manifesto of back to the basics new funk in the ’00s, with it’s dry sound and bopping, hip rhythm.

“Chicken Grease” begins with a drummer tapping out a New Orleans snare drum rhythm and people laughing and hanging out in the background. Soon after, Questlove kicks in with a dry, funky drum beat played in the classic rhythm style D and his co creators pioneered on this album. This album has been noted for it’s lazy, laid back swinging rhythms, mainly influenced by the late great Detroit Hip Hop and R&B Producer Jay Dee’s funky drum programming. Jay Dee went through great lengths to program his drums with the feeling of a human drummer. The result on “Voodoo” was an album whos beats felt like they came from an entirely different planet than what was popular on the radio at the time. Even live drummers had been focusing on making their drum beats as precise as the drum machine if they wanted to get work. The musicians on the tracks on this album adopted a laid back, behind the beat approach, the kind found in the work of Funk artists such as The Meters and Parliament-Funkadelic, and is a hallmark of New Orleans funk in particular.

After the drum beat kicks in, a clean guitar tone massages the ear, reminiscent of ’90s jazz-funk-hip hop fusions. A greasy, funky bass line soon joins it, totally avoiding the “one ” of the measure, letting the guitar part play on that beat, and playing off beat two. The guitar and bass points line up in holy matrimony on beat two. The bass rests and plays a funky phrase in the next bar. All in all the bass is a sparse, funky line that reminds one of the sparese type of funk you’d find on a hip hop record, but the tone is straight up dry funk!

As far as the “Chicken Grease” that Prince named, is it in the song? Yes, the droning funky guitar part can be found in several points of the tune, at one point in particular D asks for it and you can hear it chiming in in the background. As for the lyrics? D did something here close to a “true” funk song if you will. Funky beats can support any type of lyrical text, from political protest, to ballad themes, to sex, to novelty lyrics, to explicit gangster rap. But when James Brown made his seminal contribution to the funk groove with “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag”, he hit with a lyrical text that simply described his amazement at the groove he had concocted with his band. From then on, a good portion of funk lyrics have simply described and reveled in how funky the groove was and what that groove would do to ‘ya. D’Angelo does this and approaches it in the manner of the original party starting hip hop M.C’s, even quoting one of the greatest, Rakim, saying, “Let the others go first/so the brothers won’t miss”, from the Eric B and Rakim classic “I Know You Got Soul.”

D’Angelo’s “Voodoo” was an album that surprised me when it came out. It promised a return to funk, but by the year 2000, Lauryn Hill and Outkast had already done that to various degrees with great success. But I never expected the type of lazy, dry toned, unaccented, grooving funk D’Angelo and co. gave us on this album, music inspired by the boom bap head nod of hip hop. Just as funk adapted itself to the up tempos of disco in the late ’70s, D tailored his funk to his love of the prevailing lyrically focused, slow but chunky hip hop of the ’90s. He also did it with a sound that used very few gimmicks or studio flourishes. I see that album more and more as D giving you the basic nutrients of funk, and he relaid the foundation so well he left artists coming behind him nothing to do but build up from there.

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Filed under 1990s, ?uestlove, Acid Jazz, Africa, Blogging, Funk, Hip-Hop, James Brown, Jazz-Funk, Lauryn Hill, Music Reviewing

Anatomy of THE Groove 9/19/14 Rique’s Pick: “Work it Out” by Beyonce

The Queen Bee’s solo debut, “Work it Out”, was a song for the soundtrack of the Austin Powers franchise’s ’70s film, “Austin Powers Goldmember.” On this funky delight, B performs somewhat in character, the movies heroine Foxxy Cleopatra, a Foxxy Brown/Cleopatra Jones mash up that represents the “bad ass soul sister” image of 1970s blaxploitation. But, I also suspect B’s alter ego “Sasha” was in the house as well with Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo on the recording session for this one. “Work it Out” is brimming with soulful sexual confidence, with B telling her man, “we can’t wait for the bedroom, we just hit the floor.” I must admit, as a fledgling musican dying to drop the funk bomb, this joint had me kinda jelly in ’02. Skateboard P and Chad made some real true ’70s funk in 2002, and at the same time it was old school, it had the instrumental tone of the Neptunes space age funk as well.

“Work it Out” is an example of the Neptunes mastery at the song writing skill called “interpolation.” Of course, they’re being sued right now for doing the same thing on Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” When I heard this song, I knew it was an arch funky riff but I couldn’t figure out where I’d heard similar. It was something about the combination of the heavy bassline that leaves space enough for God to walk through it and the rhythmically active Clavinet part. It just hit me recently: “Work it Out” is an interpolation of Herbie Hancock’s 1973 version of his song “Watermelon Man” from the “Headhunters” LP. Just dig on “Watermelon Man’s” intro. Heavy bass hitting on the one, and then jumping into the upper registers after that opening statement, with the clavinet dancing over and through the holes the bass leaves. For this song though, Pharrell and Chad make the clavinet line a little bit more repetitive and simpler, cutting it down to a one bar pattern. Of course, the interpolation is interesting because “Watermelon Man” in it’s Headhunters version was also a cut MC’s loved to rhyme over in the ’90s.

The Neptunes borrow that basic funky motif, just as a funk band would, and lay a unique track for B to show her ass performance wise over. The drum track is very heavy on snare drum, like a New Orleans beat, with very little kick drum, the kicks only thump on the upbeat leading into beat one and on beat one. On the chourus of “Work it Out”, a sax riffs behind B, which I thought was a corny synth sax sound at first but I can stomach more now. When B says, “Chad blow your horn now”, we get a taste of baritone sax, which gives the piece a James Brown vibe, reminiscent of the James Brown Orchestra (not the J.B’s), when the Baritone sax added to the bottom of the music.

B takes this funky track and goes off, singing super soulful melismas, and adding all kinds of soul ad libs, like “looka here.” At one point she says, “Now that you’ve given me a taste of your honey/I want the whole beehive.” Which might be interesting to her similarly named fans. B’s vocal performance though, is magic, confident, sexy, powerful, soulful and funky. The video is also an orgy of groovy ’70s funk band aesthetics, rivaled in that time period maybe only by Cee Lo’s unheralded classic, “Closet Freak.” Beyonce began her solo career with a bang, deep in Neptunes assisted, Herbie Hancock and James Brown derived funk, channeling strong women like Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin and strong men like James Brown. And therein lies my admiration for B, her ability to dominate on funky groove tunes while the whole world thinks R&B is simply about slow love songs. Of course, this is an avenue I’d love to see her pursue more, let Sasha out girl! Now that some 12 years have passed I have to go back on my earlier resistence to this as light funk and put it up there on the one where it belongs. And also, with the time period of Virgo drawing near its end, I have to send a big shot out to the one thing I always dug about the video, namely, the word “Virgo” written across the back of B’s low ride Jeans and her hula hooping. Whew…. we gonna work it out indeed!

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Filed under 1970's, Beyonce', Blogging, Destiny's Child, Funk, Funk Bass, Herbie Hancock, Hip-Hop, Pharrell Willaims

Anatomy of THE Groove 09/05/14 Rique’s Pick : “Give We the Pride” by Chuck D & Mavis Staples

For todays Friday Funk song, we again turn to Chuck D, aka Mista Chuck, this time alongside one of the great funky soul activist matriarch singers of the Civil Rights and Black Power era’s, Ms. Mavis Staples of the Staple Singers. “Give We the Pride” is both an evolution of the self respect messages of Public Enemy as well as a milenial take on classic Staple Singers songs such as “We the People”, “This World”, and “Respect Yourself”, uber funky cuts all that encouraged self love and respect as black people moved into the new vistas at the end of the era of Jim Crow. It represents a continuation of the growth and evolution of Chuck D and Public Enemy’s sound, as Chuck raps over a band playing a new, milenial version of the type of funky soul they grew to fame and acclaim by sampling. The circle is complete, as Chuck and co have gone from keeping the funk alive by sampling it to actually laying it down with a matriarch of the music like Ms. Mavis Staples.

The track is a funky soul, late 60s, early 70s groove. Full band sound, with rhythm section augmented by organ pads, and a horn section including the heavy horns like Baritone sax. The drum beat is very kinetic and hyperactive, and the groove is based on a syncopated riff played by the bass and guitar, the instruments hit that riff for two bars and then rest, with the organ chords then taking up the space they vacated. This creates a nice stop and start feeling to the groove. The drum fills in at various points, and they very interestingly drop the drums out of the track at certain intervals to highlight the vocals, both for Chuck’s rhymes and Mavis Staples singing.

Ms. Staples vocals are fine soul grit, and her message is one that encourages black people today, young people in particular, telling them, “we need pride to survive.” She has a line I really dig where she questions black people’s current materialistic consumption, saying we don’t need all of the expensive labels, because, “Instead of worrying bout the clothes and jewlery/that don’t do nothing for me/because we got the/best, most beautiful/brown or chocolate/cocoa butter skin/in the world.” Ms. Staples lyrics are phrased like a prayer for Pride for black people in this current time, and its much appreciated from a great artist such as her who’s led many times through her art, along with her family.

While Mama Mavis prays for the children and admonishes them, Uncle Chuck takes the adults to task for being corrupters of the young, saying “I’m seeing old folks applaud/nonsense we cannot afford.” One of Chuck’s pet peeves has been what he feels is a lack of leadership and admonishment coming from our current crop of black middle aged folks and elders.

The video itself is special as well. As Chuck D takes a trip to Chicago and records with Ms. Mavis in the Chess records studio. Chuck also shoots scenes near black cultural landmarks such as the Ebony/Jet publishing building. The use of Chicago in particular is signifigant, with the rampant kiling that has been going on in that great city recently. Chuck does his part in this song and video to address and better that situation as well by pointing out the positive aspects of black peoples history and struggle in a city like Chi-Town.

“Give We the Pride” finds Chuck D in a new format for his music and message, rhyming in front of a band as hes done for the last decade, alongside one of his inspirations. Mavis Staples and The Staple Singers are one of the main influences on Public Enemy’s music, one of the reasons those brothers couldn’t see things going in a bad direction and be silent. Chucks voice is even thicker, and he rhymes in longer, more complete thoughts and sentences as opposed to the old choppy approach. Its as if the longer phrases of the new music also inspire a longer sentence structure. Chuck ain’t trying to be cute here! And the song itself is a cool merger of two different generations of artistic activists, coming together and using their great voices to motivate the people in the new Milenium. “Let me walk with my head up high/let me know that I’m fly.”

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Filed under 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, Blogging, Chuck D, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop