For quite a long time now? I’ve wanted to feature a song by this band on this blog. Fatback (originally known as the Fatback Band) were extremely important in terms of funk’s stylistic evolution. One main reason is likely that the band was founded by a drummer Bill Curtis,who also acted as songwriter and producer. This allowed them to make strong and thickly rhythm heavy jams in the funk,disco and electro/hip-hop eras with an equally strong fluidity and degree of success. At the end of it these Brooklynites always knew how to give up the funk.
The early 80’s created a number of challenges for many of the large funk bands. In particular with the dominance of synthesizers. Again because Fatback were always musical survivors and able to carry on with their solid rhythmic base? They not only managed to make it through this era, but it allowed them to make some of their strongest and most inventive music as well. One particular one keeps sticking up uppermost in my mind for how it handled it’s own external circumstances. And that was their 1983 number entitled “Is This The Future?”.
It begins with the blurb of a round yet brittle synthesizer that opens the door for a slower paced drum machine groove. The riff that opens the albums becomes steady and accompanied by accents on Vocoder. The main body of the song is led along by a slippery bass synthesizer statement that concludes with that same higher pitched phrase that began the song. Meanwhile the chorus sustains that higher pitch more in the back round. The lyrics are thrown down in rhythmically spoken word rap style by NYC DJ Jerry Bledsoe.
In addition to that? The song features two instrumental breaks. The first of the songs breaks comes in the form of a very probing and melodic saxophone solo courtesy of Ed Jackson. After a series of falsetto harmony vocals? A complete rhythm break emerges in the song. This takes the form of a thick percussion solo in the classic clinging, clanging Fatback Band style. It’s accompanied only by the space funk style synthesizer bleeps before the song concludes with the only sung lead vocals of this song provided a female singer whom I don’t know the name of.
In terms of the music alone? This song grows more astounding with each listen. It places a strong emphasis on the drum machine while not sacrificing the live drum/percussion sound on which Fatback developed their originally flavors. Bledsoe’s rap brings the song in tune with the then burgeoning hip-hop era-emphasizing the importance of DJ’s advancing the rap element of the music while providing a smooth, elegant delivery of the type one would hear on the radio-very different from the more earnest delivery of most raps.
The songs overall sound and vocal delivery blend in perfectly with the lyrical content. Five years before EWF charted so successfully with “System Of Survival”? Fatback are asking questions for the early 80’s that Marvin Gaye asked over a decade earlier with Whats Going On? They speak in particular to the black silent generation,than approaching middle age who “use to eat steak and caviar,now it’s peanut butter in a candy jar”. It also reflects how Reagan era America was causing black Americans to lose hope-bluntly stating that “only a fool would wanna endorse this kind of future”. Bleak as it may sound? It’s truthfulness makes the question perhaps more important than the answers-even today.