Category Archives: Pharrell Williams

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Freedom” by Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams has been a key artist in terms of my discussions with Henrique Hopkins about turn of the millennium funk. As a producer perhaps more so than a performer, Pharrell  has spun his musical straw into gold many times for a diverse range of artists from pop to hip-hop. Both as half of the duo The Neptunes and on his own. His 2014 song “Happy” not only became an internet/YouTube sensation,but raised the bar for modern day jazzy/funky songs with a humanitarian lyrical message. Perhaps because of a lawsuit leveled upon him over another of his productions around the same time,it seemed as if this might be more of a one shot than the revival of a new funk movement.

It’s wonderful to be able to say now that my theory might very well have been wrong. While continuing his productions for other artists,which included comebacks from Sean “Diddy” Combs and Missy Elliot, Pharrell released a brand new single of his own in the summer of 2015. The name of the song is called “Freedom”. A portion of the song became looped as a back round soundtrack for Pharrell’s Twitter page and he even performed the song on Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show on the 14th anniversary of 9/11. As an entity,this song is very strongly associated with the internet stateside.In terms of the music and it’s message,the song has a whole other association entirely.

A chorus of women singing “la,la,la,la” to the songs main melody opens the song. This is directly followed by a piano playing the same melody as it does through the remainder of the song. This piano is backed up by a breathy,ethereal synthesizer. On the next part of the song,this same melodic piano is accompanied by a jazzy,steady swinging drum rhythm that’s accompanied by steady hand claps. The main chorus of the song finds Pharrell shouting the songs title in a highly soulful style with a chugging,drum like rhythm guitar beefing up the instrumental sound. This entire refrain/choral pattern is repeat one more time until the song comes to a fast halt.

Musically speaking,this song picks up where “Happy” left off. It’s rhythmic piano based sound evokes the 60’s soul/jazz flavor in the same way. Melodically it’s somewhat more gospel inflected in tone. When it comes to the lyricism of the song, it’s the literal flip side of that song. Pharrell’s use of the term freedom,both in words and as a visual element in the accompanying music video,represents the idea as the driving force of everything on Earth that grows and lives. With so many powerful people touting freedom as motivation to destroy and annihilate,this song showcases it as an idea that can allow positive actions and ideas. So again Pharrell is reaching out to our deepest,funky emotions.

 

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Filed under 2015, drums, freedom, funky soul, message songs, Pharrell Williams, piano, rhythm guitar, soul jazz, synthesizer, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove 3/6/2015-Andre’s Pick: “Turn It Up” by Baby Funk

One of the major things I wanted to do with this blog is to promote new funk bands and soloists with my blogging partner Rique. Particularly indie funk bands,who often need the sort of word of mouth campaign to bring awareness of their music to the people. Last month a lady named Sheli Casana contacted me about a new song that she (under the professional name Baby Funk) had put together called the Original Stone city Band. Featuring members of George Clinton’s P-Funk and the late Rick James’ Stone City Band? They dropped a song called “Turn It Up”. And after repeated listening on my part? Just had to tell you all about this groove.

Starting with a voluminous synthesizer wash from Eddie Fluellen,Nate and Lenise Hughes chime in with a meaty conga based percussive groove after which a big drum kick launches into the main body of the jam. This body consists of a thick and phat interaction between Fluellen’s bass synthesizer  and the high up on the neck rhythm guitar/slap bass of Jerome Ali and Tom McDermott. The interaction of the jazz oriented Baby Funk herself and the bluesy funk  growl  of Mark Love coalesce on a lightly percussive rap where Baby Funk evokes her admiration of the late Teena Marie before going back to the main instrumental themes-now punctuated rhythmically and melodically with ascending/descending horn charts and a rocking lead guitar solo to close out this groove.

It feels important to note that as this blog is being written? Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” is still the #1 pop record in America. As I just told Rique in a comment on his blog on this topic yesterday? What matters most to me is not chart statistics but how records like that,as well as Pharrell Williams associated productions like “Happy”,”Blurred Lines” and “Get Lucky”,manage to connect with the people. This song is not only a wonderful example of the massive public appreciation of indie funk in the past half decade or so. But also how it brings together two key players in funk’s transition from the 70’s to the 80’s into it’s actual instrumental orbit-drawing in the influence of George Clinton and Rick James with the channeling of Sly Stone and the Ohio Players horns and vocals into their own distinct flavor of the groove.

Personally? I am extremely proud that a song like this represents the full realization of the original dreams and goals of this blog. Especially the single song oriented weekly feature Anatomy of THE Groove! As Michael Jackson once sang in 1977? Music is a doctor that can cure a troubled mind. Like to hope these grooves not only move,but remove as wel. I would like to give my greatest thanks to my talented and knowledgeable blogging partner Rique for the efforts and inspiration he manages to put into this blog with an extremely busy schedule of his own to upkeep. Would also like give a very special thanks to Sheli Casana for providing me with detailed information on the personnel of her band and all available musical information on them. Stay tuned for Baby Funk/Original Stone City Band’s upcoming website and full album release-available at some pout this spring or summer on CD and MP3.  And don’t forget to check out their live show when and if they travel through your home town. Thank you!

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Filed under Baby Funk, bass synthesizer, Funk, Funk Bass, Jerome Ali, Nu Funk, Original Stone City Band, P-Funk, percussion, Pharrell Williams, Rick James, Teena Marie

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 6/21/2014: ‘Think Like A Man Too,OST’ by Mary J Blige

Think Like A Man Too

At the end of 2013? It was A Mary Christmas that really made a huge difference during what amounted to a needlessly strained late December. I was very impressed by the eloquently soulful and jazzy environment it presented. It seemed that Mary J. Blige was finally on a path to becoming more musically herself. Throughout the her career? I’d always felt that her albums showed,at the very least enormous potential. And at best even funkified,soulful greatness. On the other hand? She was “the queen of hip-hop soul”. This meant that many of her albums became saddled down by guest rappers whose often profane narcissism seemed too awkward a fit with Mary’s frank,raw emotional expression. The “two sides of the same coin” theme that presented itself stopped being a musical revelation after a time. Today its really a formula. And a sometimes tragically overused one. Mary always seemed more about vocalizing and instrumental showcases/interpretation than merely being a vehicle for carrying people from another genre on her back all the time. A month or so back? This album was announced. Its a soundtrack of a sequel to a film I’ve never actually seen. But one thing I always felt was an almost ideal vehicle for vital soul/funk music is the soundtrack medium-extending as far back as Uptight by Booker T & The MG’s in 1968 and Isaac Hayes’ iconic,Academy award winning Shaft four years later. So this was something I was anticipating hearing and,as typical with a Mary J. Blige album? Entered into the listening experience without prejudice based on anything positive or negative regarding the past.

“A Night To Remember” opens the album with a bright,open ended late 70’s funk extravaganza. Its full of the sort of celebratory bass,guitar,drums,
horns and keyboards right out of the Slave/Michael Jackson/EWF school of that era. And lyrically eluding to many of the greats of that era. “Vegas Nights”,featuring guest vocals (as opposed to a rap) by The-Dream is a strongly percussive and fast paced number that embraces both the multiple synthesizer squiggles of electro-funk while also having the dynamic sonic melodicism of the boogie sound. “Moment Of Love” is a furiously funky,stripped down number where Mary’s melodic chorus is matched to a thumping bass/guitar line. Pharrell Williams shows up for one of (if not my favorite number here) in “See That Boy Again”. This is a complex number that actually brings out the strong Latin/Brazilian element in its hybridizing of the melodically surprising and strong Stevie Wonder/Gamble & Huff sound-full of that soulfully jazz/funk twist Pharrell is often more than capable of infusing his music with. “Wonderful” is another melodically complex piece with a thumping,bassy modern hip-hop friendly funkiness that never takes its eye of it’s classic hard funk orientation. “Kiss And Make Up” is a sleek,grooving disco-funk era urban contemporary mid-tempo ballad while “Cargo” has a soul/jazz type electric piano based groove about it. “Suitcase” and “Power Back” are the only songs I am not instrumentally wowed by as they seem to be somewhat self consciously trying to be “new” rather than making any creative statement of their own.

“I Want You” is a heavily orchestrated,cinematic soul/rock with a rising chorus and gospel oriented climax. “Self Love” is a Minneapolis sounding electronically oriented new wave/funk ballad where the character in the song is wishing for her lover to show her the affection he does for himself. “All Fun And Games” does try to mix the “newness” with Mary’s love of 70’s cinematic soul and does pretty well. “Better” is a breezy,stripped down funk/soul/pop number with one of the most unusual low,distant keyboard sounds I’ve ever heard. “Propose” is a powerful ballad closer to the album that plays to the strong gospel oriented side of Mary’s soulfulness-with it’s huge piano chords and rhythm hand clapping throughout. As with just about every Mary J. Blige album I’ve ever heard? There are at least one or two very generic contemporary hip-hop/R&B numbers on this album. And they do drag the quality down just a notch. And that’s especially vital here as,especially at the beginning this sounds as if Mary is for once fully embracing the richly produced 70’s funk/soul/pop sound that’s always been key to her music. But which she only really broadly hinted at. Lyrically this album does tell a certain story of the distrust in a relationship that probably deals directly with the characters in the film. Which is interesting since not all of these songs are heard in the film according to the cover-proclaiming “All New Music From And Inspired By The Film”. For all intents and purposes? This is overall a very good,many times spectacular Mary J. Blige studio album. If she were to keep total focus on musicality rather than pandering to the “queen of hip-hop/soul” moniker more or less placed upon her? She would have an amazing body of music ahead of her!

Originally Posted On June 17th,2014

*A Link To My Original Amazon.com review:

http://www.amazon.com/review/R1M04NYS165X4H/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

 

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Filed under 1970's, Amazon.com, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Late 70's Funk, Mary J. Blige, Minneapolis, Pharrell Williams, Soundtracks

The Anatomy of ‘Happy’- Rique’s outlook: An Anatomy of THE Groove Special Presentation Part Duex

 

 

 

Pharrell Williams recent triumph with an infectious ditty about human joy and the movements of the human spirit is one that fills me with tremendous joy and that I  identify with very personally. I see it as the culmination of a career spent highlighting the spirit enhancing aspects of Black music at a time when darkness was accepted as the norm.

Back in my high school days, my main friends who I referred to as my brothers,  Jesse, Osceola, and Frank use to spend our time before, after, and sometimes during school hours at OC’s house, eating gumbo, cooking, playing bass and discussing and debating how we were to make it in the world.  Often times we looked at the current culture around us, in the days of bling rap and very ignorant music as inadequate to the views we had of ourselves and how we wished our lives to be, not to mention the attitudes we’d inherited from our well meaning parents. The late 1990s seemed to be an extremely long ways away from the vitality we associated with other days of black culture in particular.

Outkast was the closest of any group at the time to who we felt we were. There were many other groups we liked bits and pieces of, but no one captured it as well as them. Then, at some point in 1999 we started to hear another groove. It was electronic, sparse, and FUNKY. It was heard on records like Mase’s “Lookin at Me”, ODB’s “Got Your Money” and “Recognize” and especially Kelis’ “Caught Out There.” Then one day out of nowhere, we heard that same beat but we got some vocals, on a track called “Oh No” by Nore, we saw a handsome, carmel skinned brother with throwback aviator shades on, giving an old school hip hop chorus in a falsetto voice. Osceola, ever the sharp eyed visionary, said simply, “I like that dude.”

As the milenium turned, the hits rolled in, like Mystikals James Brown influenced “Shake Ya Ass”, Nelly’s “Bustin Loose” influenced “Hot in Herre”, and several records that referenced The Vanity 6’s eternal Purple Funk classic “Nasty Girls” (“Milkshake”, “Slave”, etc). Pharrell and Chad Hugo, the Neptunes, could give you aural images of Run DMC’s “Sucker M.C’s” on a track like the Clipse’s “Grindin'”, and recall both Cameo and Slave on Snoop Dogg’s “Lets Get Blown.” And Pharrell’s own “Frontin”, may be one of the few R&B love songs that came out in the last decade that I truly identified with, not just as music, but as experience.

The Neptunes music took the black historical sound of funk, and edited it, filtered it through hip hop, and presented it as the hottest party sound of the new milenium. Pharrell’s falsetto, used in the beginning simpy to guide singers on demo’s, recalled Eddie Kendricks, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Smokey Robinson, and many other legends, who I’ve heard him all reference in interviews. I was always amazed at Chad and Pharrells skill at interpolation, building new funk off old funk and making an ahistorical young urban audience accept it as THE THING.

This past year has been one of special triumph, with Daft Punk’s directly late ’70s influenced “Get Lucky”, Robin Thicke’s “Got to Give It Up” tribute “Blurred Lines”, and now, the ’60s get back in the alley groove of “Happy.”

In the black church, the moment of the utmost jubilation, when people speak in tounges and do the holy dance, and the organ and drums begin to vamp, is called “Getting Happy.” Pharrell mentioned on his interview with Oprah that after 9 tries at nailing down a song to represent the joy of the villian on the film “Despicable Me 2”, he finally hit on this groove. He said the chords were gospel, because that’s the aim of gospel music, to get people “happy”, on a profound spiritual level that gives a glimpse of the eternal joy that all religions promise, with the goal of getting people through an often rough existence on this here earth.

Pharrell accomplishes this in the most spiritual, profound way on this song. He has always aimed to make people happy, his litany of dance hits is proof of that, but this  one hits on another level. The ’60s back beat, straight out of the book of Benny Benjamin and Uriel Jones, is matched with a low down electric piano and bluesy tone. The blues scale is an actual rarity in “R&B” music these days, it seems black musicians RUN from that historic tone. But the triumph of blues music borne of the black experience is the ability to acknowledge sadness while promoting joy. That is why it is universal, because all of humanity seeks that, the combination of reality and hope. Pharrell embraces a bluesy, funky sound with an uplifiting beat that will make your backbone slip into the jerk, the mashed potatoes, and the monkey if you let it!

The R&B singer Tank, when asked about the struggles of R&B in recent years, made some very illuminating comments. He basically said R&B’s obssessive focus on sex and love have limited it. He mentioned “Happy” in particular as a type of song that “used to be R&B.” And it makes me proud that an artist primarily associated with hip hop laid this on the world. The reason is, for all the bad rap (pun intended) hip hop often takes (and gives), I do feel hip hop is the repository of black musical history and musical history in general that no other music is. Songs like “Hey Ya” by Andre 3000, “My Umi Says” by Mos Def, “Sexual Eruption” by Snoop Dogg, even Ol Dirty Basterd’s rendition of “Coldblooded”, reference the past and the fun spirits of past musics in a way few contemporary R&B artists ever attempt.

But the true genius of Pharrell is in his vision and his uniqueness. Pharrell and a handful of other artists, have always made me feel it was okay to be myself and pursue my own path. They brough the spirit I admired in Miles Davis, James Brown, George Clinton, Stevie, Sly, Marvin, etc, into the present day, when most of my peers would tell me, “That was back THEN.” And it is an amazing act for a black male artist at this time to stand up and make the whole world dance singing a song that says “I’m Happy.”

From the beginning, Pharrell understood this song was the people’s song.  I was amazed when he created the worlds first 24 hour music video, with people uploading their own videos dancing to the song, a truly democratic and positive use of current technology! And his song has become so big that the U.N used it as their theme for their “International Day of Happiness.” The video I posted is from Liberia, my mothers home country and a country both of my parents love dearly. Liberia’s main image currently is one of 19 years of one of the most brutal civil wars seen in recent memory.  But this was a country founded as a country of hope for individuals who were not allowed much in their home land. But Pharrell’s song and the “Happy” video show that the human spirit lives on, as it always has. My mother, who usually does not dig the message of many current musics, actually asked me to bring home Pharrell’s album for HER the other day. I often bemoan the fact that todays black music, in contrast to a song such as “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, is not often something kids and grown ups can share together. How can a consciounable parent bring their kids out to dance at 2 am to “All I want for my birthday is a big booty hoe?” But “Happy” is most definitely a song that makes both me and my mother dance. I heard another young lady say that she plays that for her kids in the morning when she’s taking them to school. At that, I’ll say Pharrell has made quite a contribution in his time to the never ending, always elusive human quest, and for 3 mintues and 53 seconds at a time, he plants his flag on that tall and distant summit of joy.

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Filed under Motown, Music, Music Reviewing, Pharrell Williams