Robin Thicke’s musical star has always shined a lot of classic soul links onto the pop charts during the new millennium. First saw the white suited Thicke on late night TV during the early autumn of 2002 performing the song “I’m ‘A Be Alright”. As time marched on and I began to explore his subsequent album,a wonderful creative evolution unfolded from him. He started out doing a lot of heavy retro styled funk and soul,with some contemporary alternative touches. As the aughts transitioned into the 2010’s,his sound began to include more contemporary hip-hop/R&B elements such as guest rappers and cut up rhythm break samples.
In 2006 Thicke’s sophomore album The Evolution Of Robin Thicke began his relationship with Pharrell Williams as producer and collaborator. He had signed to the Star Track record label,originally founded by The Neptunes-themselves consisting of Pharrell and Chad Hugo. Thicke’s sound continued to evolve it’s mixture of phat grooves and melodies over the course of his next four albums in as many years. In 2013 Pharrell found himself on a commercial role with Daft Punk and Nile Rodgers for “Get Lucky”-helping to bring instrumentally strong funky disco-dance music strongly into the public eye. And that roll continued with the title song to Thicke’s album that year called “Blurred Lines”.
The song begins as many of Pharrell’s songs do-with a re-sampled electric piano playing a three hit horn chart. That Rhodes (or Rhodes-like) solo serves as the songs bass line. The instrumental end of the rhythm of this song is basically a clanking,rolling percussion. It’s serves to accent in,on and around a shuffling drum part. The vocal call and responses from Thicke and Pharrell provide as much rhythmic content in this song as it does melodic. Especially as they talk sing in equal measure to vocalizing them melodically. After T.I’s additionally rhythmic rap,the song strips itself down to the drum/percussion line before fading out on it’s main chorus.
Analyzing this song musically really gives me a chance to try at setting the record straight on another matter relating to this song. Itself a Grammy winner,one which he performed with Earth Wind & Fire at the ceremonies themselves,there was a bit of controversy over the perceived sexism of the lyrics and accompanying music video. Still the song represented a huge upsurge in instrumentally strong uptempo funk for the 2010’s in terms of pop success. But it was a law suit the next year by Marvin Gaye’s widow Janis Hunter and adopted son Marvin III that has dogged this song. The suit alleges that “Blurred Lines” plagiarized the sound of Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” from 1977.
One of the things about music that’s continued on through Africa up through hip-hop is respect for the oral tradition. A musical idea begins with one person and is passed down from parents,to child,to friend and so on. It allows for music to progress through influence as well as individual innovation. As for “Blurred Lines”,the songs only resemblance to Marvin’s “Got To Give It Up” is the clinging percussion sound and use of electric piano. This song has quite a lot less melodic vocal content. What Thicke,Pharrell and T.I. do on vocal level here is focused more heavily on rhythm as well-rather than conventional pop song structure.
Of course as of today,Pharrell and Thicke lost the lawsuit. And it seems to be that a series of similar lawsuits such as the one by The Gap Band (regarding Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’s “Uptown Funk”) last year seem to have created a conflict of interest in the 2010’s #1 funk revival. Most of the songs to emerge for the past year or so from funk oriented modern artists have gone more for an electro hip-hop sound or an alternative rock one. Something that can denote a non litigious sense of musical originality. It may not be that concerning as these things can come and go in phases. But as it stands in funk’s strong place in the musically oral tradition,”Blurred Lines” is very significant modern funk.