Tag Archives: D’Angelo

Harriet Brown Does “Prince Weird” Right

brown

Is there any other musical influence as pervasive, yet elusive as Prince? Practically everyone in the contemporary pop landscape is influenced by him on some level–from Bruno Mars to Beyoncé to Young Thug–yet hardly anyone is able to capture what really made him great. D’Angelo has some of his electrifying stage presence; Miguel channels a bit of his sex appeal (albeit in watered-down, heteronormative form); DāM-FunK evokes his studio wizardry and occasional cantankerousness; but none of these are adequate replacements–nor would any of them claim to be.

Especially inimitable, and especially missed, is Prince’s weirdness. While the aforementioned Bruno Mars can do a serviceable enough version of “Let’s Go Crazy” at the Grammys, it’s hard to imagine him plumbing the psychosexual depths of a “Shockadelica,” let alone an “If I Was Your Girlfriend.” It’s that ineffably eccentric quality that sets Prince apart from his imitators: most of whom, quite frankly, know better than to even try.

To be clear, I’m not trying to set up an argument for Inglewood-via-Bay Area artist Harriet Brown as the one true inheritor of “Prince weird”; that would be hyperbole in the extreme. But of the legion of contemporary artists whose music echoes the Purple One’s, Brown is the one who seems to get “it” most. Just listen to the digitally-manipulated voices he puts on in the intro of his recent album, Contact, shifting from “Bob George” low to “Camille” high; or the way his elastic falsetto bends almost comically on the line “sometimes I think I’m an alien on your planet” from “ESP.”  Or hell, just look at the guy: that exaggerated bowl cut, like an Akira character come to life, with an inscrutable, gender-bending stage name that doesn’t seem to have any real-world frame of reference (unless he’s just a really big fan of the author of Brave Girl Eating). “I like people not exactly knowing everything going on with me,” Brown told the LA Weekly in a profile last month–an awfully Princely statement if ever there was one.

But I also don’t want to give the impression that Brown is just an imitator; his sound certainly channels Prince, but it doesn’t sound like an ’80s throwback. If anything, he sounds a bit like if Prince had evolved more gracefully into the ’90s and 2000s, subtly incorporating the influences of hip- and trip-hop into his sound rather than clumsily attempting to appropriate them. In other words, Contact is forward-looking, 21st-century music: music that builds on the past as a foundation, rather than trying to retreat into it. And that may be the best credit to Prince’s legacy of all.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Spanish Joint” by D’Angelo

D’Angelo has already expertly been covered on this blog by Henrique Hopkins,with his articles on the songs “Chicken Grease” and “1000 Deaths”. There’s always been something about the music of the Virginia man born Michael Eugene Archer. Probably started over 20 years ago when the man’s debut Brown Sugar playing on the family car cassette deck on many a road trip. At first it was hard for me to fully understand D’Angelo’s musical appeal. The grand musical statements of Stevie Wonder and the Jackson’s were saying a lot more to me personally at that time. A year later I began to discover Prince. And D’Angelo’s approach became somewhat more clear to me.

Despite the press and the local airplay from Nigel Hall as a college radio DJ in my area,even D’Angelo’s sophomore album Voodoo didn’t light the spark of interest. It was after listening to the Roots and experiencing Questlove’s production for people like Al Green that the music of multi instrumentalist D’Angelo and his band the Soulquarians gained a new understanding within me. So I endeavored to go back and re-discover the Voodoo album. With hip-hop era jazz musicians such as bassist Charlie Hunter and trumpeter Roy Hargrove aboard for the affair,there was one groove on the album that leaped out at me in particular right about at the dead center of the album called “Spanish Joint”.

Afro Caribbean conga’s from Gionvanni Midalgo introduce the song. The man rhythm is a steady,fast paced Brazilian jazz/funk beat. Hunter’s rhythm guitar and bass line both do their nimble dance over the drums and percussion. On the choruses,Hargrove’s deep choral trumpet’s take on another life along with the more swinging cymbal/hi hat rhythms and D’Angelo’s call and response multi tracked harmony vocals. A brief bridge finds the instrumentation slowing to a complete halt and silence. After this the song swings on into a straight up Afro-Cuban jazz/funk groove with some counter melodies from D’Angelo on the Fender Rhodes until the song comes to a swinging,jazzy conclusion.

The thing that really excited me about this song is that it took neo soul’s naturalistic instrumental approach,then added to that the expansive harmonics of jazz and funk. Although D’Angelo and Questlove could’ve theoretically carried this song along as a purely rhythm section based song  Midalgo’s percussion touches,Hargrove’s trumpet charts and Hunter’s bass/guitar riffs greatly broaden the songs instrumental dynamics. People who love both neo soul and 70’s Brazilian jazz/funk could both easily listen to and dance off this song with the same level of enthusiasm. Aside from the strength of the song itself, that quality of bringing two generations of the groove together was a major feat.

 

 

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Filed under 2000, Afro-Cuban rhythm, Brazilian Jazz, Charlie Hunter, D'Angelo, drums, Fender Rhodes, Funk Bass, funk guitar, Giovanni Midalgo, Neo Soul, Questlove, Roy Hargrove, Soulquarians, trumpet, Uncategorized, vocal harmonies

Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation: ‘My Life’ by Mary J. Blige

My Life

An astounding album and an EXTREMELY HUGE creative leap from her debut What’s the 411?! Contemporary hip-hop and new jack considerations were very strong on her debut album and there was the awkward step between that and somewhat mechanical 80’s musical flavors. This album changed all of that. In their hearts it was the funk/jazz/R&B of the mid 70’s that was the musical bag of both Puffy and Mary and the result of their enthusiasm is a fusion of that concept soon came to be known as neo soul. Along with D’Angelo’s Brown Sugar this is one of the earliest album smashes to use the form and it’s one of the most overall successful.

Along with the instrumental samples Puffy built these grooves on and Mary J’s new found fondness for jazzy vocal turns and scat singing provide great results on the drippy disco-funk “Mary Jane”,”You Bring Me Joy” and the bass popping-happy closer “Be Happy” are such excellent tunes that if these were the only good songs on the album it would still earn a five star rating. But happily the news always gets better from there. “I’m The Only Woman” really puts the title track of Roy Ayers Everybody Loves the Sunshine to work and considering his position as something of a godfather to this then new genre it is a beautiful use of form. Of course Mary’s cover of “I’m Goin’ Down” rips the entire instrumental track of the song and I’ve heard it to death but hearing it again reminds me of the excellence and broad vocal inflections she brings to the song.

The original ballads including the title track and the deeply spirited “You Gotta Believe” follow in the same path and completely undo some of the mild sterility of the previous albums approach. Ditto for the slightly more uptempo hip-hop inflected jams such as “Be With You”,”Mary’s Joint”,”Don’t Go” and the clever,well composed “I Love You” all have possess that spark needed to make them really stand out as impressive songs. From this point on in Mary J’s career she would be forever known not as “the new Chaka Khan” but as The Queen Of Hip-Hop/Soul and all hype set aside the high quality of this album is one of the reasons why she’s known for that.

Originally Posted On January 24th,2010

Happy birthday Mary! Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1990s, D'Angelo, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Late 70's Funk, Mary J. Blige, Puff Daddy Combs, Rose Royce

Rique & Andre Proudly Present 2014: A Year In Funkativity For Andresmusictalk!

Andresmusictalk Year In Review 2014

 

Have to totally agree with my blog partner here Rique and fellow WordPress blogger The International Review Of Music that 2014 has been a tremendous all around year for funky music. And funky is Rique and my favorite kind of music from my understanding. And this year we’ve had that become popular on a massive level thanks to starting the year out grooving with Pharrell William’s “Happy”. This was a global phenomenon-with people all across the world doing their dance to the song on YouTube. For the first time in history,a number one funk song connected billions of people in the internet age. And that alone is no small feat. And one Pharrell should be proud of  for his entire life.

If “Happy” was standing by itself this year? That would have been wonderful. But it did so much more. Kelis and even 90’s quiet storm soul singer Joe released tremendously funky music this year! And massively welcomed comebacks from Prince,Funkadelic,War,D’Angelo and posthumously from the late Michael Jackson were also enormously successful events. In fact D’Angelo’s Black Messiah ended off the year with a major surprise release in the wake of the tragic and highly topical police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri. That album may have had to wait until 2015 to see the light if that dark day hadn’t have shinned the light on the need to talk,sing and play about it.

Since funk was the key to providing not only great music but positive and enriching messages this year? I wanted to conduct our first interactive blog here on Andresmusictalk. There have been many wonderful releases this year in the funky spectrum of sound. Hoping all of you have been enjoying them. So presented below is a list of key funk,jazz and soul related albums from 2014.  Inviting all of you to select which ones interested you most! Wishing everyone a new dance and new vitality of life for the year to come and enjoy the polling everyone! Thank you!

 

Hear Some Of The Best Music In The Soulful Spectrum Of 2014

2014 Remembered: A Year Of Funk-Written By The International Music Review

HAPPY FUNKING NEW YEAR TO ALL!!!!!

 

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Filed under 2014, Chromeo, D'Angelo, Disco, Funk, Funkadelic, Fusion, Harvey Mason, Jazz-Funk, Joe, Kelis, Late 70's Funk, Lenny Kravitz, Lisa Stansfield, Michael Jackson, Pharrell Willaims, Prince, Robin Thicke, Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings

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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Andre’s Amazon Archive Special Presentation for Record Store Monday: ‘Black Messiah’ by D’Angelo

Black Messiah

For the last 16 years? D’Angelo has been missing in action as far as studio albums are concerned. While an enormous live revue in 2000 featuring his band the Soultronics-including people such as ?uestlove among the other members were hailed as some of the most promising new bands of it’s time. Of course so much as gone down in the music world since D’Angelo’s most recent and lengthy absences from recording. The call he and the Soultronics made about musicians taking the musical creative process back for themselves as really started to show itself during the latest recession-particularly within the last year or so. And with the reality of the need to free ourselves from racial hatred and privilege has all come together to create just the right atmosphere for D’Angelo and his new band the Vanguard-including former Time member in guitarist Jesse Johnson along with ?uestlove still on skins. And musically the man has a whole lot to say.

The album starts out with a deep,steely,thumping rock/funk number-both the guitar and bass lines possessed of massive funky bottoms and D’Angelo himself delivering his broad ranging,multi tracked Southern soul drawl of a voice. “1000 Deaths” samples a preacher talking about the idea of a nappy headed Jesus as the “new black messiah” over heavy funky drumming and slap bass thrusts with “D’Angelo’s heavily processed vocals accompanied closely by a staticky,revved up keyboard. “Sugar Daddy” gives a sitar led forwards/backwards looped drum oriented psychedelic soul rocker with a very probing melody. “Sugah Daddy” has this clapping,tickling percussion and this bluesy jazz/juke joint style piano commonly heard on many mid/late 70’s P-Funk records with some very scatting vocals-both solo and multi tracked. “Really Love” is a mixture of a hip-hop beat with a beautifully sensual Brazilian jazz melody.

“Back To The Future” is a two part number here-both of which take a strong countrified jazz-funk bounce with a melody that comes right from “The Charleston”,the iconic stride pianist James P.Johnson’s famous song that originated the famous dance. The second part coming near the closing of the album adds more of a bouncing Southern danceable funk rhythm to the outro. “Till It’s Done (Tutu)” is full of heavy bluesy guitar reverb and a very melodic slap bass line sharing the musical space with D’Angelo’s elaborate vocal turns. “Prayer” is a slow,dragging wah wah powered groove with a spacy synthesizer melody floating over the top. “Betray My Heart” is a swinging dyno’d up electric piano powered jazz-funk number with tons of liquid groove from top to bottom. “The Door” is a whistling powered instrumental slice of sweetly melodic sunshine pop/soul. “Another Life” closes the album with a beautiful orchestrated,thick soul ballad with D’Angelo’s high falsetto vocal calls and the ascending melody the perfect accent to the piano/sitar/drum/string swirls of the song.

One thing to say about this album is that it’s simply an amazing total musical experience! Yes that in a sentence does some it up! In fact I had to listen to much of it twice before this review to absorb just what comes out of it. If D’Angelo never recorded another album the rest of his life? This could easily be his defining swan song. Why is that? Well it just channels all the threads of D’Angelo’s musical influences. It has Stevie Wonder’s love of creating instrumentally new melodic sounds. Duke Ellington’s sense of swing and rhythmic dissonance. Al Green,Sly Stone and OutKast’s Andre 3000’s drawling vocal hiccups and stutters. Prince’s psychedelic mixtures of funk,rock and soul. Ron Isley’s high vocal cries and wails. And it doesn’t leave out the jazz age with it’s love of modern time and stride piano. And in the end? It’s all D’Angelo and all funky! Not to mention awe inspiring melodies with the power to connect to the people. And even if some of the lyrics are difficult to make out? The music says all it needs to say: differences should always be different,and lay comfortably side by side-not far apart. A grand comeback for D’Angelo linking the sociological and musical chains that made contemporary black America so special TO America!

Link To Amazon Review Here*

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Filed under 2014, Afro-Futurism, Afro-Latin jazz, Al Green, alternative rock, Amazon.com, Blues, Brazil, D'Angelo, drums, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, Hip-Hop, Jazz-Funk, Jesse Johnson, Marvin Gaye, Memphis Soul, Minneapolis, Music Reviewing, Neo Soul, Nu Funk, P-Funk, Prince, rhythm & blues, rock 'n' roll, Sly Stone, Southern Soul, Stevie Wonder

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 11/22/2014: ‘The Man’ by Omar Lye-Fook

Omar The Man

Now I realize that these days eight years doesn’t seem to be a very long time to record a new album-what with litigation/money being such an overriding concern even more than it ever was-and it was always a huge concern. Omar Fook is a figure little known in the US. One important reason for that is there was no anti disco movement across the pond. So funk,soul and related dance music’s of all sorts continued to evolve on the underground dance circuit unencumbered during the new wave and alternative eras. Omar was on the ground floor at the beginning of the 90’s-right up there with American figures such as D’Angelo and Terence Trent D’Arby (whom I consider American for all intents and purposes). Still it been eight years since his previous album Sing (If You Want It). And Omar’s albums have a tendency to go out of print extremely quickly. So I thought I’d review this new album of his while it was new and attainable.

“Simplify” opens the album with a wonderfully harmonized vocal melody before going into a elaborate mix of cosmic synthesizer washes and Moog bass riffs. The title song has a slower,crawling groove punctuated by a low horn with some woodwinds and other orchestration lightly sprinkled in with,of course Omar as always singing behind,around-anything but with the beat in his strong,soulful and jazzy vocal style. “Come On Speak To Me” has a similar idea mixing a little samba into the rhythmic stew. On “I Can Listen” there’s a polished,orchestrated soul/pop with a prominent Motown flavor with heavy back round vocals (from Omar himself of course) on the bridge. On the potent blend of scratch and boogaloo “Bully”,with its conscious rejection of gun violence and “**** War,Make Love”,a wonderfully fluid example of dance/funk both call for world peace on the local and the broader level.

“Eeni Meeni Myno Mo” and “Ordinary Day” both have that strong Brazilian flavor to them-again both with strong melodies. The break heavy “Treat You” with Soul II Soul’s Caron Wheeler and “High Heels” both point to the main important attribute of this album: it’s by far the heaviest funk Omar has ever made. While the majority of his albums featured him experiment with different genres within his coherent production sound,this album experiments with the funk groove to see how much vitality and splendor the music can have when harmonically and melodically taken in different directions. The fact that Stewart Zander of Jamiroquai,a band who devoted themselves to the same funk based development process,is on this record speaks volumes about Omars mode of intent. I can only hope that Omar delivers his next album a little sooner than this one came because this in a way is the culmination of his entire (and somewhat unheard in some areas of the world) music journey, one which soul/funk musicians of any sort would be wise to pay a lot of attention to.

Originally Posted On June 28th,2013

Link to original review here*

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Filed under 1990s, Amazon.com, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop, Motown, Music Reviewing, Omar Lye-Fook

Andre’s Amazon Archive for 11/15/2014: ‘Landing On A Hundred’ by Cody Chestnut

Cody

First time Cody Chestnut entered my life was through his The Headphone Masterpiece. The sound of that album was very much a patchwork quilt of rock,funk and hip-hop though a reverrbed and heavily phased filter. Wasn’t a bad idea but I’d basically heard something similar to this before-from D’Angelo. Some of the songwriting ideas were not well developed and there was a lack of essential musical focus. All the same,Cody’s talent was definitely there. Than he disappeared almost as fast as he appeared. And I thought he would be a musical footnote whose full potential would not be fully realized. Than one day I was looking through the soul section of my local record store and there it was,a brand new release from someone who surprised me. They had a listening station there where I could here snippets enough for me to know I’d like it. But there’s a lot more to it than that. Not only has Cody Chestnut finally realized his creative potential but released what I view as his most focused and direct album yet.

From the churning rhythm guitars and drums at the beginning,it’s clear the focus here is going to be funk. And that is “people music” from the 70’s funk era all the way: melodic,full of advanced instrumental and vocal harmonic ideas. Especially impressive is “I’ve Been Life”,where using spoken word dialog to introduce the name of African countries and colonies to illustrate the rootedness of his life. “What Kind Of Cool (Will We Think Of Next)” happily addresses who media-centric people have become in their personal habits in a witty rather than angst-y fashion. On “That’s Still Mama” he’s musing on his family very much “I Wish” era Stevie Wonder style. After this the album takes on more of an uptown soul flavor with a shuffling rhythm and horns on “Love Is More Than A Four Letter Word” and “Everybody’s Brother”,where Cody talks of being redeemed from a life of manipulation and drug use through religion in his case. Of course he does show from trepidation that he might fall off that wagon in “Don’t Wanna Go The Other Way” as well. “Chips Down (In No Landfill” and “Where Is All The Money Going” illustrating modern economic hardships with some Marvin Gaye-like multi tracked falsetto vocals.

Of course the album ends in a similar musical place to where it begins-with the wah wah powered funk of “Scroll Call”,again finding him looking to the African continent for inspiration. I’ve heard a good majority of the retro soul/funk that’s been coming out. But I have to say I’ve seldom heard an album of that genre as well produced,well written and above all well conceptualized as this in the past decade or so. Cody Chestnut is no longer trying to keep up with the Jones’s of indie rock or contemporary hip-hop. He was at last able to find the steady musical direction here that has defined the creative direction of other people pursuing similarly individual paths such as Janelle Monae’. Not only is he more than adept at the most advanced level of funk and soul songwriting and production,but also exploring Afrocentrism on a personal,meaningful and positive level. This album could actually be part of a new revolutionary funk era rebirth. One that wouldn’t be based in rock or hip-hop cliches. But one that would expand on the past to embrace Afro-futurism,if Cody handles himself in a creatively reasonable manner from here on.

Originally Posted On December 16th,2014

Link to original review here*

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Filed under Afro-Futurism, Cody Chestnut, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop, Stevie Wonder

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