As a bass player for free jazz saxophone innovator Ornette Coleman’s band Prime Time,Jamaaladeen Tacuma bought the idea of funk’s “bass up front” ethic to Coleman’s harmolodic approach to music during the late 70’s and early 80’s. Especially since he’d already come to Coleman after playing for Charles Earland during his teens in his native Philadelphia In 1984,the musically precocious Tacuma went out on his own with his group Cosmetic,and pursued an accompanying solo career.His sound grew heavily funk oriented during these this time. In 1991,he released an album called Boss Of The Bass. This album featured a more hip-hop based new jack swing groove-closer to a harder edged Chuckii Booker than Ornette Coleman. One of the songs on the album stood out not only from this,but also as social barometer for it’s time frame. It was appropriately called “Trouble”.
Starting out with Tacuma’s bass revving like a motorcycle engine the slow,thick,drum machine and electric slap bass fueled funk jam gets into gear as as the deep,husky soul singer Aziz’s vocals suddenly come on declaring “we’ve got trouble all over the land,we’ve got to make a stand”. The lyrics present the theme of an article in the “dirty press” and and asking why poverty is so ascendant when very few can live like “heirs to a throne”. After the two succeeding choruses,there are two instrumental breaks. The first showcases Tacuma playing a dirty,snarling funk slap bass solo. The second is begins with a sample of a TV news report talking about an increase in the nuclear arms race before going into an electronic piano solo from Kae Williams Jr-late of the late 70’s/early 80’s funk band Breakwater. The main chorus of the song then repeats itself until the song fades out.
The years between 1991 and 1993 showcased an America that was under pressure in terms of being able to maintain a universalist attitude between all fifty states. In more rural areas,you had the effect of trickle down economics causing mass decay. And in more urban areas,racial profiling and violence became a fact of life all too often. During the time the USSR fell,than US President George Bush got America involved in Operation: Desert Storm in Iraq and than came the senseless beating by Rodney King by the LAPD-following by the LA riots. Hip-hop has been addressing the matters associated with this for many years before this-from KRS-1 and Public Enemy’s Chuck D. This song bought that sense of social urgency of political hip-hop to a more jazz inclined crowd,many of whom had difficulty with the blunt and sometimes profane language of rap. And it framed this lyrics,set to a more 60’s/70’s preacher style of lyrics to a hard late 80’s style of funk.
Still this song retains hip-hop’s angrier tone in some of the lyrical content. Aziz’s blunt vocal approach has a very direct flavor to it. Also,while the lyrical content seems directed at working adults-perceiving the ills of the world and their community as they live their lives rather than idealist young people looking to change the world immediately,the lyrics maintain some of the “don’t believe the hype” attitude of late 80’s/early 90’s hip-hop. Generationally speaking? This isn’t surprising since Tacuma and his band mates were generally latter day baby boomers similar to Prince and Michael Jackson-often referred to today as “Generation Jones”. They were the same age as first generation hip-hoppers. So it was only natural that the lyrics of this song reflect both hope for the future and a sense of worried earnestness. Having first heard this closer to it’s time on one of my father’s jazz sampler CD’s? I’ve long considered this an unsung “people music” message song funk anthem for the early 1990’s!