Tag Archives: hip-hop

Anatomy of THE Groove: “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five Staring Grandmaster Melle Mel

Melvin Glover,the Bronx native known as Melle Mel,is known today as one of the first MC’s of hip-hop. He teamed up with another hip-hop innovator in the best known early hip-hop DJ Joseph Sadler-known to most as Grandmaster Flash. While they had their first single pressed with 1979’s “Superrappin”. After they moved to Sugar Hill Records shortly thereafter,they found themselves at the mainstay of recorded hip-hop. Which by 1980-81 was still considered largely a live medium-dances in city parks or after hours MC/DJ battles after a night at the discos.

Interestingly enough,it was a member of the Furious Five,Keith “Cowboy” Wiggins,is credited to have first coined the word hip-hop. The term came as a jest to a friend who was about to join the Army- mimicking of the sound soldiers make while marching. Seems pretty apropos as the Furious Five more or less became the first hip-hop army of the recording era. Their biggest (and often best known) contributions to hip-hop came from a record I first heard about in my mid teens. It was the title song to the groups 1982 album release entitled “The Message”.

A delayed drum machine with percussion effects opens the song-as a hi hat effect with lots of echo. That same rhythm sustains itself throughout the song. Addtionally, a pulsing synth brass sound keeps time with the delayed rhythm. At first,its accompanied by a very digitized synthsizer playing a reverbed,psychedelic sound and accompanied by brief rhythm guitar flourishes. After condensing down to the basics of the rhythm and pulsing synth brass,the main musically theme continues-with brief flourishes of synth bursts here and there before the song fades out after just a little over 7 minutes.

What amazed me about “The Message” upon first hearing it is that musically,it was still a straight up electro funk groove. It was sparse,the drum machine and percussion weren’t totally on meter and everything was set up to emphasize Mel’s rapping. The song is best known for being the end of hip-hop’s lyrical obsession with partying and upsmanship-as it presents different character vignettes about the harshness of young black American life in the ghetto during the early 80’s.  The he instrumentation follows Mel’s rap about “trying not to lose my head” in a world of people and music that was totally changing.

 

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Herbie Hancock & The Rockit Band: The Bill Laswell Years (1983-1988)

Herbie Hancock's Rockit Band Albums

Herbie Hancock, whose turning 77 today, is a musician who has consistently celebrated diversity in his sound. And most importantly, he did so without ever diminishing any sense of ethnic identification. That was particularly significant in his embrace of African percussion styles on his early 70’s Mwandishi trilogy. After his electronic jazz/funk triumphs with the Headhunters and a series of solo albums after,the music tide around Hancock had turned again. Hip-Hop’s emphasis on minimalist beats,turntables and sequencers swam in with that tide by the early 80’s.

After working with Rod Temperton in 1982, Hancock began an affiliation with bass player/producer Bill Laswell. Along with his group Material, Laswell was formulating a musical concept which he referred to as “collision music”. That meant taking unlikely but complimentary musicians, from different genres, and seeing where the sounds would land. Laswell was also a strong jazz funk musician himself-with an avant garde twist. This collision music concept dovetailed beautifully with Hancock’s vision. And the two recorded a trio of albums released in 1983,84 and 88.

Each of these albums showcase the Rockit Band,who also released a concert film with Herbie on VHS tape during this period. These albums were not only the first to bring the jazz/funk sound of the 70’s into the electro/hip-hop age. But they also did so by eventually incorporating elements of different world musics into the mix as well. I’ve done Amazon.com reviews on a couple of these albums. But am going to add some of my own commentary here for this overview of one of Herbie Hancock’s most commercially and creatively vital periods in his long and amazing career.


Future Shock/1983

Between 1980 and 1982,Herbie Hancock found himself in an important transitional phase musically. In 1981 he released the album  Magic Windows,a hardcore contemporary funk album whose final number-the instrumental “The Twilight” clone began the journey to what would inevitably occur on this album. Of course between that was an interesting musical side bar in  Lite Me Up,a pop-funk album very much in the vein of a Qwest type release and featuring such Quincy Jones luminaries as Rod Temperton and the Brother’s Johnson along with vocalist Gavin Christopher.

This made perfect sense with Herbie’s involvement with that group of musicians even earlier on. Few but Herbie could’ve guessed what his next musical move would be. During the earlier part of the decade,a new music was already beginning to emerge from the also gestating hip-hop genre. It was called scratch-very much an improvisational art that utilized turntables in a percussive manner. So Herbie rounded on the high diversified bassist Bill Laswell,leader of the avant garde funk band Material as well as Grandmixer DST on turntable for a shift in musical priorities that would be extremely relevatory. Not only for Herbie but for the music of the 80’s in general.

“Rockit” is of course a scratch icon song of it’s day-the song that altered Herbie Hancock’s entire musical priorities while at the same time maintaining a bluesy jazz melody amid all the vocoder,synthesizers,drum machines and turntabling from DST. “Future Shock”,an elongated version of the Curtis Mayfield 1973 message song from his Back to the World album is the exact opposite of how this album starts and continues-its a pretty clean percussion/Clavinet based funk groove,featuring a Mayfield like falsetto from the very capable vocalist Bernard Fowler,that is something of a contemporary redressing of the sound of the Headhunters.

“TFS” is one of my favorites here-a strong electro funk jam that still mixes in a clavinet and a powerfully melodic acoustic piano solo from Herbie towards the songs end. “Earth Beat” is very much in tune with Laswell’s Asian oriented musical approach-utilizing a lot of samplers and found sounds in rhythmic patterns. “Autodrive” again gets back into the more funky electro groove of the title song,again with a cleaner rhythm while “Rough” builds a heavy drum machine pattern with a very Arabic rhythmic/melodic pattern before going into a megamix bonus track of “Rockit” that includes not only songs from this particular album but also the synthesizer break from Herbie’s 1973 funk breakthrough “Chameleon” from his iconic album [[ASIN:B000002AGP Head Hunters]].

One factor of this album that even I often thought about was the fact that Bill Laswell is a producer/musician often known for an intense musical smothering effect. In short,anything he touches musically becomes almost totally his. That is part of his art though-even though he sometimes gets a bit lost in his musical journey by being a little too eclectic. But one thing that you can say about Herbie Hancock is that he is an artist with a very focused vision.

Whether through the musical filter of DST’s turntabling or Laswell’s playing and production,the album possess funk’s key quality that is even shown in how one tends to dance to it-a quality of controlled looseness. Though some of the pan-international rhythms and melodicism plays into this music,the focus is very much on the groove and the always high quality of Herbie’s own composing ability and musicianship. Of course this album did for him commercially,with “Rockit” especially what Head Hunters had done for him a decade before.

It established Herbie as a fully contemporary artist and even got him some video airplay (even on MTV) with his clever music video for the single. Herbie had made at least one album every year during the 80’s before this came out,most not his best known works and few actually still in print. Yet this stands as his 80’s breakthrough and,although it was by no means a comeback,much of its commercial success might be owed to the fact it somehow  appeared to be.

Sound-System/1984

With the success of Future Shock and its big hit “Rockit”,Herbie had made one significant musical contribution to the 80’s decade: he managed to put an instrumental dance record onto the pop charts and even the music video world. And opened up the door for other musicians such as contemporaries of his such as Jan Hammer to do the same. The following year Herbie was back in the studio with Bill Laswell to record the follow up to that album.

As he was in the early 70’s,Herbie was continually fascinated by how to combine the modern electronic/hip-hop sample/scratch oriented effects that interested him with the heavily Afrocentric variety of funk. Again on the heels of another possible cultural innovation,Herbie bought in the Gambian musician Foday Musa Suso,who played an electrified African string instrument called the Kora,which produced a reverb laden Harp-like effect. This would have the effect of extending even further on the musical revelations he’d made on his previous album.

“Hard Rock”,”Metal Beat” and the closing title track are all very much in line with the approach of “Rockit”,but the instrumental sound is very different. The rhythmic patterns,keyboard parts and the addition of the Kora on the title song especially infuse these songs with an enormous Afro-Latin quality about them-which draws out the expansiveness of the groove and manage to make the electronics of it seem totally non-rigid.

“Karabali” has almost no relation to these songs at all-its an almost totally African,almost Cameroonian Makossa beat type number built heavily around Suso’s Kora. “Junku” perfectly blends the tight and danceable electro-funk sound of Herbie’s with the same Kora sound. Bernard Fowler returns for another vocal number in the bluesy funk of “People Are Changing”,very much a generational cautionary take where Herbie delights on both synthesizer and acoustic piano alternately. The bonus track is an extended version of “Metal Beat”,which draws out the African percussion element even more.

Something tells me this album didn’t resonate with the public the same as its predecessor had. And it isn’t because the album is too repetitious of it. It actually isn’t at all. But the basis for all of the songs on this album are African oriented drum patters and different rhythmic ideas-with anything American blues based rarely being showcased. While this album is chocked full of massively grooving break dance friendly electro funk,the basis for it isn’t particularly American it all.

It takes the heavy Afro-Latin influence of the previous album to a whole other level in fact. In many ways,that makes this one of Herbie’s best albums of the 80’s as the music is extremely close to his heart in the sense of being technically futurist yet rhythmically grounded in the tradition of the Earth itself. Manu DiBango himself could extend on the sound from his album in particular on his own release from the following year Electric Africa. As for this,Herbie may very well have sparked the public’s interest in Africa and African musical rhythms during the mid 1980’s. So again Herbie himself gained some success for himself while being a trailblazer.

Perfect Machine/1988

By the time this final album from the Rockit band was released, Herbie Hancock had already recorded a live album with Foday Musa Suso entitled Village Life,which was released in 1985. He’d also contributed to the Dexter Gordon staring film ‘Round Midnight a year or so after this. Along for the ride with Laswell and the Rockit Band were Ohio Players lead singer/guitarist Leroy Sugerfoot Bonner and P-Funk innovator Bootsy Collins with his space base. Both funk veterans were than making comebacks. And Hancock really helped them along on this album too.

The open title track and the closing “Chemical Residue” adds a pronounced Asian pentatonic scale type melody and sound (often used by “neo geo” dance music icon Ryuichi Sakamoto) mixed in with the electro/hip-hop rhythms. “Obsession”,”Beat Wise” and the highly successful “Vibe Alive” all feature Bootsy and Sugarfoot’s well oiled funkiness into Herbie and Laswell’s grooves with near perfection. A remake of “Maiden Voyage” with the new composition “P.Bop” puts the original melody into that digitized grooves. And really bring out the melody and rhythm together in one vital place.

Perfect Machine may actually be the most funk and soul based of the three Bill Laswell albums. The Asian twist to some of the melodies continues the tradition of the 1980’s proving Duke Ellington’s musical theory very correct: that American culture overall was taking on more and more Asian style overtones to it. Each of the Rockit Band era Herbie Hancock albums explored the electro/hip-hop style of jazz-funk with an abundance of musical ideas. And this album represents a fine closer to this particular period of Hancock’s artistry.


One of the interesting things about the Rockit Band period of Herbie Hancock’s career is that, although it took place during my childhood in the 80’s, it was dancing around the living room with my father to Hancock’s 1973 funk remake of “Watermelon Man” that represented my first exposure to his music. Perhaps its an odd jumping in point. But upon hearing tunes such as “Rockit” and “Hard Rock” in the mid 80’s,it made clear how much breadth Hancock’s music had. Always wondered what came between 1973 and 1983 with his music. And was very happy to discover it over a decade later.

The Herbie Hancock/Bill Laswell collaboration actually marked the first time where Hancock was actually hitting on an innovative approach before his mentor Miles Davis did. By no means to imply any competitiveness between the two. But its interesting to wonder if Hancock’s earlier in the game hip-hop/jazz innovations didn’t inspire Miles with his posthumous Doo Bop album in 1993. At any rate,what Hancock,Laswell and the Rockit Band did on these albums did open the door for later jazz-funk hybrids. And represent how the younger generations of today generally remember Herbie Hancock.

 

 

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Clyde Stubblefield,Thank You For Laying The Foundation

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Clyde Stubblefield,born in Chattanooga Tennessee in  1943,became interested in music based on his interest in the rhythms of the factories and trains around him. This is a fitting legacy for a man who,in 1967,would be asked along with fellow JB drummer John “Jabo” Starks to “make the entire band sound like a drum”. Everything from the shuffling rhythms of hip-hop and new jack swing,along with the stripped down rhythms of modern electronica,come directly from Mister Stubblefield.  Sadly,one of the most sampled drummers in music history passed of kidney failure on February 18th,2017.

I first learned the name of Stubblefield from a wonderful documentary on sampling entitled Copyright Criminals. Stubblefield was a participant-playing and discussing his famous drum break from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”. The man said he wasn’t particularly concerned with money in regard to sampling his drum break. But just credit for it. Even Rolling Stone magazine,who often snub the influence of funk/soul musicians,named Stubblefield their drummer of the year in 1990. This began a series of accolades to a musician who I’m about to discuss the reason why he’s so revered.

Stubblefield’s approach to drumming,from “Cold Sweat” through “Funky Drummer” is based on playing a series of unusual syncopation’s with a light touch on his drums. This technique has been referred to as playing “ghost notes”. Its something a lot easier to hear and dance to than it is to explain with the written word. Speaking personally,it was a sound that myself (and I’m sure many others) knew extremely well before we even heard of Clyde Stubblefield. Even though he and James Brown are not with us anymore,their approach to music can never be extinguished from existence.

The saddest thing about Stubblefield is that his latter day health problems had him falling victim to the syndrome of a lot of elder musicians. Without record company residuals or health insurance for support,his medical bills ended up coming from other musical benefactors. Prince (who passed away last year) was a major one. Considering Stubblefield his idol as a drummer,he donated $80,000 to help pay his medical bills. So in terms of both his music and healthcare,Clyde Stubblefield’s legacy seemed to bring out the best in other musicians in terms of preserving his creative legacy.

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Looking Back at Public Enemy’s Underrated New Whirl Odor

new-whirl-odor-cover

Next Friday marks the 30th anniversary of Yo! Bum Rush the Show, the debut album by legendary political hip-hop crew Public Enemy. I have a post planned for both Andresmusictalk and my own blog, Dystopian Dance Party, to mark the occasion; but in the meantime, I thought I’d dig up a post I wrote back in 2005 about their surprisingly good album from that year, New Whirl Odor. As I note below, 2005 was at least 10 years past what anyone would consider P.E.’s “prime”; but the fact that it still turned out to be pretty great is a testament to their continued vitality and relevance. Here’s hoping they can continue to surprise us in the next 30 years.

Public Enemy frontman Chuck D is 56 years old. That’s only two years younger than my father… my father, whose favorite band is the Traveling Wilburys. This, of course, brings up all the usual questions about relevance and staying power: questions that are perhaps even more potent when applied to a rap group who made their reputation as a thoroughly of-the-moment firebrand “CNN of the black community.” But listening to New Whirl Odor–Public Enemy’s ninth album in their almost-30-year career–and reading some of the early press reactions, I’m a lot more interested in a different question: namely, when are we going to stop demanding another Nation of Millions from Public Enemy?

After all, it’s more than evident that Chuck and company couldn’t care less about recapturing their “golden era”: if Odor is stuck in any time period, it isn’t the late ’80s or even the early ’90s, but 1994, the year PE released their hugely misunderstood fifth album, Muse Sick-N-Our Mess Age. From the punning title and hand-drawn cover art to the Bomb Squad-free, live-instrumentation arrangements, Odor is a sister album of sorts to Muse Sick–and a worthy follow-up at that. But just like that earlier album, it’s unlikely that anyone will be listening until years down the line. Put simply, this was–and remains–a different group altogether from the one that recorded “Fight the Power,” “Bring the Noise,” and “Rebel Without a Pause.” The sound is mellower, atmospheric, almost minimalist; nothing like the dense sonic barrage that peaked on 1990′s Fear of a Black Planet. There’s nothing here with quite the instantaneous impact of, say, “You’re Gonna Get Yours.” In fact, unlike that seminal 1987 cut, which literally revved to life in a blur of gunning engine and squealing tires, New Whirl Odor’s title track drops in with an insistent, low-in-the-mix beat and almost subliminal swirling keyboards. Is it classic P.E.? Hardly; no song operating on wordplay that terrible ought to be considered “classic” anything. But excitement? Is any Public Enemy track not exciting?

 

What follows, I’m happy to say, is even better. “Bring That Beat Back” is the kind of thing the S1Ws were born to step to: the sound of mainstream hip-hop being marched to the gallows. “Preachin’ to the Quiet” blends live guitar with a laid-back jazz-funk loop and some truly frenetic scratching. And “MKLVFKWR” just plain kicks ass, as musically engaging as “Welcome to the Terrordome” with none of the overly defensive, anti-Semitic bravado. The Enemy is in fine form throughout: Chuck’s voice is as hefty of timbre as ever, but delivered with a restraint that becomes him, high on confidence and only a little lower on boom. Even Professor Griff takes the mic to great effect on tracks like the ambient, reggae-flavored “Revolution” and the tense, jerky “Y’all Don’t Know.” Flav, perhaps for the best, is kept largely out of the spotlight, but provides color and support with his usual panache.

Of course there are a few missteps. “66.6 Strikes Again” needlessly rehashes the cut-and-paste radio skit of Black Planet with diminishing returns, while the abysmal “What a Fool Believes” is not only the worst Public Enemy song I’ve ever heard, but one of the worst rap songs–and probably up there on the list of worst songs in general. Harsh words, I know, but to Public Enemy’s credit, New Whirl Odor’s highs far outnumber its lows… and even the lows speak to this group’s continuing vitality, their willingness to take risks. Closing track “Superman is Black in the Building” (above) stands as a testament to this: nearly twelve minutes long and not a second wasted, it’s at once an epic recap of everything that continues to make Public Enemy great, and a bold excursion into new heights of jazz-flavored funk and soul. It’s the kind of thing that makes you think twice about writing off these hip-hop elder statesmen, even if their “glory days” have long past. Because like it or not, Public Enemy doesn’t need to make another Nation of Millions. They’ve already made their first New Whirl Odor, and that’s plenty good enough.

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Prince Summer In Full Swing: ’20Ten’ turns 6!

20ten

20Ten is one of my favorite Prince albums of the new millennium before his 2014 comeback on Warner Brothers. Questlove wrote an article in Wax Poetics magazine five years ago about the 33 reasons why Prince was hip-hop. The 20Ten album provided a possible 34th reason-that being most contemporary hip-hop/R&B music with it’s stripped down drum machine/synthesizer sound is based on the same early/mid 80’s Minneapolis sound that Prince pioneered,and then returned to with this album. This is also one of very very few times I saw Prince return to the musical sound that made him so famous.

This was a difficult album for me to find. It was released shortly after Prince received a Lifetime Achievement Aware at the 2010 BET Awards. But in the UK only. And even for that as a covermount CD on British magazines like the Daily Mirror. My local record store Bullmoose would’ve had to ordered the magazines themselves to even sell copies of this. And that seems that they did because I managed to pick it up. After jamming to the first album a couple of times during that first week of having it,I went over to Amazon.com and had the following to say about it:


On his previous release Mplsound Prince was making it abundantly clear that he was reaching towards his classic one-man-band Minneapolis sound as a means of progressing into the future. This is actually a move he made on a number of occasions when his music and career seemed in question. Well right now his career isn’t in that state at all. He’s musically revered by many in this generation and was recently given a tribute on the BET Music Awards this past year. Prince himself also seems to obsessed with some strange form of eternal youth in which his music doesn’t age but his lyrical themes mature.

You will not find any explicit lyrics on this album for sure,same as you won’t find them on any of his albums since 2001. That doesn’t mean that effects the music at all because these are the most energized,lively,funky and musically sophisticated songs Prince has done in the new millennium. The album opens and ends on the same basic musical note with “Compassion” and “Everybody Loves Me” embracing the shuffling LINN drum led rockabilly styled funk with lyrics that alternately speak of both selflessness and selfishness. “Beginning Endlessly”,the amazing “Sticky Like Glue” and “Lavaux” all embrace the classic Prince all encompassing funk groove with some delicious synthesizer squiggles and layered drum and percussion tracks.

He hasn’t lost his touch as a multi instrumentalist in the least bit and actually has expanded on it to include light rhythmic nods to both hip-hop/R&B and contemporary 80’s dance revival (itself based on his own original music) without shamelessly surrendering to either style and still being himself. Songs like “Future Love Song”,”Walk In The Sand” and “Sea Of Everything” also embrace Prince’s touch with the slow jam to it’s absolute best effect. Typical of Prince he makes you flip through 75 separate 2-4 second empty tracks before we get to cut 77,which is the title song offered as a very hidden bonus selection. This is very much a TAFKAP era sounding funk/rap styled number but still his one-man-band style is very much in attendence. After all these years Prince obviously has no intent on being a fossil. He wants to keep being himself and now that he’s in his 50’s he also refuses to musically look down on those younger than them and also embraces many of their ideas into his own.


The summer season is already a few weeks in as I’m writing this. But wanted to officially inaugurate this as Prince Summer here on Andresmusictalk. It’s been underway for a few months now already. But there will continue to be a consistent emphasis on Prince’s own music here for a long time to come-as well as a continuing emphasis on the enormous influence of the many forms of the Minneapolis sound. Even if Prince himself didn’t always realize it,he is likely the last artist to really innovate musically in the funk/soul genre. And the album 20Ten is more than solid proof of this.

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Filed under 2010's, Amazon.com, funk albums, Hip-Hop, Linn Drum, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, Music Reviewing, Prince, Questlove, synth brass, synthesizers, UK, Uncategorized, Wax Poetics magazine

Anatomy of THE Groove: “Funky Drummer” by James Brown & The JB’s

James Brown’s grooves importance to me is that they came to me pretty late in the game. That is in terms of discovering funk. Long before that happened on a personal level,the discovery of The Godfather within the newly emerging musical genre of hip-hop came at the same time as the advent of the computer sound sampler. Public Enemy’s Bombsquad made samples of JB’s music a mainstay in their rhythmic based sound. While I feel it important for the funk to always remain it’s own reward,JB’s music in particular would probably not be so well known to so many American’s between the ages of 20-50 without the funk archive that is sampling.

There are many JB numbers that remain a key part of the vocabulary of the samples library. One of them however remains key. It was recorded on November 20th,1969. And was released as a single five months later. Originally it was released at a two part single version-each of the parts less then three minutes a piece. When I first heard the full version on the JB box set Star Time,it made little impact on my ears or me feet. After coming back to it over a decade later,it became clear how much an understanding of JB’s rhythmic intent opened this song right up. And the name of of this important groove is called “Funky Drummer”.

The trumpets of Joe Davis and Richard Kush Griffith both play right on the beat with the songs own funky drummer Clyde Stubblefield. The main groove of the song is a vamp based on Stubblefield hitting the snare high on the second or third beat-depending on where Kush,Fred Wesley,Maceo Parker and the rest of the JB horn section happened to be hitting on the groove from. Of course Jimmy Nolan’s trademark chicken scratch guitar locks it all down along Charles Sherrell’s busy,jazzy bass line. JB plays a number of organ solos-starting short and ending more elaborately near the end of the groove while sharing a space for Maceo to solo too.

Of course what really gets it going is when JB calls out  Stubblefield solo with just his snare-on-the-one beat twice in the groove. That’s the part that became the nucleus of the hip-hop beat during the sampling age. As it’s own groove,”Funky Drummer” is a straight vamp without any long musical breaks or changes in melody. In a lot of ways,it almost stands as pretty raw funk material from the JB’s. What keeps it so fresh and exciting is the amazing musical precision involved. This is probably where JB himself might’ve fully succeeded in his ambition to get his entire band to sound like a drum. And that will probably continue to remain this songs legacy in the anatomy of the funk groove.

 

 

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People Music: The Soulful Evolution Of Sound For African America

People Music is a term Henrique and myself often use to describe message songs recorded during the soul/funk generational cycle-specifically by black artists. Political and creative liberation was a key factor in this too. It was my father,however who inspired me to write this by asking me what the most significant song was during the 50’s and 60’s civil rights movement. The most obvious choice for that was “People Get Ready” by The Impressions. Lead singer/songwriter/guitarist Curtis Mayfield was an early champion for black musicians to have creative and business control of their art. And this 1965 ballad became a huge anthem for the movement as a whole.

As the 60’s progressed,the civil rights movement seeking racial equality evolved into a concept that assumed equality of person. Especially the idea that Afrocentric qualities were beautiful and must be appreciated as such. This became known as the black power movement. The completely rhythm based genre of funk developed during this time as well. As Henrique pointed out,funk continued to be the soundtrack to the black power movement well into the 1970’s. James Brown,who laid the foundation for funk, also recorded the genres earliest and most enduring anthem for racial empowerment entitled “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud)”.

The 70’s funk era was chocked full of message songs. All of them reflected ideas that derived from the NOI and Black Panther Party from the mid/late 60’s that black American’s required a more positive understanding of themselves and their futures. 1974 was a year that dashed a lot of the 60’s hopes in general-especially for black Americans. Still funk and it’s tributaries through jazz,soul and rock music was at it’s strongest point. Even during the post Watergate recession. The poet/singer Gil Scott Heron,who five years earlier had given us the black power anthem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” offered up this 1974 song in reflection of a potent present but less certain tomorrow.

Hip-hop’s presence as a commercially successful entity wasn’t yet four years old when The Furious Five released what is very likely the beginning of what is known today as conscious rap. Musically based in the synthesizer based electro funk of the period,this song found Grandmaster Melle Mel dealing directly with the state of affairs of urban black America during the early years of the Reagan administration. The song takes the futuristic sounding electronic grooves and mixes in tales of urban decay and neglect. Of particular note is Melle Mel stating “don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to lose my head/it’s like a jungle sometimes/it’s a wonder how I keep from going under”.

Though theoretically released at the end of the previous decade,Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” did some very significant things for black message songs at the head start of the 1990’s. It established hip-hop as a major archival medium for funk,in particular James Brown’s,through the use of electronic sampling. Not only that but the realization Chuck D and company had that “most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamp” showcased an empowering message for black Generation Xers as to just how much misrepresentation black American’s had to deal with over the centuries. And also by offering them a direct call to get involved and “fight the powers that be”.

Message songs within the black community seemed to disappear (or go totally underground) during the post 9/11 years. They were replaced by either reactionary (and often racist) patriotic anthems or simply musical silence. Suddenly a couple of years ago,longtime hip-hop/soul producer and singer Pharrell Williams emerged with “Happy”. Musically it hearkened back to the stripped down soul jazz trio sound of the mid 60’s. While it’s message was very all encompassing-asking the listener to “clap your hands if you feel that happiness is the truth”,it did open the door for black American artists to deliver new political anthems in music that were even more direct.

As I write this article,Beyonce’s performance of her newest song “Foundation” at the Superbowl,a strong pro black anthem, is generating similar controversies as were bought up during the height of the Black Panther Party and the black power movement in general. So the mid/late 2010’s are seeing black American message songs leap back into life in a huge way. Even though many people today are convinced no piece of music has any power to change the world,looking back on this history in the context of what is happening right now proves otherwise. That when it comes to being black in America, musical art is always at the forefront of the political.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under 1960's, 1970's, 1980's, 1990s, 2010's, Curtis Mayfield, Funk, Gil Scott Heron, Hip-Hop, James Brown, message music, message songs, Pharrell Willaims, Public Enemy, Sampling, Soul, soul jazz, The Furious Five, Uncategorized

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

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/10/2015: “Crush It” by Parliament

Yesterday marked the 35th anniversary of the final (so far) album release from Parliament. It’s an album that had my curiosity from the get go. Ended up purchasing it right after trying in vain to skate to some late 90’s uptempo country music at the local roller rink which, ironically, would’ve been an ideal place to give up some funk. Even though I already knew that even some P-Funk admirers held this album in low regard?  There was one major source of comfort for me that I learned regarding this album later on.

Although I still feel funk needs to remain it’s own reward? The Oakland,California hip-hop duo Digital Underground elected to sample primarily from this album and it’s predecessor on their own debut album a decade after this was released. Since that duo share a home city with my friend Henrique? This album has wound up being a conversational reference when we’re discussing P-Funk. The first song on the album instantly leaped out  from my CD play at home, and set the tone for what was to come. It had a very earnest title too: “Crush It”.

A two beat call leads off with a wiggly bass synth that keeps up throughout the main rhythm- percussion accented dance beat with a bouncing stride style piano. This is soon joined by Bootsy Collins’ “duck face bass” as I call it,with the main melody courtesy of Fred Wesley and his Horny Horns. On the refrains? The Brides Of Funkenstein  provide some jazzy vocalese. The main vocals of the song are spoken word exchanges between Bootsy and George Clinton himself as Sir Nose. There’s a separate and harmonically complicated vocal refrain from The Brides as the song fades out.

Musically speaking? This song showcases just about every quality that made P-Funk what it is. Interestingly enough? The boogie funk sound of using synthesizers as bass and guitar sounds with live instrumentation was in full swing during this time. While P-Funk pioneered that “video game sound” in the late 70’s? It had by this point jelled into somewhat of an instrumental signature for them by 1980. Especially when it came to relative newcomer in keyboardist David Spradley,who’d come into P-Funk on Parliament’s previous album.

George Clinton’s use of conceptual metaphor was on full swing during the course of this song. While P-Funk itself was coming apart due primarily from music industry fear over it’s ambitions as a potential “new Motown” (as George put it in his recent biography)? The concept of musical blandness/fake funk personified by Sir Nose showcases that character itself flying apart. In this song? Sir Nose Jr pledges to give up the funk in opposition to his grooveless father. So in the end? This probably showcases P-Funk defiantly sticking with their funk. Even as the genre is coming under fire during the post disco radio freeze out of the time.

 

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Filed under 1980's, bass synthesizer, Bootsy Collins, David Spradley, Fred Wesley, Funk, Funk Bass, George Clinton, Hip-Hop, humor, Oakland California, P-Funk, Parliament, synth bass, synthesizers

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 4/24/2015: “So Good” by Tuxedo

It was actually Issue 61 of Wax Poetics magazine that made me aware of the existence of this duo. During the first half decade of the 2010’s? It would seem as if funk,especially it’s analog synthesizer oriented cousin known as boogie,has been rediscovered as a vital template for contemporary soul, electronic, pop and hip-hop artists. And it’s really been healthy for instrumentalists in particular. And happily it’s emerged again from a source that has been drawn to it for over two decades at this point.

Stone Throw Records has really upped the ante in terms of celebrating live instrumental hip-hop and it’s offshoots. From the days of Peanut Butter Wolf,through the late J Dilla and Madlib. This was the beginning of hip-hop’s journey around to straight up funk again. Now Tuxedo has emerged from this brew. Staring the musical talents of Seattle native Jake One,producer for contemporary rappers such as Drake and Rick Ro$$ along with singer/songwriter Mayer Hawthorne? The duo have come out with a self titled album including songs such as “So Good” here.

Starting off with an insistent percussion accented drum beat out of the “Billie Jean”/”Ghetto Life” early 80’s “naked funk” school? A phat bass synth opens the door for a sharp,punchy and higher pitched melodic synthesizer. Both of these analog synthesizers dance and bounce rhythmically to the slow dragging funky drum of the song. This provides the musical core for Hawthorne’s vocals-assisted by an alarm like “video game” counter melodic line. A bridge of the song cuts out the bass synth and concentrates on the melodic one as an orchestral element-returning to the original electronic duet to the closeout of the song-with Hawthorne harmonizing with his own back-round vocals.

One of the things that I appreciate about this song is that it showcases the meatiest possible elements of boogie/electro funk. Jake One seems to possess a keen understanding of how much that style of funk and first generation commercial hip-hop of the early 80’s went hand and hand. The tongue in cheek video,recorded on VHS tape cable access style showcases Hawthorne,Jake One and the band performing the song in an expressionless manner. The actual song expresses a great sense of warmth and vitality in it’s melodic ideas-which lies in contrast to the loping rhythmic funk stomp underneath it all. A powerful example of modern day hard electro/boogie based synth funk.

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Filed under 2015, Billie Jean, Boogie Funk, electro funk, funk revival, Hip-Hop, J Dilla, Jake One, Madlib, Mayer Hawthorne, Peanut Butter Wolf, Stone Throw Records, synth funk, Wax Poetics magazine