Tag Archives: Roger & Zapp

The Funky History Lesson of Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic


I have a confession to make: I like the new Bruno Mars album, 24K Magic. I like it a lot, actually. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s maybe the most pure, uncomplicated fun I’ve had with a record all year.

In the grand scheme of things, of course, that isn’t such a controversial statement. A lot of people like 24K Magic: it debuted at number 2 on the Billboard 200 when it was released last month, and the accompanying world tour sold over a million tickets less than 24 hours after they went on sale. A lot of people like Bruno Mars, too: the dude’s already performed at the Super Bowl twice, and he’s barely over 30 years old. But in today’s hyper-segmented pop music market, there’s a kind of shame that comes with admitting you like an artist with such mass appeal. Bruno Mars is the Starbucks pumpkin spice latte of music; by admitting I like him (or PSLs), I forfeit the air of aesthetic superiority that is the lifeblood of every hipster and amateur critic alike.

But hey, like all amateur critics and hipsters, I have a fragile ego, so let me try to explain myself. 24K Magic is a fun, hooky record, but it’s also a history lesson; and, as it turns out, making musical history lessons fun and hooky might just be Bruno Mars’ calling. Mars is a talented songwriter, singer, and (especially) performer, but his real brilliance is as a mimic: think back, for example, to his 2012 appearance on Saturday Night Live, when he became a human Pandora playlist with spot-on impersonations of everyone from Michael Jackson to Green Day. That skit was basically a microcosm for Mars’ whole schtick; his influences are as heterogeneous and easy to pick out as they come, from the Michael Jackson and James Brown moves he spent his early career pilfering to his more recent, post-“Uptown Funk” incarnation as a post-hip-hop Morris Day.

The beauty of 24K Magic is that its influences all sound fresh and contemporary, despite the fact that they’re of anywhere from 25 to 40 years vintage. The title track, for example, is pure Zapp, right down to the little synthesizer drop on the chorus (a direct quote from the beginning of 1982’s “I Can Make You Dance“). “Finesse” is straight out of the Bobby Brown/New Edition playbook. And the delightfully cheeky “Perm” is James Brown filtered through the aforementioned Morris Day and the Time. All of these sounds are perfectly viable for contemporary listeners; I should know, I listen to them pretty much exclusively every summer. But they’re all sorely missing from the current music landscape, and I for one am thrilled to see somebody bringing them back to the mainstream.

Of course, the typical critical backhand against this kind of “throwback” music is that it’s stultifying nostalgia, more interested in looking back at the past with misty eyes than in pushing things boldly forward. But I think the “history lesson” term I used earlier is more apropos. Bruno Mars’ take on ’80s and ’90s R&B never sounds stodgy or conservative; it lacks even the grumpy-young-man purism that is sometimes evident in Dam-Funk‘s work. Mars is clearly just having a blast, and making sure the listener does too; I guarantee that there’s a sizable segment of his audience that neither knows nor particularly cares that he isn’t doing anything Roger Troutman didn’t already do. Pop music is a young person’s game, and it is (for now, at least) inseparable from capitalism’s endless parade of novelty. There are, of course, plenty of obsessives out there willing to dig through its history–several of them either reading or writing for this very blog!–but the truth of the matter is, the only way to introduce most listeners to sounds from the past is to deliver them again in a shiny new package. 24K Magic is new, and it’s as shiny as the gold alloy from which it takes its name. And if it gets even a handful of millennials to do a little digging in their local record store’s R&B section, then that’s even better.


Filed under 2010's, 2016

Anatomy Of THE Groove for 12/14/2015: “Holiday Love” by Tuxedo

Tuxedo have already been pretty thoroughly covered on Andresmusictalk already. And it looks like Mayer Hawthorne and Jake One are at it again. Just in time for the holidays too. Since I got back into doing this blog with my “five days of funk” concept?  Have had some difficulty finding any nu funk to cover,which was part of my original intention. And this single of a new Stone’s Throw label compilation came at me via my YouTube subscription to the duo’s channel on that site. And the name of the song is “Holiday Love”.

The groove gets going with a percussive,mid tempo drum machine rhythm. This is first accompanied by a glossy orchestral keyboard harmony, along with a round and brittle synth bass line. The chorus is sung Roger Troutman style by Jake through a Vocoder. On the second chorus sung with Hawthorne harmonizing on lead? It’s all accompanied by the sound of sleigh bells in a similar manner to the Average White Band’s “School Boy Crush” from 40 years ago this year. It all outro’s it begins, along with the orchestral synth wailing away.

In many ways? This song completes an important multi generational triad of Christmas themed funk. It probably began with James Brown’s “Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto” in the late 60’s,continued on a couple years later with Donny Hathaway’s iconic funky soul of “This Christmas” and ends with the 80’s electro funk revivalism of this jam from Tuxedo. Musically it blends elements of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and Zapp’s “Computer Love”. Topped off with Mayer Hawthorne’s soulfully honey’d lead vocals.

Message wise the song is right on time. The music video depicts Mayer and Jake pitching woo to their girlfriends-culminating with drinking wine in bed-while all sharing in their musically creative process. It’s just a simple idea of setting time aside for your romantic partner as a holiday gift. Since the last three holiday seasons have consisted mainly of depressing,gun related mass shootings and the conservatively motivated contrivance of the “war on Christmas”? This funk will not only move,but might just remove those undesired effects this holiday season.


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Filed under "Sexual Healing", 2015, bass synthesizer, Christmas music, Donny Hathaway, drum machine, elecro funk, Jake One, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Mayer Hawthorne, Stone Throw Records, synth bass, synth funk, Tuxedo, YouTube

Anatomy of THE Groove 1/30/15 Rique’s Pick : “Waymans Gotta Do It” By Wayman Tisdale

People often forget that the much maligned genre of “smooth jazz” is a tree that grew from seriously funky roots. The 1970s progenitors of the form such as Grover Washington Jr. The Crusaders, Roy Ayers, as well as funk bands who were proficient in instrumentals such as Kool & The Gang, War and The J.B’s formed the basis of the sound that would keep the term “jazz” on the charts and in mainstream consideration. The late great NBA star and musician Wayman Tisdale was unique for forging a second career as a bass player after his days as an NBA all star. As a bassist, his records have always had an underpinning of funk. But 2009’s “Fonk Record” took the funk from the bottom and put it on the top of his ouevere, and it’s a fitting coda to his career, cut tragically short by his fatal bout with bone cancer. But “Waymans Gotta Do It” and the other songs on that album ended Tisdale’s career in the manner any funkateer would want to, very funkily!

The song begins with a nasty funky and sweet guitar line, thick and played mostly on the lower strings, with a mix of bass notes and chords. After this four bar intro Tisdale’s vocoder voice sings a line and a furiously funky groove kicks in, in the ’80s style of funkateers such as Roger & Zapp. The groove features synthesizer bass along with Tisdale’s bass guitar slapping and popping a funky line. Tisdale sings “Let me play my funky bass for you” and plays the line on his bass guitar as he sings. Other guitar parts come in, along with organ flourishes. Then the song switches to a vocoder led part, which is somewhat sweeter in it’s funky tone, with a nice chord progression. This more melodic vocoder led section serves as the chorus. After that the song returns to the funk stew, with Tisdale slapping out some funky lines. Tisdale goes on to sing in praise of the groove, saying it’s so funky you’ll have to take a bath after you listen to it! As the song progresses Tisdale slaps out a thick, rich, muscular low bass solo as the track is supplanted by synthesizer strings. Tisdale confides, “Yall know I had to do this, cause they say I hadn’t been playing hard enough.” Which is itself a rejoinder to those critics who think “Smooth Jazz” was the soft way out!

Tisdale said that of all the music he played, the funk was the closest to his heart. This is understandable being that he was born in the ’60s and came of age playing in the late ’70s as his skill in basketball was also increasing. By the time he came to the music industry, there was no funk as such, just shards of the one hidden in smooth jazz, hip hop, house, garage, rock and contemporary R&B. It’s a testament then to Tisdale’s musical heart and the reinvigoration of the Funk sound and genre then that in 2009 he could drop the one so hard on his last album. “Wayman’s Gotta Do It” then is a fitting coda to a fine career and a fine life, that never got too far from “The One.”

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Filed under 1980's, Boogie Funk, Funk