Prince recorded so much music in his lifetime,there were going to be moments that would be left neglected by some people. The Gold Experience was such an album. It was recorded in 1993 during the most bitter stages of his legal battles with Warner Bros. The end result is that it was the very first album released under the name of O(+>,itself actually functioning as the title for his 1992 album a year before this was recorded. The album was released on Warner’s yet distributed by Prince’s own NPG Records on September 26th,1995. Because of all the hype surrounding Prince’s name change,this album seemed to be a big deal.
It was a man named Andy,who worked behind the counter of the local branch Strawberries Music chain,who first bought this album to my attention. He asked me if I was a Prince fan. Said I hadn’t heard a lot of his music,which was not a lie at the time. It was that conversation that actually got me interested in revisiting Prince’s music and learning about his history-which was then a bit more recent than it is today. I picked up a pre-owned CD of The Gold Experience a year later. I still seldom listen to it all the way through. One song that I just happily revisited on it was “Billy Jack Bitch”.
Prince starts off the song singing the songs title,accented by a vocal sample from Fishbone’s song “Lying Ass Bitch” over a fast funky drums of Michael Bland-along with a higher and lower toned synthesizer squiggle. A snare kickoff brings in the thick,pulsing bass line of Sonny T. along with the pumping organ of Tommy Barbarella. This rhythm keeps the same flow through several verse/chorus exchanges before Barbarella takes a steamy organ solo on the bridge-just around the same time Prince accents his melody with sheets of rock guitar. The NPG horns fanfare away just as the song begins to fade out.
Prince and the New Power Generation really do their stuff so well on this song. As my friend Henrique pointed out to me very recently,this is a pretty straight up P-Funk style jam out of the “One Nation Under A Groove” and “(Not Just) Knee Deep” school. Rhythmically it’s a wonderful blend of the NPG’s band interplay with Prince’s instrumental and production touches-not to mention the harmony vocals of Lenny Kravitz-which brings the two contemporary funk/rockers together. That along with the tightly chorded horn voicing’s that come in at the songs concluding segment.
Lyrically this song has similar content to Michael Jackson’s Tabloid Junkie” from the same vintage. The focus is more personal-as Prince accuses the songs antagonist of “calling him silly names” as well as not being willing to confront him face to face. The song was recently confirmed to have in fact been a direct statement about Minneapolis Star Tribute gossip columnist CJ,whom Prince saw as an enemy of his within the press. Even though it did have it’s place in the rather paranoid anti tabloid sentiment of it’s day,Prince and the NPG endowed it with some strong Minneapolis style P-Funk power.
Filed under 1990s, Billy Jack Bitch, diss songs, drums, Fishbone, Funk Bass, horns, Lenny Kravitz, Michael Bland, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, New Powe Generation, NPG Records, organ, P-Funk, Prince, rock guitar, Sampling, Sonny T, synthesizers, Tommy Barbarella, Warner Bros.
Robert Glasper shares a lot in common with another musical free spirit in the late Miles Davis. The Texas native got an early start in dealing with the jazz hip-hop style which of course Miles was beginning to embrace during his final years. While in high school,he met neo soul singer Bilal. This led to gigs with other jazz informed hip-hoppers such as Q-Tip,Talib Kweli and the late J Dilla. He made his debut album in 2004,and his major label debut for Blue Note a year later. On his album Double Booked,he began moving towards a more electric sound. But that was only the beginning as it turned out.
In 2012 he released the first in what’s been two separate volumes of his Black Radio series. The subtext for this,which I read in interviews Glasper gave to a music magazine of my fathers, went for the Miles Davis angle that the jazz genre needed to improvise over new standards. Both volumes of this album contain covers of songs such as Sade’s “Cherish The Day” alongside his own material. This year,Glasper appeared with surviving members of Miles’ 60’s quintet in the Don Cheadle film Miles Ahead. And one of the grooves on his upcoming Miles tribute album Everything’s Beautiful is called “I’m Leaving You”.
Drums playing at a five beat pattern with a break between each rhythm lay the bedrock for this song. The bass comes out as a round,ascending bottom while the very scratchy guitar samples play as a purely percussive element. Also on that groove,Miles’ trademark horse speaking voice is re-sampled saying “wait a minute,wait a minute” throughout the song. A reedy whistle,a wah wah guitar and Scofield’s bluesy guitar assist Ledisi’s soulful vocals. On the bridge,Scofield takes a full guitar solo after which Ledisi responds to her own backup vocals while the bass line and drum fade the song out in a silent way.
Having not heard a lot of Robert Glasper, this is by far the funkiest song I’ve ever heard him do. The musical bedrock of John Scofield,who of course played with Miles Davis, is held down by a core rhythm section. As well as what sound like metallic rhythm guitar looped from Miles’ 1972 song “On The Corner”. During his lifetime,Miles tended to deal with funk as rhythm vamps to solo over. Here Glasper takes samples of Miles’ music,voice and puts them into a more structured hard funk context. I have a feeling the late trumpet player would’ve found this groove one that came at people with plenty of attitude.
Filed under 2016, Don Cheadle, drums, Funk Bass, hip-hop jazz, jazz funk, John Scofield, lead guitar, Ledisi, Miles Ahead, Miles Davis, Nu Funk, nu jazz, Robert Glasper, Sampling, wah wah guitar
Brian Eno came out of Roxy Music in the early 70’s with a strong degree of musical and stylistic flair. With that bands variety of glam rock being highly jazz and soul informed,Eno left the band and turned his attention to a solo career. These included frequent collaborations with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp. During the late 70’s,he began a musical relationship with Talking Heads front man David Byrne. Both men were fascinated with the idea of African polyrhythm-and the possibilities arising from it in terms of their mutual interest in funk and electronic music.
The idea of two European men totally embracing the idea of Afro Futurism was something that surprised me when my father first introduced me to Brian Eno and David Byrne’s 1981 collaborative album My Life In A Bush Of Ghosts well over a decade ago. This was around the same time I was exposed to Miles Davis’s On The Corner. This put funk rhythms into a very Afrocentric context for me. And made it the music that had the deep connection for me that jazz did with my father. One song from it really stood out personally as a superb example of this pan African funk ethic. It’s called “The Jezebel Spirit”.
The song itself is based on a vamp with a very phat body to it. It starts out with the bouncing polyrhythmic percussion -held together by an equally percussive guitar and melodic 60’s funky soul style slap bass. A variety of found objects clicking and clacking i rhythm and Eno’s high pitched synthesizer textures permeate this mix. A higher pitched rhythm guitar comes in along with sound samples of a gentleman performing an exorcism. As this found dialog becomes more intense,the mix of bass/guitar,percussion and Eno’s bleeping, electronic melodic whistling synth fades out the song.
Much as with Miles Davis’s aforementioned On The Corner, this song functions as a funky soundscape as opposed to a structured pop song. It’s rhythmic and often melodic vamp serve to hold up the then highly innovative use of vocal sampling,which is now a standard for electronic music of all sorts. While the song and it’s accompanying album had more music lowers in awe at the time,it does surprise me a Rolling Stone article accused Eno and Byrne of trivializing exorcism with their sound sample. Considering the music’s overall embrace of tribalism, the nature of what is present on it goes right with the whole groove.
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.
Filed under 1970's, Charles Sherrell, chicken scratch guitar, Clyde Stubblefield, drums, Fred Wesley, Funk, Funk Bass, Hip-Hop, horns, James Brown, Jimmy Nolan, Maceo Parker, organ, Richard Kush Griffith, Sampling, Saxophone, The JB's
Erykah Abi Wright,better known as Erykah Badu is going to be 45 years old today. One of the major events of the late 1990’s was when her debut album Baduism debuted. Her songs from this album were all over college radio-bringing her mixture of Afrocentric jazzy funk oriented neo soul into a community where such a thing hadn’t been heard for quite sometime. It would be some years later before I started digging deeper into her albums as a whole. Each of them is like a well made motion picture. Every time ones listens,it’s possible to receive something totally new from the audio experience. That quality has made her one of the more modern artists I’ve enjoyed.
In 2008 Badu launched her first in a series of albums entitled New Amerykah. As of this date,I am unsure if she will be continuing this loose series. But in 2010 she released her second album in the series,which was subtitled Return Of The Ankh. At the time,I remember far preferring the musical sound of this second album in the series. As a person who spent much of their 20’s listening to jazz/funk/fusion,the fact that Madlib and bassist Thundercat were present on this album probably has a lot to do with that appeal. Still there was one song on the album that leaped out at me from the moment I heard it. It’s called “Gone Baby,Don’t Be Long”.
The song begins with a slow drum rhythm using a heavy percussive trap,after which a two note rhythm guitar inaugurates the song. The entire song is based on this rhythm groove repeating over and over with a soulful,male vocal choir harmony sound. Badu’s chocked,slowly phrased vocal delivery offers a complete melodic counterpoint to the rhythmic body of the song itself. As the song progresses, a sea of different Erykah Badu’s mixing in multiple tracks of her own backup vocals chimes in. And the song grows more and more built around different variations of it’s own chorus-all before it finally all fades out.
It was only this past week did I realize that Madlib,one of my very favorite sample based producers was responsible for this track. He is always seeking out bass/guitar oriented rhythmic lines that are fluid and melodic at the same time.In this case,he sampled the relatively obscure late in the game Paul McCartney and Wings hit “Arrow Through Me” from 1979. The original’s disco friendly reggae/funk vibe is explored here by looping the chorus following it’s bridge as a musical theme for Badu to add her more jazz/funk vocal styling’s into. It’s not only a high water mark for Erykah Badu’s creativity,but for Madlib’s inventive understanding of jazz/funk loops and samples as instrumental elements.
The genesis of this post began with my father. Thirteen years ago,he excitedly had me listen to a various artists compilation entitled Cinemaphonic 2: Soul Punch. It consisted of fourteen short funk/soul instrumentals created for British library albums. These were used as incidental music for different television shows and motion pictures. Later on my friend Henry Cooper,himself a musician got me listening to more UK library music through the KPM series. Interestingly enough? One caught my ears through a different source.
One day while surfing YouTube? I came across this old Sesame Street sketch called “Walk”. The backup music thrilled me so much? I looked in the comment section for more on it. Turns out it composed and performed on such a library disc by a session pianist named Alan Hawkshaw-who had backed up acts ranging from the UK rock instrumental group The Shadows in 1969 to playing on Donna Summer’s album Once Upon A Time eight years later. It’s probably the shortest song I’ve done at only 44 seconds. And it’s entitled “U.S.A. Groove”.
It all kicks into with a chunky,bassy rhythm guitar playing the hard rocking basic groove of the song. It’s first accompanied by a short burst of conga’s and than a dramatic organ burst before the drums kick off into the body of the song itself. That body maintains it’s opening guitar riff,only as an element of a broader groove. That groove’s whole consists of a soulful organ solo from Hawkshaw-along with phat percussion pushing everything along. The song ends with a very dramatic crescendo wherein the drum and organ dramatically come to a halt.
After hearing this? It doesn’t come to any surprise to me that Hawkshaw’s music has been widely sampled by hip-hoppers. But only one particular number of his entitled “The Champ” has. Because this particular jam is short and so easily loopable? It’s just the sort of tune for such purposes. It’s also an example of how in the hands of an adept and diversified instrumentalist? As much funk can be packed into a groove under a minute as one would find in a four minute song. It’s actually one of my very favorite funk instrumentals-partly for that very reason.
During the summer of 2002 my father was continually playing an album entitled In Between. It was by Jazzanova, Berlin based DJ/producer collective whose members are Alexander Barck, Claas Brieler, Jürgen von Knoblauch, Roskow Kretschmann, Stefan Leisering, and Axel Reinem. Every time the two of us would run an errand or go on a short road trip? My father would continually play the albums opening song “Love And You & I”. Even for years after? My dad and I would fun on one another about how entranced he seemed to be with playing this song so often. But as is often the case with my musical influences such as my father? As my understanding and tastes in music continued to expand and grow,so did my appreciation of what this particular song,which I heard so often,was really all about.
The song starts out with a dragged out sounding sample of what I recognize easily as “Something’s Missing” by the Five Stairsteps,followed by the the same line sung by a 50’s type pop vocal choir. After a female singer responds “Could It Be Love” that slowly descends into a choir of the same phrase and a lower female singer simply singing “love”,the instrumental part comes in with a mellow jazzy piano punctuated by breaks of slow latin percussion and electric piano bursts. On the second refrain of this,the song goes into a deep male vocal chorus-followed by a solo voice singing “the sun,the moon,the sky and you and I”. This is accompanied by a hip-hop type funk drum beat-different and more flamboyant variations of which come in throughout this refrain into a female chorus returns,amid calling trumpet solos “love bum,bum,bum,bum”.
After all of this the song begins an entirely new instrumental cycle-going from a trumpet choir into a lightly Brazilian style funky electronic piano rhythm-before returning to a repeat of the first chorus. After this the song abruptly slows to a crawl before an EWF style vocal chorus of “LOVE LOVE LOVE” followed up by a complex string and acoustic guitar driven latin jazz rhythm kicks in with both the first and second vocal chorus responding the sound and emotional attitude. That leads into an instrumental bridge showcasing tbe upright bass of Paul Kleber accompanying vibist David Friedman. As Friedman’s bass fades out,Kleber’s bass fades back into a fade out of all the variations of the different “love” related vocal refrains from throughout the song-accompanied by a swinging,acoustic guitar led bossa nova up to the very end of the song itself.
What can I say about this song today? To boil it down? It just has everything. It has the funky electric guitar,the swinging jazzy drum brushing,the Brazilian percussion flavor and a harmonic mood that lays somewhere in the middle between wonder,anticipation,relaxation and of course love. Generally speaking in hip-hop,sampling of any sort is used as a form of archival musical identification. In this case a range of samples from everyone from 70’s jazz and jazz/fusion groups such as Catalyst,Bobby Hutcherson,Branford Marsalis,Antonio Carlos Jobim,Les DeMerlealong with soul/funk from The Sueremes with the Temptations and The Sylvers to create a live band Latin jazz/funk fusion flavor. Each sample is arranged in such a way where it sounds like a band actually interacting off their strengths and weaknesses as musicians-though the broken up nature of sampling is still made clear to the ears as well. It’s one of my very favorite examples and uses of jazz and funk sampling in the immediate post millennial era.
Filed under 2002, Brazil, Brazilian Jazz, DJ's, Funk, Funk Bass, Fusion, Hip-Hop, Jazzanova, Motown, Sampling
He’s been called The Beat Conductor,The Loopdigga,Quasimoto,DJ Lord Such,his own name Otis Jackson Jr,Yesterday’s New Quintet. But whatever name he chooses,Madlib is someone who crosses the barriers between two sources of musical information in my life: my friend Henrique and my father. It was my father who first started introducing me to Madlib when he shared a mutual interest with keyboardist/then local DJ Nigel Hall in his Shades of Blue and fascination with Mizell brothers period Donald Byrd. So each time a new Madlib CD came out,my father got it and we listened to it on the way home from the record store. Hearing all the layers of 70’s and 80’s soul/funk/jazz-funk samples in his music? Madlib really began to call to mind Henrique’s discussions with me about hip-hop being an important archival music for the funk,jazz and soul music that moves both of us. When this album was originally released earlier this year featuring the rapping of Freddie Gibbs? I had a feeling an album like this would follow from Madlib himself. This was what I wanted to hear. And what a thrill it is too!
With “Scarface” as the orchestral opener the album goes into the slow crawling cinematic oriented soul break of “Deeper-after which comes the the call-and-response clavinet based melodic funk of “High”-featuring the lyric “I get high” which slows down to a crawl by songs end. “Harold”,with its jazz guitar solo and “Bomb” with its symphonic electric pianos and keyboards are both deep,spare funk pieces. “S**tsville” and “Thuggin” are both beautifully dramatic pieces based on keyboard and guitar oriented orchestral soul-with the mildly classical twist a Stevie Wonder or David Sancious might add to the mix. “Real” and “Uno” are very spare pieces-more designed to focus on an MC than the music itself. “Robes” on the other hand is a melodically soulful jazz type number a beautiful female vocal looped in and out of the mix. “Broken”,”Lakers”,”Shame” and “Knicks”,the later with a male soulful vocal moan loop are all beautifully orchestrated,piano based Thom Bell style early 70’s soul ballads. The album continues on with the horn oriented intro “Watts” before going into “Pinata”-an early 70’s sitar led slow groove with the organ solo repeating again with the string refrain breaking it up now and again.
As someone who was never at all part of any aspect of hip-hop culture from the inside? I’ve had to observe the genre from without. And though I greatly admire the rapping abilities and lyrical statements of people such as The Roots’ Black Thought,Chuck D and KRS One? There are many times when certain MC’s,especially those of the more braggadocio and profane variety,to be highly distracting to the often fascinating music that is often taking place around them. Therefore the instrumental hip-hop of artists like Madlib always interest me. Since the man is obviously far,far more versed in the soul/funk spectrum than I? Have to admit I am not 100% aware of most of the artists he loops and samples in his music unless specifically indicated. But still the fact that many rap superstars give the impression that hip-hop is all about personality and not music tends to make many people forget that their is a very strong musical art form at the very core of hip-hop. Its part of the DJ based culture that rose out of the disco era. And since that mid/late 70’s era is Madlib’s favorite period to draw inspiration from? I personally champion him as a strong modern purveyor of the thoroughly music end of the hip-hop genre. And that is why I chose the instrumental version of this,as opposed to the one with Freddie Gibbs as MC. Either way,this is impressive funky soul loops,breaks and cinematic grooving delights!
*Here is the original Amazon.com review: