Music for the Next ONE 11/14/15 : “Zillionaire” by Nao

Jazz musicians used to say the true test of a jazz musicians expressive ability was how they played ballads and slow tempos. One could similarly say as far as Funk, there is nothing quite like a slow, dirty tempo in bringing out all the various musical techniques and sensations we deem “funky.” Today’s post, “Zillionaire” by Nao, is a mean, sleek humper with a glossy, retro futuristic pop finish, like the space funk of Missy’s late ’90s work. Nao is a singer-songwriter based in the U.K, blessing us with our daily funk this weekend.

The song begins with a classic funky intro, the bass synthesizer and a higher pitched French horn-ish synth tone, playing a line in unison, but yet slightly and subtly emphasizing and falling on different beats. Behind that a kick drum sparingly plays in classic J Dilla/D’Angelo/Questlove style, sometimes slightly anticipating the second beat, other times reaching the egg just a hair before the “One.” In classic funk style, it’s important to set the groove up first, and the two bar phrase does that for four bars, then the beat drops, and when it does, it lays go go percussion all over the dance floor, with Nao singing some ad libs over the top. The kick drum continues on in that “slightly ahead/slightly late” style introduced by the great Jay Dee.

The groove keeps on churning, with Nao’s voice being phased as she sings and slap bass making it’s presence felt. Nao sings a story based on the idea of her having a lot of money and how she would use that to please her beloved, but she does not sing about purchasing material things so much as the vistas being “richer than a zillionaire” would open up. When She goes into the chorus the musical backdrop goes into more chaotic, freaky sounding electronic effects, very much like the type you’d hear in electronic based dance musics. The drumbeat under the chorus is also more straight forward in it’s rhythmic timing. After the first chorus the groove goes back to the synth bass and synth lead in unison, with some pitched 808 style drums adding texture. From 3:20 on, the track vamps out on a heavy, pure funk octave bass figure.

“Zillionaire” accomplishes something that makes me very happy, even though I know some other Funkateers might easily dismiss it. It’s a short, concise funk tune in the guise of a modern R&B/Pop song, a sleek, sexy, inviting Trojan horse to get the One back on the radio. Nao builds her 2015 Funk on top of the ideas and sounds of late ’90s/early 2000s R&B, the Rodney Jerkin’s, Brandy, Neptunes, Timbaland, Missy Elliot, Aaliyah side of it, artists who worked with electronics but had a great deal of Funk in their approaches. One thing I usually think about with a heavily programmed song like this, is how would the local Funk band that plays weddings handle it? I could see this groove being a very nasty vehicle for musicians to lay some grease over, a slow funk bomb like Rufus & Chaka’s “Tell Me Something Good.” As it stands I love Nao’s pretty voice, and the poetic imagery of her lyrics, over such a low down and nasty (as Robots can be) groove!

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Music for the NEXT One 10/31/15 : “Living Life” by Malice and Mario Sweet ft. Geologic

Finding new Funk is always a delight, and this weekends song marks the first time I found some on Twitter! Malice and Mario Sweet are a husband and wife modern soul, funk and R&B act hailing from the Emrald City, Seattle, Washington. Back in the early 2000s, Kofy Brown pretended to be a couple act, releasing the classic “After Party”, which we hope to cover one day. But the Sweet’s are the real deal. Today’s tune, “Living Life” is a very special one, combining a dope Linn Drum beat with a phat laid back funk groove and The Sweets tasty vocals.

The tune begins with a drum machine kick off in the vein of the classic snare heavy intro to Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You.” From there the groove kicks in with classic MPLS style swagger. The drumbeat incorporates the phat snares and unique timings of the MPLS era of funk, while the sub toned bass is strong and resolute, accented by bass guitar pops, while a mellow Rhodes tone comes in right on top of the beat and sustains. Malice and Mario lay beautiful, jazzy, behind the beat melodious lines on top of the easy flowing funk track. Synth tones spice up the groove as Malice and Mario set the mood, speaking about the end of a day, when people settle down from the hustle and bustle and get their own thing going.

:55 in the music hits a nice chord sequence/change to support the group’s assertion that they “ain’t trying to be no one else but Me.” The chorus of “I’m just out here living my life” soon comes into play, backed by an interesting bass line with a suspended chord flavoring. From there the groove begins to heat up, as the group sings “And Everybody’s dancing/profiling and romancing.” Rhythm guitar adds further support to the groove as the bass gets more room to work. The music goes back to the top, as Malice comes in like Janet on “Control”, “When I was 17/I did what people told me.” As she develops her verse the bass guitar begins to play some hip, funky/jazzy runs in the rhythmic holes left by her verse. She ends making the proclamation “I’m standing on my own two feet”, which leads the way for the chorus of “I’m just out here living my life” to re appear. ” Geologic pops in after this to drop a rap verse of the unusual length of 10 bars, in which he tells us in my favorite line that he’s “Hungry/but bullshit’s off the menu.” The song goes out with an extended vamp that gives the vocalists room to express, and breaks it all the way down to the instruments for it’s final bow.

“Living Life” is an example of the excellent quality music that exists off most of our radio dials and television screens that can be found on the World Wide Web. And it’s the type of song and group that represent why I do this blog. Some of my friends ask me from time to time, “how do you find this stuff?” In this particular instance, because of other things I was writing, the group and song found me. One of my best friends, Frank, sometimes gets into a habit of parroting that old line, “there’s no good music out there”, which I gotta tell him is hogwash. There’s a truckload, but the traditional channels no longer bring it to you! “Living Life” sounds like a prime time, drive time, lazy days of Summer, cocktails and grilled skewers hit to me! Big props to the artists involved, and you can be sure to hear more from Malice and Mario on this blog from now ’till!

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Wilton Felder : Remembering a Crusader


Last month marked the passing of one of my favorite musicians, Wilton Felder, Tenor Saxophonist and co-founder of the legendary Jazz-Funk group The (Jazz) Crusaders, and a great session bass player as well. His brother Crusaders, Joe Sample and Wayne Henderson, pianist and trombonist respectively, passed last year, leaving drummer Nesbert “Stix” Hooper as the sole surviving founding member.

The Crusaders music is among the music closest to my heart, alongside that of the other legendary musicians of their era and every era since. The Crusaders music in particular stands out for me because they were able to create a sound that was both earthy and sophisticated at the same time. I got into their music, like so many artists I’ve mentioned on this blog, growing up in my household. My father, Herman, was a huge fan of their music. He was a fan of blues and jazz in all forms, from the chamber school, to the Big bands, from jazz vocalists and crooners, to the way out musicians of free jazz, and from field folk blues recordings to the electrified city blues, right on down to soul inflected blues. But I think at the end of the day the music I associate him with the most is the variations of jazz that tried to maintain it’s roots in the black community, jazz with a full bodied sound that excelled both as romantic music and at finger popping time.

There have been many artists that fit this category, such as Lee Morgan, Horace Silver, Ray Charles, Cannonball Adderley, Lou Donaldson, Les McCann, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Milt Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, Grover Washington Jr, Roy Ayers, George Duke, the list goes on and on and on. Many of these artists have faced more than their share of criticism over the years, mainly for “selling out”, the same charge I would see branded on artists chests like a scarlet letter in the Hip Hop 1990s. But I think there was something in particular about this type of music that reflected the type of person Dad was,and what his journey had been. All of these artists had the specialized, elite musical knowledge that it takes to play jazz, and yet retained a close connection to their roots in the rural and urban Black community’s of their day.

Pops left Arkansas in the late ’40s, serving in the military in the Korean War and eventually settling in San Francisco. He became a Lawyer and spent a large portion of his life in West Africa, in the Republic of Liberia, and was fortunate to do things very few got a chance to do during his time period. However, all of his close friends that I knew were similar in the same way. Their journeys had taken them many places. Most Black men I knew of that generation had very interesting journeys that took them into interesting areas, if they were trying to get anywhere at all. Their early experiences, picking cotton, vegetables, and other such humble experiences kept them grounded. Pops was well spoken, studious, strict in many ways, well read, imaginative, and very hip. Dad, and the members of his generation for the most part had seen and been through too much to reach the type of Black elitism and conservatism we see from people like Larry Elder and Dr. Ben Carson.

Now I did all of that personal talk to say, Mr. Wilton Felder and the Crusaders truly represented all of this in their music, as well as the way they came to making that music. The Crusaders came together in Houston, Texas, and made the decision to further their career in music in Los Angeles. The Bay Area, where I’m from, got it’s major influx of black residents in the 1940s-60s. The Crusaders came out to Los Angeles,and made someday fairly well received jazz albums. But the ’60s would prove to be a tough decade for jazz, with the free thing of Ornette Coleman alienating many listeners, the Motown sound booming and a general explosion of youth culture. By the end of the decade, The Crusaders had dropped the “Jazz” from their name, and some critics would argue from their sound.

The R&B fans always considered them a “Jazz” group however. Being excellent musicians they were able to supplement their income with studio work, and they were very prominent in the early years of Motown’s move to Los Angeles. It was during this time that Wilton Felder took up the bass guitar,on which he played some of my favorite basslines, such as “I Wanna Do Something Freaky To You” by Leon Haywood, “Slick” by Willie Hutch, “Root Down” by Jimmie Smith, and “I Want You Back”, the foundational hit for The Jackson 5.

Felder also wrote a song for The Crusaders that would jump start their prominence in the soul/pop arena, an instrumental entitled “Way Back Home.” “Way Back Home” is a soul-jazz song along the lines of records like Cannonball Adderley’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” and “Country Preacher.” The electric bass lays out a funky, rolling obstinato as the horns repeat the soothing melody over and over again, with the melody musically saying “Way Back Home”. The song is one that reminds you of the journey the Crusaders made from Texas to L.A, and the journeys many Black people had made in the 20th century along with them. I imagine my Dad listening to that record in Liberia, a decade into his sojourn in Africa. That song would go on to be covered by other Motown luminaries such as Jr. Walker and Gladys Knight and The Pips.

The Crusaders would go on to become the top selling instrumental group of their time. Their greatest success came with the Joe Sample penned “Street Life” in 1979. 1979-1980 were pivotal times for my family and our nation of Liberia. In 1980 Liberia would see it’s first successful coup de tat, the effects of which would be felt until 2006. That same year Felder released a song entitled “Inherit the Wind”, with Bobby Womack on lead vocals. Now my Dad was not one to say he had a “favorite song”, he was too broad based for that. But there is something about Felder’s “Inherit the Wind” that had a special meaning for Dad over he last thirty years or so of his life. The song was funky and upbeat, but also had notes of deeimagep wistful sadness and pain, being voiced by the master of soulful, joyful pain, Bobby Womack. The song is one that makes you want to dance and cry at the same time if u let it truly get to you, t least it does that for me. The chaos in Liberia would be a great disappointment to Dad until the day he died. I think “Inherit the Wind” gave him much comfort in those first few years after the coup especially.

I never got the chance to meet Felder, but I heard he was a very warm man. My parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses, as Felder was, and my mother took care of his grand children at a Day care. I remember Dad got to meet Felder once at a Witness convention in Fremont. Of course he was totally shocked to meet a musician who’s career he’d followed for so long at his place of worship. I was not there to witness that meeting, but I can only imagine how excited Pops was.

The saxophone tone and funky bass playing of Wilton Felder will remain with me as long as I live. It’s a sound that reminds me of my roots. There is always a concern in the black community about getting so far away from your roots that u become basically a black zombie. I don’t know if that is as much of an issue today, as difficult as upward mobility has become. In Hip Hop during the last decade, they’d express it in somewhat corny sentiments such as “You can take me out the ghetto but you can’t take the ghetto out of me.” A variation of an old saying using he N word of course. The music of the soul jazz pioneers such as Wilton Felder, The Crusaders and others of their inclination totally transcends that for me, as they were able to meld the complex musical terminology of jazz theory with the down home music of the churches, porches, fields and pool halls. They were not ashamed of their backgrounds, and were therefore able to produce music that represented where they had been, where they were, and where they were going, without apology or chasing “respectability.” Therefore I think that in their music there is a blueprint for the type of progress the black community seeks to make in these early years of the 21st century. And though Wilton is gone along with several of his brothers, I will always take his example, and his sound with me.

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Music for the Next ONE 10/17/15 : “Fela 1” by Nicholas Payton

This weekends post is in honor of the worldwide celebration of Fela Kuti’s life, music and political activism known as the “Felabration” which falls yearly around his birthday of October the 15th. This celebration was inaugurated by his daughter Yeni a year after his death, in 1998. It has been exciting to see this festival grow in Africa, Europe, and The United States as the legend of Fela has continued to grow bigger and broader. Today’s tribute recording, “Fela 1” is the first part of a two part Fela suite on Nicholas Payton’s 2003 album “Sonic Trance.” Payton is one of my favorite musicians and he shares the sign of Libra with Fela. The song also will remind you of a man who was an influence on Fela and Nick, and who was himself inspired by Fela’s music later on, Miles Davis. “Fela 1” combines a Fela Kuti inspired rhythmic setting with a texture based environment that recalls the fusion work of Miles Davis and his bands on albums such as “Bitches Brew”, “Get Up With It”, “Jack Johnson”, and other now legendary records. The album marks an ever ongoing broadness in Payton’s work and worldview, in which he has substituted the term jazz for the term “Black American Music”, or #BAM.

The tune starts off with Vicente Archer playing a strong, archetypical Fela Kuti bassline on acoustic bass. I must say right off the bat, this is what hooked me on the song first, the incorporation of Fela Kuti’s style of funky African bass, being played with the timbre of the acoustic bass, which we associate with “jazz”, is a new sonic texture that opens new possibilities in sound. The funky strut of the bassline is soon joined by sizzling, consistent hi hat/cymbal work from Adonis Rose on drums. The piano gets going with some dark sounding, minor key/whole tone sounding arpeggios that capture the dark Miles Davis type melodic flavor of the piece. The percussion work by Daniel Sedownick adds to the rhythmic foundation, as the drums come in with kick drums placed in a manner similar to Africa 70 drummer Tony Allen.

After the rhythm is set, the horns play a short, dark blue melody that’s is kind of Monkish, kind of Milesian. Saxophonist Tim Warfield then goes I to a ex tended solo on soprano sax that recalls Miles’ saxophonists of the fusion period, such as Steve Grossman, Wayne Shorter, and Gary Bartz. The Fender Rhodes piano, overdriven here to “Bitches Brew” darkness as opposed to Ohio Players lushness, makes statements and comps in the back, with the horn sometimes answering the piano. As the solo reaches it’s peak and falls, a Clavinet line is introduced that doubles the Afro-Beat bass line. The Rhodes adds texture as Nicholas Payton comes in on wah wah trumpet. The solo he plays is more atmospheric, based more on manipulation of the wah wah and it’s rhythms than on telling a story by running through the scales. He hits low growl notes and ends his solo with the wah wah opening up slowly as he manipulates the notes to color the groove.

“Fela 1” uses the mighty musical ancestory of Fela Kuti and Miles Davis to provide Nicholas Payton with a way to escape the prison that he regards the term “jazz” as. It’s thrilling to hear Afro Beat rhythms enrich improvisational music. Jelly Roll Morton often spoke of “The Spanish Tinge”, a rhythmic flavor that was essential to jazz. Well, Jelly Roll’s era was so racist it could not acknowledge the African roots of this “Spanish Tinge”, with it’s congas, shakers, clave’s and dance rhythms. The inclusion of Baba Fela’s beat, which itself was inspired to become more African by musicians such as James Brown and Miles Davis, is a wonderful expansion of the transatlantic conversation of the African diaspora. It’s my firm belief that if more “jazz” took on this funky challenge, it would receive it’s rightful credit as the soul moving music it is. But it needs a new dance beat. My man Nick Payton finds it here with Fela Kuti and Tony Allen, letting Miles oversee it all! “Fela 1” is a fine tribute song for this weekends “Felabration” as well as an example of how Fela’s music can help the world of music as a whole move forward.

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Music for the Next ONE 10/2/15 : “Work It To The Top” by The Foreign Exchange

Without question, The Foreign Exhange has been one of my favorite groups since it’s inception. Producer/Musician Nicolay, Writer/Vocalist/M.C Phonte, along with musician Zo!, and the fabulous female vocalists who contribute so much to the groups sound, make up one of the most deeply rooted, forward looking, progressively funky musical outfits on the scene today. Their last album, 2013’s “Love in Flying Colors” was an outright masterpiece that perfectly captured mid ’70s Stevie Wonderesque synthesizer led song writing. Zo!’s album “Man Made” along with his fantastic single “We’re on The Move” upped the stakes for producer/vocalist albums last year. The group returns this year with a new album, “Tales from the Land of Milk and Honey.” Today’s funk bomb, “Work it to the Top”, ups the ante in the early ’80s funk vein mined recently by Dam-Funk’s catalog, and the smash “Uptown Funk”, among other recent jams. It’s a record built on Phonte and company’s unique ability to deliver old school sounds with tounge in cheek humor as well as trying on dad’s coat respect, exemplified by their hilarious Whispers inspired video for Zo!’s “We’re on the Move.”

“Work it to the Top” begins with the drums pounding out a steady beat, kick drums thudding in a lock step on all four beats. Synth bass is also present, a variation of the bass line on The Fatback Bands classic, “Backstrokin’. “Backstrokin” is one of the true classics of ’80s funk, and it’s influence has been fossilized into modern music through the work of Dr. Dre, who has interlaced it in many of his G Funk arrangements, from Snoop Doggs “Ain’t No Fun”, to his own “Let’s Get High.” As the funk cycles back around through the influence of the 1990s, “Backstrokin” pops up again through Mark Ronson and Tuxedo’s interpolations of “Ain’t No Fun.” The bass line includes a pentatonic flurry similar to Carl Carlton’s “She’s a Bad Mamajama”, that leads u back to the top of the line, making the song a true compilation of early ’80s funk. A high pitched sawtooth synth tone plays a single note line on top of that, with juicy synth chords chiming in. Phonte takes on the lead rapper, M.C role so common to Funk through the work of a James Brown, and especially Dr. Funkenstein George Clinton, emulated in many other funk records. This was a style funk had in common with the early hip hop, as Phonte brings us “Tales from the land of Milk and Honey”.

The song begins in classic funk style, with the chorus on top, a unified choir of male and female voices, sing, “When you think you’re gonna stop/shake your thing/and work it to the top!” To which is added the hearty male exclamation of “Huh!” Found on records such as War’s “All Day Music”, and many a Brass Construction jam. A high pitched synth note holds a drone like figure up top as synth parts sneak around the vocals and comment on the grooves open spaces.

Phonte begins to sing in a nasally, high pitched soul whine that’s an obvious homage to Steve Arrington, drummer and lead vocalist for the group Slave. The lyrical text recalls “Watching You” as well, as Phonte croons, “Pretty girl/looking fine/walking down the street.” A Fender Rhodes part begins to play lush tones that help distinguish the verse from the chorus as Phonte kills it with the Arrington influenced idiosyncrasies. Female voices answer him, and he promises to “take her to the top.”

The Foreign Exchange continues to bring the Funk with this song, capturing so many elements of early ’80s funk as embodied by groups such as Slave, Skyy, Fatback, Cameo, Lakeside, Con Funk Shun and many others. They mix up a phat synth bass, single note synth leads in place of guitars, group chorus singing, the mixture of male and female voices, steady drums, and girl watching lyrics to create the ultimate age convertible, top down, city so bright I gotta wear shades Backstrokin’ joint. Score up another win for the soul brothers from different mothers!

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Music for The Next ONE 9/19/15 : “O.B.E” by Dam-Funk

The lead in single to Dam-Funk’s new “Invite the Light” LP, “We Continue”, an anthemic inspirational funk banger, is one we covered a few weeks ago on “Music for the Next ONE”. Since then the full album has dropped, and with it a bunch of funk goodies, from Glide Tonight”, to “Howugonnafuckaroundandchooseabusta”, to the beautiful triumph of “Virtous Progression.” The song we are showcasing this weekend, “O.B.E”, is a body rocking, uptempo electro/disco/funk record that can get anybody moving,doing any activity, from vacuuming your house on a Saturday morning, to switching lanes on the expressway in the afternoon, to cutting some smooth steps in your best shoes that night at the club. It’s got a slick sophistication that could play at glamorous watering holes like The Buddha Bar in Paris, but also takes you back to the hood in the late ’70s and 1980’s.

The song begins with a four bar percussion break, the type that disco records used to set the dancing tempo from the get-go. The drums pound out a quick tempo’ed disco beat, kick drums banging on all fours, with a slight echo to them that creates a rolling, tribal Indian type of polyrhythm. This is supported by party time hand claps on the two and four beats. On top of it all is a sizzling hot shaker pattern, like you would find in African and Afro-Latin music. The rhythmic intensity reminds me of an electrified version of B.T Express disco-funk hits like “Express” and the Native American influenced, “Peace Pipe.” After four bars Dam brings in the beautiful California sun ray, long tone chords that are his trademark. Quite characteristic of his music is the way he gives the chords lots of room to breathe, playing on for almost fourteen bars before he brings the bass line in. The bass line wanders in, a funky, hyperactive synth line. The synth bass is jiterry sixteenth notes, very upbeat. It’s a call and response type of pattern, three notes answered by four notes. A funky rhythmic relationship is set up between the slow long keyboard tones up top, the steady pounding drums, the fast and consistent shakers, and the fast and sporadic bass line, a polyrhythmic stew that gives the body different things to move to.

In a whisper, Dam suggests phrases like “Don’t cross your legs/don’t close your eyes.” These sound like dance song type instructions but also might be instructions on the albums theme, how to “Invite the Light.” Dam’s layers of keyboard rhythm include a Rhodes or similar electric piano type sound, playing an eighth note pattern that also ends up being held as a chord. After a while the bass plays a computeristic, robot sequence type bass riff that serves as an interlude to kick the bass groove back off. At 2:54 into the track the synth bass let’s off it’s relentless intensity, playing a simpler pulsing line. Dam begins to bring his singing more to the forefront, repeating his instructions in a more audible falsetto. The groove continues on, with Dam Funk breaking it down, singing his exhortations, and revving it back up to carry us to the fade.

“O.B.E” is a good example of what I like to call “T Tops music”, music that has an early ’80s vibe that reminds me of the time cars with T-Tops were popular. Dam Funk’s lush synth pads conjure up the dreamy associations of sunshine and sun rays that make up the California of both myth and memory. When I think of his music, what usually comes to mind is slower, bumping West coast phat tracks. This joint offers something a little different, an uptempo, cyborg funk stepper that would have worked well on the soundtrack to “Tron: Legacy.” “Invite the Light” is a wonderful diverse album of funk styles that must be purchased and played for the funk of today to flourish.

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Music for The Next ONE 9-12-15: “Fear Not of Men” by Mos Def (Yasiin Bey)

The explosion in Fela Kuti’s popularity in the early ’00s, just a few years after his death from AIDs in 1997, has been for me, one of the very best musical developments of the millenium, one that both keeps funky music on people’s radar, as well as it creates a greater awareness of a richly deserving artist. I was already well familiar with Fela Kuti and his music when I first heard today’s “Music for the Next ONE” selection, “Fear Not of Man” by Yasiin Bey, then known as Mos Def, back in 1999. My family was in Africa during the 1970s, and my dad had copies of Fela Kuti & Africa 70 albums like “Shakara.” Around 1989 or so I remember my brother in law, Joe, gifting Fela’s then current album, “Beasts of No Nation”, to my father on CD, and pops playing it over and over and over again, with that album serving as my contemporary introduction to Fela. I rememeber when Fela passed in ’97, being hurt by it and contemplating how much more I wanted to know about him and his music. Mos Def’s “Black on Both Sides” released in fall of 1999 is one of my favorite albums of all time, a diverse masterwork of Hip Hop and other black musical styles, including Funk, Soul, Jazz-Soul, Rock, and on “Fear Not of Men”, Afro Beat. Mos Def here does a masterful interpolation, or cover version of Fela’s 1977 “Fear Not for Man”, a song expressing his fearlessness in the face of the represson he was facing at home in Nigeria. Mos Def mixes some samples with live playing from himself and a musical legend, Weldon Irvine, to spin a tale of fearlessness and human resistance at the dawn of the 21st century.

The song begins with Mos whispering “Bismillahirahmanirraheim” which means “In the name of Allah, the beneficient, the merciful” which is the beginning of Muslim prayer. After which the funky Tony Allen sampled Afro Beat drum programming kicks in, a unique for us but proto Afro Beat drum part, with the snare drum delayed off beat 2 but landing dead on beat 4. Its very similar to the Afro Beat drum sample Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” is based on, with the “late” snare drum playing with the listener/dancers expectations and creating a unique kind of pattern and rhytmic dip. The beat plays for a full 16 bars while Mos gives his introductions. After the drum introduces itself fully, Mos brings the “Fear Not for Man” bassline in, which he plays himself. The bassline is a very busy one, full of sixteenth notes, comprising a nine note pattern. But before it gets too Jaco, Rocco, or Larry on us, the bass repeats over and over, just a one bar pattern that seems to get energy every time it begins again. Mos also introduces percussion at this point.

Mos gave a spoken introduction to the song that spoke to me a great deal when I heard this song originally. He spoke of the coming milenium and the tension surrounding it. Then he spoke specifically of Hip Hop during that time period, and he dispensed some wisdom that has become central to my understanding of Black Music. He said that if the people who comprise Hip Hop, listeners and creators, were alright and moving in a postive direction, than the music would as well. The music was not some outside force influencing the people, it was the music of the people, and it would become more serious and level headed when the people themselves were that. That was a great comfort and a call to responsibility for me when this record dropped. As he talks, Weldon Irvine begins to play the organ riff, which is a condensed version of the rhythmic melodic riffs Fela played on the 1977 original. He then proposed self worth and value from an eternal source.

Then Mos goes on to speak to some things that are even more of a concern right now, Post 9/11 than they were when he was saying it. As Fela horn samples are incorporated into the track, he speaks of the new electronic methods of survelliance, just beginning at that time, but which would be a regular fact of life during the “War on Terror.” Mos saw this as man trying to be like God, as sampled sirens and Mos’ own human beatbox sirens play in the background. He says he’s not concerned with that because he feels there will always be limits to man’s ability to observe and control humanity. After that he delivers a rap verse, with the full beat kicking back in. He puts all his faith in God and humanity, because men, no matter how powerful they seem, “must die.” His rap verse serves more as a rap style chorus, becuase he repeats it again on the fade out of the song, which is one of Mos particular trademarks, taking rap and repeating them in the manner of songs/poems.

“Fear Not of Man” did exactly for me what Fela did in his music and what Mos hoped it would do. It encouraged me during a relatively dark time of pre milenial tension. I was concerned about the Illuminati and The “New World Order” far before it became fashionable, and educated by Hip Hop records like The Goodie Mob’s masterfully spooky “Cell Therapy.” Fela continued to make funky music that opposed one of the most repressive systems you could imagine in newly oil rich 1970s Nigeria, ruled by a succession of military dictators (“soldier go/soldier come”). Mos picked up on that courage here for a situation that potentially could mean that type of repression for the whole world. Two years after this record was released the 9/11 tragedy would happen and freedom would be exchanged for saftey in the United States. But this song and Mos entire “Black on Both Sides” album would always serve as a comfort for me, especially with Mos following the template laid down in the ’90s by The Roots, Lauryn Hill and Outkast and playing instruments himself, while handling most of the production duties on the album. It was also very special that he reached out to Weldon Irvine, who’s music has formed a foundation for much of Hip Hop, to play on this and other songs of the album. So this song then is a collboration between Fela Kuti as songwriter, with the Africa 70 and Tony Allen playing on the record through samples, the great Weldon Irvine, and the great Yasiin Bey/Mos Def as musician and M.C. Who can be afraid with that much power behind them? Not me!

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