Music 4 the Next 1, January 3, 2016: “Leave My Curl Alone” by Lord Gord & the Posse

As the New Year of 2017 begins, its time for another funky song to set the new year off right. This week has a song I’m particularly proud to bring you, from Los Angeles California’s own Lord Gord, with his group, The Posse. It has always been my hope through my blogging activities on “riquespeaks” and “Andresmusictalk” to not only share the finest in classic Funk/Soul/R&B/Jazz/Afrobeat, but also to help introduce the public to new music in that vein as well. In the case of Lord Gord, we have a talented artist who enjoyed my funk based content on this blog and reached out to me to keep an eye out for his music. Lord Gord is a young artist from SoCal who is extremely serious about bringing back the funk! He reminds me of the attitude me and my friends had back in the ’00s. Gord would like nothing more than to see the Funk come back to its rightful position and for bands and instrumentalists to regain a prominent position in the presentation of Black popular music in particular, and in mainstream music as a whole. His first step towards that goal is his album, “This Isn’t T.V”, with its lead off single we’re featuring here, “Leave My Curl Alone.” The song is his modern funk, live band interpretation of the West Coast tongue in cheek rap classic of the same name by Hi-C. I remember when the original came out back in the early ’90s, and the way it stood as a kind of defiant anthem. Lord Gord uses it here to display both his talents for funky musical arrangements as well as his Morris Day influenced sense of funky showmanship and humor, because, to quote him, “You cant spell the Funk, without FUN!”

Hi-C’s original song was based on a sample of Brick’s “Dusic”, which was later used by Hammer in his song “It’s All Good.” Lord Gord eschews the sample of the original for his own funky arrangement. The song begins with him counting off and the drummer striking up a phat breakbeat style drum pattern, accented by high on the neck, choppy rhythm guitars and a high string like synth melody, while Lord Gord gives his introduction, “but when you’re cool from the inside out/those are things you just don’t have to worry about.” After a high pitched Mack laugh, the full groove is introduced for Gord’s verse, which adds a heavy bottom end bass guitar line that has a rolling quality to the beat, along with a Fender Rhodes electric piano line that begins on the 3rd beat and plays a nice accenting riff, alongside a single note rhythm guitar line. This is the foundation for Gord to drop the lyrical story, a humorous tale where the narrator faces rejection for his Jherri Curl. When he goes to the “Leave My Curl Alone” chorus, the song adds sharp horn blasts, while the groove keeps bubbling underneath. One interesting facet of the horn arrangement is the way it melds sharp blasts of brass on top, with more reedy sounding sustained notes underneath. Lord Gord’s appreciation of developing horn parts is confirmed by the different horn line that supports the latter half of his second rap verse. Also of particular interest is the super funky breakdown at the end with the drummer ending with a drum fill quotation from Stevie Wonder’s “I Am Singing!”

“Leave My Curl Alone” is a perfect introduction to the type of fun, energetic, modern day instrumental funk that Lord Gord is unleashing on the musical world. A Funk full of personal quirks, individuality, hearty party enthusiasm and a strong appreciation for Funk’s foundations. Support his music and sit back, and enjoy grooving to the musical journey of a new funk artist!!!

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Music 4 the Next 1 Tribute: “I Want Your Sex Pts 1&2” by George Michael

Christmas Day 2016 marked the death of another musical legend, George Michael, just as Christmas Day 2006 took my musical hero James Brown. As an ’80s baby I grew up with George Michaels music, and his death is shocking to me because he was a month younger than my own oldest brother. What I will always appreciate in addition to Michaels huge overall pop success is the way he always incorporated Funk and R&B into his musical palette. One of the reasons I will always be thankful to British artists of the early 1980s is their constant inclusion of elements of Funk, disco, R&B, soul and other historically Black musics into their sound palette. This was in contrast to many major Rock & Roll groups of the 1980s who seemed to be scared off by the “Disco Demolition rally” and chart freeze out of the late ’70s. The British groups, being from overseas, never had a problem saying “we’ve been influenced by Black music”, whereas American acts could often pretend to be colorblind while bowing to music apartheid on MTV. This also stretched into the British groups inclusions of their own domestic Black musics, such as Lovers Rock and all the various strains of Reggae. The funky flavors were always present in Wham!’s music but they were really prominent on George Michael’s 1987 smash hit, “I want Your Sex.” I’ve written before about how the year 1987 was one of the most important musically as the general pop scene made a strong shift back towards grittier funk. “I Want Your Sex” is a jam that hit me back then in my childhood years, and the version I want to highlight today is the 2 part version, just like the Isley Brothers ’70s funk hits, which is notable for the way it proves that behind many a brittle sounding ’80s jam, lays a flowing funk bomb waiting for a change of instrumental tones and recording techniques.

The song starts off with a strong synthesizer bass note dead on the one, supported by some percussive synthesizer blips providing a counter rhythm, slowly mixing in percussion sounds, followed by a drum fill and the groove proper. The song has an insistent ostinato, repetitive simple one note bass line on the synthesizer that bubbles under the groove and creates a heavy momentum. Behind that groove the cowbell beats out steadily on all 4 beats. When George begins to sing, the bass line goes to another chord that sets off the sequence for the verse. George’s verse begins, “There’s things that you guess/there’s things that you know/there’s boys that you trust/and girls that you don’t”, which in retrospect quite frankly sound like he was dealing with his sexual identity way back then! After the verse proper, he introduces a little pre chorus refrain sung in a higher falsetto, stripped down to just a drumbeat backing the vocals. After he swears to tell no lies to his target of affection, he gets off a great line, “Don’t need no Bible/just look in my eyes”. In true soul man fashion he ends the pre chorus by laying his desires down quite flat, singing, “A mans got his patience/and here’s where mine ends!/I want your sex!” After which the musical feature of the song that stuck out the most to me in my youth is introduced, a funky gospel organ chord played on the synthesizer that lands on the upbeats, which accentuate perfectly the slow nasty funk grind of the tune.

After another verse, an instrumental bridge is introduced, consisting of a riff that moves upward, played in unison by a pan sounding synthesizer tone and the bass. It is somewhat reminiscent of the instrumental unison riffs Stevie Wonder would introduce in songs such as “Black Man”, “Master Blaster”, and “Sir Duke.” While the unison riff plays, synthesizers provide almost wah wah like riffs in the background. The riff goes upward as the arrangement moves to another refrain from Michaels. In classic post-AIDS ’80s style, Michaels ends that chorus with, “Sex is natural/sex is fun/sex is best when its/one on one”, with the “one on one” part being sung in a deeper voice. The groove oriented nature of the song is emphasized by another percussion breakdown following that section.

On the extended Part 2, after Michaels vamps on with great vocals, the song moves from its grinding ’80s naked funk groove to something different, big band, live instrument funk. It’s as if Michaels took his song back 10 years earlier to 1977, as the bass is no longer played on the synthesizer, replaced by an electric that matches the gospel organ riff rhythm for rhythm, except the organ riff itself is now played by a powerful horn section and acoustic piano, with its sharper, more percussive tone. The rest of the song vamps on through a well arranged groove structure with many highs and lows before it vamps out on a funky note.

George Michaels smash 1987 album “Faith”, was so funky, soulful, and steeped in Black music that it reached the top of the R&B charts in its day. I remember it was a topic of discussion in Jet and Ebony Magazine at the time that so many white artists were becoming big on the R&B scene and what the ramifications of that were. On George Michaels’ behalf it was pure soulful enthusiasm and skill, and he went on to prove that many times over the rest of his career in his choice of duet partners, his cover songs, and his original material. “I Want Your Sex” reached all the way up to #2 on the pop charts. It was considered very controversial in its time for its straight up declaration of lust, which of course was well situated in the Blues and Soul tradition. The sanctified gospel chording of the song and its declaration of passion sit George Michaels squarely in the sacred/profane soul man tension that provided the fuel for great male soul singers such as Marvin Gaye, Al Green, and Prince. As for me personally it brings back fond memories of the days when there were certain songs you definitely were not supposed to let your parents hear you sing! And this song as well as Michaels entire catalog were part of the gifts he left us all to contemplate in his absence.

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Music 4 the Next 1 12/21/16, Loose Ends edition: “24k Magic” by Bruno Mars

Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson’s success with “Uptown Funk” was definitely one of the biggest successes I’ve ever seen in my lifetime based on the Funk. For a song to come out in the 21st Century that proudly claimed funk roots was no small matter. Some funk fans knock “Uptown Funk” for being derivative, but in truth the whole history of funk music has been one of listening, emulating and one upping, or as Albert Murray termed it, “elaboration, extension, and refinement.” Bruno seems the right artist to carry a funk based sound into the popular sphere, being that he is a dynamic showman and an instrumentalist, and has a standing band that is both a part of his recording and performing package, which is no common thing in R&B, Hip Hop and Pop in the current day. His current hit single, “24k Magic”, takes up where “Uptown Funk” left off, creating a flowing groove around a nasty synth bass line, phat drum beats and the guest talk box sound of modern day talk box master Bryan “Mr. Talkbox” Chambers.

The song begins with Chambers singing through the talk box, getting a very full talk box choir sound because not only is he singing a soulful lead, he’s also singing harmony parts, including bass, through the talk box. The sound reminds me of course of the master Roger Troutman, but also of the ’90s New Jack extensions of that sound through Teddy Riley’s work on ballads. Bruno breaks this introduction up with his phrase of “Players, put your pinkie fingers up to the moon” which is backed by electronic record scratching sounds, while the synth bass takes a mean slide before introducing the phat bass line the song is based on. The bass line is a line based on F that plays what is basically a very funky arpeggio that starts off with a fat oscillating analog synth note. Supporting the bass sound are ’80s polysynth keyboard stabs with a nice Minneapolis flavor and a single note synthesizer sequencer part that provides a nice high register melody. The drums have the super fat ’80s funk sound of records like One Way’s “Cutie Pie”, with a phat cracking snare drum. One thing I like about Bruno’s funk style is the fact he’s adapted a half singing/half talking funk vocal style on many of his funky dance numbers that basically was the precursor of rap. This funk vocal style was used by everybody from James Brown, to George Clinton, to Morris Day to Blowfly, and Bruno uses it to great effect here. The lyrics are basically an extension of the boasting he did on “Uptown Funk”, and what I like about it the most is that Bruno has found a persona through his use of the funk. That person is materialistic, flashy, and always ready to have a good time, and reminds me of people from Morris Day, to the Sugarhill Gang’s lyrics on “Rappers Delight”, to Marvin Gaye’s “Ego Trippin’ Out”. Basically its a very fun approach to a party jam that has become ingrained enough in our culture that it can finally be popular after many years in the underground. The lyrics themselves are very witty as he promises to “give the color red the blues.” I especially like the Saturday night lyric, “I’m a dangerous man with some money in my pocket, keep up!” Bruno, though mostly of Pacific Island descent, perfectly captures the essence of Black male, “let the good times roll” braggadocio, and its comforting to hear him do it in such authentic fashion. Bruno includes a section over the basic beat where he says “Everywhere I go they be like”, which is awnsered by Chambers “ooh, so playa.” Then they break the arrangement down in a slower Hip Hop broken beat style before returning to the funk on the top.

Bruno Mars has found the funk and evidently he’s also found direction in his career. I was always impressed with his songwriting, instrumentalism and performance ethic, as evidenced by his earlier writing for B.O.B and Cee Lo Green and his Super Bowl halftime show on which he both did the James Brown and played the drums. But “Uptown Funk” was the defining moment in his career that both crystallized his sound and his personality. Many funk fans complain because they feel its derivative and nothing new, but count me out of the company of those funk fans. The ’80s funk style is an incredible style that should have captured the world in it’s time, as it was, it mainly made it to the pop charts in the hands of Prince and Michael Jackson who were also seen as being beyond musical styles. GAP Band, Roger and many other deserving groups did not receive the type of pop recognition their music merited, and I personally am proud to see it reach the very top of the music industry through Bruno Mars today.

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Jim Brown, The Donald, and Black Leaders in the Trump era…

Jim Brown and Omarosa Manigault

Jim Brown and Omarosa Manigault

The Election of Donald J Trump to the Presidency has intensified the dilemma that famous Americans from all sectors of American life face when confronted by an invitation from a President who’s politics they don’t respect or possibly despise. In the United States, the office of the Presidency is supposed to hold all the power and respect, and the individual who holds that office is due that respect by virtue of the office. But what do you do when you feel the President the American people have elected either got there by illegitimate means or represents a philosophy that you feel is dangerously un American? We’ve seen this from people on the left when President George W Bush was in office. It intensified and reached its highest peak during the Presidency of Barack Obama, fueled by a toxic combination of racism and hatred for liberal politics steeped in racial anxiety. Even by the standards of those two relatively controversial Presidencies, Trump’s election presents unprecedented challenges of affiliation in our Social Media age.

Donald Trump the man, is an entity that has always had one foot in the world of entertainment. That’s been his area, from owning a franchise in the USFL, to throwing boxing events in Atlantic City, to hobnobbing with Hip Hop businessmen like Russell Simmons and Diddy, to starring in the hit reality show “The Apprentice.” He’s gained many friends and acquaintances in the entertainment world over the years. If his politics were not so nativistic, bellicose and race baiting, he would probably rally entertainers to his Presidency on a level unseen for a Republican President since Ronald Reagen. But the strategy that Trump ran on, which was in emulation of Richard Nixon in 1968 and George W Bush during his two elections, was a wedge issue based plan that aimed to appeal to the slim majority that white Americans currently hold in this country. As Dick Cheney used to say, “it only takes fifty plus one.” That’s why Trump lost the popular vote by a large margin but won in key states where the white demographic could be manipulated by their anxieties.

“Fifty plus one” may be a pragmatic mindset for winning a close election, but its not a good strategy for an entertainer who relies on a plurality of Americans and people around the world from all walks of life to support their projects. Which is why Trump is having problems securing even one big name, broadly popular musician or actor to co sign his Presidency by appearing at his inaugural. The wish list that has made the rounds of the internet is laughable, including Justin Timberlake, Aretha Franklin, and Katy Perry, three artists who have strongly supported Democratic politicians in the very recent past and who’s entertainment and personal brands stand in direct opposition to the exclusionary campaign inflicted on the American people by Trump. It is another sign of the Donalds ego and obliviousness that he thinks he can run the type of campaign that he did and still gain such artists support. On the one hand I blame the ignorance of arrogance, and on the other I point to the bully’s conviction that he will abuse you and you’ll like it. No matter what cordial relations Trump had with people in the past, he doesn’t realize how much damage he’s done by spitting pure hate from the depths of his shallow soul.

Last week, three notable Black male celebrities made an exception to this unofficial, “hands off Trump policy.” I was not surprised that the mentally ill, fame addicted musical superstar Kanye West went to visit Trump, in correlation with a certain strain of Hip Hop thought that views Trump as a kindred spirit. I was also not surprised that Ray Lewis, who’s been tap dancing along the lines of respectable coonery for some time was at Trump Tower to meet the great Orange man either. The man with the gravitas however, did not surprise me, yet disappointed me on some levels, and that is NFL Hall of Famer and social activist Jim Brown.

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Just a few weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about Jim Brown in relation to Olympian Tommie Smiths ceremonial torch lighting before an Oakland Raider game in Mexico City. That blog can be read here:
https://riquespeaks.wordpress.com/2016/11/25/tommie-smith-athletic-protest-and-the-greatness-of-the-raiders/. Jim Brown for me personally has been one of the people I’ve admired the most in life, a hero both on the gridiron and on the city streets. He was an African American man who came to fame during the late 1950s during the Civil Rights movement and totally dominated his sport, displaying what was once the first requirement for notoriety in American life, extreme competence. He parlayed that success on the football field into very visible symbolic and concrete activism, supporting Muhammed Ali during Ali’s ban from the sport of boxing for resisting the call to the draft. He also cultivated through his scripted movies and his interviews a fierce, indomitable image of Black masculinity. His whole public career has been like looking at a modern day image of Frederick Douglass, Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vessey, Nat Turner, Toussaint L’Overture and other Black men who resisted impression.

But more important than his image was the very valuable work that Jim Brown did with the Los Angeles gangs, including the Crips and Bloods. Jim Brown stepped in to be the father that he himself did not have for many young Black men at risk to the penal system and the prison pipeline. He reminded me of my own father, and he was in a sense Black America’s Dad in the same way that John Amos portrayal of James Evans on “Good Times” was. His “Amer-I-can” program was focused on teaching young people responsibility and furnishing them with opportunities to make it in this country. I always admired the fact that Brown’s South Carolina Gullah bred and NFL validated toughness, his inner grit, gave him the strength to talk to and work with young men that many others even in the Black community had written off. I always aspired to his ability to walk up to the roughest Brother and find some common ground.

Like all public figures, Brown had aspects of his personality that were troublesome as well, and like most, they seem to be the shadow or flip side of his good qualities. But I still viewed him, and still do as a hero, which to me means not somebody to put on a pedestal to worship, but somebody to emulate the good qualities of while also learning from their missteps and frailties, and I do believe his meeting with Donald Trump last week was a misstep.

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I still recall Jim Brown’s write in candidacy for President in 1992 after the LA Riots, with him making television appearances in a Kufi, and Chuck D’s endorsement of him in the Public Enemy song “I gotta do what I gotta do.” So his appearance at Trump Tower surprised me on some levels, and yet made perfect sense on others. African American Presidential access has always been a tricky thing. On the one hand it can represent tokenism at its highest form, and on the other, there must be somebody to advocate for Black issues at the highest levels of American society.

Obviously Mr. Brown views himself as an Emissary or Ambassador from the African American people, and by virtue of his life’s work and deep connection to the community still, I would agree he would be one person of many that fill that role. So on that level, even with the clear opposition Trump has already voiced on many issues relevant to Black people, I’m not surprised or upset with his meeting with President elect Trump at all. Even countries in the buildup to war have Ambassadors in the enemy territory. The ejection of Ambassadors is usually one of the major acts in the declaration of war, but even during the war periodic diplomatic talks occur.

I use the wartime Ambassador example because its very clear many, myself included, view Trump’s election as a declaration of war on some sort. But even then, I don’t fault Jim Brown at all for meeting with President elect Trump to take some measure of the man and for seeing if Trump would be agreeable to any parts of his agenda. Even as much as I despise Trump and his rise, there are still important issues that need to be addressed that effect all humanity at this time. Democrats and forces on the left have to decide whether they will go the Republican path of full obstructionism in order to challenge the legitimacy of Trumps government or whether they will work with him on the most important issues and protest him and block him on others. Evidently for Jim Brown, Trumps illegitimacy was not enough of a hindrance to prevent him from meeting with the President elect, while it would be for me and many other people. Brown himself said that he was very upset upon Trumps election before his faith in America took over.

Sadly though Brown’s appearance with Trump has drawn justifiable heat on the Internets. Many Black people are angry and some have even resorted to calling him a “coon”, while others know and trust his record enough to feel that his meeting with Trump is not tantamount to selling out. I do not disagree with the Brothers and Sisters anger and I do feel that public figures need to be held accountable in some way, not that I think that an older, proud man like Jim Brown is going to waste too much time thinking about what people say about him on social media.

Still, even for a fan like myself, the spectacle of seeing Mr. Brown at Trump Tower was one I’d rather not have seen. I was already disappointed in Kanye, but in light of his mental health and sometimes disgusting chase of fame and acceptance, not surprised, nor did it seem out of character. Mr. Brown, independent man that he is, went up to Trump Tower in an Independent way, with some combination of “when your President calls you answer, along with some sense of his own personal importance. I’m sure that Donald Trump bowed before Mr. Brown and told him everything he wanted to hear. You see, despite the tough talk, Donald Trump is a man who knows how to flatter and genuflect better than most, as he did the Mexican President even after beginning his campaign by slandering Mexico. Trump has also been involved in football before and genuinely admires athletes.

Jim Brown, actor and athlete, is also a man with a healthy sense of his own importance, to put it mildly. He is also a man who believes a man will do his best to carry out his word. So when Trump looked at him and promised to back his agenda, I’m sure Brown believes him. I however, absolutely do not, and neither do a large number of Americans. So in many ways I feel this was a trap uniquely laid for somebody like Jim Brown with his strengths and human weaknesses. Knowing his type like I do, I’m sure he’d tell me that he did what he thought was best and positive to secure a good result for people, and I believe that. Still I would advise him and anybody else not to let Donald Trump make a photo op out of them and their real concerns. There is nothing wrong with negotiations and consultations on policy, there will have to be Black, immigrant, environmental, feminist, gay leaders of all stripes at the table when Trump tries to pull what he’s trying to pull. But of all things, don’t allow Trump to use your image and your credibility to try to show that he’s not prejudiced and will be a President for all people. Because Trumps embrace of the great Jim Brown means little for the respect he will have for me or you “down here on the ground.”

And Trumps whole game is public entertainment, Roman bread and circuses, while he assembles the greatest cabinet of unqualified robber barons seen in U.S history. There is nothing wrong with negotiating with the leader of any country, even one you are opposed against, in the interests and with the backing of of the people you represent. But it is shameful to be a part of a distracting clown show, which is what I view many of the meetings going on at Trump Tower to currently be.

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Jim Brown’s program:
http://www.amer-i-can.org

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Music 4 the Next 1, 12/17/16: “Am I Wrong” by Anderson .Paak ft. Schoolboy Q

Anderson .Paak is one of the latest very deserving talents to blow up onto today’s music scene. As with most “overnight successes”, he’s been working at music a long time but his talents are just now getting their just recognition. Part of what helped that was the staring role he played on Dr. Dre’s most recent album, 2015’s “Straight Outta Compton” companion, “Compton.” This year his songs have been featured prominently during NBA broadcasts. He’s concocted a package of funky, richly textured music, idiosyncratic vocal tone, and charismatic personality that has won over both young fans and seasoned fans of “real music” alike. Today’s feature, “Am I Wrong”, is one of the funkiest cuts on his “Malibu” album and a song that has received extensive play through various media outlets.”

“Am I Wrong” begins with a steady four on the floor drumbeat and some very pretty Fender Rhodes sounding chords. The intro reminds me of the type of intro and chords that a group like Slave would use in the late ’70s and early ’80s on songs such as “Watching You.” The chord pattern anticipates the next beat slightly, and cycles around for 8 bars before .Paak’s vocals come in. When he begins to sing, the funky, gliding synth bass comes in with him, a syncopated 16th note bass line that begins and ends on the upbeats, which along with the brisk drum march and the pretty chords all contribute to a general uplifting feeling. .Paak adds to that feeling with his first line, which is “I’m only comin’ out to play.” The music and the lyrics create the perfect “stepping out tonight” feeling. .Paaks slightly raspy vocals are fed to the ear in a very upfront and dry manner, as wistful guitar chords lurk in the background. As the verse progresses other touches are added, such as cowbells and synth sequences, as producer Pomo doubles gets .Paak to double and harmonize his vocals in specific spots. .Paaks good time lyric develops into a song about appreciating a good time because life is not a thing to be wasted, and he delivers a great “romance like you dance” lyric, saying “Am I wrong to assume/if she can’t dance/then she can’t ooh”, which is one of the best implicit funk/soul lyrics I’ve heard in a long time. The groove just keeps on rolling as Pomo and .Paak add tasty textures that lay just right over the relentless drumbeat and serpentine funk of the baseline. The middle section of the song has a more sparse rhythm with sweeping pad chords and pretty tones while Schoolboy Q promises to “pay your whole damn mortgage.” After that section the drums are dropped out completely as .Paak recites the chorus, after which a festive, celebratory horn line from BrassTracks is introduced, during which the vocals go tacit, leaving plenty of room for the groove to take its impact, even adding funky scratch rhythm guitar as the song fades on out.

Last weekend I made it out for the first time in a long time, and during the mix of classic funk I heard, local Bay Area D.J’s dropped “Am I Wrong” right into the mix alongside “I Know You, I Love You” by Chaka Khan and other funk classics. It was a special thing to hear a modern day, current song that mixed in well and kept the dance floor moving. “Am I Wrong” is a very positive, uplifting groove, but it also had the advantage of recognition. Most D.J’s have noticed that these days, people are reluctant to dance to songs they aren’t familiar with. This is something that has hurt much of the excellent modern funk coming out these days, a lack of popular recognition on radio, video, TV and in the community. That’s why its very important Anderson .Paak has broken through those barriers with his appearances on other major artists projects as well as his high visibility on television. “Am I Wrong” is one of the best good time, original funk recordings I’ve heard in many years and I’m glad its currently getting its shine! Anderson .Paak has already moved on to another project, the “Yes Lawd” album with Knowledge as a part of the group NxWorries, but “Am I Wrong” will continue to stand tall in his catalog as a funky introduction to how nice he is!

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Music 4 The Next 1, 12/10/16 : “Have Some Love” by Childish Gambino

Childish Gambino just dropped one of the hugest surprises on the music world from a funk perspective that anybody could hope to drop in this lifetime or the next. Already buzzing in critical acclaim from his fantastic slice of life Black TV sitcom, “Atlanta”, Gambino’s new album, “Awaken, My Love”, goes (not just) Knee Deep into the funky waters of early to mid ’70s Funkadelic and P Funk in general. This is coming from a commentator who had pretty much resigned himself to the variations on ’80s funk currently being released and explored by Dam Funk, Tuxedo, Anderson Paak, Bruno Mars, and even occasionally reaching the commercial pop, Hip Hop and R&B worlds. Of course, the Dap Kings, Budos Band and several other groups explore a Funky late ’60s, early ’70s James Brown/Meters sound. But few even attempt to do a whole album in the zone of early ’70s Black light poster smoked out psychedelic funk inhabited by Sly & the Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, Issac Hayes, The Temptations, Maxayn, The Undisputed Truth, Willie Hutch, and of course most famously, the original Funkadelics, and that is exactly what Gambino captures on this album. The sound of a band playing live (whether it was overdubbed or not) with a live drummer filling in and leading the sections, tight baselines, keyboards, psychedelic effects and incredibly topical lyrical content all come together in a way it maybe hasn’t in the whole post ’70s funk revival. The rock funk legacy of Funkadelic was translated through people like Prince into the modern day, and groups like Outkast and D’Angelo definitely trafficked in that territory, but not to put one funk up against the other, Gambino tops even Outkast and D’Angelo on “Awaken”. The reason is he eschews drum machines and any attempt at heavy modern production for a full, phat, organic funk groove, that is both more human and softer than the modern Hip Hop groove, and more virile and powerful than the grooves found in Neo Soul and modern R&B or smooth jazz. In other words, that bed be just right! And to tell the truth, its more focused on the bottom end and cleaner sonically than early ’70s Funkadelic, along the lines of the other psychedelic funk innovators such as Curtis Mayfield and War, but still with that Tiki Fullwood/ Jerome Brailey type groove and the way out lyrical concepts of Dr. Funkenstien. The album is so dope we have to bless you with two cuts this weekend, and the first one to really catch my attention was the early ’70s “People music” (as my good brother Andre Grindle would say) of “Have Some Love”.

“Have Some Love” starts out in a way that makes it’s ’70s funk pedigree unmistakeable, with a well recorded, solid drum beat from drummer Chris Hartz. The beat is rock solid upfront drumming, with Childish Gambino’s tamborine accompanying the fatback playing. After two bars the sounds of the vocal chorus come in, intensifying the early ’70s soul/funk feel. The chorus is comprised of Donald Glover (Childish Gambino) himself and a full choir, Brent Jones and the Best Life Singers, singing the uplifting people music chorus “Have a word/for your brother/have some time/for one another/really love one another/its so hard to find!!!” The choral sound is full, consisting of male and female voices together, with deep bass on the bottom and soprano’s on top, reminiscent of the Parliaments singing over the original Funkadelic bands heavy grooves. The inclusion of a bass singer reminds me of the Parliaments great bass vocalist Ray Davis, as well as Melvin Franklin of The Temptations, who also innovated in psychedelic Funk after receiving an early P-Funk influence.

After one go round of the chorus the vocal starts. The vocal is accompanied by a super funky, riff based early ’70s type groove. Album producer Ludwig Goransson takes the bass duties, playing a standard funky bassline in concert with the guitar of Sam Sugarman. The bass line moves upward in a funky strutting motion very related to the vocal melody, as Lynette Wililams holds a suspenseful chord on the Hammond B-3 organ that she adds color tones to as Gambino’s verse moves forward. Gambino’s vocal sound is as strained and paranoid as George Clinton could be vocally, as he sings an oblique verse, somebody has come to get the protagonist, and Glover sings a song of keeping his own mind and independence, also a very P Funk/early ’70s theme that resonates today. As Gambino moves into the second stanza of his verse Lynette Williams starts to chop 8th notes on her organ, adding to the tracks galloping, progressing funk feel. Behind the vocals and the band, people whoop, holler, scream, and ullate, which in addition with the rocking funk of the band give the song a truly live, rocking, human feel.

The song goes into another chorus, supported by synthesizer and acoustic guitar strumming from Sam Sugarman. At the end of the chorus we are provided with a beautiful musical moment, as there is a brief pause and you can still hear the choir singing the chorus as the music changes to the next sections. It has that real live feel of the group being a hair off in their arraignment OR of the recording being a splice of two differently recorded sections, and that “mistake” feeling adds to the human touch of the song. The change section is powerful and dark, with the Goransson playing a strong three note bass line and then improvising on the next bar, the B-3 playing sustained color chords and soloist singers stepping out to verbalize with the whole chopus backing. A high synth also provides a trippy sustained melody line on top as Gambino begins to sing “Wherever you are” at which point the bass player supports his vocalizing with more active bass runs. Hartz’s drumming also really stands out at this point as he caps off each turnaround with sharp drum rolls. The groove halts at a very natural point as the arrangement goes back to the starting point for the verse.

Instead of going back to Gambino singing alone, the whole choir sings the next verse together, which is inspirational and about how “we’ve got to really stay together”, supported by whoops and soul hollers. The song ends out on a jaunty country soul acoustic guitar and the sounds of exuberance at the musicality just released by the collective.

Childish Gambino came in a year that has been so rough for music with the loss of so many, and that has also been rough politically and dropped the absolute funk bomb. There is no way around it. “Awaken, My Love” is funky, trippy, well played, well produced, well sung, the concepts are sharp, and it has that full diverse broad scope of what author Rickey Vincent termed “United Funk.” It brings back a style some have attempted but rarely achieved. It’s amazing to me because even though I grew up with many P Funk fans and influences in my music, it was always based on the late 1970’s video game/synthesizer based style so popular in the hood. Very rarely was it based on the post-60s Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix inspired style of the early days. But Gambino on “Have Some Love” uses that as a starting point and creates a nonspecific protest/upliftment song in that classic style. I, among others, am very thankful for Gambino laying this whole project on us, I have an album review on it coming up soon, and if you haven’t yet cop it, go out and do your ears, booty, feet and mind a favor!!!

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Call for Papers “Purple Reign: An interdisciplinary conference on the life and legacy of Prince”, Media City UK, University of Salford, Uk May 2017

Dr Kirsty Fairclough

I’m very pleased to announce the following call for papers:

“Purple Reign: An interdisciplinary conference on the life and legacy of Prince”

A two-day international conference hosted by The School of Arts and Media, University of Salford, UK and the Department of Recording Industry, Middle Tennessee State University, USA 24th- – 26th May 2017 Media City UK, University of Salford, UK.

Convenors:

Dr Mike Alleyne, Dept of Recording Industry, College of Media & Entertainment, Middle Tennessee State University

Dr Kirsty Fairclough, School of Arts and Media, University of Salford, UK

Tim France, School of Arts and Media, University of Salford, UK

Proposals are invited for a two-day international conference on the life and legacy of Prince.

This conference aims to provide fresh perspectives on the creative and commercial dimensions of Prince’s career, re-examining the meanings of his work in the context of his unexpected death.

This conference seeks to address the issue…

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