Ta-Nehisi Coates “Between the World and Me”, a Riquepeaks Review.


W.E.B DuBois century defining statement that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line” was explored and fleshed out in many of that times most compelling books, such as “Beloved”, “Soul on Ice”, “Black Boy”, “The Invisible Man”, “Blues People”, “Die, Nigger, Die”, “The Fire Next Time”, “The Color Purple”, “Roots”, “To Be Young Gifted and black”, and many more. The Atlantic Magazine editor Ta-Nehisi Coates summertime book, “Between the World and Me”, is one of the best such books to appear in a long time, and it’s appearance is a timely one, occurring during a time of consistently documented police killings, a real erosion of black wealth, and The United States first Black President. Coates tone is one of fear and often hopelessness, as he talks to what is every parent’s and ultimately humanity’s hope for the future, his child. He borrows the structure from a chapter in James Baldwin’s book of essays, “The Fire Next Time, entitled “My Dungeon Shook — Letter to my Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation,” a letter to his nephew. Coates book has already inflamed Boomer activists such as Dr. Cornel West with its lack of rousing rhetoric, prophetic fire or spiritual hope. Coates makes it clear he was raised by an ex-Black Panther, in a household totally absent of religious faith, so when the firehoses, batons and attack dogs of white supremacy hit, he has no God to call on. All he has is fear over the destruction of his physical body, his one and only life. The Nation of Islam is a precursor to this type of thinking in the Black community, preaching, “you make your own heaven and hell right here on earth.”


But Coates refuses to trade Christian religious faith in the afterlife for a supposed Muslim belief in righteous justice, or any other strategy yet employed Black people to grasp at the ever elusive freedom of self determination. While the book recounts the great joy he found in the diversity and protection he found on the campus of Howard University, and he locates glimpses of Black culture and power in music, and exchanges as subtle yet seemingly mundane as a brief conversation between himself and a Black man working at the airport, he does not provide us with a larger strategy of liberation. Part of this is because his analysis of history both national and personal leads him to tell his son Samori, “I do not believe that we can stop them because ultimately they must stop themselves.”

What he definitely does not do, is ask for any higher struggle or righteousness from his son, other than to continue his own growth and development as an intelligent, bright, diverse human being, telling his son, “You exist. You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid to be you.”

This affirming of black essence and rejection of respectability politics which underscores Coates stark, cold and often scary racial bottom line, along with his lack of faith in mass movements, are very familiar to me because they’re the attitude of my generation. Coates is a member of Generation X, born in the ’70s, growing up in the ’80s and ’90s. William Strauss’s book “Generations: A History of America’s Future”, characterized Generation X as being reared in a tumultuous time, the ’60s and ’70s, a time of a weakening America and a rising Third World, raised by parents intimately involved in the social and political revolutions of the ’60s and ’70s, kids raised in a time of rising divorce, a more explicit media culture, and uncertainty about societal roles.

For Coates, like Tupac and Kanye West, this meant having a Black Panther parent, and his father had gone on to being a publisher of Black books. Black Gen X in inner cities like Coates native Baltimore, grew up during a time of white flight, busing to white school districts, “benign neglect”, the crack epidemic, redlining, and Reagenomics. It was also the time period of hip hop, which reveled in blackness, but who’s circumstances at the time of its creation promoted Blacks self determination, or at it’s most chaotic end, individualism, materialism, and personal survival, in a nation that, after Civil Rights, Vietnam, and Watergate, was way beyond moral pretensions, with people engaging in a mad dash to “get theirs.” Hip Hop could quote Christianity but it was largely post Christian, applying it’s same sampling Post Modernist verve to investigations of belief, faith and knowledge systems. Coates reflects then, Tupac, Nas, Jay Z, Biggie, Scarface, Ice T, NWA, Ice Cube, The Wu Tang Clan, and many others in his ultra realistic, Black and proud, yet religiously pragmatic world view. Because of it’s skepticism in human nature both Black and White, and it’s realistic appraisal of the entrenchment of white superiority, Black elders such as Cornel West, Calvin Butts and C. Delores Tucker have seen the music and views, the attitudes of this generation as apathetic, avaricious, anarchic, hopeless, self defeating, counter revolutionary, and nihilistic. To which mid-90s rappers replied, they were simply “Keepin It Real”, their time period did not afford them the same strategies of liberation or American faith their predecessors had employed.


In this time, when Coates grew up In a decaying Baltimore, surrounded by what he’d term, “black bodies”, the actual threat of white people is a far away, systemic one. In a hard scrabble situation where about his peers were predominantly Black, We find Coates a shy bookish kid, forced to learn the attitudes, stances and mores that would keep his body, his black ass, alive. And it’s Coates constant reference to “Black bodies”, borrowed from Black Feminism, that makes me to understand black folks constant use, often in vehement tones of warning, about yours, mine, or their own “black ass”, sometimes said with the slave drivers anger, other times with revulsion, at other times with pity, desire, and pride. It all comes down to the body, and the survivability and viability of it. Coates didn’t deal as much (at least in this version of his story) with the direct conflict with white kids we might read in older black books because by the ’80s most of the white people had left the city for the burbs.

Coates depicts this suburban life as “The Dream”, which equals out to white kids enjoying the innocent teenage life depicted in ’80s John Hughes films without fearing for their lives by doing something as innocuous as walking and wearing a hoodie while carry Skittles. Of course white kids still had to deal with personal problems of abuse, divorce, bad parenting, bullying, and etc faced through all kids throughout time, but not the specific problems created by American racism on top of those. Coates is in the hood meanwhile, terrorized by other Black kids who are victimized by the same system, fighting to prove their own bodies will not be destroyed.

Coats breaks all the terror in Black history down to a destruction of the black body, and all the survival strategies of Blacks as attempts to protect those bodies. For in America, “it is traditional to destroy the black body, it is heritage.” Which seems like the perfect rejoinder to those who insist the Confederate Flag is heritage, which it is, but one built on pillage and plunder.


In this focus on the body he illuminates some of the basic thinking behind the “Black Lives Matter” movement, a basic questioning of the perceived value of black life in country and a hemisphere in which, “Black life is cheap, but in America black bodies are a resource of incomparable value.” In Coates reading the pillage of black bodies is what makes the A,Erica. dream itself possible.

Coates world is as grim as that of Scarface, Mobb Deep, Kool G Rap, or Tupac’s. He finds glimpses of the power of Black culture at Howard University, which he calls “The Mecca”, because it draws Blakcs from all over the country and the world, of every style, orientation, gift and sensibility. A small glimpse of what a thriving, functioning Black world would look like. He talks about Paris, France, and how it represents for him something similar as it did for James Baldwin, an escape from the American racial dynamic,although it has it’s own troubling racial history. All this is offered to his son as he hopes his son can maintain his more open spirit, free of the ghetto from which Coates had to unlearn so many self defense mechanisms.


Ultimately, escaping the ghetto and living closer to “The Dream” instills the fear in Coates that his son’s body will be sacrificed, as was Trayvon Martin’s, in order to preserve and protect somebody else’s Dream. Coates son no longer has to worry about Tyrone and Ray Ray, but his father is afraid he will have his progressive lifestyle and mindset taken away from him, like his handsome, charismatic friend Prince Jones, murdered by the police. He visits Prince’s mother, Dr. Jones, seemingly both to pay his respects and learn something as a parent. He finds in Dr. Jones honesty about the racial situation, and a comparison of the situation they face to Solomon Northrop’s “12 Years a Slave”, recently made into a successful picture. That no matter how far a Black person escapes economic indignity they can never be far away from the possible race related loss of their body. But he also finds in her the impassive, righteous strength of the Civil Rights generation, a strength he finds curious and attempts to understand. At the end he’s looking at the ghetto out of the window and once again feeling fearful.

Coates book is easily one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a long time, and valuable for me because it captures a specific racial attitude of Some black people who have grown up after the gains of the Civil Rights movement and the aggressiveness of Black Power had started to recede Into history. Although my own view is not as hopeless as his, I do believe a book like this is both along hard look into the mirror and a long unsentimental look at the terrain that is needed before the dynamics of action can be properly formulated. Coates didn’t set out to save souls but to save lives or at least help us understand why they are lost, mourn them when they are lost, and make sense of how their loss enables someone else to live.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Recommendations, Social Timing, Black Issues

“Straight Outta Compton”: A Riquespeaks Movie Review


It really shouldn’t raise too many hip eyebrows that the N.W.A biopic, “Straight Outta Compton” is the most artistically and financially successful Hip Hop biopic to date, joining movies such as “Ray”, “Lady Sings the Blues”, “The Five Heartbeats”, and “The Doors” in the pantheon of the better music films. The Los Angeles based rap group, with it’s snarls and mean mugs, Raider gear, Jheri Curls, Rupert Wainwright directed videos, Dr. Dre’s Westside version of The Bomb Squads manic productions, and Ice Cube’s vivid street reporting lyrical narratives, were tailor made to represent the turmoil of ’80s L.A, and by extension, urban America. N.W.A didn’t just rap about the attitudes and circumstances that young black men found themselves in, inside of a Reagenomics practicing crack infested nation, they used their L.A instincts to embody them in sonics and appearance. Director F. Gary Gray’s film goes beyond simply recounting the details of N.W.A’s rise and troubles, to painting one of the best portraits I’ve yet seen of the perilous decade of the 1980’s in urban America. It throws you for a loop when you realize the young men being repeatedly slammed and thrown to the ground by the police would go on to become cultural icons.


Th movie begins in the action, with scenes to introduce the principals of the group and film, Jason Mitchell as the diminutive , charismatic Eazy E, Corey Hawkins as the angsty music lover Dr. Dre, and Ice Cube’s own son, O’Shea Jackson Jr, playing a youthful Ice Cube, talented, thoughtful, and resolute. One of the historical points I appreciate is a chance to see the “Batterram” in action, which was a Tank the LAPD used to bust down doors of residences in the inner city. The brutality is crucial when the vehicle uses it’s large gun to push a young lady into the wall, forcing Eazy to run through backyards and hop on roofs as he makes his escape.

Dr. Dre is introduced as a young man lost in music, laying on pile of vintage funk, soul, and jazz records, listening to Roy Ayers anthemic “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” on headphones while his little brother shares the next bed. He’s soon kicked out of the house by his mother because she feels he’s wasting his young life. We meet Ice Cube at the end of a school day, being bused from a rich white neighborhood, riding a school bus with notebook in hand, scribbling rhymes, as a gangster boars the bus to warn the youngsters about fronting. The montage provides something all too rare in film, presenting the troubles a young black man might face in terms of humanity rather than pathology, dangerous and life threatening as they may be.

N.W.A is already very close to forming as the film begins. D.J Yella is introduced as an appendage of Dre, and comes off as a fun loving, Morris Day cum Ron Johnson type figure, which is brought across well by Neil Brown Jr. The “Villian” M.C Ren on the other hand, is introduced with Eazy, and Aldiss Hodge does as much as he can with a fairly limited role, about the only thing notable is the fact that Ren is a serious M.C and writer. The movie includes cameos of other rappers who would make up the grand, dynastic saga of L.A Hip Hop, including the D.O.C, Snoop Doggy Dogg, and Tupac Shakur.

The main villains of the movie are Paul Giamatti as Jerry Heller, and R. Marcus Taylor as Suge Knight, and on a larger level, the police. Giamatti’s Heller is portrayed as a typical show biz guy who latched on to some black kids nobody would touch and ended up with unexpected, tech start up type windfalls, getting in on the gangster rap business on the ground floor. He’s dowdy, frumpy, and therefore credible enough to sneak his slick show biz hands around N.W.A’s necks. He only flinches mildly when leaned on by the great black Villian, Suge Knight. Suge’s character is not as loquacious as Don King, but he got to members of NWA on the same premise, that his familiarity, blackness, and muscle would give them a Better cut than they were getting from the white boy. He’s exposed as a brutal, bullying gangster, of the kind that has always existed behind the scenes in American show business. The members of the group struggle to come out from under the grip of the white devil on one side, and the black devil on the other. And victory is reached in this movie by surviving the control machinations of both. Ice Cube is the first to break free, refusing to sign a contract giving up his rights for $75,000.

The main villains in the movie though are the police, both white and black (“Black police showing out for the white cops”) who serve as the living face and hands of white supremacy. I literally lost count of how many times members of the group are “jacked” and “ganked” by the cops, thrown on the ground and cuffed up. It happens in front of their parents, their siblings, before stardom, on the way to stardom, and after stardom. There was one sequence where the audience was laughing at something said, and as soon as the group members step out of the door they’re immediately jacked by the police, a jarring example of how regular young men get criminalized in the urban environment.

The rise for the group happens relatively quickly, as they strike gold with their first recordings. The objections of the old school are represented by World Class Wreckin Cru founder Alonzo Williams. The group rises to stardom, women, and parties, but begins to fall apart when Ice Cube realizes they’re being exploited by Heller. Soon he is in New York recording “The Nigga You Love to Hate”, with stand ins for Public Enemy’s Shocklee brothers and Chuck D in the control booth. This forces the group to go after Cube, after which he records one of the greatest diss records of all time, the Brick sampling “No Vaseline.” The story progresses through the rest of the saga, well known to fans of ’90s Hip Hop, from the triumph of Death Row and “The Chronic”, to Ice Cube writing “Friday”, to Eazy E’s success with Bone Thugs N Harmony and tragic death from AIDS.

One of my favorite things about the entire movie is the use of the old school funk music that NWA built their music on. Steve Arrington’s “Weak at the Knees” appears in THREE different forms, first with Ice Cube free styling over it at the club, to it’s use behind N.W.A’s “Gangsta Gangsta”, to it’s manipulation by The Bomb Squad for “The Nigga You Love to Hate”. Big party scenes are underscored by late P-Funk hits like “Knee Deep” and “One Nation Under a Groove.” I already mentioned how Dr. Dre is introduced listening to Roy Ayers “Everybody Loves the Sunshine”, which could serve as an anthem for the Sunshine State.

“Straight Outta Compton” puts flesh on the story of “The Worlds Most Dangerous Group.” It has the distinction of being produced by Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Eazy’s widow, Tomica Woods Wright. As such it provides a first person view of who N.W.A was and who they thought they were, which I applaud. In doing so, many have complained it glosses over the groups attitude towards women. But I think several scenes make that clear, and should become even more clear when people go back and do their wikiapediang. What the movie does show is how central their wives and significant others were to their success. Love stories for N.W.A? Who would’ve thunk it? It does not quite reach the level of a love story, but Cube and Eazy’s significant others were shown to have very sizeable parts to play in their careers. I think the movie is doing so well because it’s one of the first that covers the historic environment of the ’80s and ’90s Hip Hop explosion, with a group that represented both the best and worst of that time. It sticks right in the 20 year zone of nostalgia, which sadly “Get On Up” missed, but it also does not make the mistake so many make when telling a black story of not dealing with the larger community. The depiction of the hectic environment of ’80s and ’90s Los Angeles takes us behind the Jheri Curl and the frown, and I believe viewers will be better off for it.



Leave a comment

Filed under Moving Pictures

Music for the Next ONE 8/22/15 : “Diamonds” by Herb Alpert

The year 1987 is one of my favorite ones for Funk, Soul, and Hip Hop. This particular song from that year has a mighty periodic table of elements. How much funk power can be conjured up when you mix a production team from Minneapolis that was affiliated with Prince, a singing Jackson sister in the midst of her own musical coming out party, and a legendary music biz figure who’d gone from outselling the Beatles to owning the label for the aforementioned artists? The results were the hit album “Keep Your Eye on Me” and the MPLS Funk Sound classic, “Diamonds.” Herb Alpert, trumpet and flugelhorn player was the artist, as well as record company President. In fact, he would go on to sell A&M Records for $500 million in ’87, enough money to purchase a whole boat load of “Diamonds”. Maybe this song had something to do with that? Alpert already had one of the most successful careers one could imagine, outselling the Beatles with his Tijuana Brass group in the 1960s, and enjoying a super funky #1 hit with “Rise” in 1980. Alpert had also collaborated with South African great Hugh Masekela and his label was home to the musical projects of Quincy Jones, including ’70s funk band The Brothers Johnson. “Diamonds” lyrically continues on in the materialistic, no nonsense “Aint nothing going on but the rent” female attitude of much of ’80s R&B music, the perfect antidote to mens newly unfettered, post-sexual revolution, unabated horn dogishness. In it’s unique presentation of a funky trumpet player over a funky groove, it delivers on the type of sound the great Miles Davis himself seemed to be searching for in the last decade of his career, a jazz improv based trumpeter riffing over the hottest of contemporary funk grooves.

“Diamonds” starts off with a prototypical Minneapolis drum beat, featuring a heavy kick as well as a heavy snare, accented every two bars by a big hand clap on beat four that starts the beat over again for the dancers, one clap the first time, two claps the second. There is also a rhythm in the background with a prototypical ’80s feel, like somebody playing Clave’s in an echo chamber, with a three beat rhythm. After the rhythm makes our acquaintence Alpert begins to blow his horn, and he conjures up something like a mix of Bubber Miley/early Duke Ellington growling, funky down home trumpet mixed with a fragile Miles Davis tone when he plays open notes. Alpert’s playing is really funky rhythmically, supported by a sustained Rhodes patch from a digital keyboard and Jam & Lewis typical big, brassy Fairlight keyboard stabs. Underneath the groove Terry Lewis is chugging and choking and beating up his bass strings, with very few notes breaking free from his rhythmic spanking, but a serious push and pull happening on the lower level of the groove. Alpert solo’s for 16 bars and then the main theme emerges.

The main theme of the song hits with a new energy as the keyboard plays one of them ‘ol Minneapolis riffs, 4 notes that sound like the biggest notes ever due to the digital keyboard and Jam & Lewis’s masterful studio layerings. The bass throb becomes louder and more prominent, with notes actually becoming audible. Janet Jackson sings her part in a funky, strident near mono tone, which only enhances her tough, “Diamonds are a girls best friend” stance. Her story sounds like she’s talking about a rich man who has her for eye (and arm) candy because when she’s there, “It’s like I’m not there.” The story makes you think of rich, 50 something year old Herb Alpert in 1987, with the biggest artist on his label telling him about himself. The song invokes the classic Bond trope of “Diamonds are Forever” by mentioning, “I want me a token/that wont go to waste.” Janet Jacksons vocals sound harsh and somewhat disembodied, but super funky at the same time.

The distance of Janet’s vocals makes it sound all the more human when Alpert comes back on a strong open trumpet, with a much more powerful tone than the walking on eggshells growl of the opening solo. The “fellas” encourage Alpert, singing riffs right along with his solo. They really throw down on the end vamp, as Alpert spits funky licks over a more prominent and dominant Terry Lewis bass vamp. The boys are boisterous and happy at the end of the song as they call for the next tune.

“Diamonds” pairs music biz legend and record company head Herb Alpert with two musical entities from his stable at the height of their powers. It was a song that stormed all the way up the pop and R&B charts but represented a very unique approach to a hit record, taking an instrumentalist and pairing him with the hottest female vocalist of the moment on a blazing dance/Funk track. The results more than paid off for everybody involved, with this song even making some of Janet Jackson’s greatest hits compilations. The video is a lot of fun as well, with Jerome serving as aide de camp to Herb Alpert in the same way he did for Morris Day and Prince, and TK Carter making an appearance as a DJ named Bunkh. Herb Alpert is a musician who took a lot of flak in the jazz world for blowing all the way up with a musical style that was probably less than he could play, but on this song and the whole “Keep Your Eye On Me” album he showed that the Funk is one of the most liberating musical styles a musician can get their lips on.


Filed under All That Jazz, FUNK, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters

Music for the Next ONE 8/14/15 : “Pshycho Bass” by Byron Miller

Funk music has produced it’s share of unique stylists throughout its history. This includes musicians like Wah Wah Watson, Skip Pitts, Patryce “Chocolate” Banks, Dexter Wansel, James Gadson, Louis Johnson, and many other players who’s style goes beyond musical proficiency into a unique language on their instrument. Byron “Pshycho Bass” Miller is one of those unique funk stylists. I was first introduced to his singular filtered bass tones through George Duke’s funk classics “Reach for It” and “Dukey Stick”, which were unusual not only in their funk, but also in their usage of Byron’s bass solo’s as compositional elements. His bass playing reminds you of Bootsy because his voice is based on quacking bass filters, and some people mistakingly thought the solo’s on the big Duke hits were played by Stanley Clarke, due to his working relationship with Duke. But it was the 19 year old Motor City Bassist Byron Miller playing those soulful, funky solos, which were the perfect counterpart to Duke’s own blues drenched, wailing synth improvisation. “Pshycho Bass”, taken from Miller’s current album of the same name, is a funk throw down in the same P Funk vein George Duke and Miller triumphed with back in the day.

The song begins with the drums counting off a unison intro lick, with the bass, guitar and drums all hitting the same beats. After the show starting intro, there is a pause, which soon gives way to Miller saying, “Yeah” as he slides up his bass guitar. The groove kicks in and it’s classic Funk, thick, heavy and laid back, like classic Parliament or George Duke hits. Millers bass is filtered, hits hard on the one and then goes into a classic soul-funk-gospel phrase. The drums are crisp while keeping a steady beat. Guitars riff, and a strong improvisational funk groove is struck up, as long as the bass marks off the one beat hot and heavy, there is plenty of room for the guitarists, keyboardists, and Miller to riff around the other beats, with the classic dropping bombs approach Leon “Ndugu” Chanceler used to use with George Duke in full effect. Every two bars or so the drummer stops the groove so that when the groove comes back in on the one its heavier than before.

Miller begins to “rap”(talk) in the classic funk style perfected by George’s Clinton and Duke, and Bootsy, telling us this broadcast is coming in on station W-Funk. Right there Miller is reintroducing an Afro-Futuristic, humorous, fun larger context for his funk, rarely seen since the late ’70s.
Miller introduces himself, then a large chorus of voices coming in singing “Pshychoalfa….” In the mold of Parliament’s “Aqua Boogie.” The song goes on to its change section where the voices tell us Pshycho Bass” is going to put the funk back “In your brain, in your face.” The song then goes into what we came here for, one of Miller’s patented funk bass solo’s, and he delivers a fluent solo with lots of hard picked staccato notes, meshed in with runs, followed by a thick toned single note Fender Rhodes solo. When the Rhodes is done soloing, the drums leave another one of those holes, which the entire band steps Into in double time. The double time section, allows Kamasi Washington to blow some soulful sax, supported underneath by percussion in a groove reminiscent of the up tempo section of The Headhunters “Sly.” Washington’s solo goes into jazzy chromatics as the drummer seems to try to pull the tempo back down, which turns out to be a false stop because the groove revs back up! As The sax solo gets more and more intense the Keyboardist pulls his end of the groove the other way, first placing chords all over the keyboard, and then by slowing his groove down playing long sustaining chords. The solo comes to an end and another groove starts, with Pshycho Bass telling us “Have no fear, Pshycho Bass is here.” The song goes back to the chorus one last time as Miller plays his fluid, vocal bass riffs, ending with the pronouncement, “Ladies and Gentleman, Pshycho Bass is here.”

“Pshycho Bass” is one of the most fun funk songs I’ve heard in a long time, a throwback that still sounds up to date because the original style was so futuristic. Miller takes us back to the hey day of P Funk and George Duke, and reintroduces us to his phenomenal blues funk bass solo style, the perfect complement to the late George Duke’s keyboard style. It’s great to see a veteran of funk hear what we hear in their music, something worth preserving and coming back to from time to time. For those reasons Byron Miller deserves all the Funkateer booty he can handle for his current project!

1 Comment

Filed under Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters

Music for the Next ONE 8/8/15 : “We Continue” by Dam Funk

The practitioners of Hip Hop on the West Coast have always been extremely clear about seeing Hip Hop as an extension of Funk, a music that was as much evolutionary as revolutionary. This has been reflected in the usage of live instrumentation and wholesale Funk samples from the music of Too Short in the Bay Area, on down to the “Quikstrumentals” of D.J Quik in L.A. This became clear to me, if not in the West Coast golden days of the 1990s, later on, after West Coast Hip Hop hit it’s long dry period. Snoop Dogg would put out acts like “Doggy’s Angels”, “The Eastsidaz”, “Bad Azz”, and they would all have Nuevo-Funk beats, mostly out of the school of Roger and Zapp, with some vocal riffs still being appropriated from P-Funk. West Coast producers like Battlecat, Sir Jinx, E.A Ski, Ant Banks and other producers soldering on were lacing rap tracks with sample free funk, even while nobody was paying attention. When I first heard Dam Funk’s music, I laughed, because to me, at root, the West Coast never stopped making that kind of music. In fact, Dam had made some it himself behind rappers for years. Dam Funk’s prominence and contributions to the music have continued to grow until it reached the point where he is now, one of the best musicians and spokesmen for Funk in the business. Today’s New Funk feature, “We Continue”, is the lead in single to his next album, “Invite the Light.” And it’s a beautiful jam in the great R&B tradition of inspirational music that is both specific and universal at the same time.

The song begins with a short lead in from the drum machine, the loud handclaps and the ’80s cowbell sound playing briefly to lead us into the song. Very soon a bumping synth bass part is introduced, hitting hard on the one, in the patented Post-“Bounce”, Ohio to the West Coast synth bass style. The drumbeat is strong and simple, with loud hand claps and a cowbell pattern setting the rhythm. On top of that Dam Funk adds the beautiful keyboards that are characteristic of his modern funk style, rising keyboard pads that sound like a sunrise, with other melodic parts for taste. The bed of synths he makes for this song is one of the main sources of its musical appeal.

The man goes on to sing a song of inspiration in the mold of McFadden & Whiteheads “Ain’t No stoppin Us Now”, or pretty much the whole catalog of Steve Arrington, a Dam Funk influence that he also produced a whole album on, 2013’s “Higher.” He begins the record, “You know you’re legit/cause you never quit.” The whole song is a thing of inspiration and encouragement I haven’t heard in a long time with lines such as “No matter what life does don’t give up on your dreams.” He sings the opening verse in a super smooth style but ratchets the following verses up in intensity, delivering his message with passion, and then when he’s done with that, playing an intense, overdriven single note guitar solo.

The rise of Dam Funk over the past 10 years has been one of my favorite developments in music and something that inspired my writing, something that made the idea do talking about new Funk songs possible. His musical comrades on the East Coast like Adrian Younge, Antibalas, The Dap Kings, etc, make funky music in the vein of the early ’70s goodies so heavily sampled in Hip Hop’s Golden Age. Justin Timberlake starts with “Off the Wall” and ends around “Sign O The Times.” D’Angelo gives you a heavy dose of late Sly and early P Funk. Pharrell raids everything, but mostly focuses on the disco funk era. Ditto for Daft Punk’s combination of Chic and Giorgio Moroder. There are many more groups out there making Funky music now and many more fascinating fathers and mothers to their styles. Dam Funk builds his funk off the Funk of the early ’80s, with huge doses of Roger, Prince and Steve Arrington. But what about the value of healing, beautiful Funk in this age of “Black Lives Matter”??? We are beginning to get a powerfully articulated music of black struggle going again in the U.S.A. “We Continue”, with it’s beautiful message of encouragement, and steady, healing funk just may serve as a “Keep on Pushing” style song for this rough age. As I type this I’m still mourning the passing of activist Sandra Bland. But I marvel at the fact that Dam Funk is standing up and regenerating what’s been missing in Black music, particularly “R&B” for so long, songs of encouragement. “We Continue” the. Is a good song for Saturday’s in the summer, a good song for Dam Funk’s career, and a good record for our difficult times.

1 Comment

Filed under Music for the Next ONE

Music For the Next ONE 08/01/15 : “Closure” by Jill Scott

Last week was the first “New Music Friday” I’ve truly had to be excited about since it’s debut. Why? The release of Jill Scott’s new CD, “Woman.” 2015 marks the 15th anniversary of Ms. Scott’s arrival on the international music scene with the album “Who is Jill Scott” on my old favorite Hidden Beach Recordings. Since that time she’s maintained and cultivated a position of being one of the new pillars of black music and culture, a potential modern heir to the thrones of Bessie Smith, Mahalia Jackson, Ethel Waters, Lady Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, and many other women space prevents me from naming. This has not always equalled smash recordings in today’s substance free music world, but it has given her tremendous respect, steady work, and first call status for projects that require feminine talent and perspective that go beyond a mere flash of ass. Which is to say her career is shaping up to be a fine integrity based one so far. But reputation aside, is Miss Jilly from Philly dropping the funk bomb right here, right now, as she did on 2011’s backyard boogie “So in Love with You”, 2001’s 24 Karat Black “High Post Brotha”, or the Go Go fueled dance ecstasy of “It’s Love” from her debut? Exhibit A is today’s weekend Nu Funk, “Closure.” Jill puts on a vocal master class over a funky beat as she tells her ex, “Don’t be expecting no breakfast in the morning”, after one of those questionable romantic trysts.

The song starts off with some bedrock funk, a slowed down, altered pitch sample of Patrice “Choclate” Banks “Funk Box” drum machine solo from Graham Central Stations epic funk rock classic, “The Jam.” The sample starts off slowed down in pitch and tempo, going up towards the intended pitch with each new bar, until it reaches the key and tempo of “Closure.” Part of what made the sample so unique and kept the sound alive, is the unique sound of it’s organ box electric percussion. At the same time the drum sample is playing, an electric piano is playing a strong “and-ONE” piano groove, consisting of a bass note going up a step in the players right hand and a chord in their left. The electric piano part has a strong sassy, gospel feel, perfect for the “Respect” like lesson Ms.Scott is about o serve up. The electric bass guitar comes in, restless, syncopated, but also beginning and ending with the same “and-ONE” phrase the keyboardist is playing.

Jill drops us off near the climax of the story, as she’s sitting up after a romantic encounter, with the poor brother still in the bed, knowing she has to let him know he’d better not get used to laying up with her. Ol boy may think he has a good thing going namely, commitment free sex, but Jill says, “Ima take a little time to bring up/that fact that we did break up.” The piano part and bass shift to a rather ominous sounding minor interval as she describes the night they had, when homeboy got, “That sweet rough/that funky stuff/I can tell by your moans u ain’t getting none/maybe you are/but it ain’t my love!”

The beat trops out as she trumpets, “Don’t be expecting no breakfast in the morning!!!” The drum beat drops out, a triumphant horn section comes in, with trademark lazy, behind the beat go go percussion. Soon, the horns are hitting the same line as the grounding electric piano and the bass is playing some pumping, “you’re in jeopardy” sounding eighth notes, as Ms. Scott defines the encounter in no uncertain terms, “This is Closure.”

When the groove and the drums return on the next verse, the horn part continues to develop further. And then, as she did over the Go Go power of “It’s Love”, she makes me hungry both for her and literal food as she coos real sweetly to her ex about all the good, nouveau home cooking he’s gonna be missing that A.M and every A.M thereafter, including her homemade waffles with fresh strawberries,quiche, pepper jack grits, and her “grandma’s buttermilk biscuits.” Dude is left outside the house asking, “The closure begin today?”

Something also must be said about Jill’s incredible vocal performance on this song. She hits so many textures, enunciations, vocal shadings, with a lot of character, different emotions and soul. One thing I’ve always felt showed up well in her singing is her strong drama background. Also in a time when so many think the black soul gospel sound is simply about melisma, running a lot of riffs, I continue to be refreshed by her strong blues/jazz/soul belting. She understands soul singing on a far more sublime level than most folks in the circus today. An example of that is when she sings the line “When I know that it’s the ending” with rising gospel force and immediately dips down into a jazzy low register, singing the line “We ended our time for a reason” with slick syncopation. Smh. I just can’t say enough about how she hits me with black woman SOUND in her vocals. “Closure” is a supremely funky record, a great kiss of record, and a great introduction for Jill’s next run. Last summer I was digging her playing James Brown’s wife in “Get On Up”, this year she’s making me get on up with her music and I like it like that!

1 Comment

Filed under Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters

Let These ‘Coming To America’ Quotes ‘Tear You Apart’ With Laughter


Hands down “Coming to America” is as close as I Get to having a favorite movie, from what I feel is the peak of Murphy’s career. Here’s a list that will get you laughing.

Originally posted on UPROXX:


Eddie Murphy shot to fame as a teenager on Saturday Night Live and solidified his hold on our attention thanks to 48 Hours and Beverly Hills Cop, but while those films are iconic kickstarts to the action-comedy genre, it’s possible that you may view Coming to America as Murphy’s best. Filled to the brim with hilarious characters (many of which were played by Murphy and co-star Arsenio Hall) and a fish out of water story about a prince who comes to New York in search of love and a normal life, Coming to America also possesses that rare thing among comedies — it holds up upon repeat viewings. Which makes it infinitely quotable.

“The royal penis is clean, your Highness.” – Bather

The opening scene of Coming to America does a good job of establishing just how wealthy and powerful Akeem’s family really is. They’re so privileged that…

View original 1,164 more words

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized