Tuxedo’s self titled debut album on the Stones Throw label stands right alongside D’Angelo’s “Black Messiah” in terms of funk albums for 2015, if we excuse D’Angelo his late December surprise drop. The combination of singer musician Mayer Hawthorne, who’s work I’ve championed on this blog, along with Hip Hop producer Jake One, crafted a masterpiece of an album focused on music from 1980-1983. Thanks to the music and DJing of LA musician Dam Funk, among others, this time period is known as the era of “Boogie Music.” “Boogie” basically covers a brief period of Funk history where disco was dead, but the standards it set for widely danceable grooves remained, and funk was alive, but the taste in funk was much more streamlined than the era of the big funk bands. “Watch the Dance” is a beautiful boogie funk track that reminds me of the work of Leon Sylvers with Shalimar on Dick Griffey’s SOLAR label.
The song begins with keyboards playing a chord progression with an ’80s “wave” kind of tone. Hand claps accent the second and fourth beat while the kick drum drops in with a pattern that starts on the up beats. Real cool mid tempo, just setting the scene. In the third bar, a palm muted guitar comes in, playing a four note pattern and then playing the pattern again but displaced rhythmically by just a lil bit. The guitar lingers/echoes a little bit like it’s been placed through a delay. The chords move and the synth gets brighter in tone until it finds the key the song will begin in. The groove starts with a solid “one two” drum beat with loud hand claps and the funky one note at a time rhym guitar outlining the chord movements.
The full groove kicks in, with an analog synth sounding bassline and some glossy, high class ’80s digital sounding orchestra sounds. Mayer Hawthorne introduces the chorus, which is one of my favorite parts of the song, “No matter what your circumstance/just turn and/watch the dance!” Hawthorne pronounces both “chance” and “dance” with extra funky soulful twang. The song reminds me of Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards big hits because it spends a lot of time on the chorus and refrain right at the top of the song before the verse comes in.
Hawthorne sings the verse with a subdued dance funk backing, just the drum beat and an acoustic piano tone defining the chords. The synth bass lays out and then comes in with accents. The verse itself is very short and I appreciate the contrasting moods, letting the arrangement breathe. After another chorus the song breaks out a new groove, much more rhythmically aggressive in feel, with the guitar playing along to the rhythm of the vocals. From there on out Tuxedo basically just rocks the joint.
It’s dope to me that as time has progressed, so has people’s appreciation of the various eras of Funk. There was a time Funk meant James Brown, then there was a time when it meant P-Funk and Roger and Zapp. Now, alongside them it also means people like Steve Arrington, Leroy Burgess, D-Train, Shalimar and The Whispers. This brand of funk was specifically confined to the R&B charts in its hey day following the backlash against black dance music under the label of “disco.” It will be interesting to see where this sound will continue to grow as it’s picked up now. If it’s in the direction Tuxedo is taking here I’ll bet more and more people will have fun following it!