“Chocolate” is an incredibly unreconstructed, in your face Funk song considering it’s release date, 1990. By the dawn of the ’90s any funk band either fortunate enough to still have a major label contract or soldering on bravely on independent labels, were generally trying to incorporate pre programmed, shuffling, skipping New Jack swing drum beats and digital keyboard bass in an effort to keep up with the contemporary march of R&B. Great hip hop producers like Marley Marl, Dr. Dre, The Bomb Squad and others had made the original funk sounds, sampled bit by bit, the standard in black music already by 1990. It seems the isolation that helped create the Minneapolis Sound, the distance from other sources of black music, worked to their advantage in keeping their funk alive. New bands from Minnesota like Mint Condition would appear in the ’90s, and though he dabbled in all of the new production techniques, Prince would stay as funky as ever, making jams that drew more and more upon the James Brown, Sly Stone/Larry Graham, and George Clinton/P-Funk roots of funk as the decade progressed. As for his MPLS comrades The Time, fronted by Morris Day, featuring super producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, their 1990 album “Pandemonium” would be the first album by the original lineup since 1982’s “What Time is It?” It would also be the last until their 2011 album “Condensate” under the name “The Original 7even. Songs such as “Jerk Out” and today’s feature “Chocolate” would send the band on hiatus with pure funk.
Perhaps the classic funkiness of the song owes to its creation, way before 1990. The word is it’s a song out of Prince’s legendary vault, dating ack to 1983 and the sessions for The Time’s “Ice Cream Castles” album, with an original demo performed by Prince with Wendy & Lisa backing vocals. By 1989, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis themselves were being hailed as great songwriters and producers, so the version of “Chocolate” here is said to contain ideas from the band working with Prince’s original demo ideas.
The track begins with the sound of a car peeling rubber and maniacal pimp laughter. A straight, phat Linn drum beat kicks in, a simple one two drum beat that displaces the kick drum at the end. After a few bars of the drum beat by itself, the funky bass line appears. The notes to the bass line are very simple, but the rhythm is infectious, hitting firmly on the one and then kicking out short, staccato, syncopated upbeat notes, ending the pattern in the second bar with a “Boom, Bomp Bomp”. Which is a bass rhythm featured in other MPLS funk classics such as “Erotic City” and “Free World” by Jesse Johnson. The bass plays accompanied only by the drums so you can hear all the delicious strokes. The bass and drums play on for a full 8 bars until Morris Day lets out a scream that serves as a cue for the full band to fall in.
When they fall in they do so with classic Minneapolis synth horns, and a super funky two guitar arrangement, featuring a guitar playing medium register funky chords with an MPLS sound inversion, and a super funky single note guitar line, in a low register, competing with and complimenting the bass line.
Morris tells a typical Morris type story, commanding his woman to give him some of that “Chocolate.” He’s tired of the bait and switch, and he wants his “thing”, like Joe Tex in “I Gotcha” and James Brown in “My Thang”, not to mention Rick James in “Give it To Me Baby.” The lyrical reference to “Chocolate” reflects the re energized Afrocentricism of the early ’90s era, as well as the fact The Time as a whole had always been the repository for some of Prince’s most solidly black leanings. Here the target of the bands affection is a black woman, but the term “chocolate” could also be applied to any sexual delight being viewed as what Ciara called “goodies.” Also featuring is Morris realization that he was getting to be an older player in the game at the time, as he tells “Chocolate”, “you don’t want no young man you need somebody with experience.” Morris also eschews all snake penile comparisions to stick with the black folk/sweets metahpor and call his thing a “tootsie roll” which the whole band is exuberantly shouting by the end of the record.
The Time has always held a special place for me as an ’80s baby as one of the purest funk bands in my lifetime. Cameo streamlined their image to 3 front men/vocalists, but The Time was always a unit in which the bassist, guitarist, drummer and keyboardists were all important and had an image. In addition to that image, they had a schtick, a definite worldview and attitude their stage show and lyrics contained. As Jerome once told me, “we were up there acting like your uncles.” So today’s song then is a tribute to “Uncle Funk!”