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.