Last week marked the birthday and one year anniversary of the death of the legendary Etta James. Last year, around this time I got an email from good friend and producer Agent of Change asking if I wanted to do a proper tribute to Ms. James. At the time I knew little of the extraordinary life of Jamesetta, but I’m so glad I took the time to learn about this incredible women. The result was the song “Etta” which we released last year, and to celebrate her life we decided to put out the above video.
Ironically, during the last inauguration, it was Etta who was at the center of controversy surrounding Beyonce. President Obama asked Beyonce to sing Etta’s signature song “At Last”. Always outspoken, Etta said, “I tell you that woman he had singing for him, singing my song, she gonna get her ass whupped.” Although she latter said she was joking, I’m sure if Etta were still alive, she would crack at smile at all the flack Beyonce’ got for lip syncing at this inauguration. RIP Etta
The notorious Black Spades was once the largest and most feared gang in New York City. Hailing from the Bronx, the Spades had as their warlord, Hip Hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa. They were the precursors to Hip Hop.. We caught up with many of the members including original leader Bam Bam who gave Bambaataa his name. We spoke with Hip Hop legend Popmaster Fabel who is finishing up a documentary on early gang culture called ‘The Apache line’. We also hear from Karate Charlie who was the President of the Ghetto Brothers which was another large street organization highlighted in Jeff Chang’s book ‘Cant Stop Wont Stop’..
We talk with Hip Hop legend Popmaster Fabel who talks to us about the important role early gang culture played in bringing Hip Hop to life. We also talk about how pop culture is exploiting gang life and leading people astray. Fabel explained that early Hip Hop got people out of the gangs.. Today’s rap music gets people into them..
We hear an impassioned Bam Bam, original leader of the Black Spades speaking to young gang bangers in New York, Crips, Bloods, Latin Kings etc and explaining the direction they should really be taking.. powerful words..
At the 40th Anniversary of the Black Spades we see Bam Bam, original leader of the Black Spades re-uniting and talking with Karate Charlie of the Ghetto brothers. They talk about how the two gangs merged together to stop the Hells Angels from coming into the Bronx.
We chop it up with Popmaster Fabel about his new documentary The Apache Line from gangs to Hip Hop.. We also talk to him about the current move to try and pit Black against Brown.. Fabel gives a history of why that happens and talks about how the gangs came together.
We also speak with Karate Charlie who is featured in Fabel’s documentary about the legacy of the Ghetto Brothers. He talks about how the Black Spades the Ghetto Brothers united and became a family. He also talked about how they protected the community against the police… Charlie also explains how he taught martial arts throughout the community and had Ghetto Brothers patrol the subway years before the Guardian Angels under Curtis Sliwa came into being..
We caught up with original B-Boy and Zulu Charlie Rock who hails from the 22cd division of the Black Spades up on Gun Hill road in the Bronx.. He talks about how the Black Spades evolved and became the Zulu Nation..He talks about Disco King Mario and the founding Spade chapters at Bronxdale Housing project which was known as Chuck City…
He also talks about how the early gangs were organized and became targets to corrupt police.. He talks about how three members, Wildman, Soulski and Meathead Ron were murdered by police. He noted that because the Black Spades were organized many of them were targeted by the police who tried to break them up and shrink their numbers…
Charlie Rock also talks about how New York was segregated and runs down all the racial unrest and white gangs the Black Spades and later Zulu Nation had to fight.. He talks about the Golden Guineas and the Ministers up in Parkchester.. He talks about the White Assassins and the White Angels..
Rock also explained how the police used to work in concert with some of these white gangs to try and defeat the Black Spades which was the largest gang in NY.. He talks about how the police hung him over a rooftop and threatened to kill him..
When all is finally said and done , there will be quite a few things that folks will be able to say about hip hop music. First it was born out of the African-American community and in many ways has managed to serve the role of the modern-day griot. It has managed to be a reflection and statement of who we are and what we were about and like the West African griot who was charged with passing along the village history, customs and mores through songs and narratives [African Oral Tradition], hip hop has also managed to link generations and keep some of customs and mores alive..especially on the music tip.
Folks may recall how rappers brought artists like James Brown and Donald Byrd back into the forefront of Black music during the mid 80s when their music was freely sampled in every which way, shape and form by literally hordes of artists. Back then folks may recall the commonly expressed sentiment that many ascribed too..”
if it wasn’t for the rap artists James Brown would be unknown to the younger generation
“And to a large degree there was a lot of truth in that statement, after all, at that time Black radio wasn’t aggressively promoting a format in which they would highlight “classic” artists like Brown while maintaining their appeal to younger listeners… The result was many young white listeners being able tell you all about pop icons like the Beatles and Elvis while artists like Brown were relatively unknown to the young Black listener, at least until hip hop came along. It”s important to note all this because another facet about hip hop is that it allowed folks and still allows folks to build upon their musical past…
The Brown sampling phenomenon in the mid-late 80s was the result of younger people reflecting their musical past. Most of the artist putting out records at this time were from New York and James Brown was not only an artist that mom and dad grooved to, but it was an artist that their older brothers and sisters grooved to in the late 70s when block parties were common place and hip hop was still in its embryo stages… The break beats that could be found within the grooves of James Brown records were the sounds that really set off these early hip hop jams.
So what does all this have to do with p-funk and its relationship to hip hop? Well one of the great things about hip hop is that it has always been an easily accessible form of expression with each participant being able to bring into the fold their own experiences and musical background So while brothers back east during the late 80s were building off their musical experiences involving James Brown and hip hop culture dating back to the late 70s, brothers out west who were just starting to release hip hop records were bringing a whole other set of musical experiences to the table. Much of it centered around artists like George Clinton, Bootsy CollinsGeorge Duke and Roger & Zapp to name a few. Simply put, brothers out west brought p-funk to the hip hop round table.
Now upon reading this there are a lot of folks who are immediately gonna reach back into time and point to the p-funk style hip hop music of EPMD, especially since they dropped the ’88 classic tune “You Gots To Chill” which looped the now infamous “More Bounce To The Ounce” by Zapp and Kool and the Gang‘s Jungle Boogie.. Many rap fans consider this jam to be the first record to incorporate a p-funk sample.
In addition, these same rap fans may be quick to point out that cuts like “Knee Deep” and “More Bounce To The Ounce” were staple items in a b-boy’s record crates. Back in the days, many a dj cut up these tracks while an emcee flowed. And while it’s safe to say that Erik & Parrish earned their spot in the history books with “You Gots To Chill“, they weren’t the first to use music from the p-funk treasure chests… In addition, EPMD’s usage didn’t reflect the special relation and love the San Francisco / Oakland Bay Area had for funk.
Ricky Vincent better known as the Uhuru Maggot is a Bay Area music historian who earned his stripes during the 80s for his radio work on KALX, UC Berkeley’s college station… and can now be heard every Friday on KPFA 94.1 FM… Vincent has not only chronicled funk music through his History Of Funk radio shows, but he has written his doctorate thesis on the genre..and has now just penned a book for St Martin’s Press with an intro from George Clinton himself.
This work will undoubtedly be a definitive and comprehensive work on this facet of Black music… In a recent interview where Vincent was asked about the Bay Area’s love for funk and its relationship to hip hop, he broke things down and explained that there has always been a deep seeded love affair with -funk ..He noted that George Clinton has always claimed there was something ‘heavy’ about the Bay Area funkateers.. Vincent noted that so involved was that relationship that Clinton recorded part of his live album “P-Funk Earth Tour” right here at the Oakland Coliseum.
This [The Bay Area] was probably the only place that he could capture that strong P-funk vibe
If that wasn’t enough, Oakland was city where the mothership first landed. This took place in 1976. For those who don’t know the mothership was brought back into the forefront when Dr Dre landed it in his video ‘Let Me Ride‘. Vincent elaborated by noting that the landing of the mothership was a major turning point. It could be interpreted as the second coming of Christ. And furthermore, Vincent explained that there are many facets of the funk as prescribed by George Clinton that are based upon ancient African religion. It encouraged folks to move in a spiritual direction. In fact many of the songs Clinton performed were nothing more than modern-day spirituals that were ripe with metaphors that held religious connotations. For example the song ‘Flashlight‘ was really a gospel song which called upon the Lord to shine some light on the ‘funk’ [hard times] that Black people here in America were experiencing.
The Bay Area’s Al Eaton, a veteran producer established himself by being Too Short‘s early producer. In addition Al had a hand in the production end back in the days for such well-known Bay Area acts like Dangerous Dame, Rappin’ 4 Tay and E-40 & The Click who were than just starting out their careers. Eaton expounded upon Vincent”s assessment by noting that while p-funk had a strong hold in the Bay Area it wasn’t the only funk kicking’ up dirt. “It wasn’t just p-funk, but it was the whole musician scene that put the Bay Area on the map, ” Eaton noted. Groups like Tower Of Power, Cold Blood, Maze going all the way back to Sly Stone in the late 60s all had big names and helped shape the Bay Area music scene.
“There”s always been a funk thing going on in the Bay Area-It’s always been funk base central. There’s always been lots of musicians on the crest, who didn”t make it to the big time but yet had names around town.” , Eaton pointed out. Funk bands like Johnny Talbert and the Thangs, 2 Things In One and Marvin Holmes and The Uptights were some of the funk bands that immediately came to mind.
Eaton pointed to several factors that may influenced the Bay Area to embrace the funk. First off, many of the musicians who played for these bands back in the late 60s now have kids who are now into hip hop. He also made it known that when he was coming up there was at least 2-3 bands on every block. “Each one was trying to get to the next level and hence it made for a very competitive situation.”, he noted
Eaton’s last reason for the Bay Area’s embrace of funk focused on a famous movie entitled The Mack. “It seems like all the Bay Area rappers at one point or another were influenced by The Mack. ” , Eaton said. The movie depicted lots of characters real life players and pimps who many Bay Area artist have directly or indirectly tried to emulate try to emulate. Eaton went on to add that phrases like ‘Player’s Club‘ and ‘Pimp Of The Year‘ which were borrowed by SF rapper Rappin’ 4 Tay and Oakland artist Dru Down reflected the raw gritty attitude street vibe often associated with funk. “Funk is here because it’s always been here”, Eaton concluded, “And there’s been a lot of musicians laying down the groundwork for years”.
Eaton made mention of Sly Stone and spoke about how important he was in developing the funk scene here in the Bay Area… Vincent took it a step further by noting that artists like George Clinton were influenced by Stone who once upon a time ruled the city of Vallejo back in the late 60s-home of funky Bay Area artists like E-40, Potna Deuce, Khayree, Young Lay, Mac Dre and Mac Mall to name a few..Vincent gave Sly props for being the first musician to come out and dress in freaked out ostentatious outfits. This of course was later picked up and mimicked by Clinton and his p-funk mob..”Sly managed to package all the energy of James Brown while embracing the hippie vibe which was pervasive because of the summer of love among other things taking place about that time”.
When speaking on the subject of funk and hip hop Bay Area style, no discussion would be complete without talking about the work of Shock G lead rapper and producer for Digital Underground. In late 1987 several months before EPMD hit with their track “You Got’s To Chill” Digital Underground made a lot of noise with a hard hittin’ song entitled ‘Underwater Rimes‘. Here Shock incorporated sampled riffs from the Parliament classic ‘Aquaboogie’ and cleverly weaved all sorts of p-funk like characters and elements into the song, including MC Blowfish. For the most folks it was hard to believe Clinton himself didn’t have a hand in the production. Eventually Clinton did come aboard and lend a helpin hand in Digital’s second lp ‘Sons Of The P’. It was on this lp that Shock felt DU was a head of its time because of their liberal use of the moog synthesizer.. Nowadays artists like Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube have been on hit with songs that utilize this device to provide that buzzin’ bassline…
Shock G pointed that funk was heavy all around the country except New York where he spent a lot of time growing up. He went on to explain that there were two things going on in New York City..”First of all, disco had taken off in a big way and hip hop was starting to become big among the younger people. The result of this activity was that New York missed out on the P-funk”.
Shock explained that he made a deliberate attempt to bridge the gap between hip hop and p-funk. He noted that while a lot of his buddies in New York were true to the game with respect to hip hop however, they constantly fronted on George Clinton. Shock’s exposure to funk came when he moved down to Florida to stay with his dad. Folks in his house and school were fanatical about p-funk. He began fusing hip hop with George’s music out of necessity. “We would try and play some NY based underground break beats like ‘Love Is The Message‘ or ‘Dance To The Drummer’s Beat‘ and it they would scare folks off the dance floor.” He eventually won them over when he started cutting up p-funk songs…
As Shock became engrossed with p-funk he found himself heading out west to the Bay Area because he had heard the vibe for p-funk was not only strong but supportive of the style of music he was trying to create. “One of the reasons I decided to move I to Oakland was because Oakland was putting p-funk on way back…and the vibe was strong..plus it was the only place in the country where they had a radio show dedicated to the funk”. Shock of course was referring to the Uhuru Maggot’s ‘History Of Funk Show‘.. Eventually Digital’s first singles were dropped on the Uhuru Maggots Show. The first hip hop based show in which Shock dropped DU material was mine on the same station… KALX.
An interesting aspect that Shock brought to light was the fact that he felt that George Clinton was heavy on the Black side with both his concepts and lyrics… “George’s music was unselfish and promoted brotherhood… It reminded people of Black festivities and celebrations”. Shock also noted that George was very conscious and all about the upliftment of Black people. Originally Digital started off the same way.. In fact their original name was Spice Regime and they were attempting to experiment and become the Black Panthers of hip hop complete with barets and all that. Two things happened that forced DU to switch..One was the emergence of Public Enemy and their baret wearing S1Ws. The second was the overwhelming popularity of Humpty Dance and the character ‘Humpty Hump‘ which force the group to momentarily move away from the conceptual p-funk style vibe that eventually emerged on their second lp ‘Sons Of The P’.
Another longtime player in the Bay Area p-funk hip hop scene is actually Flava Flav‘s cousin, the SupergroovalisticalfunkuponablackC-Funk. OGs of the Bay Area hip hop scene will recall that C-Funk an East Palo Alto native started out with the name Captain Crunch, but a certain cereal company came forth with some court orders forcing him to change. However, C-Funk along with his partner Mozilla the Funk Dragon have definitely made some noise around town.
In 1989 under the group name Rated X, they released a funky track entitled ‘Law Of Groovity‘. Two years later under the name Funk Lab Allstars, C-Funk came with it a p-funk style lp entitled ‘Music From A Motion Picture Rap Funk Track‘ Included on that was a slamming track entitled ‘La Da Da‘. His big hits came in ’92 with the release of the lp ‘Two Stoags’ in which C-Funk did as so many other Bay Area hip hop producers have started to do..abandon sampling and start playing the music.
C-Funk spoke candidly about the funk, “Funk is not a fad..I’ve been with the funk before rap kicked in ..I’ve been with the funk when it died down, I’ve been with when its in hip hop and when people decide to go away, I’ll still be with the funk”. C-Funk pointed out that he feels there are a lot of players who ain’t true to the game when it comes to funk. He noted then when its time to go the next step, musically, a whole lots of folks are not gonna bring the funk with them. “I won”t abuse the funk like brothers did James Brown..When its time to go to the step, I’ll go but with the funk”, he asserted.
Like so many other Bay Area folks C-Funk noted that his history for the music goes back to when he was 8 years old and his Uncle Chief who was a die hard funkateer would take him to Parliament concerts. For C-funk its more than just a music but a lifestyle that’ll keep on evolving. C-Funk’s most recent lp was released on the independent label Scarface records which was owned by Paris. Entitled “3 Dimensional Ear Pleasure”, the underlying message to this lp was to ‘Tune In now because you won’t know funk until you C-funk’… He also collborated with Shock G on a few projects…
Paris the Black Panther of hip hop, CEO of Scarface Records and producers for the hit group Conscious Daughters , is himself no stranger to the funk. On his last album… ‘Gorilla Funk‘ is just that a reworking of the Funkadelic classic ‘Knee Deep‘ and a derivation of George Duke‘s ‘Dukey Stick‘. Paris assessed the Bay Area”s music scene this way, “Funk for the most part has always been a west coast thing..
In other parts of the country people have been more in tuned with other types of music..jazz and dance hall seem more prominent back east, but here in the Bay Area it’s all about the funk”. Paris went on to explain from a producer’s stand point that funk has found an increased resurgence in popularity due to the fact that many folks are into hearing jams that have fuller and more complete production.
Funk music allows one to dig deep and present a high gloss more complex type of sound. Back east the high gloss end of production is personified by the works of artist like US3 or Justice System while here its all the funk players. ‘Gorilla Funk’ certainly stood out on the high gloss end. Here Paris went out of his way to hire studio singers for the harmonies and session players for some of the instruments. Paris explained that for a while people moved out of the era of song writing and into the era of track making.. When trying to recreate funk via live instruments one learns to pay close attention to the song and consequently incorporate those elements of music that you really love.
Khayree, producer of two of the Bay Area”s hottest artists Young Lay, Mac Mall and Ray Luv has been in the game dating back to the time when there was a female group called New Choice who dropped a record back in the mid 80s called ‘Cold Stupid‘. Khayree of course produced them.. He summed up the funk situation this way, “My involvement with music goes beyond George Clinton, I grew up on the musicians that taught George, like Sly Stone, Donny Hathaway and Jimi Hendrix“.
Khayree went on to say that he tries not follow trends and hence if his music sounds like something that could classified as funk, it’s not because he attempted to be a part of the band wagon, but because he did things from the heart. Khayree like everyone mentioned in this article is an accomplished musician who has long learned the value from not sampling. When you play you can come from the heart” he noted. In addition he doesn”t have to pay for use of samples. The funk elements found in songs like Ray Luv’s ‘Get My Money On’ and ‘Mac Mall’s ‘Sick With This’ Perhaps the most important feature about funk was that much of the music when initially introduced appealed to folks in the hood. This was crucial because funk landed at a time when so much of Black music was either being diluted or in some cases avoided altogether by Black music radio stations.
Afrika Bambaataa once noted that hip hop was the result of Black music radio not keeping funk alive in New York City… Author Nelson George confirmed that statement in his book the ‘Death Of Rhythm & Blues‘ in which he spoke about Black radio stations diluting the music from the hood with some other stuff that was ultimately designed to appeal to a downtown, hipper, more affluent, [whiter audience] and not the young black and Puerto Rican audience that listened to a radio more than any other ethnic group.
By the mid 70s Black music radio in New York wasn’t kicking a lot of music across the airwaves that was hitting on point in other parts of the country.. In the late 70s I recall a whole lot of disco songs being played… Brothers from around the way were doing block parties and playing old James Brown, Sly Stone and break beats…while outside New York in places as close as New Haven Connecticut, brothers were jamming to groups like Fat Larry’s Band, The Barkays and Mass Production…
For example, I recall hearing jams like ‘Fire Cracker‘ by Mass Production outside the Big Apple, but never really hearing too much if at all within the city’s five boroughs… Mean while in places like the Bay Area where hip hop had not really surfaced the grooves put out by these types of groups were the ‘ phat buttahs ‘ of the day.
Khayree, Al Eaton, Paris, Shock G and C-Funk are just a few of a long line of artist/producers who have helped keep the funk a strong force in the Bay Area and begin to influence the rest of the hip hop nation. There are still lots of others in these here parts that are making lots of noise with their new brand of funk including E-40 and The Click“s producer Studio Tone, Oakland rap duo/producers, Easki and CMT, En Vogue producers Foster & McElroy, George Clinton collaborator and long time funkateer Dave Kaos and SF rap start JT The Bigga Figga. All have come to the hip hop roundtable with funk in their back pocket.
Funk is a Bay Area tradition, loved and embraced amongst a population which is only one or two generations removed from their southern roots. The Bay Area is also a music market place that has long encouraged folks to let themselves go and explore… It has encouraged folks to buck the trends and follow their own musical path. It is no coincidence that the first funk hip hop records have come from the Bay Area.
Props out to DJ Slice and Kool Rock J for sampling” Knee Deep in their 1986/87 classic “Slice It Up“.
Props to Hammer for incorporating the p-funk in his original version of his 1987 hit “They Put Me In The Mix“.
Props to Digital Underground for bringing the funk fully back on the scene with “Underwater Rimes“.
Also props to Dave Kaos cause back in the days.. he did a little cutting and scratchin on some of George Clinton”s records. Props to the die-hard funkateers of the Bay Area like Rickey ‘The Uhuru Maggot Vincent for documenting the funk and keeping the spirit alive . Keep in mind , while there are lots of acts that use funk in their music, in the Bay Area folks live and breath p-funk… from now until the end of time.