The Fifth Funk DynastyPublished by KRhee on 2004/8/10 (360 reads)
The Fifth Funk Dynasty
By Jung Kyu Rhee
I. Introduction and Background Information (Funk, Hip Hop, and Their Relationship)
What is Funk? Trying to describe ìThe Funkî in words alone is practically impossible. (Vincent, 3). It is something one walks, not something one talks: It is a way of life. Rickey Vincent, author of Funk, tries his best to describe Funk:
Funk is many a splendored thing. Funk is a nasty vibe, and a sweet sexy feeling; Funk is funkiness, a natural release of the essence within. Funk is a high, but it is also down at the bottom, the low-down earthy essence, the bass elements. Funk is at the extremes of everything. Funk is hot, but funk can be cool. Funk is primitive, yet funk can be sophisticated. Funk is a way out, and a way in. Funk is all over the place. Funk is a means of release that cannot be denied. (3)
Essentially, George Clinton put it aptly: ìFunk is whatever it needs to be, at the time that it is.î (Vincent, 4)
Funk is also the musical expression of such philosophy. Funk music started in the 1965 with ìThe Bombî of James Brown, the Godfather of Soul. This Bomb was Brownís means of representing the ideal black man: the black man that is political, successful, sexual, relentless and proud. It was evident that Brown was determined to revolutionize music as well. He ìturned rhythmic structure on its headî and stressed the downbeat (the ìoneî in a four-beat bar) and a connection to Africa was made and a pop trend started. (Vincent, 8). Vincent puts the essence of Brownís artistic achievement concisely:
James Brown songs hit their accents ìOn the One,î yet drove the furious bluesy fatback drumbeats all around the twos and fours to fill up the rhythms, never leaving any blank space. The necessary change was made all the more convincing as Soul Brother #1 delivered the screaming, screeching centerpiece of soulfulness onstage, making his every action essential. (8)
Funk has been highly incorporative of a wide range of themes and musical influences. (Vincent, 18). Because the Bomb dropped at a time when black people were fighting for their rights and freedom, socio-politically expressive songs such as ìWhoís Gonna Take the Weightî (Kool and the Gang), ìFight the Powerî (The Isley Brothers), ìThe Revolution Will Not Be Televisedî (Gil Scott-Heron), and ìFunky Presidentî (James Brown) were prominent. (Vincent, 153-154). There were also artists on the opposite side of the spectrum - those that preached peace and racial harmony (e.g. the integrated Sly & the Family Stone). Black sexuality was implicitly expressed through albums as the Ohio Playersí Skin Tight, Honey, Mr. Mean, and Gold. The music and cover artwork of these albums featured sexually provocative imagery, photographed by Playboy magazineís Richard Fegley. (Vincent, 197)
Soon, a funk style synthesizing elements of science fiction, Afrocentric spirituality and socio-politics, African history, black sexuality, and drug culture emerged. This style, P-Funk, was actually a byproduct of a philosophy of life of George Clinton (the ìMothership Connectionî), the founder and leader of the Parliament/Funkadelic collective. (Vincent, 251). The eclectic philosophy is epitomized in Parliamentís ìPrelude to Dr. Funkensteinî (1976):
Funk upon a time, in the days of the funkapus, the concept of specially designed afro-nauts, capable of funkatizing galaxies, was first laid on man-child, but was later repossessed, and placed among the secrets of the pyramids, until a more positive attitude towards this, most sacred phenomenon, clone funk, could be acquired.
George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic expressed their philosophy through their fashion and album cover artwork, as well. They performed in elaborate and colorful costumes featuring feathers, weaves, wigs, leather vests and tight leather pants. For the P-Funk Earth Tour of 1976/77, Clinton arranged a Mothership landing on stage and other funky acts (e.g. pimpmobile entrance, tribal dances). (Vincent, 245). The cover art of the album Cosmic Slop embodies the flavor of Clintonís funk; it is an imaginative and witty example of Afrocentric science fiction fantasy art.
Thematic ideas aside, what are the essential musical elements of funk? Collective improvisation and syncopation are two of the most important elements in playing funk. Funk utilizes all types of instruments - from modern Western instruments (electric Fender Rhodes piano, Moog synthesizer, Hohner clavinet, ARP ensemble synthesizer) to traditional African instruments (congas, Kalimba) ñ but the spirit of playing together is the key. (Vincent, 19). The funk groove is created when melodies from one instrument ìswing right into anotherís.î For the music to sustain its groove, each player must ìmake sense with the overall jam.î (Vincent, 18). Two funk experts confirm this statement. In a 1992 interview with British TV show host Lenny Wilson, trombonist Fred Wesley (who worked extensively with James Brown and George Clinton), described the creation of a funk song in a nutshell:
If you have a syncopated bass line, a strong, strong, heavy back beat from the drummer, a counter-line from the guitar, or the keyboard, and someone soul-singing on top of that, in a gospel style, then you have funk. So that if you put all of these ingredients together, and vary it in different ways, you can write it down, you can construct The Funk. (Vincent, 14)
Wesley insists that playing funk requires a special vibe, ìa spiritual thing.î In his book The Complete Book of Improvisation, Composition and Funk Techniques, Howard C. Harris explains the essence of funk music:
Funk is a style of music in which elements of jazz, pop, rock, gospel and the Blues are fused to create a rhythmic, soulful sound. Funk thrives on rhythm, and the art of it depends on the level of togetherness between the performers. It is, in essence, togetherness in motion. (Vincent, 15)
In the early 1970s out of funk, hip hop emerged. In hip hop and funk circles, hip hop is sometimes referred to as the ìFifth Funk Dynasty.î Listening to hip hop today from a funk perspective, it can be realized that ìthe same values and ideals in modern rap had their genesis in The Funk.î (Vincent, 12). In the beginning, rap music, according to rap writer David Toop, was ìsyncopated speaking over a funk beat.î (Vincent, 9). DJ Kool Herc should be credited with bringing hip hop out from funk. Kool Herc owned a powerful sound system and made a name for himself DJ-ing at parks, block parties, and community centers around the Bronx. He drew great crowd response playing funk (the eraís ìquintessential black soundî) records ñ and in the process, noticed that the audience went especially crazy when he played the ìbreakî segment (when just the drums or percussion take over) of a song such as ìGive It Up or Turnit A Loose.î (Fernando, 15)
Noticing such crowd reactions, Herc wondered what would happen if he got two copies of the same record and ìcut back and forth between them in order to prolong the break or sonic climax.î In the process of experimentation, Herc discovered the ìbreakbeat,î a foundation of hip hop. Knowing that the rockability of his breakbeats depended on the records from which they were derived, Herc dedicated himself to playing the best funk, soul, and R&B records. Needless to say, Herc - with some help from his ìb-boysî (break boys ñ dancers who busted moves to the breaks) and MCs (including Coke La Rock, Luvbug Starski, Busy Bee) ñ kept rocking the parties. Some of his signature jams were ìListen to Meî by Baby Huey; ìItís Just Begunî by the Jimmy Castor Bunch; Rare Earthís cover of Smokey Robinsonís ìGet Readyî; and especially Incredible Bongo Bandís remake of Cliff Richard and the Shadowsí 1960 hit ìApache,î the b-boy anthem of all-time. (Fernando, 15)
Other early-hip hop pioneers include the Sugarhill Gang and Fatback Band, which released the first hip hop singles (ìRapperís Delightî and ìKing Tim III (Personality Jock), respectivelyî) in the late ë70s (Fernando, 13); Afrika Bambaataa, the ìinstigatorî of electro-funk of ìPlanet Rockî fame (Vincent, 289); Grandmaster Flash (ìquick-mixî theory) and the Furious Five (ìThe Messageî); Grand Theodore Wizard, the inventor of ìscratchingî; Melle Mel; the Cold Crush Brothers; and the Treacherous Three. These artists gave birth to a new type of funk. This new funk consisted of industrial-strength beats and minimalist grooves that found their place in the music world by 1984. (Vincent, 288). It was hip hop ñ funk stripped down to its bare rhythmic essentials.
Hip hop has thrived. In the late 1980ís highly influential political hip hop acts such as Boogie Down Productions (By All Means Necessary, 1988) and Public Enemy (It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, 1988) expressed powerful militant messages (Vincent, 308). Afrocentric groups such as De La Soul (3 Feet High and Rising, 1989) kept the Funk tradition - of converging historical and political consciousness and a ìhumorous spin on creativityî - alive.
Additionally, the original funk thrived within hip hop. In 1987, major hip hop acts such as EPMD (ìYou Gots to Chillî) and Eric B. & Rakim (ìI Know You Got Soulî) sampled funk (Roger Zappís ìMore Bounce to the Ounceî and Bobby Byrdís original version, respectively), paving the road for the ìsampling frenzy of the James Brown sound.î (Vincent, 306). 3 Feet High and Risingís funk-heavy production was handled by Prince Paul, an ìavid funkateer.î (Vincent, 311)
Some groups established a greater solidarity with their original funk predecessors, especially on the West Coast. Oaklandís Digital Underground pledged their allegiance to the P-Funk; George Clinton and Bootsy Collins appeared on Ice Cubeís ìBop Gunî and Eazy-Eís ìWe Want Eazy,î respectively. Ice-T, Too Short, and especially N.W.A. pioneered funky hardcore West Coast gangsta rap. N.W.A.ís Straight Outta Compton (1988) was filled with unprecedented levels of aggression, misogyny, attitude and rebellion. By late 1992 and early 1993, when sampling funk became expensive, artists such as Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg produced their own brand of hip hop funk, using digital instruments, and then bands. Dr. Dreís The Chronic (1992) is the major example of such hip hop funk. (Vincent, 18-19).
So which artists are carrying the torch of hip hopís funk ideology into the 21st century? Who are the funk-influenced artists that should be listened to and analyzed? And how do those artists aide in validating the theory of hip hop being the Fifth Funk Dynasty? The career works of three hip hop acts ñ The Roots, Kool Keith, and OutKast - will be studied thoroughly. These three are the preeminent talents of their respective areas of hip hop: The Roots in live instrumentation and showmanship; Kool Keith in eccentricity and science fiction; and OutKast in Southern hip hop. They all conscientiously draw heavily from funk. While The Roots heavily draw predominantly musically from funk, Kool Keith and OutKast go as far as to draw from funk fashion and personas. The way these three acts borrow from funk and help to legitimize the Fifth Funk Dynasty theory will be meticulously investigated.
II. Case Studies
The Roots are a group that has achieved funk mastery. They are considered among the very best, and most creative, artists in hip hop today. Masters of improvisation, The Roots live and breathe rhythm. They are a live hip hop jazz band and do not use a sampler. Like the soul and funk bands of the 1970s, The Roots ìfeel a duty to provide a good show for the people.î (Jackson). Emcees Black Thought and Malik B, bassist Leonard Nelson Hubbard, Rhodes player Kamal, beatboxer Rahzel, and drummer ?uestlove combine to play syncopated rhythms and improvise at the highest levels of proficiency. Organix (1993), Do You Want More?!!!??! (1994), Illadelph Halflife (1996), Things Fall Apart (1999), and The Roots Come Alive (1999) are showcases of such proficiency.
The Rootsí debut, Organix, is not nearly as polished as their works that would follow, sounding almost amateurish in comparison. However, it is an important work for two reasons: It is the debut of one of the preeminent groups in hip hop; more importantly, just like all of their work, the album is heavily funk- and jazz-influenced. It takes the hip hop listener back to a time when The Roots were innocent and all about having fun. (DJ Fatboy). For example, regarding ìPass the Popcorn,î All Music Guide reviewer Qaíid Jacobs writes that the ìfun and the spirit of the song are not lost in the amateurishness.î DJ Fatboy of RapReviews.com describes the song as ìstraight funk.î For the larger picture, DJ Fatboy reviews Organix as follows:
The band sounds a little looser, too, and that's good. Warm sounding tones, thick drums, none of their later "Make live shit sound like a sample" disease here. It's pretty raw, and it's better that way. If it's gonna be live shit, let it sound like live shit, and the Roots are unquestionably the best live band in hip hop. Songs like "The Session," "Popcorn Revisited," "The Roots is Comin," and "The Anti-Circle" prove this nicely, as the band stays tightly in the pocket while still paying respect to the jazz roots with excursions into melody on keys and bass.
Do You Want More?!!!??! established The Roots as masters of their craft. Although the emceesí lyricism is not quite as complex as they would show in their future work, their proficiency in feeling and then manipulating the rhythm and varying their deliveries to rap in unbelievable fashion more than make up for this then-undeveloped aspect of their repertoire. The instrumentation provided by Scott Storch (Rhodes player on this album, before Kamal joined The Roots), ?uestlove (known at this time as Brother ?uestion), and Leonard Nelson Hubbard compliment the emcees flawlessly with a top-notch rhythm section. The feel of the album is that of a drawn out jam session, filled with soul and sustained energy. They play like the funk and jazz bands of years past, reincarnated in hip hop form.
ìEssaywhuman?!!!??!î is a song that is perhaps the best showcase of The Rootsí rhythmic and improvisational abilities. Recorded live at the Trocedero on December 15, 1993, ìEssaywhuman?!!!??!î brings the call-and-response style into the act, with Black Thought calling by ìërapscattingí in the tradition of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrongî and ìwith stark ingenuityî changing to a 7/8 rhyme scheme that ìsounds like Charlie Parkerís horn jumping in and around a bebop landscapeî (Jackson); and the instrumentalists (including guest jazz saxophonist Steve Coleman) doing a superb job responding by mimicking these vocals.
The talents of The Roots are additionally displayed in highly funky, groovy songs such as ìDatskat,î ìMellow My Man,î and ìDo You Want More?!!!??!î These three songs are efforts of large bands (at least by hip hop or smaller jazz quartet standards), similar in the fashion that funk bands performed. It is also evidence of how far The Roots are willing to stretch the creative boundaries of hip hop by taking the art back to its funk and jazz roots. ìDatskatî combines the frequently inflected vocals (rapping, scatting, and sometimes even singing) of Black Thought and Malik B and the self-sufficient instrumentation of the other Roots members, with horn riffs from guests Steve Coleman (saxophone), Joshua Roseman (trombone) and Graham Haynes (trumpet). The effect is a rich syncopated polyrhythmic sound that is heavily funk-influenced. ìDo You Want More?!!!??!î features guests as well, with Coleman on the saxophone once again, but also featuring bagpipe play, something rare in hip hop, by Rufus Harley. The highlight of the song, however, is the vocal turntablism performed by Black Thought towards the end of the track. Black Thought tops his pseudo turntablism, in ìMellow My Man.î After the first chorus, Black Thought, with the greatest of ease, switches to ìbopî rapping, as the rhythm changes to jazz time.
Illadelph Halflife and Things Fall Apart are the works of The Rootsí further-refined sound. It has actually been a two-step process, with Illadelph Halflife being the first and Things Fall Apart being the culmination. Illadelph Halflife carries a more polished feel than Do You Want More?!!!??!, but the jazz aspect of The Rootsí sound is de-emphasized and the result is a less ìorganicî sound. However, this does not mean that the album is not of high quality. Its de-emphasis of organic sound does not deter from its overall funkiness, as The Roots innovate by taking hip hop back to its roots. The audience gets to experience the original hip hop ñ funk stripped down to its bare rhythm and emphasis on the one ñ in totally updated form.
Among the old school-type tracks that takes hip hop into the 21st century are ìRespond/React,î ìClones,î and ìUNIverse at War.î The first two songs are some of the most raw, energy-loaded, and intense braggadocio songs ever recorded in hip hop history, with beats hard enough to snap oneís neck. The verses between the emcees are exchanged smoothly and the instrumentation, while relatively sparse, tightly wraps around the vocals, creating the intimate feeling of funk jams. The latter track showcases a collaboration with top Chicago emcee Common. Again, the musical groove, which is actually quite intriguing, takes a backseat to the rhythm. But with Black Thought and Commonís commanding mic presence and rare levels of lyricism, and heavy drumming with an emphasis on the one, the track carries as much realness as any hip hop or funk joint.
While in the minority, groovy tracks do exist on Illadelph Halflife. The most obvious examples are ìWhat They Doî and ìOne Shine.î The former, a song lamenting the ills of hip hop commercialism, features a rich groove featuring acoustic guitar play and the singing of Raphael Saddiq of Tony Toni Tone. The song carries a heavy rhythm as well, due to a hard drum beat. The final minute is an all-instrumental funky groove with improvised guitar, sparse keyboard riffs and drums syncopating. The latter is, if anything, closer to funk or jazz than hip hop. It is a very mellow, mostly instrumental, and mostly non-lyrical track - featuring improvised trumpet riffs by Graham Haynes, saxophone by Steve Coleman, trombone by Josh Roseman, and vocals by Cassandra Wilson and Amel Larrieux among others ñ next to Black Thoughtís scatting and the usual Rootsí instrument play.
Things Fall Apart is the album in which The Roots ìfinally achieve near perfect chemistry.î They ìmerge the lush organic feel of live instrumentation with the flexibility of sampled loops, and the results are unparalleled.î (Wang). Their evolved, polished yet organic sound is notable in various forms in ìThe Next Movement,î ìAct Too (Love of My Life)î and ìYou Got Me.î The former is ìswinging funk,î a masterful polyrhythmic syncopation of rhyming, background vocals (by the Jazzfatnasties), keyboard play, turntable scratching (the real kind), and light drumming. (Juon). In ìAct Too,î lingering background vocals and escapade-ish keyboard work, violin and viola play, and muffed drums create a perfect groove in which Black Thought and Common can immerse in expressing their love for hip hop.
In ìYou Got Me,î the sullen, moody and textured groove, produced by the combination of strings, sparse background vocals, subtle keyboard riffs, and light drumming, is incredibly hypnotic. It is all too appropriate for the almost depressing tale of heartbreak (ìWe knew from the start that things fall apart, things shatter.î). The emotional quotient of the song peaks with Erykah Baduís singing of the chorus: ìIf you were worried ëbout where/ Iíve been or who Iíve seen or/ what club Iíve been to with my homies, baby, donít worry, you got me.î The Roots again manage to stretch the limits of creativity when ?uestlove, for the final minute, smoothly changes his drumplay from a hip hop beat into a jungle beat. From an album filled with funky grooves refined in a crisp late-1990ís style, this song has arguably the funkiest one.
It is only appropriate that after four studio albums, The Roots released The Roots Come Alive, their live album. All Music Guideís John Bush put it very appropriately:
Releasing an album recorded live in concert makes more sense for The Roots than any other hip-hop artist, considering they've always concentrated on live prowess over their skills on the mic or in the production booth. The standard guitar/drums/bass/keyboards lineup of most rock bands is a reality for this group, and after years of requests from rabid fans, The Roots acquiesced with a document of their live experience, titled The Roots Come Alive. Recorded at two venues in New York and one in Paris, the album distills exactly what The Roots bring to the hip-hop world ó a live experience built on call-and-response vocals that bring the show to the audience like few other artists. The sound is fantastic, especially on early keyboard-driven tracks like "Proceed," "Essaywhuman?!???!!!," and "Mellow My Man." Though the raps themselves often suffer from the live setting, the rhythms are crisper than in the studio, and the bass-driven grooves are much beefier.
Powered by their genuine love for hip hop and their desire to play great music, The Roots have played a major role in the development of a Fifth Funk Dynasty:
Few have successfully negotiated the antiphonal tension produced from blending jazz instruments with a hip hop sensibility into a natural, organic sound that doesnít sacrifice or privilege one from over the other. The Roots manage to maintain the vigor and intensity of hip hop music and the mellow vibes of soul and jazz. (Jackson).
In conjunction with their live instrumentation and feel for the audience, The Roots play syncopated polyrhythms and soulful grooves in the tradition of the funk artists of a previous era. Thus, by returning to the fundamentals and showmanship, The Roots challenge ìpopularî hip hop aesthetics and have revolutionized the sound of hip hop jazz. (Jackson). When The Roots ñ a greatly pioneering hip hop act ñ have founded its artistry and ideology on funk, there is strong evidence that hip hop is indeed the Fifth Funk Dynasty.
Kool Keith and Science Fiction
Recently, science fiction has played a heavy role in the creative breakthrough of hip hop, as it did for funk. Whether science fiction influences the lyrical content, concept, music - or all three - science fiction has emerged as the ultimate frontier of creativity in hip hop. By venturing the art form into outer space fantasies, freethinking artists have liberated themselves from whatever restrictions that were imposed upon them. They have conjured up the some of the most radical concepts, advanced lyrics, and funkiest instrumentation.
Not surprisingly, one of the most talented and influential in hip hopís science fiction subgenre is Kool Keith. An ex-member of the legendary Ultramagnetic MCís, Kool Keith flexed next-level rhymes and creativity (with an occasional science fiction twist, of course) and is still going strong to this day. Kool Keith has never been reluctant to experiment wildly with diverse topics and styles, possibly being the most eclectic artist in hip hop today.
Among the albums of Kool Keith, Dr. Octagonecologist (1996) and Black Elvis/Lost in Space (1999) demonstrate, in full science fiction form, the abilities of Kool Keith. Dr. Octagonecologist, released under the alias Dr. Octagon, is an immaculate work. Steve ìFlashî Juon of RapReviews.com described Dr. Octagonís showcase as such:
Yes, if we took a time machine and warped ahead to the year 3000 we'd probably still see Kool Keith, standing amidst the rubble of New York with two turntables and a microphone, rocking the aliens and mutants. Or maybe Kool Keith is the alien. On the Ultra-funky (double entendre intended) "Earth People" he claims to have come to Earth from Jupiter. He plays astronauts like a ukulele, and his seven-X-L has not yet been invented? Yes, Kool Keith is more abstract than Tao philosophy, and that's what we've loved ever since the days of "Critical Beatdown". Kool Keith will never write a boring rhyme -- occasionally confusing and sometimes complete nonsense but never at any time has Keith dropped the same old same old that you've heard before.
Dr. Octagonís mind-blowing lyrical and conceptual creativities are complemented by flawless instrumentation. The Automatorís carefully crafted, textured atmospheric production and DJ Q-Bert's razor sharp scratching manage to only enhance the experience of exploring the mind of Dr. Octagon. The tracks that best exemplify the strength of the science fiction influence on Kool Keithís genius are ì3000,î ìEarth People,î and ìBlue Flowers.î
To Kool Keith, who has always been ahead of his time, innovating towards the 21st century is not enough. He must innovate with the year 3000 in mind. Thus in ì3000,î he skips a whole millennium and takes hip hop to the year 3000 (ìChannels and handles, Automator's on the panels/ Turniní knobs you slobsÖ.Rap moves on to the year three thousandî). The instrumentation - which includes a pounding drum track, deep bassline, vocal samples cut to create an echoing effect, organ lines, and sirens - creates a powerful effect that the listener is warping through time in a time-traveling machine.
ìEarth Peopleî and ìBlue Flowersî are examples of outrageous science fiction fantasy that only the greats can pull off. The hook of ìEarth People,î which conceptually hold the songís verses together, is brutally efficient in being disturbing: ìEarth People, New York and California, I was born on Jupiter.î As if it were not enough, each verse is equally troubling. An example would be the third and final verse:
Space Ranger, contact tubes, send synthetics
I program one and go to Earth through the fax machine
My number's Seven-Oh-Nine Seven-Five-Five Six-E-L-Three
Computer File: Nine-Three
Digital level, standing on the terminal
Upside down through polygons fightin' pentagons
Changin' blue skin, my brown color's comin' back
I'm psychedelic this time, come in rainbow
Look at the green lights and y'all see my brain glow
Five colors: yellow, black and red and green...purple
ìBlue Flowersî is a reinterpretation of life through the eyes of a demented yet ingenious individual:
Holding bags on down right from the hospital
It's a patient that's worth to keep the germs off the turf
Cybernetic microscopes and metal antidote
Two telescopes that magnify the size of a roach
Three computers to cup of coffee planted with my hand and
astroplanets detached turn on rear foggers
Cut the light on the kid, and turn the bright on
Supersonic waves combine and burn as brainwaves
I see the mascot of Evil he's not Knievel
Shakespeare's gone don't even think about it
Yes, as I'm going to the park, I seeÖ Blue Flowers!
It's raining green, by the pondÖ Blue Flowers!
It's totally raining green, pouringÖ Blue Flowers!
I smell the bees and the birdsÖ Blue Flowers!
Different aspects of life, blue flowers
Both songs are, of course, backed by Automatorís signature production and DJ Q-Bertís masterful scratching.
On Black Elvis/Lost in Space, Kool Keith reinvents himself as an Elvis wig-sporting, space helmet-wearing personality ñ the Black Elvis. Kool Keith boasts about his space Cadillac and talks about his cross-dressing fetishes and intergalactic genealogy. (Wang). The album bears similarities to Dr. Octagonecologist:
Sparse 808 beats, a few bizarre, faintly menacing organ lines for hooks, and a sample or two the likes of which have never been heard on a Dr. Dre record (like the odd banjo pickings on "Livin' Astro"). Also cropping up are a few of Keith's patented psychedelic nightmares (reminiscent of "Blue Flowers" and "Earth People"), including "Lost in Space," "Rockets on the Battlefield," and "I'm Seein' Robots." For "Supergalactic Lover," Keith injects a bit of stuttered Timbaland funk into the mix, though this tale of sexual prowess is appropriately schizoid. (Bush).
Even though Black Elvis/Lost in Space lacks the juice that was provided by the instrumentation team of The Automator and DJ Q-Bert, and sometimes sounds as if it were a remake of Dr. Octagonecologist, it does not fail in displaying the type of creativity and insane genius that only someone like Kool Keith can possess. (Bush)
Dr. Octagonecologist and Black Elvis/Lost in Space are two albums that validate Kool Keithís place in the history of the Fifth Funk Dynasty ñ he embodies the spirit of Funk to the fullest and expresses it through his hip hop works. As an emcee, he is spontaneous and unpredictable, always changing and developing creative ways to express himself. In addition, he employs producers and DJís that are proficient in creating rich, spontaneous, and syncopated instrumentation, much in the tradition of Funk. Also, the album covers ñ Dr. Octagonecologist with a cartoon of a Skeletor look-alike doctor holding scalpels and a microphone and a human skull in the other and Black Elvis/Lost in Space with a picture of the space-traveling Black Elvis ñ are straight off the vinyl jacket photography of Dr. Funkenstein.
Kool Keithís two science fiction-oriented albums are only a part of Kool Keithís Fifth Funk Dynastic ingenuity. His other solo albums - Sex Style (1997), First Come, First Served (1999, released under the alias Dr. Dooom), and Matthew (2000) ñ might not be able to match his two science fiction-influenced albums, but they complete the spectrum of Kool Keithís mastery of Funk. Hit or miss, listening to Kool Keith experiment is a wonderful experience in itself.
Like Kool Keith, Atlantaís OutKast is another hip hop act that supplements its talent with a dose of science fiction. OutKast, the duo of Dre (Andre Benjamin) and Big Boi (Antwan Patton), is one of the most creative and artistically capable groups in hip hop. The funk influence on their music goes much beyond the science fiction influence, penetrating deep into their signature sound. This sound, a combination of the production of Organized Noise and themselves, is one of the most unique in hip hop: It can be described as being ìpart hip-hop; part live, Southern-fried guitar licks and booty-thick bass runs; and part lazy, early-'70s soul.î The sound is addictive and perhaps the reason for their commercial success. (Swihart)
This particular soundís origins began in 1994, with the release of OutKastís debut album Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, before science fiction concepts were incorporated into their sound. Though the rhythms tend to rely on ìoverly simplistic and programmed snare beats,î the instrumentation is of very high quality. The laid back, melodic sound is on point, ìdown to the last twanged, wah-wahed note.î On top, almost every song has ìsome sort of tuneful chant or repetitive hook that marks it as instantly memorable.î (Swihart).
The listener is hit right from the beginning, with ìMyintrotoletuknow.î The heavy electric guitar riffs hit as hard as the lyrics: ìI rip shit wit pimp shit, Iím slanginí it from the South/ talk bad about the A-town, I bust you in the your fuckiní mouth.î The chorus, the singing of ìIf you smoke a dime, then Iíll smoke a dime,î is flat out catchy.
The relaxed string- and horn-backed synthesized instrumentation of the title track ìSouthernplayalisticadillacmuzikî is hypnotizing. So is that of another heavily keyboarded song, ìPlayerís Ball.î Both songs have catchy melodic hooks, the former with its sultry, female vocals and the latter with its weird style. A listen to these songs will make one feel almost as though they were sitting back, cruising Atlanta in a Cadillac, pimp style. What is OutKastís funky music all about? ìItís Southernplayalisticadillac funky music/ Now players if you choose it you better make sure it you donít abuse it/ We gonna get cha hiiiigh, hiiiigh.î
OutKast elevated their unique style ñ ìa mixture of lyrical acuity, goofball humor, Southern drawl, funky timing, and legitimate offbeat personalitiesî ñ with the release of ATLiens in 1996. They added a science fiction-twist to their music, as well. It started with the title; cover art, a comic book drawing of Andre and Big Boi surrounded by alien monsters; inside the liner notes is a comic strip about Andre and Big Boi fighting evil aliens.
Perhaps, a message can be taken from a passage from the comic strip:
You have made mistakes, but with good intention, and that is part of growth. Hear me young ones. You have learned to be brothers now that you have stood against Nosamulli. You will know no peace until he is vanquished. Yes he still lives. You belong nowhere until his threat is no more. Therefore, you are OutKast.
Though the whole notion of fighting evil outside forces might sound a little pretentious, the concept signifies the growth that OutKast has experienced since their debut. As shown in the picture inside the CD casing, OutKast has ìseen the light.î Like their funk predecessors that worked with science fiction concepts, OutKast is taking hip hop forward by returning to conscientious music.
OutKastís new maturity is evident both in their sound and concept. Smooth, laid back, and melodic, ATLiens is an ìalbum of spacey sci-fi funk performed on live instruments:î
The album's chief musical foundation is still soul, especially the early-'70s variety, but other influences begin to pop up as well. Some tracks have a spiritual, almost gospel feel (though only in tone, not lyrical content), and the Organized Noize production team frequently employs the spacious mixes and echo effects of dub reggae in creating the album's alien soundscapes. (Huey)
Even more intriguing than OutKastís growth musically is OutKastís growth as emcees and thinkers. They have mostly abandoned the hard-partying ìplayaî characters of their debut and their flows are getting ìmore tongue-twistingly complex, and their lyrics more free-associative.î (Huey). Make no mistake, OutKast still knows how to party: Songs such as ìTwo Dope Boyz (In a Cadillac),î ìATLiensî and ìWheelz of Steelî show that, with their bouncy funk and catchy hooks (e.g. ìThrow your hands in the ay-erî from ìATLiensî). But the rest of the tracks are pretty much songs about growing up experiences, introspection and spirituality ñ all in a personal, heartfelt way. Songs such as ìJazzy Belle,î ìElevators (Me & You),î ìMainstream,î and ìE.T. (Extraterrestrial)î are must-listens.
Aquemini (1998) is another step in OutKastís growth as artists. For this album, Andre and Big Boi revive their playa personas yet mesh it well with the maturity that they found on ATLiens. Such is evident in the cover art, which is reminiscent of the Afrocentric covers of the funk cover : Andre and Big Boi are dressed as pimps, but in the background ñ which is set to a starry sky - in addition to a Cadillac, there are pictures of afro-wearing black women and a round emblem with hieroglyphics on the edges and a picture of ancient Egypt (pyramids, the Sphinx) in the middle. Next to it, there is a UFO. The cover art symbolizes OutKast as the versatile, pensive, yet fun-loving hip hoppers that they are.
This symbolism is manifested in the music. While there are futuristic elements in the work, overall, the album carries a ìdown-home flavor.î Produced mostly by OutKast and partly by Organized Noize, the production has a ìSouthern earthiness and simultaneous spirituality that come across regardless of what Dre and Big Boi are rapping about.î (Huey). From electric bass and guitars and synthesizers to harmonica to even a live orchestra, the live instrumentation is wholesome and the variety of musical elements present throughout Aquemini is staggering. Listening to Big Boi and Andreís growth as emcees is the other part of the Aquemini experience: They do not shy away from rougher topics, but their perspective is ìgrounded and responsible, intentionally avoiding hardcore clichÈs.î Their technically sound deliveries have ripened, with a ìrecognizably Southern rhythmic bounce.î (Huey).
The balanced versatility and musical and lyrical evolution of OutKast can be felt in ìReturn of the ëGí,î ìRosa Parks,î ìSynthesizer,î ìDa Art of Storytelliní (Part 2),î ìSpottieOttieDopaliscious,î ìLiberation,î and ìChonkyfire.î These songs are highly representative of the musical and lyrical variety that can be experienced on Aquemini. ìReturn of the ëGíî is a successful result of an odd combination: Andre and Big Boi bring aggressive and confrontational, the-truth-hurts rhymes (ìThem niggas who got them kids, who got enough to buy an ounce/ but not enough to bounce them kids to the zooî - Dre) over a live orchestra arrangement. ìDa Art of Storytellin (Part 2)î is a narrative over intense congas and piano riffs. The rock-inspired, electric guitar-charged ìChonkyfireî even manages to bring back memories of ATLiens with its nasal hook (ìYou are now entering the fifth dimension of ascension/ Our only intention is to take you high/ High, yeah, yeah, my lord.î).
ìSynthesizer,î featuring legendary funkateer George Clinton, goes to show how closely hip hop and funk are tied together. The topic of the song ñ concerns about artificialization - is a science-related concept, something that has often been explored in funk. Funk is recreated by the use of synthesizers, bass, piano, and congas, yet the sound is hip hop. OutKast hip hops and George Clinton funks, yet it is not easy to tell who is doing what.
The remaining four songs are important in that they are prime examples in the method that OutKast uses to innovate ñ by taking hip hop back to its funk roots. ìRosa Parksî puts together acoustic guitar with turntable scratching and a ìstomping harmonica break that could have come from nowhere but the South.î (Huey). ìSpottieOttieDopalisciousî and ìLiberationî are ìall-out soul revivalsî featuring grooves that are simple and mellow, yet rich and hypnotic. (MtumeS). The former has Andreís echoed narration backed by female background vocals and live instrumentation of reggae horns, bass and light percussion. The piano-dominated latter features heartfelt soul sang by Erykah Badu and Cee-Lo and a haunting spoken soliloquy by Big Rube (ìFrom the Glock rounds and lockdowns and burials, the seeds that sewed get devoured by the same locust.î). Both songs allow the listener to fully immerse in the laid back atmosphere with all-instrumental end segments that each last at least 90 seconds.
Despite immensely high expectations, OutKast matches the brilliance of Aquemini on Stankonia (2000). They have taken yet another significant step in their evolution as they have managed to revamp their sound once again:
Stankonia reclaims the duo's futuristic bent. Keyboardist/producer Earthtone III helms most of the backing tracks, and while the live-performance approach is still present, there's more reliance on programmed percussion, otherworldly synthesizers, and surreal sound effects. Yet the results are surprisingly warm and soulful, a trippy sort of techno-psychedelic funk. Every repeat listen seems to uncover some new element in the mix. (Huey).
The musical and lyrical variety is even greater than what was available in Aquemini.
The album hits hard from the start with the rock-ish ìGasoline Dreams,î a politically charged (ìItís shitty little Ricky Stratton got a million bucks/ My cousin Ricky Walker got ten years doing Fed time/ On a first offense bust, fuck the Holice.î ñ Big Boi) track loaded with intense electric guitar riffs and drumming. ìGasoline Dreamsî is similar to Aqueminiís ìChonkyfire,î only harder. ìB.O.B.,î a braggadocio, carries a similar energy, the base being a violent jungle beat. Andre and Big Boiís flows and rhymes are first rate as usual, but the true highlight of the track is the final half of the song, where the rapping stops and David Whildís electric guitar solo ñ the ìfunkî of the song, according to Andre ñ and Cutmaster Swiffís record scratching join the synthesizers and jungle beat to create an orgasmic musical experience. Though the song may be jungle in form, it is a funk revival in essence, as acknowledged in the song: ìPower music, electric revival.î Other tracks of note are the boastful, popish ìSo Fresh, So Cleanî; ìMs. Jackson,î an ìanguished plea directed at the mother of the mother of an out-of-wedlock child, tinged with regret, bitterness, and affection.î (Huey); ìHumble Mumble,î which ìchannels funk so speedily that it morphs into Afrobeat.î (Arnell); and the electro-ish, ìRed Velvet.î
The most intriguing pieces in the album, however, are the psychedelic funk-inspired works: The spoken word (Big Boi) and vocal (Andre) ìToilet Tishaî is a tragic tale of the suicide of a pregnant 14-year old. It combines electronic sound effects with synthesizer guitar and synthesizer bass to create a heartbreaking and depressing mood. ìSlum Beautifulî is a tribute to beautiful women. The romantic atmosphere is created by backwards guitar riffs and a dance beat. Spoken word poetry and high-pitched vocals laid over sparse instrumentation, female background vocals, and Florida bass music elements form the flesh and bones of ìStankonia (Stanklove).î CDNow contributing writer Susan Arnell describes the song as ìa syrupy romantic parody that oozes so convincingly, you'd think the speakers were aflame with desire.î
OutKastís artistic evolution can be traced by the artwork of nude women on the upper surfaces of their CD releases. The CD of their debut Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik shows a silhouette of a wild woman. The ATLiens CD shows a cartoon of a woman praying to a higher power, with a light shining down on her: She has found spirituality. The Aquemini and Stankonia CDs show relaxed women who seem to have found peace and liberation. As mentioned earlier, symbolism, via such Afrocentric album artwork, had often been utilized by funk artists. Additionally, funk has influenced OutKastís fashion. Photographs in the liner notes of OutKastís albums show Andre and Big Boi dressed in everything from casual hip hop wear to neatly cut uniforms (a la James Brown) to eclectic costumes (a la Kool and the Gang, Sly & the Family Stone) to flat-out eccentric disguises (a la George Clinton).
From 1994 until now, OutKast has been one of the most artistically successful acts in hip hop. They have constantly evolved musically and lyrically, and have elevated their craft each and every time. They have done so by looking back to funk for inspiration. In turn, they used the inspiration to innovate their art form. Whatever OutKast has experimented with ñ from pimps and playas to science fiction ñ they have kept their foundation rock solid. Their base ñ ìgritty Southern soul, fluid raps and rolling G-funkî - has time and time again proven to be the catalyst for their sophisticated braggadocio or introspective socio-political and spiritual raps to their funk-influenced (of varying degrees) music. (Bush). OutKastís career work is yet another testament to hip hop being the Fifth Funk Dynasty.
From the politically charged jams of James Brown to the P-Funk of George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic, there has always been a constant in good funk music. It has been an expression of black creativity through black history, spirituality, socio-politics, sexuality, and science fiction. Such creativity spawned egalitarianism in funk. ìDance hits, love ballads, blues-inflected laments, dirty rock ësleaze,í silly gibberish, inspirational chants, revolutionary anthemsî were all welcomed in funk, with some albums containing all of the above. (Vincent, 18)
The egalitarianism has also been expressed in the instrumental aspects of funk. Funk music combines elements of the blues, R&B, soul, jazz, African percussion, psychedelics, and synthesizers. Sounds played in funk have ranged from those from traditional African instruments and arrangements to those from eccentric forms and electronic effects created by the latest musical technologies. Funk has become the medium that has enhanced artistsí understanding of the present where futuristic sounds are interpreted through the traditional sounds of the past.
Among the traditional sounds are collective improvisation and polyrhythmic syncopation ñ the spirit of teamwork that is the byproduct of the egalitarian ideals of funk. While each musician is free to express himself through his instrument, they must play relative to other musicians, and ultimately, according to the overall groove and emphasis on the downbeat (the one): Team chemistry is necessary for the groove to flow and The Funk to show. By playing freely (progressive) within the rules (traditional), creativity has flourished in funk. Such creativity has been evident not only in the music, but the fashion, stage sets, and album cover artwork of funk artists, too.
Creativity has been able to thrive in hip hop as well. From hip hopís early days with DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa to the 1980s with Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, Ice-T, and N.W.A. to the early 1990s with Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg to today with The Roots, Kool Keith, and OutKast, funk has flourished. Hip hop artists have drawn heavily ñ both directly (e.g. sampling, recreating) and indirectly ñ from funk and have managed to take the art form forward. Over the years, hip hop has been through all sorts of issues - including black spirituality, socio-politics, history, sexuality, and science fiction. It has also heard all types of sounds ñ including boom bap, live organic instrumentation, hip hop jazz, G-Funk, and P-Funk. What all these styles and sounds have in common are that they have consistently been funk-influenced. Whether the music was made with a sampler or with live instruments, the polyrhythms syncopated and the different melodic lines grooved as one whole.
Keeping in mind what has been said, consider the following statement, part of which has already been mentioned in the Introduction:
It was clear to many in the early 1980s that there was much more to Hip Hop than a trend of silly rhymes and machine beats. The underground culture of rap music served to rekindle the black pride movements of the 1960s ñ often by sampling the funky beats of that same period. By 1988, Hip Hop had evolved into what was rightly being called the Hip Hop Nation. And it was clear to anyone listening to rap from a funk perspective that the same values and ideals in modern rap had their genesis in The Funk. Thus, the Hip Hop Nation can be thought of as the ìFifth Funk Dynasty.î (Vincent, 11).
From what has been studied, is the claim made in the final sentence valid? The answer is yes. Hip hop is indeed the Fifth Funk Dynasty. The theory is bolstered by the case studies of the career works of The Roots, Kool Keith, and OutKast ñ acts whose careers are still moving forward.
Over the course of their careers, each of these artists have evolved by looking to the past (funk) for inspiration. The Roots have innovated by playing syncopated polyrhythms with rich, textured, spontaneous grooves and backing them up with superb rapping and showmanship from their MCs. This live hip hop jazz band is quite reminiscent of the funk bands of the 1970s. Kool Keith has drawn from science fiction and refined it with his signature oddball twist and sheer creative genius. He has also used his great production tastes to collaborate with producers and DJs that have custom tailored him great instrumentation that is complex and groovy. OutKast has experimented immensely ñ with topics ranging from socio-politics to spirituality and Afrocentricity to pimps, playas, and hustlers; and musical sounds and styles ranging from rock and roll to jungle to techno-psychedelic funk. Yet, the base from which they have always worked with is the combination of skilled raps, Southern-fried funk, and candid showmanship ñ the old school fundamentals.
The prolonged artistic successes of The Roots, Kool Keith and OutKast are indications that hip hop is in good hands. Being three of the most influential and proficient practitioners of the art for, it can argued that the three by themselves make hip hop worthy of being called the Fifth Funk Dynasty.
1. Arnell, Susan. OutKast: Stankonia (Arista). Oct. 30, 2000. CDNow. Accessed May 9, 2001
2. Bush, John. Black Elvis/Lost in Space. All Music Guide. Accessed May 5, 2001
3. Bush, John. OutKast. All Music Guide. Accessed May 9, 2001
4. Bush, John. The Roots Come Alive. All Music Guide. Accessed May 7, 2001
5. DJ Fatboy. The Roots: Organix. Jun. 23, 2000. RapReviews.com. Accessed May 7, 2001
6. Fernando, S. H., Jr. ìBack in the Day.î The Vibe History of Hip Hop. Ed. Alan Light. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1999. 13-21.
7. Huey, Steve. Aquemini. All Music Guide. Accessed May. 9, 2001
8. Huey, Steve. ATLiens. All Music Guide. Accessed May 9, 2001
9. Huey, Steve. Stankonia. All Music Guide. Accessed May 9, 2001
10. Jackson, Major. The Roots. Liner notes. Do You Want More?!!!??!. DGC, 1994.
11. Jacobs, Qaíid. Organix. All Music Guide. Accessed May 7, 2001
12. Juon, Steve ìFlashî. Dr. Octagon: Dr. Octagonecologist. Sep, 1996. RapReviews.com. Accessed May 5, 2001
13. ---. The Roots: Things Fall Apart. March 10, 1999. RapReviews.com. Accessed July 22, 2003 <http://www.rapreviews.com/archive/1999_03_thingsfallapart.html>.
13. MtumeS. OutKast: Aquemini. Oct, 1998. RapReviews.com. Accessed May 9, 2001
14. Swihart, Stanton. Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. All Music Guide. Accessed May 9, 2001
15. Vincent, Rickey. Funk. New York: St. Martinís Griffin, 1996.
16. Wang, Oliver. Double Trouble: A great day in hip-hop. February 24, 1999. sfbg.com. Accessed May 7, 2001
17. Wang, Oliver. Kool Keith: Black Elvis/Lost in Space. Wall of Sound. Accessed May 5, 2001
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