When people ask me what music I like I usually reply, ‘everything’, then I proceed to list off a few genres; ‘Jazz, Dub, Soul, Old School Hip Hop’, in an attempt to sound like I know what I’m talking about. But what I really, really want to say in this situation is I like ‘Space Music’ or more specifically ‘Space Funk’. But I can’t because unless you listen to exactly the same music as me you will have no idea what I am talking about and probably think I’m a bit weird. ‘Space Funk’ is a genre entirely of my own conception but most of my favorite tunes seem to fit into the category. In the course of this article I will attempt to define ‘Space Funk’ and what musicians and songs fit in to my made up genre.
For eons man has gazed at the sky and understood by the sheer volume of stars and the infinite nature of the galaxy that we are not alone. No musician better understood this than George Clinton, who is considered the inventor of Funk and headed the group Parliament Funkadelic. On his 1975 LP ‘Mothership Connection’, the album cover artwork depicts George looking pretty funky, chilling out the side of a spaceship amongst a cluster of star nebulae. This an overt reference to theories that suggest that the human race are descended from beings from elsewhere in the universe. Many ancient civilizations such as the Syrians and Babylonians mention extraterrestrials in their mythology.
The Dogon people who live in the Homburi Mountains near Timbuktu have known about the existence of a star called Sirius B for hundreds of years, NASA only managed to photographed it for the first time in 1970. George Clinton’s Hit Song ‘Atomic Dog’ released in 1982, is a reference to Sirius B, which is also known as the Dogstar.
In terms of music space can represent many different things: the unknown, the future, it represents a great chasm of possibility. The celestial bodies have inspired musicians throughout the ages and continue to fascinate us to this day. Artists such as Sun Ra explored concepts of time and space through music by experimenting with time signature, tone and frequency. Music is a very powerful tool and Sun Ra believed if used in the right way it could transform the planet, bring about peace and understanding by altering people’s conciousness. Sun Ra’s music is about thinking beyond the perimeters of your daily existence and shifting your thinking to a more cosmic scale. Some artists such as Dam-Funk make their music with aliens in mind, like in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind directed by Stephen Spielberg, where humans use music as a tool to communicate with aliens.
Jay Dee or J Dilla is a famous hip hop producer from Detroit, Michigan who was one third of the original Slum Village line up. He has produced tracks for Common, Erykah Badu and D’angelo to name a few. Nowadays he seems to be everybody’s favorite producer from your local Size sales assistant to your under grad stoner, but I remember a time when you had to be a really nerdy hip hop back packer to know about him. Since his death in 2006 DJs such as 1Xtra’s Benji B and Stones Throws J Rocc have a done a good job of spreading Jay Dee’s soulful musical message of love and togetherness around the world.
A small amount of study of Jay Dee’s music will reveal his vast influence on not just the Hip Hop community but music as a whole. Slum Village really represented the soulful, conscious side of Hip Hop in a way that has never been done quite as effectively since the LPs Fantastic Vol 1. & 2 . Dilla, aided by the recognition of Fantastic went on to produce tracks for Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest as well as teaming up with Madlib to create the Jaylib - Champion Sound project.
Whilst early Slum Village relied on Jazz & Soul samples, Dilla moved into more experimental realms on the work he did for Common’s Electric Circus LP as well as the Jaylib - Champion Sound project and Ruff Draft, using more synth based sounds, these records fit snugly into the ‘Space Funk’ category.
Stand out Jay Dee tracks of the ‘Space Funk’ oeuvre are:
Star 69 -Common Feat. Bilal & Prince - Electic Circus LP
Love Junkee Feat. Cameo (Jay Dee Remix) - Dj Cam & Cameo
As Serious As Your Life Is (Jay Dee Remix) - Fourtet
If you can get your hands on any of the Dilla Beat tapes floating around, many of the more recent ones contain outlandishly good space funk.
There is no doubt that Jay Dee’s production has had a large influence on a whole host of beat makers whose music continues to explore the outer reaches of Space Funk, such as Hudson Mohawke, Flying Lotus & Onra to name a few.
‘Space Jazz’ is a piece of music that whilst containing futuristic aspects such as synths and plug-ins, the beat also pays respect to older genres such as Electro, Boogie Funk as well as Jazz & Soul. The entire genre of dubstep or certain types of house or hip hop can all be described as Space Funk. It’s not so much the label thats attached to the music, it’s the futuristic feeling of the track and the philosophy behind the music. When I say ‘Space’ I suppose I mean a more universal outlook on things. A lot of people stare up at the sky and wonder what’s going on up there and if what’s going on up in Space has any affect on us down here on Earth, ‘Space Funk’ is for the those dreamers, ponderers and sky watchers.
Yo Truth had me up against the ropes semi-concious without no boxing skills Fear of it makes hair on my neck grow like minoxodil Watchin the clock is ill when, faced with the truth Parallels observing, amateur video tapes of Twenty-one top notch NYPD cops get ill Fill they minds not to kill, still son, never revealed True feelings We speakin on the truth right now in itself is a healing See The Creator created existence and balance At right angles, unless it was conceived and stated So whoever shall stray away from right lives wrong The deliverance of the word false Opposite of truth off course Sure as my slave name sending Troy Donald Jamerson paves the path enabling truth to stay stable and cling to EARTH! Sorta similar to the way static electricity sting See, truth brings light, light refracts off the mirror Visions of yourself and error could never be clearer The truth is that you ugly, not on the outside But in the inside, on the outside you frontin you lovely The discovery of these things and all are well hidden But when you in denial of self it is forbidden That's the truth
I saw these guys the other day at Ronnie Scotts and they killed it. Eight brothers from Chicago all on horns and a drummer. Each guy had a go at either speaking in between songs or rapping. Most of the tracks they played were quite up tempo & intense, perhaps more suitable to the large arenas they mentioned they had been playing in. They did play one downtempo number which they said was from their forthcoming album. Shit sounded ridiculous.
In between songs they told jokes and explained their philosophy and inspirations such as the cosmos & Sun - Ra. They played a song called Mercury, named after the closest planet to the Sun, explaining they played it whenever it was raining or gloomy & they wanted the Sun to come out. Scarily it was apparently often successful!
Hypnotic's horn playing is definitely tight & the raps they were busting were kind of slum village esque scat raps but a little bit more profane. They had all of Ronnie Scotts singing along to "Bang, Bang, Skeet, Skeet" which was pretty funny!
This beat by Devonwho has me bugging. Homeboy rides the beat nonchalantly & very precise. No nonsense. The video was directed by Nicholas Heller, a very talented guy out of Boston & NYC. You will be seeing a lot more of his work on this blog & on Spine TV.
This track was was written by Rokusuke Ei and Hachidai Nakamura, this version was recorded by Kyu Sakamoto in 1963. It reached the top of the Billboard 100 chart in the U.S that year and sold 13 million copies internationally. The melody is extremely catchy and the song has a beautiful melancholy, wistful vibe about it. The Japanese name for the song is "Ue o muite arukō" which translates as "I walk looking up." Apparently it can be interpreted in three ways: as a man on his way to his execution, as someone trying to be optimistic despite life's trials, or as the story of an ended love affair
English language cover versions of this song were recorded in 1981 by a Taste Of Honey, a Disco/Soul group who also covered Smoky Robinson & The Miracles. Boy band 4 P.M also recorded a barbershop version in 1995. In both cases the singles were huge hits, both were about love, the song's orignal meaning had been lost slightly in translation. The lyrics written by Rokusuke Ei and Hachidai Nakamura were mostly about being sad & alone, and looking up.
A Taste Of Honey
In the late 80's Slick Rick sang some of the English 'Sukiyami' lyrics on his famous hit with Doug E Fresh 'La Di Da Di':
Then I dilly, DALLY, I ran through the ALLEY I bumped into this homegirl named SALLY from the VALLEY This was a girl playing hard to get So I said "What's wrong?" cause she looked upset She said uh, "It's all because of you I'm feeling sad and blue You went away and now my life is filled with rainy days I love you so How much you'll never know Cause you took your love away from me."
Ricky D was straight singing A Touch Of Honey! He also sings some of the song on a track with Will smith 'So Fresh' that also features Biz Markie recorded in 1999. Big tune!
I've always found it interesting when rappers sing bits of other songs in their lyrics. It helps remind us where hip hop music is from, as rappers often sing bits from popular soul or rnb hits, or songs they knew from growing up. It also adds melody to a rap verse. It's a musical reference within a song. Rappers have also been known to sing entire songs, but that's another blog post.
The moral of the story is, beautiful melodies transcend musical genre, time and location. The Sukiyaki melody has been sung by everyone from Japanese pop bands to Spanish pop starlets to gold wearing rappers. It's mad to think that Slick Rick is in fact singing the melody of a 60 year old Japanese song over Hip-Hop beats.
The rabbit hole gets deeper. Sukiyaki is a prolific tune and it can heard all over the shop. These tracks all contain the Sukiyaki melody, they all reference either Ricky D's verse or the Taste of Honey jam.