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.
Other Space Funkers
Sa-Ra creative partners
This article originally appeared on Sweet and Sound in October 2009.