DāM-FunK Aims to Change the World With the Funk

DāM-FunK made a funktified appearance at the Museum of Fine Arts earlier this year.
DāM-FunK made a funktified appearance at the Museum of Fine Arts earlier this year.
Photo by Jasmine Lee Richardson/Courtesy of MFAH

DāM-FunK has been at the head of the modern funk movement for the last five years, a place he earned one music-festival stop at a time. And while he's secure in his role as funk's ambassador, he's still just a bit bothered that the public's funk knowledge is just a little lacking.

For instance, a tweet that came across his eyes earlier this month. In praising D'Angelo's Black Messiah, a music producer with Jimmy Fallon's The Tonight Show said that the foundations of modern funk are D'Angelo, Questlove of the Roots, and prolific bass player Pino Palladino.

Nothing against those guys, but what bothers DāM-FunK (pronounced like damn funk or dame funk, whichever you prefer) is that neo-soul musicians -- no matter how funky in their own right -- get pushed into a genre that's uniquely different. Still, that's okay. Because Los Angeles' Damon Riddick has built a solid career on the funk, and just wants you to know its real history.

For example, don't confuse today's funk with bell bottoms and rainbow Afros, he says. Part of the job in being the ambassador of modern funk is making sure people know the movement is progressing. We talked to Funk, who posts up at Boondocks tonight, about his brand and his music and why D'Angelo is a godsend.

A rift in the funkiverse?
A rift in the funkiverse?
Twitter screenshot

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Rocks Off: So what happened after you saw that tweet about modern funk, and why was it incorrect in your opinion? DāM-FunK: One of the guys on Twitter was like "Nah, you can't forget about Dam-Funk." So, it's like it caused a little lightening storm a couple of days ago and I watched it. I would hope that people, the historians, writers and critics can keep the facts straight because now they're going to try to use "modern funk" as the term now, because they know they can't say neo-soul any more.

And I just hope that people don't forget about some of the funk that really is happening with synthesizers, drum machines, and beautiful chords. It's not the chicken scratch type style of funk or soul that was considered modern funk. So the guy from Jimmy Fallon's show, he incorrectly is trying to change history -- innocently if you will -- because I think right now people are just do excited that D'Angelo dropped this record.

How do you explain funk to people? The basic elements of funk, from what the cats before me laid down, is the importance of it being on the one. For me though it's about beautiful chords, a nice volume of claps -- the one and the two -- as opposed to four-on-the-floor, like disco. You can use guitars as opposed to R&B where it's not too much guitar solos and things like that. So, funk to me is the darker cousin -- if you will -- to R&B and soul.

You're doing more of your original work now, including your recent release 7 Days of Funk, with Snoop. You've stepped outside of your persona as a guy who just promoted funk and played vinyl rare cuts. Which do you prefer to focus on? I still do both. I mean, I developed this style of presentation just on a whim. When I would go on the first Stones Throw tours, and I first signed to their label, I was mainly DJing. Then I started realizing this is an opportunity to do live songs that I've done and incorporate that into the DJ set. So it still is one of those types of things when I do DJ sets. We call it solo live.

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So you've evolved from being just a rare-grooves funk DJ to actually performing your own live funk music. There's three prongs: one of them is DJing, which I do sometimes strictly wax and some [popular DJ software] Serato of other other people's material that I like to try to turn people on to. Music from the boogie era of the like early '80s, late '70s to the mid-'80s, with a dash of house , like Mr. Fingers /Larry Heard, and Moodyman, and Theo Parrish.

The second prong is the solo live, where I do DJing and sometimes have my keyboard with me and perform live songs. And then the third, which I enjoy more nowadays -- well, I wouldn't say enjoy, it's the next phase, the band. And that's what we've been doing a lot in the last couple of years. A three-piece.

DāM-FunK Aims to Change the World With the Funk

By doing music with a live band, you're going for a funk jam-band vibe, I take it. But isn't that something that D'Angelo seems to capture on his new album? Thank god for D'Angelo. I'm rooting for everybody that has taken a liking to music now instead of just the club stuff or the Nicki Minaj clown show and stuff like that going on. I hope that when 2015 begins I hope that they don't run with the neo-soul thing actually being funk. Because it's a slightly different thing.

Black Messiah dropped as a response to the social situation around the country. You went on a Twitter rant calling out people who write about gunplay in their music. But musically speaking, is funk still music good for addressing social concerns. Definitely. That's what it's lacking. Sly tried to do it with There's a Riot Goin' On. And a lot of people would do it, even Prince would slip it in. A lot of cats. That's the whole message that I'm trying to convey to people that funk shouldn't be just looked at as booty-shaking party music.

It's got so much potential and that's what I've been incorporating with my new record. My record is called Invite the Light. It's more about positivity but some of the things on there is incredible, all the stuff that's happening right now.

Dam-Funk kicks off his Texas tour tonight with special guests Dayta and Flash Gordon Parks at Boondocks, 1417 Westheimer. Needle drops at 8 p.m.

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