“We want the funk, we bring the funk” â€“ Mac Shawn
One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite compilations starts out with those simple words. Back in the 1990s, I couldn’t get enough of the funk music emanating from the Bay Area in California. The funk described by Mac Shawn and his Bay Area cohorts was both musical and physical funk. Musically, the deep basslines that slid around in the background of those songs were either lifted from or inspired by old school funk music. Physically, the funk in that song referred to confrontation and violence. Whether you know it or not, funk is an integral part of this thing we call Hip-Hop and that is why it is mentioned so much by rappers from coast to coast. Using its most simple musical definition, Hip-Hop music is funk. If you don’t want to associate the love of your life with a musical movement that fizzled out decades ago, you have to at least admit that Hip-Hop music is inspired by funk. The interesting thing is that while we tend to refer to funk in the past tense, there are still plenty of people out there who love to get funky. Truth & Soul Records is a label that fosters this love and consistently puts out singles, past and present, that can best be described as funk. The label even goes as far as releasing them in the form of 45 rpm vinyl. For those who don’t have turntables, the label occasionally collects these singles and gives them a digital release.
“Fallin’ Off The Reel II” is one such compilation and features 18 singles collected in one tidy package. The appeal to the average hip-hop fan is two-fold. A simple analysis shows us that one track, “PJs,” features none other than Raekwon. That alone might be enough to get some die-hard Wu heads to shell out the dough, but there’s really a lot more to be found in this collection. For one, we get some singles that you might have never heard before. The two tracks by Tyrone Ashley’s Funky Music Machine are full of that gritty swing that made Mo-Town famous and Ashley’s deep and raspy voice commands attention. Even his cover of “I Can’t Help Myself,” better known as the “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” song, is good enough to give the Four Tops competition. Black Velvet also gives us some great throwback music in the form of the over the top ladies anthem “An Earthquakes Coming” and the sultry love ballad “Is It Me You Really Love.”
Perhaps more fascinating than listening to obscure tracks are the contemporary tracks included in the collection. Bronx River Parkway is a group whose music can best be described as Latin Funk. They put out the same thick brass licks and rhythmic drums we’ve come to expect from funk music, but they give it a very Latin and Caribbean twist. The slower grooves and heavy bass lines differentiate the group from their salsa and merengue counterparts. El Michels Affair gives us funk with a very modern, gritty street feel to it. Imagine early 1990s east coast hip-hop beats with live instruments and you have the El Michels Affair. The highlight of the group’s contribution is the Raekwon assisted “PJs,” but the instrumental “This One’s For My Baby” is also worth bumping and would be amazing with the right emcee.
“Fallin’ Off The Reel II” is an album I’d recommend to hip-hop fans on two fronts. While it isn’t the type of album an avid hip-hop fan would randomly pick up at the record store, it does provide a glimpse into the musical history of hip-hop music. As much as we respect and love our producers, they either directly lift or are heavily inspired by artists from the past. Getting in touch with what came before us is crucial in understanding and loving the music as we know it today. Even without the historical and educational value this collection provides, it’s a worthy purchase simply because sometimes we need a break from hip-hop. As much as I love rap, occasionally I reach for albums by the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Jodeci, and Buju Banton. Of course, anytime I do take a break from rap you better know the music I choose to replace it is dope AND funky. The singles contained in this collection embody both those terms to the fullest.