Who are the I-Phunk? Ten years ago, the question would have been an exact mirror of the statement, "Who are The Square Roots?" Yes, they're both from Philadelphia; no, they're not about to change their name or sign a deal with Geffen. Yes, they're both into some live jazz style instrumental hip-hop; no, they're not famous or internationally acclaimed like The Roots are. One has the backing of the world famous and highly popular Okayplayer web site, and the other is on the homepage of band member Da Jiggy Jazzman.
Nevertheless, the comparisons are not only apt they're accurate to an incredible degree. With John Lewis on the funky drums, Jazzman on the saxophone, Kre Z. Stylz on the keyboard, trumpet, and more (he's very versatile) and Derek on the bass, the music is entertaining and damn smooth. The MC's such as Tyrone 'Teqniq' Lambert, Eye-Q, and double duty members Jazzman, Dave Diggy and Kre Z. Styles kick entertainingly smooth freestyles that blend with the tracks rather than overpowering their grand grooves.
Admittedly their sound can at times be a bit unpolished but so are early recordings of The Roots before they decided to stop being Square. As such there are plenty of jams here that would rate heavy spins on any college radio show, hip-hop mix tape, or live internet broadcast. Studio songs such as "Da Illout (Remix)" and "Coolin' in the Mental" are incredible - virtually indistinguishable from the "everybody and their mans" vibe of early Roots songs like "The Session" and "Worldwide (London Groove)" where all the band members ended up blessing the mic. Songs over popular hip-hop beats like "P-H-I-LL-Y" (using "Money, Cash, Hoes") and "U Ain't Gotta Ask 4 It" (using "All I Know") are well above the demo tape average for quality in rapping over other people's beats; Dave Diggy's solo track "Ill" over the "4-3-2-1" beat is the hottest.
Sadly there is not enough studio material - after the first ten tracks live performances such as "Respect" have some occasional mic pops you have to ignore to get the good vibes. These kind of technical problems are almost impossible to overcome without a crew of trained professionals paid big money - and these cats are just up-and-coming and hungry. If their powerful studio session songs and freestyles over known hip-hop beats didn't convince you then the technical glitches of the live shit on the album's second half wouldn't make a difference anyway. You can acquire tapes of their shorter demo tape for only $5 at the web site and it's well worth the money. I'm not sure if this longer version will ever be officially released, but keep an "I" out for these talented musicians and rappers to make more noise.
Music Vibes: 6 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 6 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 6 of 10
Originally posted: September 4, 2001