The last week takes you through the 1970s to the present. This is the era of music I most resonant with because I grew up on those sounds. Locally, there was only one radio station that I had dialed to: WKLR, “Kooler Radio” 99.9 FM, in Toledo. Charlie Chuck and Tommy Kaye were the best deejays, easily rivaling deejays from Detroit and New York, at least to me.
The sound is upbeat, powerful, and forces you to dance. It is called funk. It’s the string bass turned to the side, then electrified to take to brunt of the sound and carry it throughout the song. Add the drum to start it and play the syncopated beats. Groups like The Commodores, Cameo, Lakeside, Ohio Players, the Jackson 5, Chaka Khan, Parliament Funkadelics, Kool and the Gang, The Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder, and so many more mastered the vibe. We salute James Brown for opening the door to the freedom that his bands created, the musicianship and harmonies, the beat, the jazz influences with solo instrument expression. There are so many influences like Quincy Jones or Barry White, who both mastered the orchestral magic of funk. It’s a very complicated sound executed by groups like Kool and the Gang, Isaac Hayes, (you have to listen to the Theme for Shaft to understand), Curtis Mayfield’s soundtrack to Superfly or the best drum beat ever in The Time’s 777-9311 (a song written and produced by Prince). But to truly understand the beauty of funk, just take a day and listen to Earth, Wind and Fire, any album, and you hear the best expression of the highest level of funk music. It’s transcendent!
Hip Hop is the child of R&B, Funk, and the 1970s message of evolution, breaking the status quo, and speaking the truth. Let’s just say, rap and hip hop have something to say… if you’re willing to listen. Though the music is mainly sampled from James Brown, Michael Jackson, Parliament Funkadelic, and others, they knew that if the beat was not there, The Message (by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five) would be lost. This is consciousness music and it’s still here trying to resonate to the masses. You’re not going to dance too much to this music, but you need to understand where it comes from, even if it’s not your choice. I love Hip Hop and the style and attitude that it brings, the genre has exploded into so many artists, like Jay-Z, Common, Kanye, Nas, and Snoop Dogg. Whether you like hard core like old school N.W.A., socially conscious rhymes from Public Enemy, or rap gymnastics from Missy Elliot, it’s still unapologetically Hip Hop.
Neo soul, Afro funk, psychedelic funk, trap soul are new formats of musicians expressing the classic sounds in a new, fresher way and it works! Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige, Maxwell, Erykah Badu, Eric Benet, Lalah Hathaway, H.E.R., Kem, and so many artists are creating music that resounds a new attitude. It’s so fresh.
That’s your weekly African American Music History for the month. Please download or check out our digital collections to share and enjoy! It’s been our pleasure from the Black History Committee.