Tirhakah Love (@GoonTherapy)
“I wish I could be me” – Charlie Funk (“It’s Not a Joke”)
Carrying funk’s heavy neon banner into the 21st-century is a proven challenge. Funk principles have kept up in time–the #BlackLivesMatter generation is hip to funk’s significance in today’s cultural zeitgeist. “We want the funk!” made its way to the DJ Quik produced single, “King Kunta,” by rap’s preeminent consciousness, Kendrick Lamar. The Prince-inspired Atlanta duo, Deep Cotton (Wondaland Records), prominently exhibit funk in their sets. But neither of these acts proudly proclaims themselves funk. The genre lacks practitioners proper; instead, like its younger cousin, disco, funk is relegated to honorary interpolation and sampling by today’s hip-hop and soul artists. Enter, Charlie Funk (AKA Charles Maynard), a longtime staff writer for the ever nostalgic, True Groove Records, who not only claims funk as his primary medium but as his moniker. Funk’s first full-length EP, Give Me a Groove, reminds us of both the grit and bounce of funk’s get-down, making it a record that should fit nicely on your “gettin’ sexy for the summer” playlists.
Defiantly utilitarian, funk didn’t have a chance in an industry that was growing more individualistic by the decade. Charlie Funk is as unfazed as James Brown when his mics went out (who needs a mic? The funk is in us!) As a vocalist, Funk’s rasp is welcome on spacious dance tracks like his single, “Sexy Cutie.” Lyrically, the song runs the gamut of “weird uncle” pickup lines: “You like a slice of sexy pie.” But Funk is just a part of the show. Tomás Doncker and Josh David provide sultry background vocals reminscient of those heard on a Roy Ayers joint — the latter also contributing to a fly bassline that won’t be easily forgotten. The EP’s title track, “Give Me a Groove” is a masterclass in brass arrangements taught by Mac Gollehon, the horns are equal parts playful and respectful, willfully trading sonic space with Funk’s flat tenor.
Charlie Funk ain’t all fun and games though. Like the record label that he helped build, Give Me a Groove is imbued with a sense of existential urgency. Funk’s vocal staccato is resolute on “It’s Not a Joke:” “They say how I should be, I wish I could be me. No matter how I live.” The song features a jaunty wah pedal from Doncker and James Dellatacoma and a wild trumpet solo that highlights, again, Give Me a Groove is a collaborative effort. Thematically, the record is equally pragmatic.The frustrated work song, “Lunch in Babylon,” is propped up by Marxist undertones and a heavily distorted electric guitar speaking to the gravity of today’s tumultuous classist, racist, social relations.
Funk was meant to be a messy but sublime reflection of black kulcha’s present. As a result of the elegance that comes from being emersed in the dangerous freedom of the post-Jim Crow era, funk artists equipped dance rhythms with warped instrumental projections to show that there is beauty in the muck. Charlie Funk speaks his truth on Give Me a Groove, but its the other magicians — the contortion of the horn section, the illusory percussionists, et al–that carry Funk’s central message: whether we live together in love or scream together in dissonance, “love unconditional, not if, because, in spite of/ That’s all there is.”
Listen to Give Me a Groove here