September 30, 2007

Shortcuts—Various artists, Now-Again Re: Sounds Vol. 1

What is funk today? Where does funk live, who still makes it, and what does it smell like? Now-Again Re: Sounds, released by innovative hip-hop label Stones Throw, has answers to spare for these questions. Rescued from dusty Southern crates and basements, funk today lives most vivaciously on hip-hop’s retro horizons. The album’s esteemed D.J.s and producers—J. Rocc, Koushik, and Egon, among others—remix funk grooves never before released or previously available only on 7- or 12-inch vinyl. Funk smells as it always has: pungent and sweaty, originally a crass term for the olfactory effect of doing the dirty deed. In another word, stank.

What does funk today sound like? Start with Edan’s “Sagittarius Rap” and listen for the flute wavering plaintively overhead as Edan slings magnetic verses faster than you can flip through the OED. Check out Cut Chemist’s remix of L.A. Carnival’s soul classic “Blind Man” and follow the bass line to the end of the funk rainbow, accompanied by vocalist Lee Abram’s emotive plea. Percee P, a standout rapper on the album, provides a cool counterpoint to producer Koushik’s hazy ’60s sound, especially on “Cold Beats.”

Here, funk is no mere trimming; it rather informs the very DNA of the sound, its beat and élan. It is a strain of hip-hop that New Again, Stones Throw’s little-sis label, has made their specialty. I add my own piece to a heap of praise: Stones Throw is one of the most inspiring hip-hop labels working today. Now-Again Re: Sounds, in particular, bears the fingerprints of Egon, Now Again’s president, and his revivalist enthusiasm for obscure funk tracks. For example, the album features two tracks by the Kashmere Stage Band, an exceptionally talented Houston high school band that eschewed flat standards for a funk and jazz idiom. Needless to say, the band was also a phenomenon which would have slid forgotten into history’s shadows were it not for the searching fingers and ears of producers like Egon.

This is an album whose grooves run deep into the annals of funk; it may sound new, but when dropped on a table, you can almost see the dust rise.