How quaint of the RZA and Keb Darge to take time to collect some fleeting former funksters so that one can relive the music yet again. "The Kings of Funk" (Rapster/bbe Records) features various artists, some familiar names and other little-known groups doing songs that must have never made it off the "b" side. Listening to this musical monarchy, I feel like I am back in the early seventies listening to the late Frankie Crocker's WLIB-FM, the "total black experience in sound," (which would later become WBLS-FM) in New York.
Just like ethnic printed material, this type of specialty CD is one of the latest things going on.
Ole gees and neo-hipsters alike will find this some flattering funk, as there are just enough familiar tunes on here to bridge your ears over the ones that are unfamiliar. It had me going to the "tracklisting" repeatedly, like, "damn, who is that again?" This is like a duel of new jacks paying homage to the roots of the music they often sample and play. Brooklyn's RZA (pronounced "riz-ah")is the driving force behind The Wu-Tang Clan; Keb Darge is Scotland's legendary outspoken selector, and a major playa across the big pond.
"The Kings of Funk" is a duolific depiction of the genre that is the root of today's "Urban" radio formats, going back to when Billboard magazine had a "Soul" Top 100 chart. Here's to these dusty, moldy oldies! The unmistakable harmonies of sista soul on "If I Can't Fly" by the Honey Cone on Holland-Dozier-Holland's old Hot Wax label (1973), and those live, jive forty fives in the golden home record rack with the wooden handles at each end.
To James Brown's first lady, Lyn Collins (the Female Preacher) covering Ike's "Do Your Thing" from the Shaft soundtrack and Booker T & the MGs, featuring drummer Al Jackson who also played on most of Al Green's music in the early seventies, cookin' in the "Melting Pot."
On jazz flutist Bobbi Humphrey's "Jasper Country Man", the keyboards are reminiscent of the late Donny Hathaway. RZA, where'd you unearth this stuff?? I looked through all of my Sly and The Family Stone LPs for "Small Talk" - couldn't find it although it sounds like it was part of the "Fresh" sessions that spawned "Babies Makin' Babies," (a phrase of accuracy these days). Ken Boothe's "Is it Because I'm Black," also from '73, is the song that keeps a' ringing over and over in my head with it's reggaematic rhythm and consciousness.
So in this critic's mind, RZA wins the playful duel even though Darge blows me away by including, speaking of Sly, a TSOP treatment of "Family Affair" by MFSB which I've heard before on the box, but never owned (and I checked all of those in my collection as well). He picks a group called Zebra and "Simple Song" which sounds familiar, but I can't recall the time, place, or radio station either. Maybe because it is the funk of groups like the Crown Heights Affair during the same period other bands like that imitated. Can we play 'name that tune' now? Even the CD cover looks like a party smorgasbord sammich - like a treatment of the Ernie Barnes-type Marvin Gaye "I Want You" album.
"The Kings of Funk" is set to release as a double-CD or 12" as we speak. Do your homework at www.rapsterrecords.com, http://www.bbemusic.com/ or your local music chain so you can have a ready ticket to board this funk train whenever the mood strikes you. Ever the skeptical native New Yorker, at first I thought this was just another feeding of rehashed browns. However, you may want to start practicing those old dance steps like "the popcorn" again listening to this one! A funky four stars.