The Funk League is mainly a league of two with a rotating group of helpers: Hugo and the Soulbrother Suspect are the Parisian collaborators who produced Funky As Usual. The boom-bap combination of bass and snare drums, hitting loud and out in front of everything, appears everywhere on the record. Thin horn lines flit in and out, and funk and disco guitars occasionally augment the groove. The intention of the Funk League is to “keep it[boom bap hip hop] alive” and Funky As Usual accurately evokes the boom-bap sound.
The Funk League recruit some veteran vocalists to rap over their tracks, including Sadat X, who got his start in the early 90s with Brand Nubian, and Gift Of Gab of Blackalicious fame. The album starts with Sadat X on the strong boom bap opener “On & On”, which is composed of up-tempo drumming, fluid bass, a little open ended guitar figure, and a five note synth embellishment that acts as the conclusion to the guitar’s questioning riff. On the chorus, these instruments are joined by a circular horn riff. The track is modest and insistent, and the way the beat appears to answer itself is satisfying. Sadat X speeds along, telling a story of his life as a rapper and delivering a few matter-of-fact zingers like “New York resident/ I don’t give a fuck who’s president/ still gotta grind.” The beat’s persistence rams home the concept in the song’s title and chorus, it could easily run on and on forever, but instead, the last minute or so is consumed by a bopping, jumping horn solo.
Much of Funky As Usual proceeds at a rapid pace in a similar style, with horns appearing frequently in between hooks, rising and falling and snaking over the drums. Strong examples of the Funk League’s signature sound include the goofy “Why You”—in which chicken scratch guitars accompany a refrain of “Why you put mayo on my shit?”—and “You’re Gonna Learn”, which also uses subtle guitar and synth to open and close the beat. “The Boogie Down Bombers” is different: the track doesn’t march along determinedly like “On & On” but rather ambles smoothly forward. A big bass stutters and slides; the percussion snaps, but the bass’s elasticity keeps everything laid back. As the bass climbs up the scale, countering horns move in the opposite direction. The first verse from Diamomd D is hard but cool, the lyrical enjambment tumbling easily on a tale of self: “I’m a boss like Hugo/ they say D you get love wherever you go,” and later a Bullitt reference, “Man machine/ damn I’m clean/ I make a quick getaway like your man Mcqueen.” Sadat X comes back to deliver a scrappy second verse, and the whole thing grooves.
The bonus track “Hypnotized” also stands out for its reappropriation of a boom-bap beat for use behind a soul track with Australian funk vocalist Kylie Auldist. The Funk League show a sure hand with soul, and this may be a fruitful area for future collaborations. Auldist’s voice is strong but with a hint of whisp and vulnerability. Minimal keyboard playing and some slap bass buoy her vocals. Hugo and the Soulbrother Suspect put together tight, solid songs. They do boom-bap well, and deviations from the “On & On” template show that the Funk League have some other tricks hidden up their sleeves.
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// Notes from the Road
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