[5 May 2005]
On the topic of the funk, Village Voice writer Barry Walters once wrote, “Trying to put that thang called funk into words is like trying to write down your orgasm. Both thrive in that gap in time when words fall away, leaving nothing but sensation.” Rickey Vincent, author of Funk: The Music, the People, the Rhythm of the One, accurately noted that Walters had described it “as well as anyone could”. While both Walters and Vincent speak upon the limitations of speaking upon the funk, the same idea can be applied to the importance of the instrument, particularly the drum, in the funk. It is the core, the heartbeat of the funk: the One forms about the Rhythm. The sweetest, tightest funk, the nastiest, loosest funk, the Truest Funk exists as a vibration, a vibe, punctuated and accented by words and sounds, never contained or consisting solely of them. It is the difference between the air that passes through the throat, the resulting noise, and the diaphragm that pushes the air, the soul that birthed that… uhh! It is the difference between how the Godfather may have been super bad on the mic, but what made him Super Bad was a unity of mind, body and funk.
The Platinum Pied Pipers are obviously attuned to this fine point, as evidenced on its rhythmically funky debut, Triple P. The duo of Waajeed—Bling47 ringleader and former Slum Village associate—and Saadiq—multi-instrumentalist protégé of Motown singer and songwriter Barrett Strong—orchestrate a host of producers, MCs, and singers, but maintain a strong rhythmic focus that unifies the album’s sense of purpose. While the guest talent is extraordinary, PPP takes command like a conductor, and places itself center stage. Through careful attention to detail and mixing—the album took two years to make—Triple P enters the ranks of those rare producer-based albums that synthesize vision and execution.
The glue that holds Triple P together stems from the duo’s musically rich heritage: Detroit shlump. Not to be confused with a simple four-on-the-floor driving pulse, or a solid bump, the shlump twists its hip a bit harder, holds it a bit longer, then cuuuurves on over. Exemplified by Carl Craig futurism and Theo Parrish patience, PPP condense these aesthetics, such as on “Deep Inside.” Keyboard squeals and stutters float over a throbbing bass, more thrust and implied pulse than actual beat, as co-freak flag conspirators SA-RA Creative Partners drunk-step melodies up and down the track. While PPP frequently keep consecutive tracks within close bpm to each other, thus easing transitions, they also counterbalance steady tempo with rhythmic variation. The busy hustle of “Deep” fades out on soul claps that accentuate the 2s and 4s, becoming a segue way for the off beat bump ‘n’ grind of early morning cooler, “Stay With Me”. Cowbells and chimes click out the and-of-2s and and-of-4s over a shuffling hi hat while snares and kicks are kept subdued, driving “Stay” to a jerky rhythm that bounces playfully around the overt shlump of “Deep”. In both cases, PPP works within the same four-beat framework, but work within and around it through variance, thus creating a body of work that changes at it moves, much like the uneven steps of the human strut. One, two, three, and Twist.
Although a complex and deliberate body, Triple P listens and spins with ease because of the attention paid to details. Subtle touches are tucked in, such as matching the horn line at the close of the bright and anthemic “Shotgun Intro” to the string sweep of the darker “Your Day is Done.” The tone of each song contrasts, but the complementary background accents ease the listener from track to track. In this manner, PPP frequently introduces themes and motifs from the following song in the closing section of the previous. The subdued “No Worries” takes part of the steady pulse of the preceding “Fever”, reducing it to bass kicks on the first three beats, but introduces syncopated piano lines, bells, and stuttering percussion to add poly-rhythms. Steve Spacek delivers simple, close mic’d vocals, but the track builds in volume and intensity with the help of horns that buttress his thin voice with strength and body. Before the set cooler becomes a full-blown hip shaker, PPP directs the pianos to take the lead into a stepper’s-type anthem, opening the track up. Bit by bit, the smooth keys are chopped and the beat broken to create the magnificent transition piece, “After the Worries”.
With such fine touches, it is ironic that the tracks with Waajeed’s former mentor, Jay Dee, that are the most straight forward. “Act Like You Know” does feature clever Dilla lines like, “My Master P Card say it ain’t No Limit,” but it is the track itself is standard boom bap with a scratch chorus. Nevertheless, PPP creates a sense of fun with even the most loop-based production of the album, throwing swirling keys in the back to create a sense of vertigo, while keeping the guitars buried in the mix to match the muddiness of the sample.
However, Triple P only builds steam, demonstrating meticulous arrangement. Dirgey and dirty guitars add grit to the second half of the album, such as the low end lines on “One Minute More” that bounce from beat to beat over cymbal hits and conga claps. PPP does not rely solely on percussion to drive the beat, but instead unify all instruments here to allow Georgia Ann Muldrow to twist and turn the melody with her vocals, even taking the song out to lunch briefly. Meanwhile, PPP never allows the beat to ride in stasis; they instead recognize the constant mutability of the moment, throwing in hoots, smashing glasses, sounds to drive each moment, each mood. The effect is subtle but spackled, tight but hardly dense.
PPP’s ability to exist in multiple realms simultaneously, but never in conflict with itself, to seam so many voices within a whole fabric, elevates Triple P to producer’s paradise. The listening experience is a breeze the first time through and flourishes with subsequent spins. Like military maneuvers the funk is well-planned, like a sleek piece of machinery the funk is well-performed. Admittedly, the guests on occasion bring featherweight material to the title bout—“Drink this business like Perignon / Word is bond”—but the general atmosphere of the album is kept loose enough to allow for such slips—“I ain’t a hater / I just hate your music!” However, Triple P enjoys the advantage of veteran leadership, baring the unmistakable mark of professionalism. PPP are past the point of paying dues, working to its advantage here. Whether the Pipers will be able pie the masses to plat stats remains to be seen. But the ride certainly sticks in the earhole.