Slapbak: Ghetto Funkography

John Bergstrom


Ghetto Funkography

Label: FunkToTheMax
US Release Date: 2004-02-03
UK Release Date: Available as import

California funksters Slapbak have been partying like it's 1975 for the last decade or so. They got a taste of mainstream success working with Cameo and releasing an album for Warner Brothers, but basically they were about 15 years too late for funk's commercial (and artistic) heyday. The story behind their latest offering, Ghetto Funkography, is a strange one indeed.

Ghetto Funkography is essentially a re-worked version of Slapbak's last album, The Return of the Fast Food Funkateers, which was recorded in 1999 and released in 2000. In 2002, the band signed to (of all things) an Amsterdam-based funk label, FunkToTheMax. The new label remixed the album, and the band added a few tracks. For some reason, Ghetto Funkography didn't surface until 2004, making its primary source material half a decade old.

That shouldn't matter, though, because most of this is Old School funk in the '70s tradition. The squiggly, squishy synthesizers; deep, trolling basslines; scratchy guitar licks and co-ed vocals all hearken back to the glory days of Parliament, Con Funk Shun and the like, with several nods to the '80s sounds of Cameo and Zapp, too. Actually, Ghetto Funkography is a by-the-book revue that tackles all of funk's permutations while mastering none of them. You can practically see the body fluids dripping off this slick, sleazy, sexed up album, but if you look a little closer you realize that it's just formaldehyde.

"So Funky How You Suck My Thumb" starts things off funkily enough with a big, rumbling P-Funk sound. The title is self-explanatory, but bandleader Jara Harris and crew pull off the right mixture of funk and fun for perhaps the only time on the album. Songs like "Getcha Funk On" and "Droppin' Bombs" follow in the same vein with diminished impact. "Groove in My Jacuzzi" is electro-funk with vocodered singing, ala Roger Troutman. "Ain't Yo Thang" brings in the Funkadelic-style heavy metal guitars, while "Hit It One More Time" is one of several overproduced, '80s-style new jack ballads.

The most problematic aspect of Ghetto Funkography is Slapbak's attempt to work bad boy hip hop culture into its repertoire. Rapper TJ Quakes can neither flow nor write lyrics that go deeper than bitches, ho's, and money. "Strip" is downright offensive; what right does a band that writes a song called "Popped That Cookie" have to judge a woman for taking off her clothes for money? There was always an underlying social conscience to George Clinton's misogyny, however twisted. Slapbak don't have one at all; when they try, on "A Wonderful Day", they end up sounding like Porno for Pyros castoffs (complete with whiny Perry Farrell vocals!)

The production is a high point. Far from being dated, it's crisp and clever. When the band do work up a cracking rhythm, all the instruments come through -- a far cry from the muddy '70s. Maybe because they've recorded two albums that never even saw the light of day, Slapbak overload Ghetto Funkography with 18 tracks. These days, that's nearly too much of the vintage funk; from latecomers like Slapbak, it's an overdose.

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