The chronicles of Riddick

Dâm-Funk discusses his funk renaissance

Invariably the conversations that frame the independent music of the last decade and a half are obsessed with the past. Old-timey cynics and whip-smart critics agree on one thing: the music of the aughts didn’t trade in originality. Instead it was more concerned with recycling referencing and reimagining days gone by. Again. And again.

But it’d be erroneous to lump Dâm-Funk’s electro-sizzled boogie funk into the same category as the Detroit techno revivalists the authenticity-obsessed roots rockers or the neophyte practitioners of NYC boom-bap. Despite his status as one of independent music’s most hyped — everyone from funk legend Steve Arrington to Snoop Dogg have enlisted him for collaborations and he’s remixed work by James Pants Toro y Moi Animal Collective and Ariel Pink among others — Dâm-Funk the man born Damon Riddick is no fresh-faced noob.

In fact Riddick is the same age as Snoop himself — meaning that while growing in Pasadena Calif. Dâm-Funk came up in an era where funk reigned. “We were growing up in the golden age of hip-hop with Big Daddy Kane and the East Coast stuff” he says. “But we always kept funk as a soundscape in our cars and our mixtapes. The East Coast had a different vibe they were always on the hip-hop. The West Coast we always had funk in the backdrop. That was the atmosphere I grew up in.”

Even if Riddick went through the ’90s as a hip-hop sessions player (notably he produced for Master P and was tasked with keys on a Milli Vanilli record) he never strayed from the music of his youth. Hearing him talk about the genre it’s immediately evident how important funk is to him. At turns he acts as the genre’s ambassador protector and biggest fan which he is — he helms L.A.’s legendary Funkmosphere parties which have established his archival knowledge and curatorial talents. Call him the Jonathan Toubin of funk.

“I love all other styles of music but funk just does more for me as far as the concepts — even like P-Funk the pyramids and space and travels — I’m trying to tap into all aspects of it. It’s not just the booty shaking” says Riddick. “The funk lineage is connected to the past. The origins of funk were drums of Africa and that music travelled everywhere. It went onto blues jazz rock and finally it developed enough confidence to become funk. It’s the purest form of expression coming from the homeland where we all came from.”

So no Dâm-Funk is no fresh-faced producer intent on cannibalizing old sounds. This is especially evident when we ask him about Adolescent Funk a compilation of unreleased material he recorded as a teenager. “I came out of nowhere in some peoples’ eyes [in the late 2000s] and that album explains to listeners that I didn’t just pick up funk overnight” he tells us. “I was doing this stuff before it became cool to dabble with funk again.”

At the same time Riddick doesn’t blame listeners for assuming he’s an overnight sensation. As a session player he largely stayed outside of the spotlight. But then in 2008 Peanut Butter Wolf — a legendary crate-digger himself having spun 24 hours of romantic R&B last week for Valentine’s Day — signed him to Stones Throw Records the modern-classic label responsible for names like Aloe Blacc Quasimoto and Madvillain. Oh yeah J. Dilla too (no biggie right?).

After cutting a series of solo 12-inches the sprawling Toeachizown followed which unveiled his brand of self-described “modern funk.” From there Dâm-Funk didn’t just begin the revitalization of his fledgling genre he became one of the most distinctive heavily sought-after producers in music. “I gotta be honest before Toeachizown people were not going so hard on funk. People dabbled with a four-on-the-floor disco vibe which I dig but they never got that bounce” he says. “People didn’t do it without the funny stuff. It was always comedy with a tongue-in-cheek vibe. But Toeachizown is a serious record. It’s not all Dave Chappelle doing Rick James.”

Indeed it’s evident that Toeachizown unlike Riddick’s DJ sets wasn’t retroactive music. And while most slot him in neatly with a back-in-the-day iteration of Prelude Records his methodology — digital synthesizers mixed with analog ones bouncing Roland bass skygazing keytars and live instrumentation — place him firmly in modernity. And he likes it that way.

“Sometimes I put bits of the past in my music because I respect that past. You can learn from it. But I don’t see my original music as vintage at all; I refer to it as the continuation of funk. I’ve always made modern-sounding music. Hopefully people will start to realize as time goes on that it’s the progression of funk not the regression of it.”

Then of course came the accolades: He earned critical daps from plenty of in-the-know funk legends but two of the biggest — Arrington best known for his time with genre standards like Slave and Aurra and Snoop Dogg who’s been repressing funk influences throughout his career — emerged in 2013 via collaborations.

Arrington for his part had been largely dormant — but via mutual admiration the singer was coaxed into working with Riddick. The result? Higher a record that’s an easy continuation of anything Slave and Aurra ever created. But the whole recording process he says didn’t start out all business. In fact it began with a Facebook message.

“I just thanked him for the contributions he’s made. It was a very respectful message. You gotta have tact you can’t just hit people on the DM and be like ‘Yo I wanna work’” Riddick says laughing. “A friend and I were joking about it. When we were coming up you’d never be able to hit up Neil Peart from Rush or Gene Simmons from KISS and be like ‘Can you blow fire at my show? If not I’m not going to support your album.’”

Snoop for his part had long wanted to collaborate with Riddick — the seed was planted in 2010 when the two jammed off-the-cuff at a gallery exhibit both men were attending. Their EP 7 Days of Funk emerged last December with Snoop (who for the EP calls himself Snoopzilla) taking an unlikely backseat to Dâm-Funk’s razor-sharp fat-free production. Unlike Toeachizown the songs of 7 Days were short inspired and fully formed musical ideas.

“I’m definitely humbled and honoured to work with Snoop” he says. “We’re the same age. But he said that the Snoop Lion project he had to do that project first in order to get the manhood to approach me to do something at this level with the funk.”

And Snoop’s intentions says Dâm-Funk were clear. While Snoop caught heat for trying out Diplo-produced reggae with Snoop Lion — who can forget “Fruit Juice”? — Riddick believes that the Doggfather’s funk forays were genuine. “Every artist should be afforded [the opportunity] to do different things. David Bowie he changed his names millions of times but no one messes with him. But when Snoop does it it’s all comedy laughs and chuckles all like ‘What’s he on now?’ I give Snoop respect for changing from Snoop Dogg to Snoopzilla to Snoop Lion.”

Beyond being a high-powered collaboration though 7 Days of Funk hints at Riddick’s newfound ability to focus sharpen and refine his songs. He says that 7 Days ’ aesthetic hints at the direction he’ll take on his yet-to-be-named new album — it’ll be less winding than Toeachizown more refined more narrative-based. “All killer no filler” he adds.

It will be as everything Dâm-Funk does straight-faced and without irony. “Funk’s growing out of that whole hipster thing — I hate that word — where [the music is being revisited for novelty’s sake]. Now everybody checks out all genres and people have stopped laughing [at funk]. It’s gonna be a fun era coming up for music and I think funk is gonna fit nicely in it.”