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Funk
What a perilous state funk is in today.  Once the vehicle for social commentary in addition to fantastic party music, today funk finds itself pillaged by noncreative producers looking for a surefire hit and suffers from its absorption into the mainstream via 1970s nostalgia.  Hell, things have gotten so bad that a band like 311 can call themselves a funk band and nobody even calls them on it anymore.

Thanks to Rickey Vincent, the true history and meaning of funk is now on the record.  Vincent, a professor who was one of the first to discuss hip hop and funk in a classroom setting, compresses his immense knowledge into a quick and easily readable narrative that begins with the etymology of funk and goes through the mid 1990s.  In between, the true significance of funk is brought to the forefront: it was the music that conveyed the beliefs and sentiments of the Black Power era. 

This was a time when black people became more vocal about the persistence of racism in society, and demanded more autonomy over their fate.  And as is almost always the case with black people, the change in attitude was evidenced in the music.  

Artists started ditching processes and suits in favor of the Afro and outrageous costumes, the lyrics grew more pointed while still cloaked in double meanings, and most importantly the rhythms became harder edged, with emphasis placed on the interaction between the bass and drums.  This last development was a clear nod to Africa and was instrumental in bringing relations between African Americans and Africans to a new plateau.

And behind this rhythmic revolution was James Brown, who singlehandedly created funk with "Cold Sweat" and achieved his greatest social influence during this time.   Brown's contributions to black culture between the years 1965 and 1974 are impossible to overstate and Vincent does a good job in detailing Brown's impact on society.  

In addition to JB, other foundational moments (Sly Stone, black rock, fusion, dance funk) are paid homage to with their own chapters. P-Funk, in particular, is given a thorough analysis that goes beyond their music into understanding the cultural factors that made them so attractive.

Vincent traces the demise of the classic funk era to shifting socioeconomic and political realities for African Americans in the 1980s.  Under Ronald Reagan's tough hand, liberalism was out, materialism and reactionary ideals were in, and  

The book includes an index of Vincent's list of  most important funk records that some may find as interesting as the actual book. 

While there are errors in the book (wrong dates, names, etc.), this is the most authoritative book on the funk era currently available. Regardless of your positioning on the funkentelechy scale, you will enjoy this book.

Copyright 2002 AllThingsDeep.com.  All rights reserved. 

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Written by Rickey Vincent. Published 1996 by St. Martin's Press.

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