Editor’s note: Parts of this interview have been edited for clarity.
Think of all the times you’ve asked someone what their favourite kind of music is. How many of those people said “funk?” Why don’t more people give that answer? It’s how many of us describe the songs that make us dance. Funk is at the root of so many groovy songs and yet it never seems to get the credit it deserves. Damon Riddick, better known to the world as the mighty Dâm-Funk, has been on a mission to change our funky perceptions and drag funkonauts everywhere into the future.
“Funk is a dirty word that used to be affiliated with another certain dirty word,” says Dâm, speaking to me on a break from touring with psychedelic legend Todd Rundgren. “Funk is the last frontier, the most untainted, untouched form of musical ideology that’s out there. What’s going on is people don’t know about the funk as much, they only know about certain aspects, then they equate it to the visuals we’ve been pounded with over the years, rainbow afros and bullshit like that.”
While those visuals we’ve all come to associate with funk music are undoubtedly fun, they have a tendency to take away from the serious musical chops the genre requires. “You have so much raking over the coals over the years of this music that when somebody comes with some real shit it’s often not relegated with a respectful manner,” Funk said.
“It’s overdue for funk music and everything related to it to have some respect now. We’ve come a long way from the rainbow Afros and platform shoes. It’s time to take this music more seriously without taking ourselves too seriously.”
As we discussed the endless possibilities that funk has to offer a new generation of music creators and lovers, the conversation turns to a serious discussion about the appropriation of Black music. “Funk is the blackest form of music that exists today. Even jazz is not as black as funk because it’s been homogenized over the years. With respect, it’s just been homogenized. Hip-hop has been homogenized. No one wants to admit it, but it has,” laments Dâm.
None of this is to say that black music has lost any of its value. Dâm believes that black music can do better and regain the respect it once had. “Of course I love rap. But you don’t always have to be the ‘rap guy,’ talking shit, getting the word 24 hours a day. I walked into a shoe store the other day and I had to listen to Kanye’s song ‘All Day’ (in which West repeats the refrain ‘All day, nigger’) on the speakers. It’s uncomfortable, man.
“I’m tired of the constant barrage of n-words, b-words, talking about your chains and how much money you got. Just shut the fuck up!” says Dâm with a hearty laugh. “I don’t wanna hear it. People like me, even from the hood and not even from the hood, we just wanna hear some good shit that comes from the gut, with no fucking hype.”
In triumphant defiance against the nonsense macho posturing that has slithered its way into so much of traditional black music, Dâm-Funk recently released STFU, an instrumental EP packed full of lush, tasty funk burners. “That EP, I dropped because I wanted to show people I don’t need to say one motherfucking word,” explains Dâm. “STFU is a shot in the arm to all cats to be inspired by someone just like them who doesn’t have to degrade anyone or do no hype to make someone jump up and down. You can come out the gates whooping ass and still stay beautiful. I’m whooping ass, humbly speaking.”
Dâm-Funk plays the Phillips Backyard Weekender July 24.