By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
Funk gives you the right to do anything you want to do.
Funk is NOT a fad ... it’s a way of life.
Damon Riddick was born with the funk. It’s an innate gift, being born with the funk, like running a 4.4 40-yard dash, throwing a 95 mph fastball or staying awake through congressional hearings. At some point in the indeterminate past, Riddick acquired the stage name Dâm-Funk, but, really, it was his birthright from the get-go. George Clinton may have named his band Funkadelic, and Prince may have turned himself into a symbol, but not even they were bold enough to incorporate the funk into their name — much less pull it off. But when you have the essence you can do anything you want.
Doubters need only watch Riddick transform into Dâm-Funk, his alter ego, with a slick shock of Superfly hair cascading to his clavicles, boxy, black, impenetrable sunglasses, tangerine-size gold-hoop earrings and unflappable iceberg poise. At his album-release show in mid-November, the sound man screwed up and the Stones Throw–signed funk pharaoh was delayed until almost 1 a.m. Did Dâm (pronounced dame) throw a temper tantrum or display even a minor crack in the veneer? Of course not. Instead, sans backing band Master Blazter, he busted out the keytar, the vocoder and the keyboards. He shouted out Roger Troutman. He uncorked a possessed falsetto, shaking like Stevie Wonder in a Pentecostal fervor, as though he were attuned to esoteric vibrations we will never understand. Like the Lords of the Underground said: You live for the funk, you die for the funk.
But like Keith Richards and pale young men who think that a mustache is a smart aesthetic decision, the funk will never die. Dâm-Funk will not let it. The evidence: the Funkmosphere nights he reigns over every Monday at Culver City’s Carbon, where bodies writhe to boogie, electro-funk and modern soul. Or witness the Funkmosphere Lab in Leimert Park, two days before Christmas. Outside, the block is studded with California palms wrapped in red and green aluminum foil. Inside, the Pasadena-reared 38-year-old displays the garage studio that incubated one of 2009’s finest records, Toeachizown, a sprawling, self-assured full-length debut that single-handedly resurrects and reinvents the funk sound pronounced rigor mortis around the time Run DMC ushered in the new school.
“Put on any record you like,” Riddick says, ducking into his Spanish-style home to grab a cup of coffee. The offer presents a problem. Scattered in the garage among the Roland keyboards, samplers, drum kits and other elements of creation are tens of thousands of records, stacked in crates, in boxes on the floor, overwhelming every spare square inch of space. There are Con-Funk-Shun and the Time, Zappa and Fleetwood Mac, De La Soul and the Fresh Prince, Kid Creole and Ray Parker Jr. And this collection exists after several purges and ablutions made because “I wanted a record collection where if I blindfolded myself, I could pick something that I always enjoyed.”
Bet-hedging, I put on James Brown’s Reality, the 1975 break-beat gold mine that contains “The Funky President,” a position left vacant since the godfather of soul passed away three years ago. Were one to start nominating successors, Prince and Clinton would be obvious inheritors, but in a putative cabinet of Funk, the sage move would be to send Dâm overseas to offer benedictions.
“I’m not a Brainfeeder cat,” says Dâm-Funk, name-checking Flying Lotus’ futuristic beat parade. “I’m not doing the Mochilla tribute shows, I’m not doing the neo-soul thing. I’m a funkster. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. There’s a lot of cats like me, and I don’t want to let their voice go unheard. We’re the people who grew up on funk and hip-hop, people who listened to KROQ and KDAY,” he says, sipping a bottle of Bartles & Jaymes strawberry daiquiri and smoking a Djarum clove cigarette.
That’s another thing. Could you (or I) get away with sipping wine coolers and smoking cloves? Of course not. We’d get ridiculed. Somehow, Dâm-Funk does it and you’re convinced that you’ve been missing out on the tasty combo for years. (There are three men in history who have been able to make strawberry daiquiris look cool: Ernest Hemingway, John F. Kennedy and Dâm-Funk.)
In fact, the only way to agitate him is to accuse him of being a gimmick or a biter. Dâm-Funk is from the old school, where you never shark another man’s style. Sure, he wears his influences (Slave, Aurra, Mtume, early Prince) on his 501s-and-black-Dodgers-jersey sleeve, but he’s no revivalist. As his song title explains, Dâm is “Searching 4 Funk’s Future.”
“When something blows up, the industry forgets about everything else. I grew up on hip-hop, but it got so much attention, the funk got left out,” Dâm-Funk says. “I’m not a retro artist, I’m not trying to re-create funk. I’m trying to continue it.”