Prison Behind Him, Zackey Force Funk Is Making Fascinating Electronic Music
PHOTO BY W.B. FONTENOTZackey Force Funk
Zachary Hose was born and raised in southeast Tucson, Arizona, an area plagued by poverty, gangs and drug cartels. Tempted by addiction, in constant trouble with the law, he somehow persevered. Today he's better known as experimental electronic musician Zackey Force Funk.
A month before the release of new album Money Green Viper, out this week via L.A.-based live-screen printing collective and independent label Hit + Run, he's sitting at restaurant/bar KDB, Long Beach's answer to Dave & Buster's. Steps from the cool, palm tree–lined Pacific, it's far from the scorching desert prison where he once did time. "It's fucking paradise to me," he says, sipping a bloody mary.
Small yet muscular, the 40-year-old Hose sits at the bar dressed like a modern-day b-boy: short-sleeved T-shirt, cargo shorts, sneakers, tightly fitting mesh hat. He recently moved to this city after landing a job as a mechanic at Long Beach Airport. But he's focused on events that happened long before the move.
His parents separated early. Living with his brother and their Mexican mother, Hose fondly remembers family car rides scored by funk and soul records, as well as Tucson's vibrant low-rider car scene. Summers were spent with his Jewish father, who traveled the East Coast selling insurance. The back-and-forth afforded Hose a rounded hip-hop education. While friends back east played Run-D.M.C., Tucson compatriots bumped the dirty electro raps of L.A.'s Egyptian Lover.
Hose's father died when he was only 12. With his mother working to make ends meet, Hose quickly gravitated toward theft and smoking weed. By 16, misdemeanors and gateway drugs begat full-blown addiction. He began shipping marijuana and cocaine to the East Coast, frequently getting high on his own supply.
Though Hose says he was still on track to go to college, those dreams were dashed when he was pulled over for DUI at age 17. With a string of priors — not to mention an ounce of crack on his person — Hose was in trouble. Given probation, he again got busted for drugs, this time marijuana. He spent the next 18 months locked up.
Inside Arizona's heavily segregated Winslow prison, Hose's biracial status made him an outsider and a target. "I got punked my first two weeks," he says.
He smuggled heroin until a fellow inmate snitched — that landed him in a high-security unit he calls "hell on earth."
After being released on a form of parole, Hose opened two record stores in Tucson. His love for music and hip-hop culture was genuine, evinced by the pop-lock competitions he hosted at the shops and his affinity for DJing. But he soon began using the stores as a front for drug dealing. Before long, the feds caught on and raided his house. When they found a serious quantity of coke, it was back to jail.
With her son facing 15 years to life, Hose's mother hired criminal defense attorney Walter Nash, who got Hose out on bail while they fought the case. Hose found work at an aviation company and enrolled in airplane mechanic courses, where he learned his current trade.
At night, Hose did stickups until sunup. "I started robbing every drug dealer I knew," he says. The money put his then-girlfriend through dental hygienist classes and helped her and their two children leave Tucson for safe, suburban Scottsdale.
For all his bad-faith activity while out on bail, Hose still managed to skate on the most serious charges. Thanks to problems with the prosecutors' case, the feds agreed to a plea deal, which allowed Hose just 12 months in the county jail, with work release during daytime hours, Nash says.
Hose recalls breaking down in tears. In his mind, he was essentially free.
It wasn't quite that simple, though. Jail was followed by five years of intensive probation, with conditions along the lines of house arrest. No more robbing stash houses; now, if he wasn't at work, he had to be at home or risk further jail time.
It was during this period, beginning in 2003, that Hose began making music for the first time. Recording with pirated production software from his brother — who records as N8NoFace — he quickly developed his sample-based "Force Funk" sound.
Enamored of the eclectic mixes of producer DJ Kutmah, which included songs by everyone from beat-scene forerunners Flying Lotus and Ras G to punk icon Iggy Pop, Hose performed over one of Kutmah's instrumentals in his signature style — half singing, half rapping — and sent him the song. Before long, his contributions landed on Kutmah mixes.
Hit + Run co-founder Brandy Flower heard Hose's songs through these mixes and was impressed. "It sounded like an amazing musical time capsule from the '80s, like N.W.A and Egyptian Lover crossed with Grandmaster Flash," Flower says of Hose's early work. The Kutmah-mixed This Is the Force Funk Sound was released on Hit + Run in 2009.
This initial offering served as the catalyst for Hose's career. In addition to his solo work, he's appeared on projects from L.A. independent labels such as Stones Throw and collaborated with beat-scene elites Salva and Daedalus.
Little of his wide-ranging music fits neatly in one genre, but discernible and admitted influences include Egyptian Lover and Prince. His lyrics are a combination of therapeutic reflections on his former felonious activity and paeans to beautiful women. Separated from his girlfriend since she and their children moved Scottsdale, Hose is dating again — though he avoids women who enjoy his music. "My shit's weird," he explains. "It's kind of gangsterish."
Many labels were wary of releasing Hose's solo material, mainly because of his heavy sampling. But when he linked up with Black Moth Super Rainbow frontman Tobacco, their eerie, psychotropic (and sample-free) "Lamborghini Meltdown" laid the foundation for their current group, Demon Queen. The outfit's 2013 debut, Exorcise Tape, combines Tobacco's predilection for fuzzy, warped analog synths and Hose's crime-laden lyrics, which he delivers in a freaky falsetto.
As he's always done, Hose recorded his vocals alone on a cheap headset microphone. "I have to make weird faces when I record to hit some of my notes," he explains. "I could never do it in front of another person."
Money Green Viper also eschews samples, for the most part. In what's ironically Hose's first funk album, his vocals sound more assured than ever over sunny synth grooves and hydraulic bass.
The album is a welcome addition to the growing modern-funk canon, meriting rotation alongside preeminent genre revivalist Dam-Funk. Most important, it's afforded Hose happiness and hope for the future, an aural escape from his turbulent past.
With the album complete, he plans to continue working at the airport and abstaining from criminal activity, hoping to help his children through college. He's also writing an autobiography for Tucson's Spork Press and has an upcoming tour with Tobacco.
His latest batch of music, which he calls "minimal wave punk," is inspired by Long Beach. "I don't know if anyone will like it," he says. "I'm just so happy making it."
Zackey Force Funk
Photo BY W.B. FONTENOT
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