We Want the Funk!

An exploration of the jazz-funk revival

Funk music seems to be making a resurgence lately. With acts like Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, and Anderson .Paak incorporating funk and jazz instrumentation into their latest works, these genres have become mainstream again. However, how much of this trend is drawing upon what made funk and jazz such cultural milestones at the time of their inceptions?

Funk and jazz are genres based on several key components, including a reliance on a two-celled onbeat/offbeat structure, a use of minor chords to structure the melody, and an expression of spirituality and freedom in style and lyrics. In funk especially, bass lines are prominent in the rhythm with a hornline punctuating the melody. These components are evident in possibly the biggest funk hit in decades, “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars. This song excels at what it’s trying to be: a homage to the funk sound that is meticulous in its production, but also charming and loose in its performance.

Kendrick Lamar’s album “To Pimp a Butterfly” is a celebration of black culture, lyrically and instrumentally. As such, Kendrick incorporates funk and jazz into his album, most apparently on songs like “Wesley’s Theory” and “These Walls.” Kendrick also enlists fellow funk musicians, such as Thundercat and legendary funk artist George Clinton. Kendrick’s idea of funk music is that of black celebration more than loose expression, and while the jazz and funk stylings of his music are welcome, they don’t quite match the true feeling of a traditional funk song.

One modern artist that gets pretty close to the prototypical funk style is Anderson .Paak. .Paak enlisted his own funk band, The Free Nationals, for plenty of the songs on his latest album, “Malibu”, and not only do tracks like “Come Down” and “Am I Wrong?” have the fundamentals of a typical jazz/funk song, they also share a silliness in lyricism and tone, as well as a loose style that made funk music initially stand out as a genre.

While funk and jazz music are not completely dead, with artists like Thundercat and jazz musician Kamasi Washington still making critically acclaimed music, these genres may not make a full recovery into the mainstream. However, the sound itself is still welcome and adds plenty of color to the cheeks of popular music today.

Illustrator: Nora Peterson

Illustrator: Nora Peterson