Disc jocks are the backbone of hip-hop, but — no disrespect to our brethren on the wheels of steel — funk music is where its heart is. Funk has been integral to hip-hop’s development, playing a role in some of its most influential movements, from Dr. Dre’s G-Funk to the James Brown-sample-crazy late ’80s. For today’s hip-hop generation, the credit to yesteryear’s funk classics gets buried in liner notes, usually only recognized by music aficionados. Leave it to BBE Records to serve the greater community. The label enlisted the Rza and Keb Darge to dig in the crates and compile a funk album for the masses.
Divided into two discs, the Rza takes a break from scoring movies, producing, and scripting manuals to compile songs that pay homage to a lost genre. Sly Johnson’s “Is it Because I’m Black,” remixed by Ken Boothe with a reggae tinge, will immediately jump out of your speakers. Boothe’s voice cuts deep into the soul, his vocals floating over the steel drums and trumpet. The Rza also includes classic tracks from the legendary Ohio Players, Sly & the Family Stone, and an instrumental version of Bill Withers’s “Aint No Sunshine.” He ends his disc with Ann Peebles’ “You’ve Got the Papers (I’ve Got the Man),” which seems like it was made to lace any blacksploitation movie.
Whereas the Rza goes with more established picks, Keb Darge, founder of Deep Funk, a funk and soul music rave that has been holding down London’s club scene since the ’70s, gets his hands dusty, digging up rare gems. “(I Can) Deal With That” by Dee Edwards is so rare it can only be found in Japan and England. Besides unearthing lost relics, Darge also finds space to include new funk music (“Genuine”) from Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, who are still keeping the tradition alive in 2005.
What elevates the Kings of Funk over your average compilation is the meticulously choice of tracks. The compilation’s main objective is to keep funk healthy and spread the music like gospel. As Darge puts it, funk music should not be relegated to abstract samples or background music at trendy bars, it is tradition that should be kept alive by resurrecting the old and discovering the new.