Experimental compositions in video game soundtracks help bring a human tint to otherworldly characters.

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The Sonic Adventure 2 20th Anniversary soundtrack.

When I think of Christmas music, I hear jingle bells, choral arrangements and the unmistakable belt of Mariah Carey. So, when I saw Art Blakey and the Jazz Messenger’s “Moanin’” as one of the Christmas dinner record choices in Spider-Man: Miles Morales I was taken aback.

This isn’t holiday music! It’s a hard bop classic, a song whose call-and-response structure inched towards funk and soul. Bobby Timmons’, Benny Golson’s and Lee Morgan’s solos are neatly packaged by Jymie Merritt’s basslines, but they don’t belong under a tree.

Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers “Moanin’”

The Jazz Messengers’ inclusion in Miles Morales, however, is fitting. Beyond the Christmas setting, it’s a game squarely focused on Harlem, one of jazz’s historic stomping grounds. The song slides neatly into a soundtrack that sees the typically grandiose superhero themes remixed to include window-rattling bass as Miles swings between buildings in Manhattan. …

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Smudge All Stars drops on Nov. 27. (Artwork by Kahm)

Thirty-eight years passed between the time George Clinton’s Parliament dropped its ninth and tenth studio albums. The lead artists comprising the group would spend the time in-between producing other work, including narratives on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (George Clinton), features for Snoop Dogg (Bootsy Collins) and writing for Drake (Walter “Junie” Morrison). But the funk never faded.

Instead, p-funk grew into a reproduction of the African Diaspora, taking cues from swaths of artists that had, at one point or another, found solace in the psychedelic musings of Parliament-Funkadelic.

The self-titled, debut LP from funk collective Smudge All Stars is constructed from a similar mold. Released on Nov. 27 on Pegdoll Records, the 10-track album, arranged by drummer, percussionist and producer Richie Stevens, maintains a parliamentary open door policy, uniting voices from p-funk past and present to foster a welcoming refresh of a classic sound. …

The 1972 Roy Ayers hit foretold the collective ownership of New York City’s most populated borough.

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We Live in Brooklyn Baby released on Polydor Records in 1972.

When The Notorious B.I.G. asked Madison Square Garden, “Where Brooklyn at?” during his freestyle at a Patti LeBelle concert, I doubt he’d accept the answer, “everywhere.”

At the time, Brooklyn was industrial, rugged. Now, 25 years removed from Biggie’s notorious freestyle, Brooklyn is a husk of its former self (which is probably for the best).

Just 90 people were killed in Brooklyn in 2019, a historically low mark that would make Biggie’s ownership of “seven Mac-11s, eight 38s” and “nine 9’s” out of place. Gentrification has morphed the city’s original demographics while subsequently opening doors for it to become one of the most diverse places in the world. …

The pristine loops of future funk do a disservice to fusion band Casiopea and its penchant for jam session experimentation.

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Casiopea’s debut, self-titled album.

Is it safe to say future funk has reached a turning point? Two weeks have passed since copyright strikes shuttered the once thriving Artzie Music YouTube Channel, the preeminent home of the internet-based genre. In that time at least two channels have sprung up in Artzie’s place: a rebooted Artzie Music and the as-of-yet untouched Stoplight Radio.

Currently, the new Artzie channel is just seven songs deep. It has taken a turn from the colorful, copyrighted anime visuals of yesteryear, instead opting for a sound wave visualizer that bops along to the beat. Sonically, the latest Artzie uploads follow suit with typical future funk fodder. Mari-くん’s (Mari Kun) “Good 2 U” re-imagines Heavy D and the Boyz’s “Is it Good To You?” …

Copyright strikes might have decimated one of YouTube’s biggest future funk platforms, but the internet will make sure the funk never dies.

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The logo for the now defunct Artzie Music YouTube channel.

Everything is fleeting on the internet. Despite the incredible archival power of the information superhighway, services that manage the use of copyrighted material and intellectual property can make digital landscapes transform in an instant. The Office is leaving Netflix. Nintendo obliterates sites that host its game files. And now, one of the biggest names in future funk is on its way to the great, big LAN party in the sky.

Artzie Music, a YouTube channel that touts itself as the “№1 destination for unique music,” announced (in a since deleted tweet) on Wednesday, Oct. 21 that the channel was served papers for its termination. …

The Japanese guitarist’s fourth album, After 5 Clash marked his sonic evolution while laying the foundation for future funk.

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For five weeks in 1983, pop singer Anri had the biggest song in Japan. “Cat’s Eye,” the lead track from her 1983 sixth studio album Timely!!, took the top spot between September and October on the Oricon charts. A synth-heavy theme song for the eponymously-named anime, the song took a new life on Anri’s album, dropping the electronic production in favor of a striking horn and bass composition that blew its predecessor out of the water.

You could argue that the original version of “Cat’s Eye” could never make the impact that its album remix would. …

Future funk’s reliance on anime points to its undying love affair with escapism.

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Urusei Yatsura’s Lum Invader has become the unofficial poster girl for future funk.

Sometimes future funk feels like a secret. The genre, an outgrowth of the early 2010s vaporwave movement, which was in turn an outgrowth of 1980s R&B, is afraid of Google. Artists with names like Z.E.R.O. and Mélonade stock the virtual record shelves of Bandcamp. Beyond the visibility of the biggest artists like Yung Bae or Saint Pepsi — the latter of which changed his name following a complaint from the brown bubbly giant, further playing up the genre’s secret society-like nature — finding a specific future funk song can be infuriating and confusing.

A search for future funk on YouTube is likely to yield a smattering of disorganized playlists unified only by their technicolor album covers. Sift through a few songs and you’ll find missing tracks, banished into oblivion by YouTube’s content identification system. (Newsflash, many future funk samples aren’t cleared.) And yet, amidst the pitched up rehashes of Anri and Armenta’s greatest hits, future funk’s disorganization feels frighteningly familiar, from its collage-style anime art to its disco-infused baselines. …

Across three singles this week, Chance the Rapper reminds listeners that he’s settled into his sanctified sound.

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A still from Chance the Rapper’s feature on Justin Bieber’s “Holy.”

How do you tell yourself that you are doing a good job? Self-reflection isn’t an innate skill — it can take years of practice to be able to silence the voice in your head that judges your every breath. Meditation works for some, but for others, music is the dam that stifles self-conscious scrutiny.

In 2015, I was applying for jobs fresh out of an overpriced political science program. That summer, I earned a job interview at a company that compiled statistics and research to inform public policy. The pay was $32,000 per year, full-time. It was a step up from the $12 an hour I made at my local library, but not by much. …

Though many of hip-hop’s sampling mavens draw heavily from a back catalog of Black music, blue-eyed soul has a rightful place in the Black music history books.

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I get excited when I drive a car with Sirius XM Radio. While I’ve upcycled my 2002 Ford Focus ZTS to feature Bluetooth connectivity, there’s something special about hopping in a ride that features DJs spinning commercial-free sets 24/7.

The last time I tuned into Sirius was in my sister’s sedan. Rather than navigating to one of my staple channels (The Groove, Soul Town or Shade 45), forgetting to change it after I return the car, and receiving an earful about respecting her property, I picked channel 70 from her presets.

Yacht Rock.

On came Michael McDonald, almost immediately, crooning “I Keep Forgetting.” It’s a song I’ve heard a million times, albeit gussied up as Warren G and Nate Dogg’s “Regulate. Shortly thereafter, Boz Scaggs took the mic, swinging his vocals overtop a bass and synth melody called “Lowdown,” which I better know as Goldlink’s “Summatime.” …

The playlist is a success, but a tone deaf inclusion of Kanye West makes the track list one song shy of black excellence.

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The Freedom Songs playlist, courtesy of YouTube Music.

When I opened YouTube Music on Friday morning, just hours after Donald Trump accepted the Republican National Convention’s presidential nomination, I was greeted by a pleasant surprise. The San Bruno-based company published Freedom Songs, a 98-track playlist featuring decades of black inspirational music. Released on Aug. 28, Freedom Songs arrived on the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, a day celebrated in 2020 with a rally at the Lincoln Memorial demanding racial equality.

Within seconds of starting the playlist, Ciara’s “Rooted” brings chants of black excellence and imagery of nappy hair and brown skin. The song, for which the then-34-week pregnant Ciara dropped a video on Aug. 13, features Esther Dean and is a much needed rallying cry for black women amid constant reminders of their existences as second-class citizens. …


Brandon Johnson

Higher Education PR professional by day. Listening to tunes or thinking too hard about basketball the rest of the time. Founder of tripleot.com & abrandbox.com.

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