Fingerprints of Future Funk: Kashif and “Help Yourself to My Love”

The fourth track on Kashif’s debut album links the well-traveled producer to a largely anonymous future funk act.

I’ve never played the six degrees of separation game, but it’s probably safe to say that it’s more fun to play with actors than musicians. Sampling and label affiliations are enough to draw a red string of fate between seemingly disparate acts like Rockwell and Eminem. Music from the late 1970s and 1980s would certainly put a damper on the fun. The funk, R&B, and post-disco stylings of the day are continually reanimated into 2020s rap music, keeping old hits alive and proliferating residual checks and YouTube copyright claims alike.

Artists like Rockwell represent one end of the spectrum. A son of Motown CEO Berry Gordy, Rockwell cobbled together one of the most coveted features of the 80s: Michael Jackson (and his brother, Jermaine). Though “Somebody’s Watching Me” heard Jackson provide backing vocals on the hook, the track’s success wasn’t long lived. Critical praise and a gold certification gave way to inclusion in Halloween celebrations for years to come, ultimately doing little for Rockwell’s brand.

At the other end of the spectrum are artists like Kashif. A multi-instrumentalist born in Harlem, Kashif was as well-known for his own musical concoctions as he was for the ones he produced for others. In his oft-cited mythos, Kashif’s musical career began in foster homes with a $3 flute. After graduating high school at 15, he’d play with funk outfit B.T. Express until striking out on his own in the 80s and forging connections with artists he’d help become top sellers throughout the decade.

Being a multi-instrumentalist meant Kashif’s talents became well-traveled. Prior to releasing his self-titled debut album in 1983, Kashif would produce for the likes of Evelyn “Champagne” King, the pre-solo Luther Vandross group Change, Howard Johnson, and George Benson. Midway through the decade he was helping a rookie Whitney Houston break into the industry, producing her debut album with Jermaine Jackson and featuring her on his second album, Send Me Your Love. Kenny G was another of Kashif’s high-profile colleagues, with whom he produced “Love on the Rise,” a galloping and synthetic funk track that swapped out G’s smooth sax licks to embrace the full swath of digital music technology of the day.

Though much of Kashif’s discography embraces the styles and preferences of his performing artists, his solo work, namely his debut album Kashif, sits neatly in the realm of contemporary R&B that’s so frequently called upon in future funk.

None of Kashif’s records will floor you from a vocal standpoint. His passionate delivery is undercut by his modest vocal range, a hallmark that would be subdued on his fourth outing, Love Changes, which was a comparatively slower burn than his debut. Kashif, however, showcases him at his funkiest, with fat bass lines complemented by tempered synth phrases, guitar accents and backing vocals. “I Just Gotta Have You (Lover Turn Me On)” had the longest shelf life when Kashif dropped in 1983, spending 20 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaking at №5. Powered by synths that matched his vocal patterns, the track was a dance floor throwback with a hearty downbeat.

“Help Yourself to My Love,” however, would be the song to find its way into future funk by way of producer Ichi No Yoru. It’s worth noting that other tracks from Kashif earned 2010s remixes, though many drifted more toward downtempo vaporwave than high-octane future funk. Flamingosis’ “Taken” slows Kashif’s track to a crawl, shining a spotlight on his vocal track. Likewise, samples of “Stone Love,” and “I Just Gotta Have You,” by Telan Devik and 懐かし2002津波 respectively, take the vaporwave route, filtering and chopping Kashif’s originals to near unintelligible rates.

Ichi’s reimagining of Kashif’s work isn’t simply an uptempo edit of “Help Yourself to My Love.” Rather, it accentuates the defining features of the track to create a tight, danceable loop. Instead of allowing the track to slip into its hook, which resolves the melody of the main verse, Ichi chops both verses together in a move that makes the hook incorporation in the second half of the track so much more cathartic.

The guitar chords that kicked off every other measure of the original track also earn a new coat of polish as the trademark twang counterbalances the pumped up bass line.

Despite the pervasiveness of Kashif’s musical prowess, which reaches across decades and spans genre reconstructions, Ichi’s digital presence is non-existent. The artist lacks a Twitter feed, Bandcamp or website, leaving tracks like “To My Love” to fall into the abyss of reposts and redownloads. Searching for Ichi’s name, which translates to “One Night,” on Bandcamp reveals a handful of production credits, but nothing that concretely links the artist back to any sort of musical home base. For as much good that future funk does to repopularize past hits, Ichi is effectively dust in the wind. Their sample techniques keep them rooted in the pop music lexicon while their anonymity ensures they stay at least seven degrees removed from your favorite artist.

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