The ambassador of funk discusses his new collaboration with Snoop, tinkling the ivories with Milli Vanilli, and all about a conversation where he told Tyler, The Creator he feels white people shouldn't use the N-word.
Photos by: Myles Pettengill.
Anyone who has followed Dam-Funk’s career will know that he is a man of principle. Born Damon G. Riddick in Pasadena, California, Dam spent over a decade making music in his bedroom, working sessions and odd jobs on the side, before his unique and unchanging brand of smooth West Coast funk alerted the attention of Peanut Butter Wolf. This was followed swiftly by getting signed by LA label Stones Throw, and a breakthrough album, Toeachizown, which helped Dam finally win recognition not just as an artist, but as the foremost authority on modern funk.
Dam is also known as a DJ in the selector sense. Because he cares about the music he's spinning, he’ll call out the names of the songs that he’s about to play like a radio DJ, even when he's playing to heaving sweaty nightclubs in LA.
It was in this guise, he crossed paths with Snoop Dogg/Snoop Lion/Snoopzilla, who was so impressed by Dam’s choice of music at an art opening that he cancelled his plans and stuck around to freestyle. Then, after some 20 years making music within a few miles of each other, the two of them got in the studio. Tomorrow (12/10) they'll release their first join album, 7 Days of Funk.
I called Dam up to discuss his work with Snoop, his life, and his concerns and hopes for the next generation of young Cali talent. Dam’s thoughtful, deeply-felt answers go a long way to explain the kind of guy who can single-handedly keep a genre alive and kicking.
Noisey: Where are you right now?
Dam-Funk: I'm in West LA now, Derrie Heights.
Cool, let’s get straight into this. Are you and Snoop going to be touring 7 Days of Funk?
One offs more like, we're talking about some tour ideas, but nothing is decided just yet.
Do you see yourself promoting this record over the next few months?
We'll be involved with the project for a minute, it should be cool and we're looking forward to it.
I heard that you only work on collaborations that happen naturally, can you tell me how you ended up meeting Snoop? I read that you were DJing a party at a gallery and he showed up?
He was actually there to be a support for his cousin Joe Cool, who designed the artwork for Doggystyle. Joe was having an art exhibit of his new work at HVW8 gallery, and I was booked to do a DJ gig at the exhibition. Apparently Snoop was due to leave, but they tell me that while I was DJing, he was listening and he didn't leave, cause he wanted to check out the kind of boogie and funk that I was playing. I had my shoulder synth on and he stuck around. I saw him in the corner, I offered him the microphone, and he just started spitting. He stayed on for a while, he really enjoyed it, and it seemed natural. We went on from that. That was 2010.
And when did this collaboration start taking shape?
A little bit before the summer of 2013. He had came over the pad. I was working on a Toro y Moi remix that same day, I shut down that equipment to get some rest, and he called around 10 o'clock at night to say, “Man I want to come see you.” I thought okay, I have to turn around and turn all the equipment on. I started getting the house prepared, wondering if he was going to have a big entourage, but sure enough he showed up just him and Joe Cool. Just natural vibes, three of us in a room. Joe Cool just sitting and sketching things in a notebook. Me and Snoop just going through tracks. The first song we did was “Hit the Pavement.” After that he sat back and said, “Man, this is too magical, we gotta do a project, we gotta do a full EP.” I said I would be honoured, and we took it from there.
You guys were making music around the same time in LA, but I guess you went down different paths...
While he was doing his thing on Death Row, I was busy doing my thing. Working odd jobs and making music on my own in my bedroom. Then sure enough I met Peanut Butter Wolf in the Myspace days, and he offered me a remix. And that led to Toeachizown. I guess Snoop had been peepin'. I noticed from hanging out with Snoop that he is very adept at music. He's a very intelligent guy. He knows about a lot of different music styles and he has been peeping on my music all along. That's why I tell people, when they're on Twitter or Facebook, ranting away, or mad at the world, don't ever try to smash on artists or try to talk shit on them because you never know if that artist might be supporting you quietly.
Do you feel like you had to struggle to get where you are?
I did. I went through my fair share of struggle. A lot of people, especially artists, even people who aren't musicians—any kind of person who has a certain style that they think is unique—they get whispered upon to change what they do. And I was like, Nah, I like this kind of music. I'm not going to do some kind of EDM thing to get a hit or get thrills. To be honest, I'm not trying to toot my own horn, I could do that stuff easily. But I don't, because I stick to my guns.
Do you think that anyone else consistently worked the funk angle like you have?
I don't think that anyone has done it consistently in the way that I smash for it.
Smash for it!
I know there's a lot of people out there who believe in the music, but when it was not cool to have baselines popping and synthesisers popping and beautiful chords, I was one of the only ones out there waving the flag. There was always a nose up kind of attitude about 80s synth funk which I was always slightly offended by. People were out there collecting funk 45s from the 70s and 60s and the prices were so high, and I'm like, “Guys what about 1982—the Hope Brothers 45—you guys aren't feeling this funk? Why don't you guys get off on it? You're turning funk into an imagery that it really isn't.” That retro stuff is cool, but kids in the hood aren't listening to that stuff. It's not the whole picture. What I've been trying to do over the years is show people what we really rode to, Slave, Change, One Way, Skyy, Prelude Records, Barry White. Smooth stuff mixed with sophistication. It doesn't have to be like some kind of [jokey voice] “Get up on it…”
Do you remember when you first got into that type of funk?
Around my neighborhood, around the time it was happening. I lived it. Me and my mom used to wait for the song to play on the radio. People used to be able to call up a radio station and request a song. The DJ would say, “This is requested by Damon, in Pasadena…” as opposed to now when a computer plays the same ten songs every hour, and you're fooled into thinking it's the bomb song, when it's really not cause someone payola'd it to get it on the radio.
You've seen some changes in the way music is released, how are you enjoying the digital way of doing things?
That's the thing about me, I'm Gen X so I'm old school and new school. I've adapted, I'm on the computer. The only thing that's made it a danger zone is the excuse to not buy.
You have a strong sense of who you are as an artist, what's one rule you live by?
I live by integrity, I live by treating people the way I want to be treated, not to truly rattle cages, but do things in a gentlemanly way.
You're a California veteran, what do you think of the new people coming up now, Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, etc?
I met Tyler. Me and Tyler are friends. I had a talk with him before about allowing other races to use the "N" word. I heard his side and he heard mine. I come from a generation where we didn't tolerate that. There's an unwritten rule for other cultures to not use that word. We took that word to empower ourselves and made it different. When you get to a new era now, where someone in India can say “What's up my nigga,” there's a weird feeling that runs down your spine.
Tyler was saying that “It's a new generation, we don't care about that kind of thing.” My side is like, after all these people who fought for it, who got bit by dogs and sprayed by hoses and sat on the back of the bus, they would be really not happy with the way we allow people to use a word that, bottom line, denigrates our existence as black people. I think his message is that he is trying to desensitise the word, so I do get it, and I want to hear him, cause I would want to be heard. After that conversation me and Tyler became closer, we talk about music, we send messages. I think he's a very talented cat, he's going places, and I think I put a little bug in his ear and he'll remember what we spoke about. Maybe he's in a meeting one day, and some 57 year old Caucasian man and walks up to him and says, “What's up my nigga,” and then he'll wonder what to do. People grow up. I have full faith in Tyler that he'll do the right thing.
Wow, do you think the two of you will ever collaborate?
We talked about it, but I'd like to keep it a secret right now.
I can't go before I ask you if you ever played keys for Milli Vanilli...
After they lost their award for the snafu, they were determined to revive their blemished career and wanted to really make a legitimate record with real producers. One of them was Leon Silver, and I was working as a keyboard player for him. We recorded a lot of stuff but those guys were into some other things in Reno, some distractions, and after a point I came home. There's some interesting tapes out there that maybe one day I'll let people hear.
And finally, you're a big metal fan, who are your favourite metal artists?
Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Rush, Motley Crue. First concert I ever went to was Motley Crue opening for Kiss on the Creatures of the Night tour. I was a kid, and the audience was bikers, you know. Motley Crue where the hot new thing, and what happened is Kiss came on and destroyed Motley Crue. That's a lesson… the old school will smash you when you test them. Funk has always had a connection with rock and metal. I consider funk and metal the dirty lost cousins of rock and soul.
Emma-Lee Moss still believes in Milli Vanilli, follow her Twitter for film rights on: @Emmy_The_Great