Something Special About that Sound
There’s something special about funk and soul music. As a suburban-grown 90s white boy, I was raised on a steady diet of varied rock music—classic, n’ roll, alternative, indie—with an occasional side of hip hop. Over the last decade, though, funk and soul have unseated rock as the heavy-weight champions of my musical tastes (oh no, I’m already starting to mix my metaphors).
While obviously different genres, the lines between the two are often blurry and both have a special energy, emotion, and groove that set them apart from other sounds. Funk and soul certainly don’t monopolize these vibes, but they seem to have combined the three into a perfect recipe.
Singer-song writers and indie bands pack a lot of emotion into their tracks but rarely have a groove that makes you move. Psychedelic rock is its own kind of groovy but doesn’t quite have the same kind of infectious energy. EDM certainly has energy, but just doesn’t have…soul (for lack of a better word) and feels more artificial (…for obvious reasons). Funk and soul combine all three while still feeling “real,” whatever that means.
Funk and soul are also two of the more genuine sounding genres I’ve found when it comes to happy music. This became clear in college after my first big breakup. The “chill” indie music I listened to at the time suddenly sounded depressing. Looking for happy music to avoid sinking deeper was harder than I expected. Most of what I found sounded like candied-plastic baked in a corporate sound lab… saccharine sweet but fake. The few happy funk and soul tracks I knew of, though, felt real. I didn’t understand why these genres felt so unique at the time, but I knew it was the start of a deeper dive into funk and soul music.
Kip Takes the Dive
Immediately, (circa 2013/14) I threw all the funk and soul tracks I already knew into a playlist and started digging for more. My new mission was to collect a couple hours’ worth of fun, uplifting funk and soul songs to help break the depressing music cycle. Leaning heavily on Tarantino soundtracks and the Sirius/XM Soul Town station, I was able to put together exactly the pill I needed.
Its pretty common for me to obsess over a new sound for about a year before going back to my usual tunes…but that didn’t happen with funk and soul. I started exploring less-well-known hits, neo-soul, indie bands with groovier vibes, and was psyched when Kendrick’s TPAB landed in 2015 (I can’t remember the last time being that excited during the first listen-thru of an album). I had fallen in love with the sound.
Slowly but surely, I began to amass a respectable funk and soul collection. I’m a man who enjoys building playlists (a topic that deserves its own post) and often used a site called 8tracks (RIP) to find and share music. My first “big” funk and soul mix on the site was a 51-song playlist dubbed Motown Funk (at the time my playlists were usually ~15 songs long). One mix led to another, which led to more. Soon, I was listening to funk and soul more often than the chill indie tunes once considered my bread and butter. I started dipping my toes into 90s R&B, disco, jazz fusion, afrobeat—just about anything with the right groove (a path that led me to JQBX and the lanky bastards crew). There was no turning back.
…But What Do I Actually Know?
I realized over the holidays that, while funk and soul may reign supreme over my musical tastes today, I don’t actually know that much about their history. After some minor searching online, I was surprised by how few results came back…at least compared to genres like rock or hip hop. Funk and soul seem to be overlooked and underappreciated, and if nothing else, I want to make sure I don’t commit the same crime.
My favorite documentary series right now is Hip Hop Evolution on Netflix. Given how young Hip Hop is, they’re able to personally interview most of the original innovators and track the progression (or evolution) of the genre over time. I want something like that for funk and soul music. The few clips of VH1-type specials I’ve been able to find rarely go in-depth into the evolution of the sound itself. Why did so-and-so artist decide to start using this-or-that sound in their production, who were they influenced by, how did the various pieces come together? That’s what I want to learn more about.
I plan to post more regularly this year…which shouldn’t be too hard since my first 2019 post was in October. Part of that plan includes sharing what I learn about various slices of funk and soul history…and the songs and albums I find along the way, of course. There’s no way it’ll be as comprehensive or professionally distilled as Hip Hop Evolution…but we’ll see what I can do.
For now, I’ll start by simply sharing the Motown Funk playlist I made back in 2015. It includes most of the songs that started my funk and soul journey, which feels like an appropriate way to kick off this series.