‘Higher’ is an album that caught me off guard. Steve Arrington is an artist I greatly admire and I’ve been an avid listener of his work as the lead singer of the late 70s funk band Slave for pretty much all of my life. Slave is one of those bands that offered a great deal of material to sample in hip-hop records, in particular to west-coast rap as they started their takeover in the early 90s. Steve was equally great as a solo artist, but called it quits in ’91 to become a minister. I only found that out recently, but whatever the reason, I never imagined getting any new music from him.
This is where DāM-FunK aka Damon Riddick comes in. As the name implies, he’s a funk musician that mostly makes his contributions as a producer. DāM-FunK made his love for music clear with the song “I Don’t Wanna Be A Star” almost a year ago. In that song, he basically states that all he needs is music, hold the glamour and glitz. It’s a great story that he’s found a home at Stones Throw Records, who generally share the same philosophy. Fun fact: DāM-FunK actually got his start with Stone Throw Records by sharing a DVD of a live Slave performance with Stones Throw creator, Peanut-Butter Wolf.
With a bunch of west-coast artists (some from the east as well) finding inspiration in Steve Arrington’s music, and DāM-FunK being from Pasadena, California, the duo works well together with Steve on vocals and DāM behind the boards. ‘Higher’ is a funk record that can stand with the records of old, but naturally with a more modern sound. The thirteen tracks here can leave you in a trance; there’s a majestic, epic quality to them that I can only describe by suggesting you take a good look at the album cover. ‘Higher’ sounds like the cover looks, if that makes sense.
With “I Be Goin Hard,” DāM-FunK brings in trance-inducing keys and a familiar-sounding bass from the glory days of funk. It begins like something you’d hear from a Roger Troutman record, which is a good thing, and Steve’s vocals here are almost like a chant. This one, and the album as a whole, isn’t heavy on lyrics. It’s basically “Down in the trenches, I be handlin’ my business,” but it’ll make you move, or at least make you want to. Funk records, with the exclusion of some George Clinton/Parliament stuff, was never that lyrically complex anyway. ‘Higher’ is just full of grooves. It’s not meant for sitting still and pondering double-entendres and meditating on what’s being said. It’s for cookouts and skate parties. It’s feel-good music like funk music has always been.
Lyrics aside, Steve Arrington at 57 years old doesn’t sound like he’s aged a bit. Though he hasn’t recorded much in over 20 years, you get the feeling that he’s still kept close to music. He didn’t have to “clean the rust off the pipes” so to speak; The Slave legacy is still very much intact. “Magnificent” and the title track are the songs I’d choose for anyone on the fence about this album. If you can’t get into these, perhaps ‘Higher’ isn’t your thing. I say with confidence, if you love funk bands, you’ll love these songs.
‘Higher’ is a great look for music right now. It’s fun and can be the catalyst for some good times when a group of people get together. Kudos to Stones Throw (I know I sing their praises a lot) for this open-minded approach to music this day and age. Hopefully Steve Arrington is back to stay a while. DāM-FunK made the comeback worth his time and has perhaps even outdone himself. Long story short, “The FUNK is strong with this one.”