When DâM-Funk Met Peanut Butter Wolf

The L.A. funkateer on the importance of keeping all things natural

Dan Wilton

Headquartered in the Culver City section of L.A., DâM-Funk has spent the last few years cultivating a musical renaissance rooted in the early ’80s styles known as boogie, modern soul and electro-funk. He’s seen great success and a few high-profile fans like Slave’s Steve Arrington and Snoop Dogg lining up for collaborations.

It wasn’t always this way, though. DâM spent a number of years preaching the gospel, but few were listening. That all changed with one DJ set, in which DâM heard Stones Throw’s Peanut Butter Wolf playing some of the same tracks that he loved so much. In this edited and condensed excerpt from his 2010 lecture at the Red Bull Music Academy, DâM talks about meeting Peanut Butter Wolf for the first time – and the impact that it had on his career.

Peanut Butter Wolf of Stones Throw is the guy who I owe a lot of my current exposure to. He gave me my shot to get familiar with you folks and more people worldwide to share this music being made in my bedroom since 1988.

I will tell you a human thing: After the phone call, I swear to God, I hung up the phone and I got on my knees.

I would go and see his DJ sets around L.A. He was playing at a place called Star Shoes one night, and he did an all 1983 set. A lot of people know Wolf from the backpack hip hop stuff, but he is into all styles of music. He collects funk as well. Slave, One Way, Prince. He’s very into Prince, which I didn’t know. So when I walked into this club he was playing this stuff and I was like, “Damn, this dude really has it. Who is the DJ?” And then, “Damn, it’s Wolf!” So we linked up and we started talking about Steve Arrington, of course. And he started to come to Funkmosphere and I started inviting him to spin at my spot. He did a 7/7/7 thing and we just built up.

I left a comment during the great days of MySpace, you remember that? Much love to MySpace. I owe them a lot, I am not laughing, a great, great site. So I left a comment on Baron Zen’s page, the cat who was on Stones Throw, who did this great little weird oddity album. It came time for remixes to be done and I left a message on Baron Zen’s MySpace page innocently, I was like, “I like the track.” Then suddenly Wolf hit me, “I saw you left a comment on Baron Zen’s page, didn’t know you like that stuff.” So I was like, “I like all music.” He said, “Man, we are doing a remix project and I heard some of the stuff on your MySpace page and I liked it. I want to see if you want to do a remix to one of the tracks.”

Baron Zen – Strange Woman’s Room

I will tell you a human thing: After the phone call, I swear to God, I hung up the phone and I got on my knees. I went over to the other part of the room and I said, “Thank you, God! Thank you, God! I am finally putting something out on my own, no rap sessions, none of this stuff. Thank you, God!” I got up off my knees and it was like Wolf just believed in the sound.

I said I would do “Shoes,” this Baron Zen track. And he said, “Ah, Madlib’s doing that.” So I said, “OK, damn! What am I going to do?” At the end of the CD, there was “Burn Rubber,” where Baron Zen is just screaming on it for about a minute. He was like, “OK, go ahead, it is just a little instrumental, a short track.” I ended up recording the track, and I had to lay Baron Zen’s voice, Wolf had sent me the a cappella. The original was just his voice without vocoder.

If you ever get discouraged, don’t just throw your hands up and be like, “I did all this work, forget it.”

So I turned in the first version with his vocal without vocoder and he said, “Man, I like what you did with the music, but the vocal is just off key. I don’t like the way Baron Zen’s vocal sounds on there.” All the work I did, I was like, “Damn! He is telling me no.” Then the fear is that after getting on my knees and praying, this might fall through my fingertips. Being the good guy that Wolf is, he was like, “Why don’t you try running his voice through a machine or some kind of effects?” And we both came up with the vocoder. So I think Wolf actually came up with the vocoder idea and I said, “Cool, let’s do it.” I went back to the studio again, the remix still not approved.

The reason I am telling you this is because if you ever get discouraged, don’t just throw your hands up and be like, “Forget this, dude. I did all this work, forget it.” I ended up doing it. I ended up running it through the vocoder and I turned it in to Wolf and he said, “Oh man, this is the one.” I had to play the vocoder with my finger the whole time while running his voice through, because he was singing in a different key and I had to do that thing the whole way through.

DâM-Funk – Burn Rubber Remix

Now I do that live in my sets with my synthesizer keyboard I strap on my shoulders. I don’t like to call it a keytar anymore, I just call it a synth axe. See what I’m trying to do? I’m trying to change the cornball effect of funk that it used to have, rainbow afros, everybody laughing at the keytar. This is serious business. Jan Hammer and all those kind of cats, it got kind of weird in the ’80s. Much love to Jan Hammer, he is incredible, but during that time the instrument got stigmatized and I’m trying to bring it to our table.

I’m trying to change the cornball effect funk used to have, rainbow afros, everybody laughing at the keytar.

After that, cats like J Rocc, Benji B and DJs across the world started playing that track and I really appreciated it. None of this was any kind of favours or anything like that. Everything I did was natural. I would suggest to everybody here, stick with the natural vibe and be careful when you do the demo submitting. I’ll never forget what Leon told me, he told me, “The industry is built on relationships.”

Sometimes it is not going to work, no matter how big your dream is. Somebody might listen to it, but sometimes there is so much going on in somebody’s head, it might not be the right way to approach it. You might have to give it to a third party or just set up something, or at least have a genuine conversation first, instead of just your “yo, yo, yo, yo.” Sometimes it works. There are too many ways now to get your music heard, and that way sometimes is not the way. Fortunately, you are looking at somebody who actually does listen to demos, but I’m just letting you know about other cats. That aggressiveness doesn’t always work with people. It just works naturally, like with that MySpace thing, that was just all natural.

By DâM-Funk on March 20, 2014

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