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Songwriter and producer Dam Funk: 'I stayed with the funk,' straight through his new album

Producer and singer Dam Funk at home.
Producer and singer Dam Funk at home.
Kevin Ferguson/KPCC

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Dam Funk is a songwriter, singer and producer who’s paid his dues. Born Damon Riddick in Pasadena, Dam Funk’s music elevated and celebrated funk at a time when it wasn’t fashionable, uploading songs to Myspace and celebrating when they got 13 plays.

Now, fans listen to his music worldwide. He's been signed to Los Angeles' Stones Throw Records since 2008 and he collaborated on a full album with Snoop Dogg in 2013.

Then all of a sudden, funk became fashionable again — Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” stayed at Billboard's number one spot for 14 weeks last year, while its video took Best Male Video and was nominated for Video of the Year at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards. One of the biggest albums of the year, Kendrick Lamar’s "To Pimp a Butterfly," samples several hit funk songs and features appearances by George Clinton and Ron Isley of the Isley Brothers.

Dam Funk’s newest album came out this week — it’s called “Invite the Light.” Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson met Riddick at his home to talk the new album and funk’s newfound place in the spotlight.

On collaborating with Snoop Dogg for "7 Days of Funk":

It was a pleasure to work with Snoop. Just like it was a pleasure to work with Steve [Arrington, of the funk group Slave], and anybody I've collaborated with. All the people I've collaborated with, it's been an organic vibe. It wasn't something the label chose, or something like that.

Me and Snoop have been knowing each other for a minute. You know, back and forth, seeing each other at different places, and we have a similar background. He was born the same year as me, right across the freeway from each other — him in Long Beach, me in Pasadena.

We should've been friends before. But sometimes things in the game are different. I was always on my own in the musical world of L.A. I didn't come up in the same circles as a lot of the cats in the scene that I'm from. And I think Snoop recognized that, I think, it was unique and refreshing, that he was able to work with someone that didn't come up in those same circles.


On the renaissance of funk music:

At one point, when I was being very musical and letting people know about funk, boogie and even disco, this city was so focused on beats — they had a whole blips and bleeps thing. I love everything that new generations come up with and the kids experiment with, but there's something timeless about funk, rock, jazz, the biggies. It's not for an unknown reason: they're great songwriters, they're great musicians.

And I'm glad that I'm affiliated and aligned with that type of history, because I understand what you're saying, that people are catching up. But at one point it was almost like I was a laughing stock in L.A. The boogie, the disco funk... it's like now, you look up five years later, and of course that album [Kendrick Lamar's "To Pimp a Butterfly"] has all those elements now. The demographic of people that are into that record were not into [this] style literally five years ago. 

There's no complaints, I'm not bitter. I stayed with the funk. And now people are realizing that it's a viable music that they can respect and not just write off as like some Dave Chappelle, Rick James joke. 

On calling funk and heavy metal "the dirty lost cousins of rock and soul"

I just feel like heavy metal, and metal, if you will, we're the people who were able to take things further. A louder distortion pedal in metal, or a crazier synthesizer solo in funk. Whereas the other genres that are related to our genres are a little bit confined into a capsule, or cubicle if you will, of the way that it's expected to be heard.

And also, even the dress codes. If you look at the metalers back in the day, they were like louder than the regular rockers with just jeans and a T-shirt. And then funk, look at P-Funk. They looked different than some of the soul singers.

But then again, what I've been trying to do is shake that image. If people could see how I am right now, it's like, funk can be made by people who don't have platform shoes on. 

But I like that theatrical thing, too. I think that a lot of that is missing. Kiss is one of my favorite groups — I had their posters all over my wall. That attracted me, it was fun. You ordered the belt buckles, you'd roll with the logo on [a] T-shirt. That's what's missing! A lot of the music now doesn't have that fantasy effect. Everything is real, real, real. That's what, sometimes I mess around with people on social media: I say, "Man, F keeping it real. Let's keep it fantasy!"

On his music's positive message and its impact on fans

About four weeks ago a gentleman tweeted outwardly to people, he said, "If it wasn't for you, when I met you in Houston, I would've killed myself that night." 

I just didn't know what to say, but music is powerful. And also, the way you treat people. 

"Invite the Light" is out now on Stones Throw Records.