Jheri Curl June: DāM-FunK’s “Searchin’ 4 Funk’s Future”

We make a big deal every year about “late-era Jheri Curl Music” and its apparent obsolescence at the hands of, chiefly, New Jack Swing; but the truth is, reports of J.C.M.’s death have always been greatly exaggerated. Yes, the wetter, silkier side of contemporary R&B did fall out of favor, replaced by harder beats and more hip-hop-inspired posturing; but there have always been keepers of the electro-funk flame, whether through direct samples, influence, or simply existing artists continuing to plough their furrow despite the pop world’s ever-shifting winds. It’s to these artists, the Jheri Curl faithful, that we’re turning our attention in the last few days of JCJ.

And to kick things off, I can’t think of a better artist than Damon Garrett Riddick, better known as DāM-FunK. The Southern California-based Riddick isn’t a Jheri Curl revivalist so much as a disciple; he started making music as a teen in the late ’80s and early ’90s, some of which can be heard on the 2010 compilation Adolescent Funk. But he didn’t release his debut solo album, the sprawling 2-CD/5-LP (!) Toeachizown, until 2009, well after his chosen brand of synthesizer-assisted grooves had acquired a patina of retro cool. This contradiction is woven into the fabric the album itself: On the one hand, its ’80s credentials are legit, with production by no less a personage than first-wave Jheri Curl architect Leon Sylvers III; but on the other hand, its presence on underground hip-hop label Stones Throw, home of J Dilla and Madvillain, situates it indelibly in mid-to-late-2000s crate-digger culture.

None of which, incidentally, is a bad thing: in fact, DāM-FunK’s cult positioning grants him an artistic freedom and fluidity few of the artists we typically cover here ever had the opportunity to flex. Case in point: “Searchin’ 4 Funk’s Future,” a musical mission statement of sorts that stretches its atmospheric synth pads, vintage drum programming, and Riddick’s muffled falsetto to an experimental near-eight-minute runtime. If J.C.M. Mark I took as its template Prince‘s run of early-’80s albums, then Mark II–at least as interpreted by DāM-FunK–sounds more like a high-generation Prince bootleg; and speaking as a big fan of Prince bootlegs, that’s a really interesting space to occupy.

We’ll be back tomorrow to highlight more post-Jheri Curl jams; in the meantime, playlists are below:





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