Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Funky DL 1
Funky DL 1 Funky DL 2 Funky DL 4

Hackney’s Funky DL may not be the highest-selling UK hip hop artist, but he’s certainly one of the most consistent … and in Japan, his distinctive production and smooth vocal style have made him a superstar. Reliable as ever, he’s back with his latest album, his most wide-ranging and ambitious yet.

He’s not always the first name brought to mind in a roll call of truly influential UK artists. MCs with more aggressive styles like Rodney P, Blak Twang or Skinnyman often tend to stay in the public consciousness longer, whereas younger fans with shorter memories might cite current high-flyers like Sway, Kano, Dizzee Rascal or Lethal Bizzle as particular standouts.
But whichever way you cut it, there can be no denying Funky DL’s longevity and achievements, from the time of his first album in 1996, through his MOBO Award the following year, through to his surprise runaway success in Japan, where he’s revered as a superstar of the same ilk as 50 or Kanye.
In fact, he’s put out so many albums he can’t actually remember how many.
“I’ve done nine proper, full studio albums,” says DL – it stands for ‘def lyrics’, a throwback to his schoolyard rhyming days – “but that doesn’t include other projects such as mixtapes, and albums where I’ve gone back to old sets and re-rhymed them with a new twist. I’ve got one called ‘A Latin Love Story’ for instance, with old songs remodelled over Latin-style beats. I’ve done a greatest hits album, two mini-albums. So if you’re talking full-length CDs, I guess it comes to 15 or 16, something like that.”
The latest addition to the canon is ‘The Fourth Quarter’, which is being marketed as a concept album. The 12 songs are split into four segments, each representing a different theme and mood, and each introduced by a striking and soothing female announcer, half air hostess, half late-night smooth grooves radio DJ.
“Each quarter represents a certain style of hip hop music,” explains DL, in well-versed form. “So the first part is the Soul Quarter, where we’re using breaks from soul records. The second is the New Age Quarter, which is more spaced out, with a kinda clear and open feel. The third is the Jazz Quarter, which is obviously on that heavy jazz-influenced tip. And the last one is the Authentic Quarter, which is more raw and rugged. Those are the four styles of hip hop that I feel I specialise in and do well. So I felt inspired to do an album that separates those four styles, but still brings it all together in one package.”
Funky DL joints have always been instantly recognisable by their beats, just as much as their vocal flows, and despite long-standing collaborations with DJs Paris, an old school friend, and Stix, a lot of listeners are surprised to learn that DL handles his production all by himself. It’s part of the same independent spirit that saw him launch his own Washington Classics label as early as 1997. The mellow, jazzy, piano-led evocative beats are his own personal preference.
“When I make music I try to think of hip hop in its most authentic and purest form. A lot of the music going on now sounds to me very synthetic, very digital, so I try and steer away from that and stick with stuff that just sounds more raw, more rugged. And I think melody is a very important part of things. Especially when you’re trying to sell music overseas and there might be a language barrier. So if the lyrics and the rhymes are not tangible, then something else has to be. Melody is what tends to provoke emotion.”
On ‘The Fourth Quarter’, however, DL deviates from the familiar model a few times.
‘Nicole’ is an uptempo, jiggly bubbler with a quirky electronic beat, ‘The Bump’ offers entertaining connected wordplay over atmospheric synths, ‘Watching The World’ is a reflective comment on the state of contemporary life. ‘The Three Minute Preview’, meanwhile, has DL’s imagination in overdrive. He appears as his tired 72-year-old self, travelling back 43 years to give some words of wisdom to his current self about how to avoid the mistakes that he’s otherwise destined for.
One territory in which DL’s universal approach to his music has already won success is Japan.
“Japan was never anything we intentionally went after,” he explains. “I was just selling records to distributors in this country who were exporting them to wherever would sell them, and I think there was just a natural gravitation towards Japan. At that time, acts like Common, A Tribe Called Quest, Diamond D and Pete Rock were the main players for hip hop out there, so because my music was on a similar theme, it was getting bought up. So within a matter of time I started getting invitations to go out there and do shows and recordings. I’ve been there eight times now, about to go back for a ninth.
“And there’s a misconception about Japan. A lot of people seem to think that they just buy up everything they’re given, and I know a lot of artists here in the UK that have tried to sell their music to Japan based on the fact that I do well. It’s not just a case of the Japanese snapping up any British act. They’re not fickle. They know what they’re buying.”
It’s a sign of the times in 2008 that, although appearing as a lavishly packaged physical CD in Japan, in the UK, there’s still no physical CD release … although that’s currently being negotiated. In the meantime, ‘The Fourth Quarter’ is available via the likes of iTunes, and Japanese copies can be purchased via Amazon, Ebay (new copies, not second-hand,) and shortly, as a digital release via
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