It all started with Def Jef… He included an unreleased B-side cut, ”Phunky Az Phuck”, on the last single for his debut album. I’m guessing the track’s primary purpose was to showcase how much Def Jef’s lyrical skill had already advanced from the songs he recorded on his debut. Plus it also revealed that his DJ, Erick Vaan, was rather nice on the mic as well. After a five-minute lyrical assault the beat fades out, then slowly returns for several more minutes so Def Jef can give a long list of shout outs. Back then I paid close attention to shout-outs. Guest vocalists on tracks weren’t as popular as they would become just a couple years later or now for that matter. The primary means to know whom your favorite artists were co-signing was via their shout-outs. If I heard a name that caught my attention and that I wasn’t aware of I would write it down or lock it in my memory for my next trip to the record store. On “Phunky Az Phuck” that shout-out was to “Funkytown Pros”. It wasn’t just their name. Even in the way Def Jef said it suggested they were something special. You could tell by his tone that he wanted you to explore it further…or at least that is how I took it.
A year later, Def Jef dropped his impressive second album, “Soul Food” and one of the clear highlights of that album was the title track, which debuted the monumental skills of the Funkytown Pros.
The track, Produced by Devastatin’ Of Funkytown Pros and Def Jef, is clearly different than anything else on the album. It makes effective use of an organ, transforming it into pleasantly eerie noise that is bordering on hypnotic. The drums have a slight swing, which gives the song some great movement and acts as a subtle counter-balance to the darker nature of the lead sample.
The subject matter of the song deals with racism and the challenge of black consciousness to rise above the years of mounting oppression that have been placed on the shoulders and mentality of so many. On the first verse, Boiwondah perfectly captures the potential that is struggling to get its footing, “Our people got it together, but they forgot where they put it…”
The first thing about Boiwondah that demands attention is his unique vocal tone and demeanor. Secondly, any true lyrical analyst is sure to be memorized by this avant-garde style. His approach is so fluid that it seems like a random word association game, but a closer listen discloses his messages to be profound and the writing to be meticulous.
After hearing “Soul Food” I prayed to the Hip Hop gods for a Funkytown Pros album and soon after they answered, courtesy their debut album on 4th & Broadway in 1991.
Without a doubt, I’m quite appreciative of Def Jef for introducing me to the greatness of the Funkytown Pros. Yet, in any event, they had a guaranteed purchase even if I had no previous knowledge and just happened to walked in the store and saw an album titled “Reachin’ A Level Of Assassanation” that featured cover art with a guy sitting comfortably on the couch, unaware of an infra-beam strategically resting on his domepiece. That’s the illness…
I know this is a bold statement, but I don’t know of any one Hip Hop album that blew my mind more than this album. Sure there were artists who over the course of several singles and/or albums that had a larger overall influence over me, such as Kool G Rap, Mele Mel, Kool Moe, Dee, Rakim, KRS One, and probably a few others. I just can’t think of any album that affected me, on a whole, like this, from the productions, lyrics, concepts, and subject matter.
The production, done by Devastatin’ The Rhythm Fluctuator, was creative, interesting, funky, melodic, rugged and at times haunting. Much of the album pulled from sample sources I wasn’t familiar with, but had a heavy jazz essence.
However, even when he tapped into familiar sounds the results were intriguing. “White Green” uses the popular “Impeach The President” drums and cleverly mixes in traces of James Brown, but the true characters comes from the drunken sounding horns and unassuming additional textures. “Genius” makes, what is probably, the most creative use ever of Tom Tom Club’s “Genius Of Love” and perfectly pairs it with a flute sample, resulting in a song that has a decent amount of radio appeal, but without sacrificing any grittiness. After “Reachin’ A Level Of Assassination”, The Rhythm Fluctuator, was the new level of production excellence and inventiveness that I would strive for.
As for Boiwondah, I consider this album to be among the highest levels of lyrical excellence, comparable only to other greats like Organized Konfusion, The GZA and that list of MCs I mentioned earlier. I eventually will do a special “Microphone Mathematics” series dedicated to analyze the lyrics of this album.
I listened to this album nearly every day for a couple years and continually found new hidden meanings being revealed to me. I literally listened to this tape until just about all of the text had been rubbed of and then the day came when it just fell to pieces. Even though I was able to get my hands on vinyl and CD versions of the album, I was unable to throw out the mangled, worn-out tape…I still have it’s broken shell as a memento of this album’s importance to me.
A few years after this album’s release, I started a Underground Hip Hop magazine called Caught In The Middle and I did a flashback review for “Reachin’ The Level Assassination” and mentioned them a couple times thru out the mags existence. Around that same time, 1995, J-Bird (who as my partner in the magazine) was doing promotions for Correct Records and one of the groups they were pushing was LA based group, Mannish. They group came down to my Time Travel Radio Show a couple times and when I saw their album had production credits from Devastatin’ I was beaming with excitement. In an on-air interview with Mannish I asked them about their ties to Funkytown Pros and they told me those were their boys, who they kicked it with and they eventually put me in contact with the group.
At that moment, it seemed like perfect timing. Funkytown Pros had recently gotten a new record deal with Capitol Records* and I was looking forward to helping them push and promote the new album. I traded phone conversations with Boiwondah, Devastatin’ and also affiliate MC, K Borne for a couple years. Devastatin’ even sent me a DAT tape of some demos they were working on for the new album(s). These tracks showed some growth and experimentation, but still were pushing the limits of creativity. Unfortunately, none of them were ever released and I remained among the very few to have any additional recordings from the crew. To make matters worse, Devastatin’ told me that studio they were working out went out of business unexpectedly and they weren’t able to get some of the Master Tapes and I had the only copy of some of their tracks on that DAT. I wanted to convert it for myself, so I sent it to him and then a few weeks later I got it back “return to the sender” because he had moved! Luckily the rare DAT made it’s way back to me. I’ve held on to it and for the next 15 years or so I would occasionally try to track the crew down and reestablish contact, but it never fully realized… Not until recently when I randomly found the YouTube channel for Manslaughter, one of the groups founding members, and he had posted some unreleased demos produced by Devastatin’. I reached out to him on YouTube and he hit me back and finally reconnected me with Dev! I was able to sit down with him about the Funkytown Pros experience while I was out in LA last year….
In Part One, we discuss Dev’s early musical experiences and how his “West Coast outlook and Down South upbringing” influenced his unique production style. He talks about how he met Boiwondah and then they added Manslaughter to form their original crew. He reveals that they were originally a DJ crew and they worked with and were inspired by LA pioneers such as General Lee, Jamming Gemini, and Ultra Wave. He gives the timeline of meeting Def Jef, connecting with DJ P (Paul Stewart) and how that lead to the deal with 4th And Broadway. He also speaks on how during recording their debut they made trips to New York and rocked shows or had experiences with Ultramagnetic MCs, KRS One, Public Enemy, and a young DMX!
Funkytown Pros "Reachin' A Level Of Assassination" Sampler:
*The Famous Capitol Rap Debacle Of 1995: I talk about this all the time because I’m still very disappointed with Capitol Records, who in the mid 90s decided that “Rap wasn’t cool anymore” or something like that and dropped of their Hip Hop groups. As a result we didn’t get planned albums on time or in many cases at all from, Funkytown Pros, Royal Fam, Abstract Rude, Ninety-9, Myka 9, Kool Keith, etc… Which was one of the finest underground Hip Hop artist rosters of that time period.
Text & Interview By Kevin Beacham
Video Shot & Edited By Adam Stanzak for Oh Boy Films