Detroit's Kenny Dixon Jr. has been part of a loosely defined movement committed to injecting some of funk and soul's "black is beautiful" ethos into house and techno. This is an admirable goal, since club- oriented dance music has undergone an undeniable whitewash in the last decade, though his public pronouncements that Caucasoids of any continent have nothing to contribute to the ongoing house discourse would stink of bullshit even if he weren't putting out his full-lengths via a label housed in the not-especially-dark continent of Europe. Dixon's carefully constructed image—his giant Afro and black John Lennon shades—looms from the cover of Black Mahogani like a warning. Opener "Holiday" is a dub reggae mirage. "Roberta Jean Machine" follows in similar fashion before being interrupted by a deep house beat on a live jazz kit. (Dixon's image of Blue Note is closer to Monk's staggering melodic clusters over a constant swing than most jazzy house's Norah Joneses.) "Visions of Jae" teases with the suggestion of a storming house groove in between bouts of jazz-funk percussion. But the fact that it never climaxes points to Dixon's major failing: his inhibiting sense of tasteful refinement. For someone from Detroit, he could certainly do with a visit to Dr. Funkenstein.
Waltz of a Ghetto Fly
Joseph "Amp" Fiddler is also from Detroit, and he's well acquainted with the good doctor—he played with various P-Funk configurations throughout the '80s and '90s. In fact, he was out of the city so much while touring that he claims to have missed the birth of Detroit techno entirely. It's tempting to call bullshit, but it might not be entirely untrue: Waltz of a Ghetto Fly sometimes sounds like an '80s R&B album made by someone who discovered techno yesterday—meaning that it ignores the fact that producers from Timbaland to Teddy Riley have been combining the two for well over a decade now. Fiddler's got a perfectly adequate voice; while no one's gonna mistake him for Ronald Isley, he doesn't embarrass himself, either. When the album works ("Love & War," "Superficial"), it sounds like very good modern R&B with a retro edge. When it doesn't ("Dreamin'," "Soul Divine"), it sounds like what a very retro guy thinks an R&B album should sound like. Expect more "innovation" on the upcoming Destiny's Child album—but for what it is, Waltz isn't half as gelatinous as the new Anita Baker.
DKD hail from West London, Detroit's U.K. outpost, where broken beat was the classy response to 2-step garage, the post–drum and bass universe's version of acid jazz—upwardly mobile boho soul, music for folks who move forward by looking back and dressing up. DKD stands for Daz-I-Kue, Kaidi Taitham, and Dego MacFarlane, one half of jungle gods 4 Hero and one of the most inventive men to ever chop a beat. Fittingly for a guy who created such convoluted jungle grooves as Code 071's classic "A London Sumtin'," the rhythms on Future Rage are more up-front than either Moodymann's or Fiddler's. The title track is a lurching samba that forces you to dance in a fitful start-stop, all angular body movements seized by moments of dreadful tension and hesitation. It's within this tension between stiffness and looseness—the essential funk predicament—that DKD are at their most productive. When they attempt ballads and slow jams, things get far too loose. Poise is an essential part of funk, and the best broken beat is rough but mannered, like it's pausing for breath in between knocking you out.
(Raw Canvas, U.K.)
If you want an introduction to what DKD's Dego used to do with 4 Hero partner Mark Mac, this two-CD collection of remixes of and by others is good, if indulgent and inconsistent. Highlights include their value-pack remix of Goldie's "Inner City Life," compressing 20 minutes into about five, including a terrifying skronking midsection where the jazzy sax is beset by a rain of needling breaks. Bugz in the Attic's siren-happy remix of "Hold It Down" is the closest thing broken beat has to an anthem, a track that manages to be bouncy fun even as it lectures you about acting your age. Their remix of Nuyorican Soul's cover of Rotary Connection's "I Am the Black Gold of the Sun" might be broken beat's ground zero: two-third-tempo drum and bass packed with Latin filigree and Afrodelic vocals. But the best of the bunch is their decade-old reworking of Scarface's hip-hop classic, "I Seen a Man Die." A lonely gunshot rings out, and then Dego and Mark Mac boot up one of those duck, dive, and rolling old-school jungle beats. Scarface's mahogany brown voice interrogates black masculinity before blasting off into the cosmos. The combination of earthy roots sentiment and alien futurism is a scary reminder of just how ahead of its time jungle remains 10 years on. Sometimes, when we're lucky, the present sounds half as exciting.