The Wire

The world's greatest print and online music magazine. Independent since 1982

In Writing

XL Middleton’s Guide To G-funk

November 2015

West Coast funk boss XL Middleton gives Alexander Speetzen a guided tour of G-funk and Californian hiphop

“To me, G-funk feels like home,” says XL Middleton. “Those melodic chords, the whistles and heavy synth bass lines – it feels like the West Coast. The music reflects the lifestyle and laidback pace out here. It’s the perfect soundtrack for a backyard barbecue.”

The Southern California synth whiz was born and raised in sunny Pasadena. “LA definitely shaped my entire perspective on the funk,” he tells me over the phone. “We see the funk in a different context with the low riders, the popping and locking, parties at the park and gang banging.” His own sound is heavily influenced by G-funk, which he identifies as the link between 1980s boogie and the modern funk movement. He runs two labels, Crown City Entertainment for G-funk and hiphop, and new imprint MoFunk Records, which concentrates on the expansion of modern funk. The latter mostly releases 45s from a roster of four core members: Moniquea, Eddy Funkster, Diamond Ortiz and XL himself.

Regarding funk music in the here and now, he says: “We have noticed that there is a definite market for a physical product. That’s why we do vinyl and not just MP3s. It shows people that we are serious about our music. My favorite releases so far are Dām Funk’s Toeachizown of course, that’s like The Chronic of modern funk; Charlene by Psychic Mirrors, Brian Ellis’s Reflection and K-Maxx’s EP.” The roots of the music are multiple. “First there was boogie, which got replaced by new jack swing,” he explains. “Then in the early 1990s, hiphop adopted the funk – slowed it down and turned it into G-funk. That’s what kept the funk alive in the 1990s. Now it is experiencing another revival with the modern funk movement.” XL has an encyclopedic knowledge of West Coast sounds. “The Chronic is still the pinnacle,” he says. “I listened to that album at least once a day for like two years. I had it on cassette and the tape snapped twice. Aside from that, I really like Above The Law’s Uncle Sam’s Curse, Warren G’s first album – for sure, Kokane’s Funk Upon A Rhyme, Dazzie Dee’s first album produced by Battlecat and so many others.”

His new album Tap Water, reviewed by Joseph Stannard in The Wire 382, “seeks to build on the links between boogie and G-funk, drawing heavily from both wells to create a fresh sound that pays homage to its blueprints while continuing to progress and innovate at the same time.” Below, he reflects on some of his favorite jams from the G-funk era.

Dazzie Dee
“Knee Deep”
(Raging Bull) 1996

"One of the really sublime expressions of the G-funk sound, “Knee Deep” was produced by Battlecat and is one of the earliest examples of his signature production style. He ruled the second wave of G-funk circa 1998-2001. It predated records like Kurupt’s “We Can Freak It” by a few years. The album’s review in The Source said it sounded like ‘bland jazz on your day off’ – I beg to differ."

DJ Quik
“Somethin’ 4 Tha Mood”
(Profile) 1995

“I think most people would choose “Dollaz & Sense” as that one cut from the Safe + Sound album. It certainly does represent the album well as a whole, but “Somethin’ 4 Tha Mood” singularly captures the entire feel of LA. It’s like the city itself – perfectly laid back, yet somehow simultaneously fast paced. Perfect music for your backyard smoke session or if you’re doing 55 over the Arlington dip.”

“In The Wind”
(Penalty Recordings/Big Beat) 1996
“Ultimately branched from the same family tree that spawned Warren G offshoot acts like The Doveshack and The Twinz, Foesum was a little more distantly related, but just as funky. Their debut album, Perfection, was just that – a slept-on high point for the genre. That warm mid-tempo, R&B influenced chords, synth whistles – it’s all there. Bonus: Foesum was originally known as Perfection. Snoop collaborated with them in the early days on a song entitled “Let ‘Em Understand Perfection”, hence his famous lyric “Perfection is perfected so I’m a let ‘em understand”. ”

Suga Free
“The Game Don’t Wait”
(HMF Entertainment) 2008

“It goes without saying that DJ Quik helped to establish his signature electro G-funk sound, yet Suga Free did some of his best work after they parted ways. I wanted to include this one to show you just how fresh the style could be; years after folks would’ve hollered that it was outdated.“

(Outburst Records/Columbia) 1993
“Not to be confused with the single “Ghetto Jam”, this is a vital inclusion, because here you can really see the connection between 1980s boogie and 90s West Coast hiphop. The guitar riff was lifted from Roger’s “So Ruff, So Tuff” and stands prominently out front. But if you look at every element of the song – the handclaps, the sizzling synth bass – you have what basically sounds like one of those rare 80s 12"s slowed down to a hiphop pace.”

The Controllers
(MCA Records) 1986

“Not a G-funk song, or even a hiphop song, but certainly worth including as the whole groove and composition of this song is basically proto G-funk. Simple but effective 808 drums, light keyboard work and a mobbish synth bass line that somebody like Ant Banks could’ve basically just looped and rhymed over. Warren G used this one for his song “Transformers”.”

Crime Boss
“Big Chiefin’”
(Suave) 1995

“The Southern G-funk thing was so heavy. They injected a bluesy feel to it. Obviously they were deeply influenced by what was going on out West, but they took it and did it their own way. They always tried to keep it as melodic as possible, so it made sense that whole style appealed to them to begin with.”

“Can U Feel It”
(Wilbro/Pyramid Records Group) 1994

“Quintessential West Coast gangsta boogie from the 1990s, this was another laid back party jam with a more rough-edged, underground twist that’s evident in the song structure itself, the way that last verse just goes on and on, almost like a freestyle.”

Big Mellow
(Rap-A-Lot) 1994

“Big Mello embodied the Texas G-funk style (not to mention ESG and 5th Ward Boyz, to name a few). They showed a lot more West Coast influence than contemporaries such as Geto Boys or UGK (though they were certainly influenced as well). This one is a perfect sip-a-forty-and-watch-the-Dayton-spokes-spin, backyard boogie type joint, with a fresh replay of a Minnie Riperton sample.”

Joint Mobb
“Boomin At A Young Age”
(Little E) 1994

“Now we’re getting deep. This is the type of stuff that may well have been recorded on a home set-up and pressed up. The rapping is not impressive though one may find a certain charm in its unrefined nature. The track isn’t much more than a loop of Mtume’s “COD (I’ll Deliver)” and as such, gives you a good idea of what this era of musicians were listing to as their source material, again demonstrating the connection between boogie and G-funk.”

Coop MC
“Hangin At 2”
(On The Rise) 1995

“This is one of the most sought-after G-funk albums – for those in the know. Home Of The Killers was a dark, melancholy look into the life of the Fort Worth based rapper. There was a definite sadness (or, at the very least, an ultimate level of chill) that pervaded all of the songs, even with the few joints on the album that were intended to inject a little sunshine into the program, such as this one.”

Above The Law
“Return Of The Real Shit”
(Ruthless) 1994

“It’s been said that Cold 187um is the true originator of the G-funk sound. I’m not going to argue for or against that, as Dre, Warren G and many others were instrumental in contributing to the evolution of the genre overall. That being said, he definitely had his own style, which most often consisted of the usual hard claps and driving bass lines, only meshed with dark piano chords and dissonant layers upon layers of synth leads that were emulated by countless beat makers at that time. It would have been crazy to hear him do an instrumental album during this era, along the lines of what many of today’s modern funk artists are doing.”

“All Bark No Bite”
(Ruthless) 1994

“Speaking of Cold 187um and the Above The Law sound, another one of the critical elements was the neo P-funk crooning of Kokane. Songs like these felt like 1980s synth funk joints, slowed down to a syrupy tempo and drenched with new synths right on top of the old ones. I thought this song was a great example of what Kokane added to the mix because he vocalised on here so liberally. Plus, it’s cool to hear guest vocals from the Alkaholiks, sans Tash, who would’ve murdered this track as well.”

5th Ward Juvenilez
(Rap-A-Lot) 1995

“This is the absolute pinnacle of Southern G-funk. A beautifully replayed Blackbyrds sample, three rappers with distinctively different styles, and the requisite female vocal that was a little off at times, which was kind of an unintentional hallmark of tracks like these. It felt as if they were in the studio like, ‘hey don’t you have a homegirl that sings? Call her up so she can come do this hook for us.’”

“RID Is Coming”
(Samoan Mafia/First Kut Music) 1995

“Boo-Yaa TRIBE delivered some of the hardest 1990s funk music period, hiphop related or otherwise, not to mention the 2000s (see the 2003 Battlecat-produced West Koasta Nostra, a criminally underrated masterpiece). Ganxsta Rid was their unofficial lead member and declared his dominance on “Rid Is Coming”, an indulgent, over-the-top rumbler that makes reference to just about every funk classic as he stages a “hijack on the Mothership”.”

“Jus So Ya No”
(Interscope) 1994

“Perhaps best known for his verse on 2Pac’s “Picture Me Rollin’’, CPO has a dexterous West Coast flow and a distinctive voice with a deep, rolling drawl. It’s produced by Carl ‘Butch’ Small and Tony Green, two old school guys with credits from a slew of 1970s and 80s Parliament and P-funk related albums. I think that it’s interesting to their take on G-funk. Not too surprisingly, it’s dead on – melodic chords, bouncing bass line, mellow lead synths whistling. Oh yeah, I think that’s Val Young on the intro vocal too. The boogie crowd knows her as the Rick James spinoff artist who did the classic LP Seduction. The hiphop crowd knows her as the smoky-voiced vocalist who sang the choruses for Pac’s “To Live & Die in LA””

Leave a comment

Pseudonyms welcome.

Used to link to you.