It’s not everyday you get to have a funk jam session with a living legend. I have been fortunate enough before to see some true greats get down on the one. There’s Thundercat at Roots Picnic and AfroPunk, Terrace Martin at the Blue Note and, one of my personal faves, DāM-Funk at New York City’s The Manhattan Center.
And while all those are worthy contenders for the funk throne, but it graciously belongs to Steve Arrington.
“The first time I heard James Brown‘s ‘Cold Sweat,’ that was it for me,” the Dayton, Ohio legend told me via email. For me, it was fellow Dayton talents such as Roger Troutman and ZAPP, Lakeside, Sun, and the penultimate group, The Ohio Players, that blazed a trail to the funk. Arrington played in various bands from The Murphys, Sheila E., and eventually joined Slave on their third LP, called The Concept.
Eventually, the engineer and percussionist took over lead vocals, singing on the hit singles, “Just a Touch of Love,”“Wait for Me,” and “Watching You,” which has been sampled by the likes of Snoop Dogg and others. “Funk is such a beautiful language because it embraces so many genres of music,” Arrington shared with me. “Sly Stone brought the pop songwriting element to it. Jimi Hendrix brought jazz and blues. George Clinton brought theatrics and concepts to the funk. Earth, Wind & Fire brought the spiritual to it.”
Funk welcomes everybody to speak freely and with it as a foundation for 20th and 21st century popular music, it is only right that we celebrate on “The One” with a special edition of ESSENCE’s The Playlist. Ordained by the practicing minister and his new solo album, Down To The Lowest Terms: The Soul Sessions, these 10 songs are meant appeal to the frequency inside you and show that it is worth not being afraid of being different. “People will forget what you did, they’ll forget what you said, but, as the great Maya Angelou concluded, ‘They’ll never forget how you made them feel,’” the Funk Lord said, adding, “I believe that and I believe funk is a foundation to give life your all.”
1. Steve Arrington — “Weak At The Knees”
The first pick from the legendary funkster is “Weak At The Knees,” which was one of the first songs Arrington made as a solo act after leaving the band Slave in 1982. Under his new groove, Steve Arrington’s Hall of Fame, he let loose this classic ditty that would be later sampled by the likes of N.W.A, Three Times Dope, Jay-Z, Jermaine Dupri, and others. Y’all young ones add this to your rotation so you can get your funk on proper-like.
2. Dām-FunK & Snoop Dogg — “Do My Thang”
I could’ve gone and chose “1Question?” which also features Steve Arrington’s dulcet vocals, but as one of my favorite funk duos—7 Days of Funk (Dām-FunK & Snoop Dogg)—this cut is one that still gets repeat play. On “Do My Thang,” the Stones Throw legend connects with The Doggfather for a laidback groove that any child of the Mothership can get down to and appreciate.
3. Cameo — “I Just Want To Be” (12” Version)
Produced and written by Larry Blackmon, “I Just Want To Be” is a pleasure-filled funk romp that helped to put Chocolate City Records on the map — and is Steve Arrington’s second pick for The Playlist. As a fellow session player turned lead frontman for a history-making band, Arrington and Blackmon are considered compatriots with the “New York City Players” complimenting the Dayton, Ohio-based Slave. Cuffing SZN may be “over,” but you can play this one whenever you’re looking for a snow bae to ride the slopes with.
4. Ghost-Note — “Funk You Muthafunka”
Swagism is a great album for first-time jazz listeners and audiophiles to enjoy and engage with. Robert “Sput” Searight and Nate Werth are two “friends in my mind” who are the founders of this contagious funk groove known as “Funk You Muthafunka,” which also combines lightning-fast, strign-brass melodies with hip-hop beats. A mesmerizing song from an exceedingly talented group, this song by Ghost-Note is thematically unique and deeply loaded with world-class funk that you would be a fool to ignore.
5. The Ohio Players — “Skin Tight”
It’s no secret that the funk DNA is rooted in the Midwest. As a fellow Ohioan (#330 stand up!) — Steve’s third selection for ESSENCE’s The Playlist is near and dear to any true blue record collector’s heart. “Skin Tight” was a major turning point in the Ohio Players’ career, who had already enjoyed several hits on Black radio. When this number hit radios across the country, these Dayton funksters instantly become one of the most celebrated funk bands of the 1970s. If you don’t wanna be a jive turkey, do as Steve Arrington does and make sure to keep the funk alive by sharing this jam with friends and family.
6. Sango — “Kalimba Funk”
Soulection’s own Sango is not only a man of the people, but also a man of the culture. His brand of meshing genre styles that race across hemispheres might not be known to all, but I am super ecstatic to share “Kalimba Funk” with the ESSENCE audience. The single, which is a part of Da Rocinha 4, pays tribute to the largest favela in Brazil and highlights the birthplace of baile funk, one of Sango’s biggest influences. It’s not too late for you to catch the groove and play this one for your people come next week’s Turkey Day.
7. Bootsy Collins — “Ahh… The Name Is Bootsy Baby!!”
Originating out of Cincinnati, Ohio, the one-of-a-kind Bootsy Collins was born with the funk in his DNA. Steve probably has countlessly cool stories about his time hanging out with the leader of the Rubber Band, but where these two merge as one is with the consistently infectious lyrics. “Ahh… The Name Is Bootsy, Baby!” is a pure meeting of the funk minds between Collins and his mentor, George Clinton, who co-wrote this song and made sure to include that distinctive P-funk sound that we know and love from Parliament/Funkadelic. Without question, Steve Arrington’s second-to-last pick is essential listening for lovers of that hardcore, stanky, 1970s funk.
8. Kirby — “We Don’t Funk”
To follow Steve Arrington’s pick, I have to share the funkiness of my musical crush, KIRBY. The Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter still has me jonesin’ for more music, but “We Don’t Funk” will have to tide listeners over for now. This single, which appears on her 2020 album Sis., is almost a love letter to funkateer Bootsy Collins, and drips with a sticky groove that vibes in alignment with anyone with a self-assured confidence. Even as she dismisses her flock of haters in the club, KIRBY makes it all feel delicious over producer Homer Steinwess’ effortless sounds. If you aren’t familiar with the one-of-a-kind songstress, be sure to add this song (and all her other joints) to your own personal collection.
9. Earth, Wind & Fire — “Serpentine Fire”
For Steve Arrington’s final pick for ESSENCE’s The Playlist, he selected an all-time great and classic number. “Serpentine Fire,” which can be played no matter the time, was the late-great Maurice White’s attempt at taking what he learned during a Brazilian vacation and share it as a funky number. While even the most hardcore fan thinks the correct pronunciation of the title (“ser-per-teen”) is unimportant to enjoy this beautifully popping’ mid-tempo jam, one can imagine just why this Earth, Wind & Fire classic is forever necessarily at every Black BBQ around the globe.
10. KOKOROKO — “Baba Ayoola”
Written as “an invitation to celebrate life,” my last pick for this week’s The Playlist is a brilliant single by the equally brilliant KOKOROKO. “Baba Ayoola” is their first single since “Carry Me Home” this February, and is an enchantingly funky glisten through melodic afrofunk. Enhanced with bursts of power brass and bass, the gospel-like harmonies are potent enough to merge your soul and heart with the exhilarating crescendoes. KOKOROKO is an undeniable favorite to play in my home and I encourage you all to honor this groove by letting this one play with the volume way past 10.