I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the kind of artists — not just musicians, but across the board — who find success almost immediately and explode onto the scene at a young age, versus those who work hard for years and years before anyone has a clue who they are. Adolescent Funk, a new collection of early Dam-Funk home recordings, paints a clear picture of Damon Riddick as one of the latter. Here’s a guy who who started young, had true passion, worked hard and never gave up on his dream of making music. He had some success doing session work for West coast hip hop records in the early 1990s, but it was a chance encounter just a few years ago with Stones Throw head Peanut Butter Wolf — who bonded with him over their shared love of bands like Slave and Zapp — that led to the label releasing Dam’s phenomenal Toeachizown record. But Dam has actually been laying down the foundations of his "future funk" style for more than 20 years. Armed with not much more than a Casio keyboard and a Radio Shack mixer, young Damon was holed up in his bedroom making tracks not unlike those heard on his 2009 debut all the way back in 1988.
Sometimes I feel like these "Early Years" and "Demos" kind of compilations can just be half-assed opportunities for an artist or label to move some extra units to completist fans. Luckily, this is not at all the case with Adolescent Funk. It’s a record that holds together from start to finish, and with a handful of really serious dance floor jams. I mean, who wouldn’t be inspired to dance by a song like "I Like Your Big Azz (Girl)." "It’s My Life" is a terrific Prince inspired rave-up, one of a bunch of tracks that have a charmingly upbeat "life is great, you can do whatever you want to do" message. Never mind that among the things Dam might want to do with his life are "fuck up a cat" or "go to the bank and steal some cash," he insists that even if he got caught doing something bad his life would go on and be just fine. It’s positive thinking with a touch of darkness.
Even the housey "I Love Life," which is basically just Dam chanting the title over and over again, starts and ends with references to suicide: "I don’t know how anyone can kill themselves." Lyrically, it’s a little less abstract than Toeachizown, more of a glimpse into an L.A. teen’s psyche. The vast majority of the songs deal with what you’d expect a teenage boy to be thinking about: girls. Sleeping with girls, getting too many phone calls from girls, breaking up with girls, girls who have attitude problems.
Maybe it isn’t a fully planned out album, but for a collection of cassette recordings made in a teenager’s bedroom, Adolescent Funk is way better than you could possibly expect it to be. Everything from the prom photo cover with Dam and his friends posing on the back of a limo (you have to wonder if they were thinking about the cover for Midnight Star’s classic No Parking On The Dancefloor LP when they chose the photo), to the answering machine message from Dam’s teenage ex-girlfriend that closes the album is pretty close to perfection.
It’s a totally fun record, and in the interim between Toeachizown and whatever Dam-Funk does next, I’m absolutely loving it.