Dâm-Funk’s Rolodex weighs a ton. The man born Damon G. Riddick is set to release Invite the Light, his triple-LP follow-up to 2009’s five-LP Toeachizown, and the key word in the title is “invite.” Dâm (pronounced “dame”) reached out to a few friends to help him finish the album some six years in the making. While in the past he’s collaborated with Eighties funk folk ranging from Steve Arrington and Aurra to more recent beatheads like Peanut Butter Wolf and James Pants, not to mention hooking up with the Doggfather himself, Snoop Dogg, for 2012’s collaborative joint, 7 Days of Funk.
On Invite the Light, in addition to a return from Snoop, the roll call has expanded to include: Flea, Q-Tip, Jodi Watley, Ariel Pink and former Ohio Player and “One Nation Under a Groove” writer Junie Morrison, to name a just few guests. The album is nothing if not epic and ambitious in scope: It takes the listener on a sonic journey from the early days of funk (think Mothership Connection or Ohio Players’ “Funky Worm”) to the boogie and modern-soul era of the Eighties before moving into some intergalactic freakiness. And at the center of it all is the chameleonic Dâm-Funk. Calling from Ladera Heights, also known as “the black Beverley Hills,” Dâm discussed the importance of working a day job, how hip-hop’s sampling woes got him work as a session player during the G-funk era and what his reaction was the first time he heard Ariel Pink on the radio.
What was the first record you bought?
To be fair, I came up in an album and 12-inch era in the late Seventies. What I bought with my allowance was Rick James’ You and I with “Mary Jane” on it and the Giorgio Moroder 12-inch of “The Chase” from Midnight Express. I grew up in a musical household. My dad was into all types of sounds: Iron Butterfly to Curtis Mayfield. I was checking out the album covers, from that Barry White album where he’s holding all these women in the palms of his hand [I’ve Got So Much to Give] to Sly and the Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, with that American flag all weirded out. It was all in the house.
What was your first instrument?
My pop brought me a drum kit when I was six years old. I moved onto keyboards on my own. There was an organ at the house like those kinds of organs you saw for sale at the mall. But I bought my own analog keyboards. I learned how to play drums and read notes in junior high, but on keyboards, I was self-taught. I was afraid to unlearn what I learned. It was good I didn’t, as I created my own type of chords without a teacher. Maybe one day I’ll go learn how to read Bach, but it hasn’t hurt me yet.
You started off doing session work?
A friend had a cousin who was dating Leon Sylvers III of the Sylvers, then on the Solar Records imprint, and he took a liking to the music I was making in my bedroom. He saw the raw talent and took me under his wing. I worked with him after he left Solar in the early Nineties. I started hooking up with the Westside Connection and MC Eiht. It was after the big Biz Markie sampling debacle, when all those rappers had to get away from sampling without paying. All these West Coast rappers did live instrumentation using cats who could play and that’s how I was involved.
That was your day job?
Nah. My day job was working at the Red Cross graveyard shift. I worked at OfficeMax, Fuddruckers, you name it. You got to finance your dream in a certain way, and my parents give me some good training and taught me how to get a job and not take handouts. We wanted to take girls out and buy clothes, so me and my friends had jobs. It was never about the job — whether it was at Sears or JCPenney — we just wanted to pad our pockets with money and take girls out to clubs.
“I worked at OfficeMax, Fuddruckers, you name it. You got to finance your dream in a certain way.”
Were you a fan of G-funk when it first dropped?
I loved it when G-funk came. We were heavily influenced by East Coast rap. See that was the difference: West Coast rap embraced East Coast rap while the East Coast didn’t. That’s what caused some of the rifts and ridiculous beefs that happened. We weren’t being embraced. Our radio stations played Run-DMC, Rakim and KRS-One, but they wouldn’t play anything like Ice-T or Egyptian Lover. G-funk was a welcome situation because the music was us. We saw people like Snoop and knew people like Snoop around in our neighborhoods. We identified with the hairstyles, the dress code and lingo. Cats like Warren G, MC Eiht and especially DJ Quik, it was a great welcome to us; we could relate to them and interpret hip-hop through that prism in a way West Coasters like me were comfortable with.
What was your favorite session work at that time?
Westside Connection’s “Let It Reign” off the Thicker Than Water soundtrack, a regional late G-funk classic, and some MC Eiht records from back in the day. I got my credit and got respect.
Then what led you to get out of hip-hop then and go for yourself?
One day I was at Can Am studios in the Valley. It was the studio that a lot of the Death Row cats recorded at. I was there doing a session with Westside Connection. It was with Mack 10 and his producers, and lots of testosterone was in the room. Snoop came through with tha Dogg Pound and it was a lot of testosterone, with all these guns out on the engineering board.
And after the session I was driving home listening to Steve Arrington’s 1983 hit “Nobody Can Be You,” and I was driving down the 405 and went: “I’m just gonna do this funk. This is what I’m about. I’m not about this gangsta rap.” I came from that shit and knew about the hood and gangs and didn’t want to continue talking about it and make music based on it. Funk was always in my heart. “Let me do my own thing,” I said to myself. So I went back to my day job and left that whole scene alone. And it was after I started placing tracks on MySpace that it caught Peanut Butter Wolf’s ear.
How many years did it take to make Toeachizown?
Toeachizown was spawned by not cutting things out, just putting everything out. We saw what BBE did with this Roy Ayers five-12-inch boxset [actually a promotional item from Puma featuring Roy Ayers, Madvillain and Diplo], and we did it in that format. It took a while for that record to catch on. Stones Throw had a different style: Dilla, Madvillain, and this was a new vibe. Boogie and modern funk was coming up and people were digging deeper. I just did my own thing, and people felt that passion. So many people around me in L.A. were basically trying to be Dilla, and I wasn’t. Much respect to Dilla, but that wasn’t what I was doing. I love Dilla and Madlib’s productions, especially Yesterday’s New Quintet.
It took six years for you to follow it up with Invite the Light. What took so long?
I lost my drummer. I lost Jovan “J-1” Coleman, who played drums with me. And as you get some notoriety, people start coming around and using you. A lot of things I went through after Toeachizown dropped. It wasn’t a Billboard hit, but on the underground scene, I was a celebrity. I had to be careful not letting that go to my head. But I was touched, getting involved with people I shouldn’t have been involved with. I had to jump off of music and experience the real world and life. I needed that experience. You need to experience some real shit to make some real art. The album gets dark in the middle but it winds up being positive.
“You need to experience some real shit to make some real art.”
Right at the midway point of the album, there’s a collaboration between you and Ariel Pink. You guys have a parallel musical sensibility, and I was wondering how you found out about him?
One day I was riding in my car listening to KXLU 88.9 FM, and they played this song, “Life in L.A.” And I was like: “Who the fuck is this?” I could hear the hiss of the tape, the passion, the realness, and it wasn’t funky, but it was just incredible. I took to it. I even called the radio station to find out who it was. I found his stuff and then hooked up with him on MySpace via people like Nite Jewel and [Ariel Pink and Beck engineer] Cole MGN. We became cool via MySpace. It’s hazy how it all happened, but we all became friends and do gigs together. Ariel and I went to Glendale to make that song on Invite the Light.
You also collaborated with Snoop on a full-length album. Did he remember that time you bumped into him at Can Am?
I never brought it up! It was a trip after all these years to connect with him. It happened organically. I was performing at this art gallery that was hosting a show by Joe Cool, who did the artwork for Doggystyle and the like. I was performing there, and as I looked around, I could see Snoop digging my shit. Snoop had his phone up, recording my session. I went over to him mid-set and played shoulder synth right in front of him.
People online kept saying we needed to hook up, between my sound and Snoop’s flow. We just clicked. He grew up in Long Beach, and I grew up in Pasadena, so we knew all the same shit, the same clothes, the same cartoons. He invited me to perform at this Nate Dogg tribute at SXSW. What was funny is back in 2011 and ’12, when I was distracted and down, I realized that Snoop had messaged me on SoundCloud saying: “Yo, I need some of that heat.” I’m sitting here dazed and confused, dealing with drama and Snoop trying to reach me. So 7 Days of Funk happened when one day he came over to my pad. The first song we did was “Hit Da Pavement,” recorded right in my bedroom. He rolled up in the Porsche, I played him some tracks, and he said, “That one,” and I just put the mic in front of him as he was sitting there. It was underground and raw.
I like doing collaborations and whatnot, but I think I helped enough people and did enough remixes. Right now, it’s time for me to be that kid that was watching Scooby-Doo and playing a broom in the mirror, imagining being an artist. It’s time to get back to being that guy. I came up listening to Prince, Rick James, Rush. Ain’t no collabs on no Rush album. Next time I’m gonna do something like Prince Dirty Mind.