Beards, Blazers & Glasses or Chromeo Updates Roger & Zapp for the 21st Century
Before it descended into a hell-fire of Yung Berg, Lloyd, and partying like a rock star, local "urban" station Power 106, used to play more than just hip-hop & R&B. Eclectic DJs used to throw weird old funk and club records into the mix, making you just likely to hear "Nothin' But A G-Thing" as you were to hear Frankie Smith's "Double Dutch Bus," or the Egyptian Lover's "Egypt Egypt." More than anything you'd hear a whole lot of Parliament-Funkadelic and a whole lot of Zapp. In fact, I'm reasonably certain that there are still parts of east Los Angeles where Roger Troutman is worshipped like a minor deity due to "More Bounce to the Ounce."
The Troutman and old funk records might have been as lyrically simple as the cliche-riddled hooks that modern mainstream rap and R&B singers try to pass of as anthems, but unlike "Lean like a Cholo," the Zapp records never had a sense of calculation to them. They weren't trying to sell a million ringtones or get played on Rap City, they were just trying to have fun. Indeed, you'd be more hard-pressed to find a more funky, loose-limbed party starter than the funk collective's greatest hits. But for all Troutman's influence on West Coast hip-hop (and Erick Sermon), his impact had been rather minimal outside of it. Until Chromeo.
Full of vocodors, huge synths and impossibly catchy pop hooks, Fancy Footwork is probably the best party record of the year. Part Roger & Zapp, part Rockwell circa "Somebody's Watching Me," part Hall & Oates and a bit of Steely Dan , Fancy Footwork flirts dangerously with being a pastiche-like homage , but ultimately who gives a fuck? It's fun, the songs are good, and on-stage, the pair have a natural affability that allows their songs to translate well to the live environment. And if you don't believe me, 1,000 hipsters at Cinespace in head bands and designer hats would tell you otherwise.
My Personal Favorite Facet of Roger is His "You Are Getting Sleepy" Hypnotist Face (see, top and center)The decision to use Troutman's music as source material comes as little surprise when you learn of Chromeo's hip-hop centric background. In fact, the duo of Dave 1 and Pee Thugg, werea strictly known as hip-hop producers (Dave's brother is Kanye's DJ A-Trak) until their friend, Montreal producer Tiga asked them if they wanted to make an electro record. They figured, what the hell, and without any background in the genre, they made She's In Control, an auspicious debut, but one slightly less consistent than it's predecessor.
Running through a set-list that drew off both records, Chromeo are the proverbial on-stage odd couple. Dave 1, the lead singer is a lanky Jewish dude who looks like a GQ version of Dan Bejar from Destroyer. Handling 75 percent of the vocals, he chips in the occasional guitar riff. Pee is a heavy-set Arab dude, who rocks the keyboards and chimes in back-up vocals with vocoder tubes dangling from his mouth. They bill themselves as the greatest collaboration between Jews and Arabs in the history of time and neither seems to take themselves very seriously, solely concerned with making sure the crowd has a good time, constantly smiling, cracking jokes between songs.
Admittedly, the concept of a vaguely ironic, Vice-sanctioned electro-funk group is enough to keep your eyes rolled until November, but while the idea seems silly on paper, it works in reality, thanks to Chromeo's exceptional gift for writing great pop songs. In an ideal world, these songs would get as much radio airplay as Chromeo's inspirations used to receive. But even if they won't get "Party Like the Rock Star" off the airwaves, Chromeo actually are capable of getting a bunch of hipsters in fedoras to party like them, which I suppose is the first step.
See also my piece on Chromeo in the LA Times
MP3: Chromeo-"Fancy Footwork"
MP3: Chromeo-"Bonafied Lovin' (Tough Guys)"