Funk Legend Steve Arrington On Being Sampled By A Tribe Called Quest, N.W.A. and Jay Z
Steve Arrington has attainted a position of righteous funk royalty. Having risen to prominence with the band Slave in the late-'70s, he then flew the roost to form the humbly-monikered Steve Arrington's Hall of Fame before storming through the '80s as a solo funkateer. Along the way, Arrington's swaggerific grooves have also been repurposed and looped up to bed tracks by rap chaps like Jay Z, N.W.A. and A Tribe Called Quest.
Funkateer Steve Arrington
Ahead of a solo show at Le Poisson Rouge this Tuesday, we spoke to Arrington about the parallels between funk and rap, engaging in musical conversations with Q-Tip, and his links with New York City's nascent hip-hop movement.
Is it true you once had Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five open for you at a show?
Yes, I was there to watch hip-hop's first tour. It was Grandmaster Flash and the Sugarhill Gang and that whole scene. I was there watching the whole thing develop -- it was awesome. Also, some time down the line when Eric B and Rakim really hit the scene, Eric B opened up for me once.
Were you a fan of hip-hop as soon as you heard it?
Absolutely. It was something fresh and new and I'm always interested in that. I dug it from the start.
Did you pick up on any parallels between what the hip-hop artists were doing and people in the funk scene?
Yes, because early hip-hop was very sample-based and when I heard Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," to hear that sample of Chic's "Good Times" -- I was very much convinced about the music and I could dig how they flipped it. And it was the same with other songs, like how they sampled funk music and spoke to it in a different way. I could hear funk's influence on it.
What was cool about it was it kept funk music alive -- in a lot of ways hip-hop used that music from a certain time and a lot of people maybe didn't hear the original tracks but when they started to dig hip-hop they would find where the samples came from. So, yeah, I could see a parallel between hip-hop and funk -- I call them sampling cousins.
Can you remember the first time you heard a hip-hop artist sample some of your music?
I think the first one I noticed was Brand Nubian's "Nobody Can Be You" sample [on "Grand Puba, Positive and L.G."]. That one really stuck out for me and I really dug how they flipped it and sort of cut the bassline and kept playing a part of the bassline.
Was it strange to hear how another artist reinterpreted your music?
Yeah, what was interesting to me about hip-hop was how they would take a part of the beat and say, "You know what? That part of the beat right there is dope and we're gonna loop that and just keep running that part." There's some hip-hop songs like [Jermaine Dupri's] "Money Ain't A Thang" where they just sampled the whole eight-bar section of a track ["Weak At The Knees"]. But some of the other ones they'd take the specifics of a track, like taking one small part and creating a new song off of it. I thought it was creative and unique and I enjoyed it a lot. I really enjoyed Public Enemy and Hank Shocklee and how he brought so many samples together and made this big sound and it just seemed like a tornado or a hurricane coming at you. It all made sense and it was all very musical.