BREAKESTRA with MADLIB and PEANUT BUTTER WOLF at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (March 16). $12. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
if hiphop is really all about
the breaks beneath the rhymes, then L.A.'s Breakestra are beating DJs at their own game. The 10-piece funk crew digs into the deepest wells of hiphop culture, playing the famous Kool & the Gang, Jimmy Smith and JB snippets that have been sampled to death by producers and DJs.
Assembled five years ago by bassist and funk freak Miles Tackett, the highly conceptual project began as an extension of the conventional hiphop production Tackett was doing around home as well as the rare funk sets he heard spun by DJ pals like Cut Chemist.
What emerged was a band with an relationship to the worlds of hiphop and funk, one that played the music that hiphop producers sample but also injected a hiphop sensibility into those same funk songs.
Breakestra's new Live Mix Part 2 disc is a long medley of breaks, with classic, instantly recognizable bits of funk spilling into each other. It sounds like the best rare groove DJ set you've ever heard, but no DJ sounds this fresh.
"When I really got into hiphop and funk, I was a fully fledged live-music guy," Tackett explains. "Being a DJ was never an option, and it just made sense to do this stuff live.
"The concept of Breakestra actually came together quickly. We're a funk band that plays these old funk songs one after the other. It's done the same way as a DJ would put together a mixed tape. There's a bit of room for soloing, but Breakestra is really all about the breaks."
Talk to Tackett and his passion for this music shines through, something that's often overlooked in the obsessive record-collecting frenzy of break culture. He thinks of Breakestra more as a cultural preservation project than just a band.
"Breakestra is both a funk thing and a hiphop thing, but I also look at it, to borrow KRS's phrase, as edutainment," confirms Tackett. "It's fun, but it's educational. Hiphop heads hear us play an old Meters break they recognize from a DJ Premier beat and then can trace it back to the source."
There are also plans to expand Breakestra into something more than an accomplished cover band. Last year's Funky Popcorn single was the group's first original track, albeit one that drew heavily on funk flava from the past. More will come.
"I look forward to pushing this a little bit further," Tackett insists. "We're working on more original tunes now, but they're still influenced by break culture. There are some great MCs I'd like to get involved, too.
"I haven't heard a funk band do that raw funk sound with an MC. The Roots hint at it, but more in a jazz style. The Brand New Heavies got it for a minute, but they sounded pretty clean. This is real dirty hiphop funk. The real deal."MATT GALLOWAY