INTERVIEW with BLACK GOLD & MC
For a long time the Damn Fulz were a legend; a myth. A covert funk-soul project that professional musicians rapped about, voices hushed like Miles ‘round midnight, when wives had fallen asleep and the kids had long gone to bed. Fables - composed of Chinese whispers and rumour - that grew to yarns and folklore. Like the famous one about the high school senior, up in Rockford, Illinois; the preacher’s son, who got expelled after his bootleg copy, X-rated cover n’ all, had slipped out of his Bible onto the classroom floor. Or there’s the tale of the CD that went missing in Austin, Texas, at the summer annual family bar-b-q, only for it to be discovered on Thanksgiving, in amongst Aunt Rosa’s Teddy Pendergrass stash. Despite these unfounded rumours, one thing is for certain - confirmed here in print for the very first time - the Damn Fulz project is definitely not an urban myth.
Years before, on a website called Myspace, the first social media network (pre-Twitter/Facebook) that really mattered, artist profiles would feature “Top 8” lists, showing a limited set of connections with whom they were happy to be associated, along with the facility to upload exclusive tracks, a digital jukebox that could only play four selections. It was on Myspace - round about the summer of ’06 – that the same top 8 image began to appear, like a rash (before going viral was a phrase) onto the pages of the funkiest, contemporary American soul heroes. It was a picture of an album cover, a glowing ebony body, naked, writhing in darkness. Like a shot from a classic Ohio Players long-player (perhaps a homáge to the work of photographer Joel Brodsky) showing the words Damn Fulz handwritten in black. Motorcity Keyboard wiz Amp Fiddler, mentor to Jay Dee, and air to the throne of P-Funk Pow-Wow Bernie Worrell, was the first to add them to his Top 8. Then bass virtuoso-producer-solo artist and former Tony Toni Toné frontman Raphael Saadiq got hip; slipping the still, to-this-day, unreleased demo Tippitoe onto his Myspace player. A Damn Fulz killer, so good, it didn’t sound out of place shnuck between the Four Tops standard Still Water (Love) & Brian Wilson’s Pet Sounds instrumental Lets Go Away Awhile.
“I’m gon’ tippy-toe in your pussette, and make you cum …. real faaasssst.”
Sang the Damn Fulz, with gusto, like their lives depended on it. The lead vocalist sounding like Stax artists, J. Blackfoot (of the Soul Children) plus Sam, and Dave (of Sam & Dave) all merged into one. Drums so fatback, they could rub the bark off of an old Redwood tree; a guitarist, playfully strumming, blue gospel-quartet licks, like he travelled straight from Centre of Hope church to Centrefolds strip joint. And, last but not least, the final band member: co-lead singer & bassist - the bottom end/the anchor – able to imbue each song with melody, inventiveness and girth. The bass played so expertly, that at first it was rumoured to be Saadiq who was responsible. Not so, according to Ray Ray himself.
“Random people walk up to me and ask me about the Damn Fulz … a lot!” Says Saadiq today. “People go to me all the time ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this guy said something like that?!’”
It’s nothing to do with Amp Fiddler either, though he too has confessed to being a fan.
“The damn fools are one of the funkiest bunch of muthafuka's I know dammit!” Said Amp responding to my direct message, “and I ain’t foolin’.’”
Indeed, finding out who was responsible, was no mean feat. No-one seemed prepared to come forward, as more and more tracks gradually made it into the public domain. Each cut, without pretence or apology, was an excise in pure and utter filth. Titles that would even make explicit blues combo Snatch & the Poontangs blush. Hot Like An Oven the first track on their Myspace player; Bitch; It’s Just A Fuck a duet; There’s Only 2 Things; Play Fuck; the spoken word duet/argument Polygamy; Purse First, Ass Last; Suckin’ Aint Fuckin and the centrepiece, the projects piéce de resistance: Cousin.
For years, Myspace messages to the Fulz themselves, or their associates, went unanswered. Musicians either knew who they were and wouldn’t let on, or just didn’t have a Scooby. It took around about a decade to finally discover the truth when the Fulz resurfaced, albeit briefly, for a limited edition EP called Great Phuckn Music and a music video to Oven (now featuring rapper Too Short), shared to the masses via a link posted on twitter by Snoop Dogg. Despite the Damn Fulz obscuring their faces with WWF masks in the video – which would seem a little foreboding, had it not been for the presence of cute n’ cuddly, silver tinsel puppy dog sneakers - a chance comment exposed their true identities, confirmed by a trusted source, let’s call him “Tracey”, who was also able to make contact.
Word swiftly got back that the mainstays of the Damn Fulz, the two founding group members – Black Gold, the bassist, co-lead singer and founder of the group, who lives in California, and the singer with those glorious old school soul chops, MC, residing 8 hours’ away in the Nevada desert – were finally ready to come forward. Their only request? That the birth names and true identities of collaborators and bystanders alike be changed, to protect the innocent.
“Me and MC we have chemistry, so I would just call him anytime and we’d go to work.” Says Black Gold; on the phone around mid-morning, from his kitchen, going by the sound of clinking glasses and a drink poured in the background. The Damn Fulz project, he explains, started life with Hot Like An Oven, recorded back in the late summer of 2004.
“I only added one more and that’s a song called, um, Play Fuck – we did that recently to add a lil' more spice - but all the tracks you hear were recorded in two weeks, pretty much. It was like a party. I'd pay everybody to come, you know buy some drinks and we’d just laugh man, I mean us together were all just naturally goofy. I’d had the ideas for years, playing around with this stuff, little different hooks, and people just use to laugh.”
“You see, all of us are common guys …” adds MC, from his line, “so the Damn Fulz is kinda like just us any day of the week, but the tapes rolling. It’s natural, it’s what we do.” It must be tough trying to keep a straight face, recording such graphic, humorous material.
“Oh no, it’s not.” Says MC, who speaks in a more relaxed fashion than Black Gold whose deeper vocal tone sounds like it could reverberate with mirth at any point. “When I’m in the moment, I’m a very sexual person.” MC continues, “Most of us creative people are anyway, people that are driven. But I don’t wanna pop, because I want this ongoing massage to happen. So when I’m singing - in the moment - I have to deliver as much sensuality and tap into the emotionalism of the feeling. And if it feels good and if the music feels sexy, I need to sing it that way. So I don’t have time to laugh when I’m in that moment. It’s like when you’re having sex, if you laugh at the wrong time it can kill the whole mood.” MC pauses for a second, deadpan, like he’s in contemplation. “When we’re going fast I might break a little chuckle here and there, it may happen, but for the most part I’m in the moment.”
“Actually, I didn’t expect it to be like it was,” Says Black Gold, “I just expected the record to be funny entertainment but the music just came out so classic. Like real guuud.”
The lyrics, easy to understand and relatable, don’t leave much to the imagination, except for Tippitoe - what the hell is that song all about? Black Gold laughs. “Ok, let me explain that to you.” He says, with, I sense – and I could be wrong - a touch of sheepish-ness.
“We have slang where we put a “t” (or ette) onto each word of certain things to make it funny, so ‘let me tippitoe in your pusset’ – you see, we’re saying pussy but with a T, like slang. That’s the part you're getting confused about.”
Oh ok I see.
“But we’re talking about Pussy.”
Got it ... but then where does the toe come into it?
“Ok, Tippitoe? That came by me doing this little dance …” I can’t see Black Gold but can hear a slight shuffle in the background, like he’s attempting the move whilst on the kitchen’s ceramic tiles “… pretending I’m having sex with a woman and I’m standing on my tippy-toes, like a dog … really going for it, digging in.”
It’s not just all from the male angle from the dangle, with rapper/singer The People’s Champ, making sure the Fulz get a flea in their ear, giving it back on Hey Bitch & It’s Just A Fuck.
“Oh (The People’s Champ) she don’t care, she just go in!” Black Gold laughs. “She’ll say to me ‘Whatever you got let’s go!’ She twisted it and made it her point of view on the female side, giving us the best of both worlds. Because we didn’t want it to be like no female bashing record. She’s basically calling us men bitches too, you know?”
There have been lewd records released in past, of course. Notorious masters of the profane and smut like spoof artist Blowfly (who Black Gold acknowledges as an influence), novelty Florida rap group 2 Live Crew and bluesman Clarence Carter to name few. But unlike those projects, which are predominantly blues, disco, rap or Hip Hop themed, the Damn Fulz convey their message through the sanctity of soul and funk, from the school of electric church. Soul genius Marvin Gaye would probably have related. It’s the direction he really wanted to go, post Sexual Healing, if only his label (Columbia Records) would have let him, blocking the initial release of Sanctified Pussy, before retitling it as Sanctified Lady when it did eventually get released posthumously.
Intriguingly, just like Marvin, Black Gold is a minister’s son, though BG’s relationship with his Pops is, thankfully, much more solid.
“My father maybe a minister, but he’s also a real guy you can just talk to. He’s a comedian too, so when he heard (Damn Fulz) he thought it was funny. He loves the music because of his background… -” His dad sings gospel, and can play the guitar - “… so my music is heavily influenced by my gospel quartet childhood experiences. All the soul, gospel quartet singers I liked. Whatever and whoever, I just add it to my formula.”
MC also came up in church, in fact he sounded so full of heritage, so mature and assured, record labels didn’t quite know what to do with him.
“I think I had “Johnny Gill syndrome”. Over the years I was told, even as a young guy that my voice was too old, that I had an old man’s voice. And you know alot of the guys would get frustrated with me. Black Gold would get frustrated, because I always sing behind the beat,” which MC believes ‘might be a gospel thing’ adding, “they’d all say 'Hey MC, c’mon get ahead of the track!' They’d try and move my vocals, push them ahead, so that I would fit into a certain spot. But behind was my sweet spot. I’d never be so far behind where I’m losing the groove, but it just feels good there and I can deliver it.”
So, given their respective church backgrounds, what would their own congregations think of the Damn Fulz lyrics?
“Ah, I don’t care whut they think!” Says Black Gold; raising his voice in mock outrage. “You have different kind of genres of movies and it’s the same thang with music. You can do comedy, you can do horror, you can do gangster, you can do Christian, cartoons, whatever. It’s the same with music; you can do whatever genre you like … it ain’t for everybody.”
“I grew up in church and I’ve seen a lot of things …” Says MC, speaking in a calm and considered manner, like he’s addressing a flock. “So I will not be affected one iota, because of all the hypocrisy, politics and poli-tricks that I’ve witnessed in church coming up. I don’t concern myself with what they have to say. I could take you to any church, and I would have us sit there at the best position, and I could tell you who is close with the pastor and who is close with his wife. There are maybe a total of five families that would know what the inside of the pastors’ house would look like - the rest of the congregation would never get to go, at every church the same thing. It’s very cliquish, church people are some of the meanest people in the world. They feel like they have to be stern. Now, (instead) I could talk about religion … I’m really passionate when it comes to that, but the church? You can put me down and say ‘I don’t give a fuck what they have to say!’ I can’t waste time wondering about that, otherwise we never should have recorded it. We had to come to a certain level of overstanding, so that we would have the balls to do it, and not only did we have the balls to do it but we also let them hang out in the open!”
MC pauses to let the balls comment linger in the air, “Next question!?”
Ok, so do you have a cousin?
“Yes I do.”
Do you have a female cousin?
“Yeah, but …,” MC begins to laugh. “… I ahh, actually, wrote that song about a musician friend of mine, and his cousin, and they thought they loved each other; it was an unspoken, uncomfortable, dizzy kind of thing.”
“I have a lot of attractive cousins,” Admits Black Gold, who starts pissing himself. “Some people have actually done it and won’t admit it. Like there was an artist named Kevin Gates who came out on TMZ because he was in relationship with his cousin. I was influenced by that.”
Both Black Gold and MC come from large families, though, it’s not a project they necessarily boast about at the family reunion.
“Well, the real holy rollers, church family members, I tell them, ‘So it’s not gospel, it is X-Rated, but probably not necessarily your cup of tea.’” Says MC, “But I haven’t had anybody bugged out by it; they consider it adult music. If we have a get together it’s like when the kids go to bed and the parents pull out the Millie Jackson record or the Richard Pryor record.”
“I only told my father and a few others,” says Black Gold. “I haven’t really told a whole lotta people about it, my immediate family knows but this ain’t something that I’d let everybody know that I’d done. Now if they find out and would care to listen then that’s who I put it out for.”
Neither Black Gold, nor MC, are household names, though they are local heroes – and both feel vindicated by the quality of music/songcraft displayed on the Damn Fulz album, an indispensable work, particularly when compared to the average comedy/novelty record. Raphael Saadiq agrees, “When I heard first heard the Damn Fulz I was laughing, but then (I started) singing-along. I’m always singing the Damn Fulz records, and that song Cousin is hilarious.”
“The people are loving it.” MC says with pride. “This is our mission; it’s a way of life for us. I was always taught, if you give the people what they want, then they'll want what you have to give.”
“Yes,” says Black Gold, grabbing his drink. “I thought I’d just do simple jokes and stuff but, aha, yep, that’s right, it turned out to be a masterpiece.”
He raises his glass and takes a sip.