THE FUNK UNDERGROUND

The Funk lives in unexpected places. Sometimes it doesn’t see the light. Luckily our basement has windows. We spend our time trying to represent the realness and beauty that is Hip Hop. We get down, and you get a good time. Coming out of a long collaboration between SydeSho, Eric Axelman, and several instrumentalists, the Funk Underground brings the funk from Providence, Rhode Island to wherever it’s most needed.

SydeSho – MC
Eric – MC (not present for interview)
Kat – Vocals
Alex AKA “Taki Brano” – Keyboard
Kevin – Guitar
Moises – Drums
Kelwin AKA “KelKeyz” – Bass

INTERVIEW WITH THE FUNK UNDERGROUND

(Interview conducted and written by Connor Sullivan)

Q: How did this project come about?
SydeSho: Me and my business partner, Eric Axelman, started The Funk Underground in 2012. It was just me and him, two MCs. And we created an album called The Funk Underground. To perform it live, we had another band. Eric, Moises, and I went on tour back in like 2016. Came off the tour, and I got to meet these beautiful people that are here with us now, which is the new Funk Underground.

Q: Were any of you involved in previous projects before this?
Kevin: I knew SydeSho from the scene. So I started following the Funk Underground and just joined from there.
Moises: Kevin actually introduced me to SydeSho, which is the crazy thing. It was in 2014, and we were at Everett Theater for an open mic. Kevin performed, and Eric and SydeSho just so happened to be there. Kevin was like, “Hey, if you’re looking for a drummer, here’s my friend.” Everyone met one another organically, which is the best part about it, really.
Taki: Kelwin and I are co-owners of In House Studios, so that’s how him and I met.
SydeSho: Taki had a show at AS220, and I contacted him wanting to be apart of it. So he let me get up on the mic and the rest is history.
Kevin: Kat met me when I was working on my solo project Corcovado and she needed a guitarist for performance at a Johnson and Wales University fashion show. A mutual friend introduced us. And when we started The Funk Underground, we needed a female singer, so I just immediately contacted Kat. It really did all happen naturally. We all were just at the same place at the same time — it was like magnetism. I feel like we wrote like six songs our first jam session. The version of the band here today didn’t even arise until a couple weeks ago.

Q: All of your music videos are exceptionally well-shot. Who’s behind these?
SydeSho: The ones for “Underground” and “Emcee Parties” were shot by my friends Ana and Jeff, who own a non-profit called the Rhode Island Hip-Hop Project. They just finished a documentary on Rhode Island hip-hop history. They were actually apart of The Funk Underground before, but they moved.

Q: What’s on-deck for The Funk Underground?
SydeSho: Right now, we’re getting prepared for a show we have at Aurora on Aug. 5th. And then the week after that, we have Foo Fest. The following week, we’re going to LA for ten days. We have a show and a couple of other small things set up there, and then the rest of the time there will be spent networking. And when we come back, we’re gonna go on hiatus from touring to create an album. After that, we’ll start thinking about music videos and shows for next fall.

Q: You guys driving or flying to LA?  
Moises: Flying — no way we’re driving again. We did a tour last year with two cars. Mind you, we started in Providence and went all the way to Chicago. And then they drove back all the way to New York. Driving is way too stressful.
Kevin: I’m the only one in the band that likes driving those distances, ha ha.

Q: What’s everyone been listening to lately?
Moises: Snarky Puppy.
Kevin: Kendrick Lamar. Prince. Also been listening to lots of that last Bruno Mars album.
Kat: Erykah Badu.
SydeSho: Shout out to DAP The Contract too. He’s a rapper that graduated from Brown two years ago and now he’s a solo artist that lives in New York. He’s awesome.
Moises: Hiatus Kaiyote is one of our biggest inspirations for sure.
Kelwin: Han Solo, this EDM artist.
Taki: I like Citizen. And metal stuff.

Q: What’s everyone’s day job?
Kevin: I work at the Apple Genius bar and fix phones.
Taki: I work at the Department of Human Services for the State of Rhode Island.
SydeSho: I have several jobs. I work at Perspectives Corporation, working with adults with disabilities. On the side, I teach kids hip-hop break dancing. I’m the co-founder of a non-profit called Pushed Learning and Media, which uses hip-hop as a way of talking about racial and social inequality in the world, as well as systematic oppression.  
Kelwin: I work at the big ‘ol AAA, where people yell at me all day. After that’s done, I work at InHouse.
Taki: InHouse is an LLC that’s been around only a couple years. We’re building from the ground up.
Kat: I’m a barista at the Omni Hotel.

Q: Is there a public service component to The Funk Underground?
SydeSho: Last tour, we based the tour around hip-hop in education. We raised like $8000 in a GoFundMe to hit up non-profits and community centers to do workshops for free, and then booked shows at night based around that. So the main part of our tour was the educational piece; the musical part and the venues and everything was extra on top of that. I always try to incorporate everything I do with music and education.
Kevin: Also, it’s in a lot of our lyrical content. Whenever we write, we keep a lot of those influences in mind since we want to be a good influence.

Q: Do you feel obligated to speak about politics in your music?
SydeSho: If you’re an artist and have a platform to speak from, you should speak out. Especially as a person of color, and especially when kids are watching.  

Q: Eric Axelman (not present for the interview) mentioned the “white consumption of hip-hop” as a key thematic element in The Funk Underground’s output. Can you expand on this?
SydeSho: Eric comes from rural Maine, where hip-hop is one of the most listened-to genres of music. And Maine is like 97% white. So people only get the narratives of people of color from music and TV. And they kind of pretend to be like people of color and say the N-word. What Eric wants to address is the divide between white people and urban people of color. White people masking behind hip-hop and acting like they know the reality of urban people of color. But they never actually come of their shell to meet the people themselves.

Q: Eric just released an album titled Too Much. What solo projects are on the horizon for the rest of The Funk Underground?  
SydeSho: In March, I released my solo project called SydeSho The Maestro, which premiered on Vanyaland and Providence Monthly. One song was even recorded here, at InHouse. It was mixed and engineered by my friend Loren Fulton.   
Kevin: I’m also working on a solo album. I play under the name Corcovado. [The album] is mostly instrumental — very post-rock, very ambient. It’s kind of a post-rock movie score to the story I talk about from beginning to end. I’m trying to release that by late winter. Moises has been a big help with the album. He’s helped me take it from just a messy cloud of thoughts to something organized and concrete.
Kelwin: I have a jumble of songs I’ve started, with me singing and producing. But none of them are actually finished yet. I have all these songs, I just have to choose which ones I like most for a three or four song EP. Once that drops, I need to see if people like it and are like, “Yo, we need more songs.” Or if they don’t like it, in which case I’ll just stick to beats. From what I have so far though, people have been telling me it sounds dope.
Moises: [Kelwin] has such a great voice.
Kat: I’ve just started, really. I’ve been singing for as long as I can remember, but only recently got back into it due to reality hitting me hard. But I’ve always had a book of lyrics, and always have beats in my head, so right now I’m actively learning how to produce in order to do stuff myself.
Taki: I have a whole concept for an album, but I just need to find the right songs for it. It’s called Rain and Outer Space. I have a whole story behind it; just to summarize, it’s about a space-traveling woman who arrives at a world that has this really gross monster, and the woman is the first thing the monster’s ever seen. She can’t stay on the planet, but the monster falls in love with her. It’s a very sad story about her leaving.

Q: How have your interactions with AS220 been?
SydeSho: I’ve personally had a positive relationship with AS220. I’ve worked with the youth there, teaching dance and hip-hop. Plus, I’ve also had shows there and everything. One of my friends lives in AS220 residency, so I know some of the residents too.
Taki: AS220 is great. We put on a show last October with DAP The Contract, Anton, and a few other people. But it was awesome — AS220 told us that was the show with the most Brown students to ever come out. At least a hundred Brown kids came.
Moises: AS220 also has a good restaurant and bar. Great atmosphere there, and the food is fan-fucking-tastic, especially the vegan mac & cheese. Everyone I’ve seen and met there is so cool. I just wish I knew about it before, as a teenager. Because in early high school, I probably would’ve been in there, doing things.