At its heart and root, Bae 2 is a cornerstone album for the present phase of future funk. However, I say this for reasons that are both positive and negative in my eyes. Bae as an artist is starting to develop a sound and workflow that will define him as one of the trendsetting and tastemaking producers of the genre, but in this creates a dilemma: from the source roots we have a lot of preconceived ideas that are now being abandoned.
Take someone like Macross for example. Sailorwave, one of the defining albums of future funk, takes a lot of obscure Japanese funk tunes and does what we now interpret as a standard future-funkification to them. Macross’s identity as a producer comes through consistently and incorporates one thematic focus that makes Macross my favorite producer: the thin veil between him and his samples that allows an air of mystery and subtlety to exist. Where he gets his samples feels like he’s pulling them out of random selection of vinyls in an old, thrifty record store and breathes a life into them that is nameless and more direct. He acts as the analog to digital converter that bridges us into funk that normally would have gone untapped. It’s almost like a quantum veil between you and “the funk.”
To shift away from subjectivity and metaphor, there are more objective and concrete reasons I hold this position. Macross has a tighter style when it comes to his sidechaining and how he mixes his kicks into the funk samples. They feel more fluid and more together, and more one with the original sample as a back drop. Examples would be Rei from Sailorwave, comparing and contrasting the Dress Down quote in 82.99 FM from A Million Miles Away to its source material Dress Down from Akimoto’s Cologne album, Asuka Bad Girl, or Jutsu from from the Jutsu EP. Although the sidechaining is fairly strong, the bass still melds into the source material, creating a seemless experience in the lower bass (250~500hz and under feels smooth as butter). A huge chunk of this is also how he deals with everything above 5kHz. How you approach the high mid and above will dictate how “future funk” you sound.
Let’s start to compare and contrast. Bae, especially in Bae 2, does not follow suit. Some example tracks would be towards the end of the album with Ain’t Nobody Like You, Not a Single Question?, and Party in Me. The kick in these tracks comes off sticking out in the mix. Now, to not be extremely nitpicky, the argument can be made that this is a “producer’s choice” situation. This can be considered part of Yung Bae’s sound, and is thus an interpretation of what Future Funk is/will be. However, the veil between source material and its new interpretation and production is becoming more and more opaque. The middle man is showing up in the music, and thus Yung Bae has more of a distinct sound and identity to him than Macross. This has both positives and negatives. I, personally, don’t want that. The transparency between me and the original funk is a reason why I celebrate Macross. I feel more in tune with the source material, and it feels funkier.
Bae betrays that for me. In exchange for pushing his own identity, he abandons what he samples. His kicks come out far too harsh, they overpower the source material and become more “80’s funk with piercing kicks over it” rather than “future funk.”
For example, compare and contrast Party in Me to its source material by Gene Dunlap. In the original track, the kick drum is more subdued. Bae’s interpretation of it brings more of a hard dance element. This was at first pleasing to me and I enjoyed the track, with one caveat: I hadn’t listened to the source yet. One of the defining and best parts of the future funk sound is how the kick and side chaining in modern music production can play with the rhythm guitar patterns and offbeat rhythms in funk music. This is lost almost completely in Party in Me. The flute, rhythm guitar, and bell-y rhodes piano drown in the new kick. Again, the source material isn’t as well respected. Another big negative is the fact that, aside from the low passing and sample work, most of the track is honestly 1:1 with the source. Yet, despite it being very close to the source material, a lot of the shining gems in the source material are lost.
Take Ain’t Nobody Like You as well. Again, the kick drowns out anything worthwhile or “funky” about the source material (“The Dude” by Quincy Jones). What we’re left with after the kick comes through is the new saxophone texture that’s too astringent to carry the track. The next thing that carries this track is the honestly quite lazy lifting of the verse from “It Wasn’t Me.” Whenever I revisit Bae 2, I skip this track for these two reasons.
Not a Single Question? is the defining moment in the album where my opinions on it were solidified. The source by Lalah Hathaway (Something) is pitch shifted up. This creates a really interesting and refreshing bass line that peaks much higher, and lets it and the naturally alto voice in the source material have new colors. However, again, the kick drowns out anything positive in the track. We can hear every single hit of it like a truck, and on top of that any kick off the half note pulse feels out of place, needlessly compressed, overtly strong, and overpowering.
Bae is developing his “Bae” brand. His presence on Twitter, his activity in the community, and his structure and planned release schedule of new tracks, singles, and new albums is something that is refreshing in the community. It gives us something to listen for and look forward to, especially in a subset of genres where you never know when the next release from a producer will come out. However, is this new branding the future of Future Funk? He’s creating an identity that is very opaque, unlike any other producer in the genre. If we look back on the roots, this has never really been done. Take into example Vektroid (who is starting to follow a similar route by shaking off these preconceived notions) or even something as deep as Lopatin. Vektroid is infamous for creating a new alias and persona for each new release. Lopatin DOES have Oneohtrix Point Never as a steady alias, however this alias is very transparent and indistinct. The celebration of anonymity and the cloud of smoke that covers up the production of the music is very apparent in early Vaporwave. Releases would come and go, and nameless faces would give us music and never return. We were left to wonder if we had dreamt up these releases, and if their producers were figments of our own imagination and subconscious. Future Funk is losing this, and I think the rise of Bae is a direct reflection of it.
Bae 2 definitely marks a shift in tone for Future Funk as a genre and as a whole. I’m not sure what this means, or if I even enjoy it, but I guess we’ll see over time what it has in store for the genre and its listeners.