There’s something about hearing a killer funk band kick it live that transcends flesh and physically alters the soul. It’s true. Could be the heart-skipping crack of the snare drum in the 16th bar that makes you forget about gravity, or the throbbing jolt of a bass solo that makes the $150 hairweave you scored earlier that afternoon seem unimportant. Fuck vanity, this funk/hip-hop collective called Gorilla Funk Mob is armed with the musical wherewithal to simply hijack every venue they play and leave the audience hoarse, breathless and drenched in drunken sweat.
And guess what? The Funk Mob does mostly cover songs and often doubles as house band for guest emcees. After more than a year of doing unrestrained, often riotous shows in Lansing, Kalamazoo, Royal Oak, Ann Arbor and Detroit, they are already a top draw.
A recent Funk Mob show at Carbon Lounge — after Paradime’s record release party across town — caught a sedate Hamtramck hip-hop crowd off guard. Working like an old-school jukebox, the band cranked out close to 30 rap classic instrumentals, with guest emcees spitting over a thick layer of keys, percussion and drums, a la the Roots circa Do You Want More?!!!??! The show had a festive element rare for a local setting.
The Funk Mob machine works because the group has many components that rotate on and off the stage; the members can play seven different sets in one night and the show stays fresh. This isn’t some bar band simply coughing up cover tunes; theirs is a celebration of music, of hip hop, ghetto rock and funk. Their street cred proves this: Athletic Mic League, Finale, and S.U.N. have all played with the Funk Mob.
The group’s members admit that their groove is at its apex when aping songs of others, which may seem larcenous to many, but in the thick of it, their funk-heavy interpretations of old-school tracks keep the crowds coming in increasing numbers at every show. Audiences may be a little tired of watching some band pimp their own marginal-at-best songs to a handful of blinking drinkers.
What of the human jukebox tag?
“Sometimes it is like we’re a hip-hop jukebox,” Funk Mob drummer and co-founder Tate McBroom says. But he adds, “We become the human one’s and two’s and just play whatever. Sometimes you can’t even hear the dude on the mic ’cause the whole crowd is like, ‘Oooh.’”
By design, the Funk Mob is a continuously evolving crew. The audience never knows exactly who is going to be on stage at any given time. Its core unit is McBroom, bassist Greg ‘G-Rock’ Sanders, keyman Lorenzo ‘Zo!’ Ferguson, percussionist Chaka Bloodsaw, vocalists Jennifer Bostick and Stephanie Singleton, and lead MC Tasherre D’ Enajetic. And DJ Houseshoes occasionally spins.
The band’s following is faithful, a legion of hardcore fans who have caught on by word-of-mouth. A throw-down last summer at Fifth Avenue in Royal Oak saw more than 250 people tearing up the dance floor. Some were up on chairs giving booty to a funked-up cover of Michael Jackson’s “Wanna Be Starting Something,” clapping and singing in unison, “ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa, ma ma se, ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa.”
Onstage there’s camaraderie and mutual respect. Where does it come from? Well, spending time with the Funk Mob is like watching a revolving stand-up routine; they’re constantly ripping jokes and riffing on each other. That humor might be what keeps them together.
“That [humor] is why the energy between us is so real onstage,” Bostick says. The singer is an aspiring novelist who balances her time between substitute teaching, music, and raising her 4-year-old son. “But this band is not our lives. We have our own individual passions and we support each other a lot, aside from music.”
Individual pursuits run the gamut. In fact, Singleton studies elementary education and photography at Wayne State. Bloodsaw lives in Portland, Ore., with his two daughters and commutes between Portland and Kalamazoo throughout the year. And Ferguson’s first choice was actually baseball. Straight out of high school he was drafted in the 13th round by the Toronto Blue Jays. Instead of going pro, he went to Western Kentucky University on a full scholarship. The keyboardist has since prioritized music and just released his sixth solo album, Zo! Presents…Passions & Definitions.
Despite a youthful appearance, each Funk Mob member has either played instruments, sang or rhymed for nearly 20 years. Describing the Funk Mob’s sound as “grown folks music,” Ferguson is the group’s baby in both age and experience.
“I’ve actually only been playing gigs for a year and a couple of months,” he says. “Up until last summer, my whole focus was nothing but individual, ’cause I had never performed in a band before.”
“This is the only musician I’ve ever met that does Microsoft Excel spreadsheets for his motif settings before shows,” McBroom says with a laugh. “But I’ve been playing music for a long time and as far as connection goes with another keyboardist, this is the best it’s ever been.”
McBroom got his first taste of the genre’s possibilities managing late ’90s soul-hop outfit the Urbanites. Said unit housed the Funk Mob’s Bloodsaw and Greg G-Rock Sanders. (The Urbanites were fronted by Kalamazoo emcee Micus Nelson and included highly touted keyboardist/singer songwriter Tony Ozier, who inked a recording deal with Paradise Time/Warner two months ago.)
With three of the most experienced soul/funk players in the area together, the transition into the Funk Mob was natural. The band began in 2001, but bloomed in summer 2003 when Bostick, Singleton and Ferguson were added. Tasherre D’ Enajetic earned his way into the fold after stellar “guest” performances on the road.
“I always wanted to have a band,” Enajetic says. “It’s a whole different energy. I perform over CD and regular instrumentals in the studio all day long. And I’m already energetic, but when I perform with the Funk Mob, it raises the energy even higher.”
While focused mainly on live performances, which includes a catalog of close to 100 songs, the group concedes that writing more original material is the next step. In fact, they are presently shopping to record labels a six-track EP titled Keep Your Ear to the Ground.
“We’ve only just begun to tap into our real catalog of music that myself and G-Rock have composed,” McBroom says. “We’ve got songs for days, man. And when we put everything together, that’s when the shit’s really gonna hit the fan.”
The Gorilla Funk Mob appears Friday, Oct. 29, at Fifth Avenue Downtown (2100 Woodward Ave., Detroit). For info, call 313-471-2555.Jonathan Cunningham is a Metro Times editorial intern. Contact him at [email protected].