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WPGM Revisits: Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E – New Funky Nation (Album Review)

New Funky Nation Album Review
New Funky Nation is the debut album by the Samoan hip-hop group, Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. The album, released in 1990, 27 years old as of Sunday, March 5, is largely considered a classic.

They first began playing music in their father’s Baptist church. All members are former members, or members of, West Side Piru and Samoan Warrior Bounty Hunters.

After their youngest brother was killed in a gang-related shooting in 1987, they decided to turn their lives around and dedicate their lives to music. To get away from the gang culture, the brothers decided to leave Los Angeles and go to Japan.

While there, they were inspired to begin performing music, again. They toured Japan in the mid-Eighties and became popular. Upon their return to California in 1988, the group focused, again, on making music and renamed themselves as the Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. New Funky Nation was different from most rap records at the time because the group played live instruments on it.

It was also curious in terms of its album art. It featured the six members putting down a flag for posterity. As if to lay claim to a land that, clearly, is already marked with skulls, dead men who couldn’t quite hack it. The mark of their victorious tribe, if you like.

Perhaps the general diasporic nature of the Samoan people staking claim to a new nation, from all four corners of the world. The aforementioned West Side Pirus, a Bloods set, maybe explains why the colour red pervades throughout.

First you’re introduced to “Six Bad Brothas”. This opens with Christmas sleigh bells, as the group count themselves in. It’s moodily funky, the bass deep and emphatic. The raps are oldschool, the energy and verve of acts before them, like say Run-D.M.C.

The midway has some soulful singing from the group, intent just on making appealing, grooving music. “When it come to emceeing, Boo-Ya tha rap rulers” a suitable conclusion.

Then ears covered for “Rated R”, which has guitar urging, immediate and atmospheric. Then flourishes announce pronounced rocking feel that make you sit up and take notice. Subsequent sound effects would probably remind one of Public Enemy (perhaps “Don’t Believe The Hype”). Again, it’s a real group effort, gang vocals, you could say. Bass breaks out toward the end, slapping, popping and moody.

After, you’re told, quite bluntly, “Don’t Mess”. This’s a more subdued one, kicked back, bass centric and funky. Verses like, “Don’t mess with a riot, we’re prisoners of emotion/How politicians figure they have the potion?” are amongst the tightest raps on the whole album.

The beat is ridden expertly, and fast. Like riding on the seat of your pants. Subsequent verse highlight “Sellin’ drugs is the way they survive/Smokin’ drugs is the way they die” perhaps the couplet of the entire album. Not so much what’s said, but its emphatic delivery.

“On the bass, when he starts slappin’” is indicative of a rap crew immersed as much in instrumentation as lyrics. “I’ma only tell you once, you don’t mess with Boo-Ya Tribe” a parting shot before the track ends.

“New Funky Nation”, the title track, has bold bass. So much so it sounds like it was laid in the studio, rather than sampled. A reminder of the instrumentation hinted at prior in the track previous. Horns lend a certain triumphalism to proceedings, with funky wah-wah guitar complementing the overall vibe, too.

Female vocals, soulfully declaring the track’s title, adds extra smoothness to proceedings. “Lights, camera, murder” reminding the listener, yes, fun’s to be had, but that street smarts are needed all the while, too. Climbing bass and dramatic horns see the track out like a car chase scene in a true crime movie.

The fable gone bad of “Once Upon A Drive By” has the boys summoned by the godfather, ready to commit crime for the underworld cause. Deep, fat bass rings as they lace their laps. “So you look up and all you see is the T.R.I.B.E/You have a teardrop tatt to your eye/Twenty-five to life, so you better get with it/You ask who did it, the Ganxta Ridd did it” really inviting the listener into a world of criminality, in and outside a life in prison.

The hollering vocals for the hook really gets the listener grooving: “Time is tickin’, the world’s gone mad/You ain’t with it, you better step back/Feel the wrath of the Ganxta Ridd”. The response from the group, “Damn, that’s a cold ass lyric”, almost conveys the joy of the boys as they’re amidst creating a street classic. Drums and bongos see out the track, vibing.

“T.R.I.B.E” is a quite hectic, funky guitar and popped bass kicking things off, the wrath of the godfather invoked? “Turn off the stereo/This is your burial” suiting the frantic, not just music, but thoughts and lyrics of the boys. They’re forever shouting and bouncing off the walls, particularly for the track’s hook. Really seems like a precursor to the likes of Onyx and M.O.P.

There’s a Johnny Cash reference somewhere in “Walk The Line”. It bounces and swings, bass and guitar as funky as ever. The latter wailing with a rock and metal energy and passion. “…that’s the old track/I didn’t want that…” playful in tandem with an altogether different energy, indeed.

Weighing in at over six minutes, it definitely has the feel of an extended cut, whether to let the instrumentation breathe or for some house party histrionics. They then sing the hook, detailing “…kickin’ in the hood, with all the homies”.

“R.A.I.D” has them asking if they’ve got bass. Is this a request pertaining to musical bass, drugs, or both? “…comeback like a boomerang, we’re not here to play/We’re just here to spray” not only conveys energy, but also a degree of aggression pumped up with testosterone. “This is a raid/Everybody on the dancefloor pray” helps you picture the hook’s context, perhaps justifying the aforementioned thoughts on testosterone, and the like.

It’s off the chain in “Psyko Funk”, with lines “…I’m not a Doobie Brother, but we do be hip/And there’s one thing I dislike when people at a party sit/Now, I didn’t come here to be judged by the colour of my skin” offering an answer to the already complicated issue of race and gangs in the States.

Moody, bobbing and weaving bass pops intermittently like the temper of a volatile gang member. Scratching lends an oldschool flavour to that descending, troublemaker bassline. Up to no good, no doubt.

“Riot Pump” bass drum heralds another funky number. The raps, loud and emphatic as ever, pierce through a relatively, in comparison, calm backdrop. That sample of “Pump, pump, pump me up” (“Pump Me Up” by Grandmaster Flash) is used quite expertly. So much so it subverts it from a party reference to one probably describing the crime ridden streets upon which they step every day.

Rock influences, here and there throughout, come to prominence in “Pinkin’ Up Metal”. It’s your typical slice of rap rock, though perhaps, yes, more metal than rock. Raucous guitar lends a, in fact, thrashy air to proceedings. The beat is rapped over expertly, electing to make the raps emphatic and clear to hear rather than spitting a rapid fire stream of consciousness.

“Metallica? Think so? Bubble gum/They couldn’t understand the 808 kick drum/Melodic, not idiotic” is heralded with drums, scratching and a bass fill. Percussion, scratching and bass fade the album out with the reprisal of the classic line of, “Feel the wrath of the Ganxta Ridd”.

There are numerous highlights on this album: “Don’t Mess”, “New Funky Nation”, “Once Upon A Drive By” and “Psyko Funk”. These are the excellent of which there are a remainder very good. Those selected span a reasonable duration of the project. You’ve got near the start, in the middle and approaching near the end.

Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E had an energy and verve that was never too far from bouncing off the walls enthusiasm. They mixed this with street smarts so you knew there was no naiveté on their part. For a group that could be construed as gangsta rap, they certainly are, still, refreshing to listen to. Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E’s New Funky Nation can be bought on iTunes here.

Words by Andrew Watson

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