The Prescription Pad: Sophisticated Funk
by Dan Rys
Here’s the first thing you need to know about Sophistafunk: their keyboardist, Adam Gold, owns a restaurant in Syracuse called Funk ‘N Waffles, which literally embodies the name and is the best place to eat a bacon-stuffed waffle called “Bootsy Brunch” while listening to live funk music that I’ve ever come across.
Here’s the second thing you need to know about Sophistafunk: Guy Fieri loves them, to the point where he invited them to play his birthday party in California after featuring Funk ‘N Waffles on his Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives TV show.
Here’s the most important thing you need to know about Sophistafunk: they’re one of the best funk/soul/hip-hop/groove/dance/jam/electro/rap/didwesayfunkyet/catchall bands/groups/trios/collectives/cliques/conglomerates that you’ll ever come across. Forgive me for briefly exploding with adjectives, but there is no one good word to explain the band. And when they tore down Brooklyn Bowl Wednesday night with an emergency replacement drummer, they added another attribute to the list: resilience.
I can’t remember the first time I heard Sophistafunk. For a couple of years now, if you lived in or around Syracuse, where I grew up, you just knew them. They seeped into your brain, this sort of soul-funk, hip-hop infused, groove-oriented music that infiltrates the body just as much as the mind. They pretty much define whatever music scene still exists in Syracuse, and are on their way toward accomplishing what most smart and successful bands from smaller cities tend to do: making New York City their second home.
You see, people from Syracuse don’t get to brag much; all we’ve got is our basketball team and enough snow to bury the Empire State Building, and both can get pretty fucking depressing after a while. I think that’s part of the reason why most of us who have moved away have embraced Sophistafunk so much: they’re our band. And you know what’s even better than having a band that you can call your own? Having one that fucking rules.
Wednesday night wasn’t even a classic or particularly outstanding show by the band, mostly due to circumstance; drummer E-Man (Emmanuel Washington) had taken seriously ill earlier in the day and was taken to the hospital, and had to be replaced by his own best friend on drums and percussion (Gold told me after the show that E-Man was going to be fine). They’d never played together before, hadn’t even met before noon that day, and the newbie had never listened to the group’s music, a nerve-wracking experience for just about any band but one that is exacerbated when the gig you’re putting on the line is a headlining slot at Brooklyn Bowl. But things like that don’t deter showmen like Gold and emcee Jack Brown — having been touring the country for the better part of the last two years on the strength of their self-titled debut album, Sophistafunk aren’t really strangers to the whole “show must go on” schtick, even when it might be easier and less stressful to cancel. They still went and knocked out staples like “Wil’ Out” and “Same Mistakes,” closing the show with a cover of “Renegades of Funk” that ended with Gold beatboxing and a member of the crowd doing a handstand before breakdancing in front of the stage.
But one of the main things that sets a band like Sophistafunk apart from its peers in the funk game is Brown’s lyrical content. Sprinkling in a mixture of social and philosophical musings and observations, he posits an idealized world with no geographic, racial or class boundaries, and encourages the achievement of that world through the appreciation of music. It’s almost funny how earnest he can come across at times, but it’s also entirely consistent with his personality.
I don’t remember the first time I heard Sophistafunk, but I do remember the first time I ever spoke to Brown. I was in college in Boston and Sophistafunk was coming to town; being a young reporter for the school’s newspaper, I spoke to him on the phone ahead of their show at Boston’s Middle East, and tried to pin him down with a dumb question. Asking about Sophistafunk’s song “Colors” (with its “I was born seeing all colors / Different hair, different eyes, different skin, all brothers” hook) and wondered, what if you were born colorblind?
“I was born red deficient,” Brown told me, his earnestness bleeding through over the phone. “It’s about more than that.”
Great music always is.