Funk Flex Gives His Take On The New Generation Of Rappers & Hip-Hop's Melodic Evolution
Funk Flex has remained an integral part of hip-hop evolution since the '90s and into a new Millenium. Though controversial at times, there’s an everlasting effect to the bomb drop that became synonymous with high-quality bars.
It’s been nearly 30 years since he began his career at Hot 97 but his grip on the culture couldn’t be as tight. His latest string of releases has highlighted the young talent to come out of New York City, and hip-hop, in general. On Friday, he released his latest single alongside CJ titled, “You Know.” Flex is clearly still having as much fun as he can, given the circumstances of the pandemic. As a club DJ, who often discovers 'what’s hot' in that exact setting, he’s more recently embraced the new cats, and their method of operation.
"If there's any advice or information I can give to an artist -- young or old -- it's this: if you can't make 10 songs a month, and just make them to just have them, younger artists or older artists, you're not going to survive in this business," he explained over our Zoom call.
With that in mind, there hasn’t been a month that’s passed since the beginning of 2021 that Flex hasn’t dropped. Already, we’ve received collaborations alongside Rowdy Rebel, Jadakiss, and Fivio Foreign but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what he has in store. Tracks with artists like DaBaby, Roddy Ricch, and Post Malone are all included in his 2021 line-up. Acknowledging the short attention span of the digital era, and the necessity to pump out content, Flex has weathered the storm through cassettes, CDs, mixtapes, and is now following the young man’s blueprint to the modern hustle.
Image provided by the artist"I found success, through selling CDs, vinyl, and traditional, the way it was done back then," he said. "And I’m finding success now releasing on YouTube, putting it on the DSPs, and releasing collabs. I hate to say this about some of you dinosaurs out there, but I have learned. The young artists have taught me how to release music in the current space."
We recently chopped it up with Funk Flex for almost two hours, where he provided thoughtful insight into the state of the game, how it's shifting, and so much more.
This interview has been heavily edited and condensed for clarity.
HotNewHipHop: It feels like it’s a really exciting time for you. I know you just launched your new imprint, so congratulations on that. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
Funk Flex: InFlexWeTrust, nice and independent. During COVID, I started collabing with artists and I really started to enjoy it. My first release was King Von, of course. Rest in Peace to him. I also put out a collab with Fivio Foreign, I put out a collab with Jadakiss, a collab with Rowdy Rebel, and my next collab is going to be CJ. I got a Roddy Ricch collab, I got a song with DaBaby, I got a song with Post Malone, I got a song with Pooh Shiesty, BIG30. Just collabing, man. Feeling good, feeling amazing, and having a good time. We shoot and edit all the videos in-house and I’m really enjoying it. I’m having a good time.
Being in the game for so long, What’s fulfilling you now, in terms of these collaborations? Working with artists like King Von, CJ, the new New York cats, the new kids in the game.
I’m gonna translate what I think you're asking. You're asking me, coming up on Nas, Biggie and Jay-Z --
Not even, not even. I just mean you’ve witnessed and been a part of so many great historical hip-hop moments but you’ve also witnessed its evolution.
It’s a two-part thing. I think the word hip-hop, you're always going to get a different definition. I can give you [what] my feel is on hip-hop. Of course, it’s the music of the youth. A rapper in 1990 raps about what he sees, what he does, and what he enjoys. Fast forward to 2021, a rapper raps about what he sees, does, and enjoys. That’s a thirty-year span, so it'll be different from what your eye sees in 1990 than what it sees in 2021. I enjoy seeing what the young artist sees through his eyes. I have an idea of what he sees but I want to see how he puts it together and how he describes it. I grew up on Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, greats like that, KRS-One and LL Cool J. Then I become a person who’s in the music industry, and I see Nas, Biggie, and Jay-Z. I see that come along. And if I had to speak for right now, and maybe for a New York City standpoint, you see Pop Smoke -- Rest in Peace, he made great music -- A Boogie, Lil Tjay, CJ, there's a lot of great talent now. Is it about bars anymore? I don’t know. I think that it’s had its time and its periods. J. Cole and Kendrick are gonna give you bars. I don’t know if we're in touch with conscious situations as we were in years past, but it will cycle back.
When people see me, there’s a constant argument. “Is it like it today like it was before? Do you like this stuff?” I like music that makes me the dancefloor move, man, and the kids are making that and I like that. I play for clubs heavily, so I see the reaction a song gives you. It’s nice. So many years later hip-hop is strong. It’s good, man. It’s good.
Johnny Nunez/WireImage/Getty ImagesThirty years ago would you have predicted the game going in the direction that it is today?
I think we should really describe what success today is. I think some things have merged. Maybe the R&B segment is no longer existing as strong as it used to before because, I think, singing and melody have taken on a very big piece of success nowadays. There are some people that we call rappers that are really singers or melody-makers. It doesn't take away from them, though. I think those on top of the lyricist, on top of the guys who rap, on top of rappers, on top of melody makers, on top of singers, I think it’s meshed into one bowl now. That I didn't think would happen. I thought it would always be separate categories.
I’ll tell you why we have melody now and why it’s so important. I think that a person's attention span is so short, that melody makes them pay attention. I think conscious rap may be a little harder for a young one to pay attention to. There’s a little more thinking you have to do. Where, how many melodies do you know, where don't know the words, but you know the melody, and you hum along? So I think the game -- it’s just a description that has changed. I did expect it to be as big, but I didn't expect it to mesh. You got Summer Walker, Doja Cat, the R&B genre is not a lot of artists --
"I’ll tell you why we have melody now and why it’s so important. I think that a person's attention span is so short, that melody makes them pay attention. I think conscious rap may be a little harder for a young one to pay attention to. There’s a little more thinking you have to do. Where, how many melodies do you know, where don't know the words, but you know the melody, and you hum along? So I think the game -- it’s just a description that has changed. I did expect it to be as big, but I didn't expect it to mesh."
I have to ask you then, sorry to interpret. Artists like Yung Bleu and Rod Wave blur that line really well between rapping and singing. People will call them a rapper, but you know it’s those melodies that stick with you the most.
I agree with you. I'm a big fan of Morray and Rod Wave ‘cause I like how much attitude and energy they give off. I’m gonna tell you something. Guys like Teddy Riley -- and I want people to feel free to Google this. Teddy Riley -- you know, Puff was R&B first. Puff Daddy was R&B before he was hip-hop. Aaron Hall -- and I’m going way back. These are guys who sang but carried themselves like rappers. They had rapper energy and jewelry, and they talked their sh*t, but they sang. I know a Morray or a Rod Wave haven’t seen that but they carry that. They carry that energy and they carry that melody. I think they do. Lil Tjay and A Boogie, they can do both.
Let’s not - I don’t want to - Drake has really fathered this amazing style of singing and rapping. I think when it comes to Drake though he has a clearer line of this is when I’m rapping and this is when I’m singing. I don’t think they mesh as hard together in his music, but I do like it. A lot of the guys from my era don’t like it. I don’t even want to lie to you, but I don’t know if they’ve engaged enough to listen and go to the club. I’m a club DJ. I like playing in the club. A lot of my records have melodies. I have a song with 42 Dugg and it has a lot of melodies. I got a song with Lil Durk, I got a song with Pooh Shiesty, Big 30, you know. It’s second nature to the kids now.
You brought up Drake so inevitably we were gonna get to this topic. Flex, if were being a buck then you've been pretty critical of him over the years --
"Drake has really fathered this amazing style of singing and rapping."
But I praise him. I praise him, also.
I’m not denying that but you have described him as a cornball on a few occasions. In your interview with Gillie and Wallo, you said, “I like Drake, even though he’s still a cornball.” At what point in your career did you realize that you’re actually a fan of his music?
No, I fucks with his music heavy from the door. I have to be honest, he’s not made too many songs I don’t like. I never want to take away from a person's creativity. He has not made many songs - I think, when we talk about Drake sometimes you have to say, ‘Well, I like this one level ten, I like this one level nine, I like this one level eight.’ He’s not an artist that you -- once in a blue, I give my opinion on him but I like him a lot.
I don’t know if in today’s social media - I’m a big fan of you guys’ platform and I’m gonna tell you why. Sometimes, you guys roast me and sometimes you guys praise me. And I'm so okay with that because that means, look, you guys pay attention. I feel like you guys play a good part of the fence. What you guys do, a lot of artists are not okay with: people giving an opinion. I've seen platforms who like to attack me and I'm like, 'Wow, alright.' I laugh it off. I'm not saying you guys do that, I'm saying I've seen platforms.
I have very, very thick skin. I'm Jamaican, and you know when I was a kid people used to snap a lot in class. People used to snap on me because I'm Jamaican. "Oh, you coco patty. You like beef patties." So, I've always had thick skin. And I notice -- I expect -- I think artists should have thicker skin. I can imagine how many artists call your platform and complain about a story that you might write, but you're talking tough on records. You're supposed to be okay with it. So, I give my opinion a lot, but I also give credit where it's due.
Can you tell me about how Jamaican music and culture influenced your career? From growing up in the Bronx to hip-hop’s evolution today.
Well you know, Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash. I think, Afrika Bambaata and I think Kool DJ Red Alert. I don’t wanna say they're all Jamaican, but they're of island descent. You know, me being Jamaican and my father -- they were always big on sound systems. Now, let’s be clear about the park, back in the day: reggae ruled, hip-hop was second. Meaning, you could kinda come out in the park with the hip-hop, but the Jamaicans ran the park. So, I don't think we use a ton of the records from the reggae community back then in hip-hop, but a lot of the big DJs were Jamaican or Trinidadian or someplace like that. So, the sound system influence was big. It was big for me and in the Bronx, as well. I lived in Northeast Bronx like 241st, 233rd. It's a heavily Jamaican area and still is. It did play a big part, especially the sound system part.
Funk Flex with Diddy and Irv Gotti, 2013 - Shareif Ziyadat/FilmMagic/Getty ImagesDo you remember the first time going to Jamaica?
Well, I've been about 10-20 times, but being 4-5 years old. Rest in Peace to my mom. She was from Kingston 2 and my father was from Kingston 12. So, it was good times. My sister was born in London so I got to spend a lot of time in London, too. My parents came here in 1963, you know? And I'm glad that they did and had me here in the Bronx and in New York City.
My mom was a nurse and she had gotten a call for two job offers. One in LA, and one in New York. She called both places and accepted both jobs, but she knew somebody she could live with in New York. So, she came here. I used to joke I was like, ‘Damn, I was that close to growing up in LA? Shit.’ That's a whole different thing. Now, that would be…
Who would Funk Flex be out in LA? Because on one hand, I feel like your connection to car culture would already put you in place over there.
I don't know if I would've survived. I could be honest about that. I don't know. LA seems like a wonderful place to live. I think part of the Biggie/Tupac thing was also just a cultural difference, as well. Shout out to Nessa. Nessa explained to me the difference in cultures because she's now in New York, but she grew up on the West Coast. I think it's different. I think it's strange because the music can be so similar, but I think the lifestyle is just different. So, I don't know. I'm a real New Yorker, my brother. I don't take vacations. I don't really like going out of town. I'm a super, super New Yorker. I really like being in New York.
Can you tell me the story behind the Hellcat in the King Von video?
King Von, I sent him the instrumental which he wasn't a big fan of. And I asked him to trust me, and he was coming to New York, but I couldn't get a good response out of him. At first, he's like, ‘yes, I’ll shoot the video,’ but we didn't have a time set. So somebody said 'Yo, he likes Hellcats and he likes Red Eyes.' Cool. I think I might have texted him. I don't know. I think I said, 'Hey, I got the Hellcat,' and he responded right away. And I could tell he was into cars. So, we didn't really drive anywhere that day but we kind of just hung out.
That was really my first time meeting him face-to-face. Before that, it was FaceTime. I liked his energy, you know? Him and Pop Smoke... the violence. I don't think there's more violence now than it was when I was young. I just think with social media it gets amplified more. I think, with social media, it gets hard for people to back down or to change or not go as hard. I think a person -- if they make a strong or a tough statement, they now have to back it up in person and social media. So I think it's it's become a tougher thing. Rest in Peace to him.
King Von & Funk Flex - "Lurkin"I read that you have a collab with Rakim. So there’s a wide range of tracks you have in the cut. Your freestyle sessions include legends like Jada while highlighting newcomers like 22Gz. How do you feel about the current climate of hip-hop where the older figures and the young generation are co-existing?
If there's any advice or information I can give to an artist -- young or old -- it's this, if you can't make 10 songs a month, and just make them to just have them, younger artists or older artists, you're not going to survive in this business. And I think some of the OGs have not accepted the fact that their production rate, the amount of songs that they're making, has to increase. Because of the way a young person consumes music -- I don't want to use the word disposable because they still listen to it and enjoy it. Do they move on a little quicker? Yeah, but I don't think they dispose of the song. But I think that you have to put out more music and I’m following that schedule right now. I'm about two months in, I got a lot of songs done. I have a lot of songs out, a lot of videos shot. You know, I wasn't on this pace when I used to put out songs before, but that's the pacing I’m on. So, I think that is where a young person has to really, really think about it, and older. I think 90% of the OGs have not been able to keep up the pace. Is that a fair percentage?
It depends, Flex. I feel like a lot of artists are still thriving without having to strive for a #1 record.
"The way a young person consumes music -- I don't want to use the word disposable because they still listen to it and enjoy it. Do they move on a little quicker? Yeah, but I don't think they dispose of the song. But I think that you have to put out more music and I’m following that schedule right now. I'm about two months in, I got a lot of songs done. I have a lot of songs out, a lot of videos shot. You know, I wasn't on this pace when I used to put out songs before, but that's the pacing I’m on."
I agree too, and I think the real question is -- well, not a question -- I think this is for a DJ or rapper. It's always a question of how much you want to fit into the new world, you know what I mean? Like I think every rapper who's ever picked up the mic can fit in, in 2021. The question is, do you want to? You may be happy and some people don't want to sacrifice their craft, which makes sense, too if my craft is my craft. I mean, J. Cole, Kendrick, and Eminem... I think those guys -- Kanye -- I think they make a conscious effort to be relevant to today's audience when they make an album.
I think that there are certain artists, too, that goes, 'Hey, I want to make good music. I want to feed my fan base and I'm not sure if I want to conform.' Now, I want to be honest, I do hear artists that complain. Kind of waiting for the moment to shift back, and I've never seen hip hop shift back. I've always seen it evolve. So, there are a couple of veteran artists that have had a big success and I think that they're happy with their success. I think there are other artists, too, that may have been out in the last five years, that may not have found their place. And the place that they have found isn't satisfying to them.
I think that it's hard for an artist, man, in a competitive sport. Hip hop's not like pop and R&B. It's based on 'I am better than you.' If you're a melody artist -- I don't think people have 10 favorite melody artists. I think they have one or two. I think if it's bars, they have one or two that is their favorite. It really is a shortlist.
Can you talk to me about the return of Bobby and Rowdy? I know you dropped “Re-Route” and you were at Bobby Shmurda’s welcome home party. What was that feeling like of seeing those two return to the fold?
I think they’re making great music, from what I’ve heard. I got a Bobby Shmurda record. I got one. You know, I don't want to give too much, but I got one. It's coming. I like the way they embrace the new -- you know, that Rowdy made a record with Nav. I'm a big fan of theirs. I like that they like the music that they made for the clubs a lot.
Rowdy Rebel and Bobby Shmurda at Knicks game, 2021 - Al Bello/Getty ImagesI wanted to ask you about your show. The one you had on MTV.
Oh, yeah. I used to do an automotive show. I had fun doing that.
Man, you had every rapper on there. I know you had Em on there at some point. You were just checking out everybody’s car collection.
Wait a minute. Now, there’s a whole evolution of new artists. It’s great.
Who would be the first rapper you’d want on as a guest if you brought back Ride With Funkmaster Flex?
DaBaby, Lil Baby. They seem like they like American cars like I do. That would be my first couple, man. Man, I tell you I got a record, I got like 3 records with DaBaby. I got a lot of music with DaBaby.
A clip from "Ride with Funkmaster Flex" featuring Flex and Lil KimYeah, because you said the other day, “He’s the hottest rapper in the game,” right?
Yes. He’s the hottest rapper in the game.
Why do you feel that way?
"[DaBaby] is the hottest rapper in the game."
How he puts the music out, how often he puts it out, the songs, his collabs. The ones with Megan Thee Stallion, the ones with other artists. I gauge a lot too from the clubs. I play a lot of his records in the clubs.
This is a sidebar, I got this record. Do you remember, “D to the A” part 1?
Yeah. It was Grizzley and Yachty.
Yeah. I got part two.
How is this approach for you of releasing music been for you? How enjoyable is it for you, as an artist, as a DJ, just to get into that flow in the digital era?
Let me tell you something. I found success, through selling CDs, vinyl, and traditional, the way it was done back then. And I’m finding success now releasing on YouTube, putting it on the DSPs, and releasing collabs. I hate to say this about some of you dinosaurs out there, but I have learned. The young artists have taught me how to release music in the current space. Shoutout to Polo G. Did I tell you I got Polo G on the remix of the King Von song?
I was going to ask because you have it in your IG profile but I couldn’t find it.
Give me a second, my brother. Give me a second.
I’m excited. I feel like in 2021, you're about to be going non-stop.
You probably thought when I said I was coming out with a project, you probably thought it was going to have a different set of artists.
To be honest with you, I kind of didn't expect you to tap into artists like King Von. CJ was also a bit surprising for me.
Why? Tell me why you feel that way?
I just feel like there were rumblings of controversy surrounding CJ & "Whoopty." I don’t know. Maybe, I’m just reading into it differently than I should.
You are aware of what is being said in social media. You're a journalist and you pay attention.
I remember when 6ix9ine dropped earlier this year, you said something along the lines of, “I like the record, I’m just not spinning it on my platform.” I assumed that certain politics would outweigh music for you in a sense.
I’m not one thousand percent aware of the politics when I say, I just know that the young man made some good songs, and he’s from Staten Island and my job is to support good music. I know Von had the same beat, and I know 22Gz might've had the same beat too.
22Gz, there was a lot. To be honest, in the UK and Australia, everyone has been flipping that sample.
Oh, that track. Why is that? Is that track public domain or something?
I feel like different pockets of the drill scene have just been picking up on it across the world.
Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems like CJ had the strongest hook. Is that correct?
I like Von and Memo’s version, but I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t have “Whoopty” on my playlist.
I think new artists these days -- I don’t care what city you're from -- I think it’s very hard to win over your peers. I think it’s super hard. Maybe because there are more rappers around you, or maybe you're around a lot of people who are at your level. Either growing with you or growing past you. An artist really has to get out of the circle with his peers, to really see success, to me. I’m not saying there’s hate or people holding you back. It’s just a lot of opinions. If I listen to people and their opinions about me, my brother, I wouldn't be here today. It’d be bad.
Bryan Bedder/Getty ImagesJust to conclude, I want to know throughout your history in rap, throughout working with so many artists, what is your favorite freestyle to date?
Tell me about that session because I was going to ask you about Black Thought freestyle.
He caught me off guard, man. I asked him to do a freestyle six months before he disappeared on me. And then he just rang my phone one day and said he was ready. When he got there, he was very relaxed and by himself and I didn’t expect -- a couple of minutes in, I was like this guy is going for it. He going for -- he’s trying to hurt this sh*t. Not only was it a one-take, but there wasn't even a rehearsal he did in there. That was a real one-take. The first time we cut the mic on that's what he did. There was no rehearsal. We were talking about Mobb Deep and Wu-Tang Clan like before. He just said, ‘Hey, alright, man. I’m ready.’ And then I was like, ‘Oh, sh*t.’ That’s my favorite by far.
Who’s number 2 for you?
I don’t think I have one. He’s just my favorite. I wasn't surprised by his talent, I was surprised by his dedication to infuse his talent. He’s talented, that's proven. He’s talented, it’s proven, but the fact that he injected himself into one of the freestyles was impressive to me.
I feel like that was a moment where a lot of people felt like Black Thought was really that dude on the mic.
I think to the people 30 and over he always was, but now the 30 and under saw him and appreciated him differently. I did. I appreciated him differently.
One last question: what’s your reaction to having your face in the Meek Mill freestyle as an official meme?
My son used to really -- it used to really bother my son. My son would say “Dad, don’t do that. It’s gonna be a meme.” And I go, "Come on, it’s cool," and he goes, it is man. Something would happen and he'd be like, "Dad you're a meme this week." You know what I’m ok with. I kinda like it, it’s part of the game. I’m ok with it.