(SlopFunkDust International / 2000)
Back in the late 90s / early new millenium it was common place as a fan of Hip-Hop to stumble across talented-yet-unknown artists on a regular basis, as the repercussions of the mid-90s independent era continued to inspire underground acts to ignore the mainstream route and go for delf in their efforts to have their music heard by like-minded individuals.
Florida’s Funkghost first came to my attention via the “Instructions” / “Tampa International” 12″ single he dropped in early-2000. The flipside (which also featured fellow Tampa resident Celph-Titled of Demigodz fame on the remix) had almost Wu-Tang-ish production influences with its clipped drums and oriental-style strings, but it was the lead track “Instructions” that really caught my attention and prompted me to click “Add To Cart” whilst making one of my legendary oversized overseas orders from HipHopSite.Com. The melodic, hazy production and laidback but confident verses immediately stood out from the week’s other new releases and had me putting a little extra strain on my credit card before you could say late payment fee.
At the time, I’d just started writing a fortnightly Hip-Hop column for the long-running (but now defunct) UK music magazine Blues & Soul. I was always looking for new artists to cover, so upon receiving the single and noticing there was an email contact printed on the label I fired over a message and was immediately hit back by Ghost’s then right-hand man T. The Beat Specialist who said he could send me over a copy of the “Ultra-Boogie Highlife” album for review.
Now, at this time, prior to file-sharing and download links being commonplace, Stateside artists would often promise to send over product but then never manage to take that walk to the post office. Yet within a matter of days a package with a Tampa post mark hit my doormat.
The first thing I noticed about “Ultra-Boogie Highlife” was of course that crazy cover. The vinyl single I’d ordered a few weeks before had no cover art whatsover and came in a standard plain white sleeve. So I definitely wasn’t expecting to see a slick looking brother sporting a white mink, laying back on a tiger skin rug putting his mack game down on a P.Y.T. with some fine art hanging in the background. My first thought was that it looked like a cross between a Big Daddy Kane video shoot and something that Morris Day of 80s funkateers The Time would have approved of. Ironically, the album itself contained dialogue samples from Prince’s “Purple Rain” flick starring Day and whilst subsequently interviewing Funkghost he admitted that he was a fan of the coiffered vocalist.
After getting past the cover and pulling the inlay booklet out of the case I was greeted with this equally curious statement: “Surrender your ears to the supremely exotic sounds and pulsating beats. Let “Ultra-Boogie” seduce your imagination…release your inhibitions…and guide you to new and exciting vistas of pleasure beyond all expectations.”
So before I even put the CD in the system it was clear that Funkghost was on some ol’ next sh*t and that “Ultra-Boogie Highlife” definitely wasn’t going to be your typical underground boom-bap album if it managed to live up to its own hype – which, thankfully, it did.
The brilliant “The Fabulous” effectively mixes hard drums with swirling synth sounds, as Funkghost is joined by Phobi One of their crew The Hip-Hop Dickheads to turn preconceptions of Southern rap still held at the time upside down with nimble flows and creatively vivid wordplay – “Become kings at one thing, Notice that we run things, From Tampa Bay to Great Lakes, known to keep the place laced, Trying to keep a straight face, while laughing at your fake tape…”.
“Melodic Nectar” begins in dark and moody musical territory, before opening up into a dreamy soundscape that finds Funkghost reminiscing on the 90s before looking forward to what the new millenium may bring.
The mellow “Grand Imperial Sound” is subtle yet hardcore whilst “3AM Deluxe” is full of feel-good funk as Ghost cruises through early-morning Tampa intending on “chillin’ ’til the sun come up” with a “sophisticated chick” at his side.
Closing the album out is the upbeat “Starshine” which perfectly encapsulates the Funkghost formula – soulful samples, good-natured bravado and a sly sense of humour.
Although this particular Florida-based funk-lover wouldn’t re-emerge until some years later with a distinctly different stylistic approach, “Ultra-Boogie Highlife” is a sonic time capsule that captures the sound of a group of young friends putting their own twist on the traditional Hip-Hop they loved in a way that drew inspiration from musical influences, life experiences and playful crew in-jokes.
Simple in its execution and thoroughly pure in its intentions, “Ultra-Boogie Highlife” is still a completely enjoyable listening experience that has maintained both its character and individuality over a decade since its release.
Definitely one to dig for if you’re not already familiar with this unique slice of Floridian Hip-Hop.
Funkghost ft. Phobi One – “Instructions” (SFDP / 2000)