Louisville Funk Fest: For The Artists, It Was Bigger Than Music

Funk Fest Louisville
Ginuwine at Funk Fest. Photo by Jason Gonzalez.

There was a celebration at Waterfront Park in downtown Louisville last weekend.  

 An enormous one, precisely. It was the type of commemoration that prompted 25,000 people to attend over the course of two days. 

The two-day music festival, which included rappers Big Daddy Kane, Juvenile, 8Ball & MJG, Slick Rick, Doug E. Fresh and Jeezy last Friday night, saw a bevy of beach chairs set up on the lawn at 129 River Road. Rhythm and Blues acts took over on Saturday night. Performing on stage were Fantasia, Sunshine Anderson, Case, Cameo, Ginuwine and Jagged Edge. 

There were five factors that made Louisville Funk Fest a cause for celebration for the attendees that came out to support. Pride, Father's Day, Juneteenth, birthdays and the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop music were just a few of the reasons to party it up.  

That made it difficult for some of the artists to hold back their emotion.

 “Historically?” The New Orleans rapper would ask rhetorically. “A lot, knowing what my people been through with freedom, fighting for their freedom and what not,” Juvenile said regarding Juneteenth. “But not just that, it's not often we get opportunities to celebrate Father's Day. They don't really show us (fathers) too much love. But the whole Juneteenth thing, with what my people went through to get to this point … when that legislation was passed for us to be free, even though a lot of things have to take place after to be really free, it was a great moment in life for us.” 

Doug E. Fresh.
Doug E. Fresh.

 With Hip Hop turning 50 in August, the "400 Degreez" rapper revealed that his fondest memory was performing with the Ruff Ryders during the Cash Money/Ruff Ryders tour 23 years ago. But most importantly, the difference that DMX made in his life personally and professionally.  

 DMX died from a cocaine-induced heart attack two years ago in White Plains, NY. 

 “I feel like DMX was the best performer that I ever been around in life,” Juvenile said. “I always told him that. We did a lot of shows together even after the Cash Money/Ruff Ryders tour. He had his mishaps, and I still was telling him the same thing. … The dude was just dynamite. A good dude, a real religious man. But he was DMX though, he did his thing. He did everything his way.” 

 For DJ Kaos, Slick Rick's DJ, it was a different perspective, a fresh perspective on Funk Fest. 

The Louisville native had his own reason to be happy. It was his homecoming.  

“It’s kind of personal man, I love it. To be a part of the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop, and Juneteenth and tour with Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh, it’s like surreal, you know what I mean?” Kaos told LEO Weekly. “To have lived in New York … and been all over the world, and to be back here (in Louisville) is surreal. That’s the best word that I can use.” 

 When he isn't assisting Rick and Fresh perform the classic “La Di Da Di” on stage,  you'll find Kaos DJing at local spots around Derby City on Tuesdays and Thursdays. But as the 50th anniversary of Hip Hop continues, Kaos anticipates doing his share to keep the culture thriving by podcasting and live streaming more of his events on a consistent basis. 

 For other pioneers in the genre, like Kane and Fresh, they’re lending a hand as well, to ensure that Hip Hop can last another 50 years. But when asked if Hip Hop was in good hands, he didn’t sound too optimistic. The consensus is that the overall quality of rap music has diminished.  

Slick Rick.
Slick Rick.

 “We'll have to see, I think Hip Hop has been in a beautiful place,” Kane said. “Acceptance wise and the type of money that’s being made. (But) as far as the hands? We have to see.” 

 Kane is considered by pundits as being one of Hip Hop's most influential and talented rapper. He’s described by contemporaries as being a master wordsmith. Similarly, Fresh wasn’t able to discuss matters with any degree of certainty either. Known as the "Human Beat Box", and “The World’s Greatest Entertainer," Fresh believes that the legends have paved the way for the younger generation to take responsibility. 

 “I feel that Hip Hop is working its way out into being in good hands,” he said. “In order for it (Hip Hop) to last another 50 years, some changes have to be made. How it was in the beginning, so shall it be in the end. In the beginning, there were a lot of mistakes. A lot of the earlier Hip Hop artists were getting high, they were sniffing cocaine, they were living reckless lives and it got the best of them. … Sometimes you have to learn. This new generation is doing things that they shouldn’t really be doing because it will destroy them. Back to the father again, back to us, as Hip Hop elders, as Hip Hop pioneers, (we have) to pass the information on to the new generation, not judge them, but guide them and hopefully they are wise enough to take heed to what we say because we have seen this before.” 

 The celebration concluded on a smooth and graceful note, during its R&B takeover. However, despite everything that was observed last weekend, for Ginuwine, Funk Fest took on a deeper meaning.  

One that was bittersweet.  

 The multi-platinum artist who gave the world hits like “Pony,” “Differences,” “So Anxious” and “In those Jeans” was thrilled to be in the home of Static Major. Major, whose real name was Stephen Ellis Garret, Jr. was a singer, composer and record producer. He wrote songs for several musicians, including Aaliyah, Ginuwine, Pretty Ricky and Destiny's Child. The song "Pony," co-written by Major 27 years ago, has recently seen a revival due to the "Magic Mike" movies starring Channing Tatum. 

 On February 25, 2008, Major, then 33 years old, died from complications following a procedure at Baptist Hospital East in Louisville.

 “It means everything to be here in the home of Static Major,” Ginuwine said emphatically. “He's the first one that I went to … when I got the beat from Timbaland.” 

 Ginuwine, whose real name is Elgin Lumpkin, is referring to the song “Pony.” 

 “I was like, 'yo, I need some help.' He (Major) said, 'I got you dawg' … I appreciate him wholeheartedly … he did the hook … and I was like ‘oh my God’, I got a ‘Billie Jean.’ … A lot of people don't even understand his position and his power that he contributed to music. I always say, ‘Shout out to Static Major,’ because he deserves that, thank you so much, and thank you to Louisville, Kentucky for always showing me love.” 

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