Break Ya Neck: Boulevards and the Return of Funk

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Boulevards at Pickthorn Salon. All photos by Jane Bruce

Getting out of bed on a Friday morning to meet Jamil Rashad aka Boulevards was a real challenge for me. Not because I’m an unenthused asshole, but because I’d spent the prior night dancing and drinking to an undeniably groovy late night set by Jamil and his band. When I bumped into him on the street getting off the subway, I knew we’d both had a night. Rashad’s style is understated yet noticeable; an extensive collection of mixed metal jewelry crawls up his fingers to his wrists. On the day of our interview, he’s wearing a dark blue baseball cap repping his home state of North Carolina. 

“Did you have fun?” he greeted me as I exited the train. Of course I did, hence my zombie-like state. I was so distracted I led him three blocks past our destination — the cozy Pickthorn Salon — before I noticed where the hell we were. Off to a solid start.

Boulevards’ sound is a techno-funk future-throwback array of synthesizers with crushed Bootsy Collins bass lines, and it’s more than enough to make a 1 AM set unmissable, even on a weeknight. “Got to Go,” the lead single off his debut self-titled EP, got an early boost from a glowing recommendation by La Roux, who shared the track with her fans and helped spark its popularity online. Drawn to the crisp compositions, I was intrigued too, but it wasn’t until Brooklyn-based label Captured Tracks announced they had signed him that I gave it my full attention. Captured Tracks is a glowing seal of a approval, and this was a very different direction for the label.

Though they boasted some of my favorite shoe gaze-y releases of the year, I wondered how Boulevards fits into the Captured Tracks equation. The truth is, he doesn’t.

Jamil was also surprised when A&R from Captured Tracks first reached out to him on Facebook. “I had no idea Mike [Sniper, label head] digged the funk, but he does,” Rashad explained. “When he approached me, it wasn’t business. He respected the vision and what I wanted to do as an artist. I want to be with a label where I could grow as an artist and a person. It’s funny because they’ve got Mac DeMarco, Juan [Wauters], DIIV–and now me. They have a solid roster. I am so fortunate and glad to be a part of it.”

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Though he’s the most recent addition to the Brooklyn label, Rashad is still not quite a local himself. He spent some time living in Brooklyn before, but has since moved back to his native Raleigh, North Carolina. Growing up in a Southern family he was surrounded by his Dad’s love of blues and jazz, and started experimenting musically himself at a young age.

“At 12, I was turning poetry into raps. Music is poetry, rhymes-just with funk songwriting. I was rapping with homies in bedrooms, free-styling. We didn’t know what we were doing, terrible stuff,” Rashad joked, adjusting his sunglasses, still on in the shaded salon.

“I was just so used to by being around music all the time,” he said. “My dad worked at a radio station for 30 years, I knew I had to make it. You got Miles Davis playing, Herbie Hancock playing, Anita Baker in the background. I was always around funk and jazz,” 

While music was always the path, it took a lot of experimentation before Boulevards full blown pop-funk spirit was fully born. Not until he was working as a producer in college, and had a brief stint in a hardcore band did Rashad take a new direction.

“I wanted to bring funk to our generation,” he said. “Our parents had funk. Now it’s my turn to bring it.”

One of the many beauties of returning to funk is all the sexually-charged, lyrical themes hidden underneath those thick beat.

“I started writing about relationships and my experience with women,” Rashad said. “When writing, I think back on Rick James and Prince, on their songwriting. It was sexual, but in a tasteful, cool way–not so vulgar, but it was still sexy. Funk takes heartbreak and puts it over cool dance beats. You won’t even know what hit you. People want to feel good and feel sexy–and that is the music I want to make. Music to put on your favorite heels and perfume or your suits and look nice, feel cool, no drama–have fun and dance. That is funk, to me.”

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To facilate his role ushering funk back in, Rashad will return to Brooklyn full-time in the new year in order to be near the label. He’s looking forward to it so he can “finally not drive and go to bodegas.” Once settled in, the plan is to tour Europe–a plan that will land Rashad something he’s long coveted: a passport.

With an EP under his belt already through Captured Tracks, progress on Rashad’s debut full length will be in motion after his move is permanent. On the record he’s taking greater risks vocally, and though Rasahd still primarilty identifies primarily as a rapper, he’ll be exploring a wider range. He said he’s pushing himself to write more personally, but assures that the new release will reveal who he as a man and an artist while still building on what drew his fans in: The need to dance.

“Its infectious, its sexy, its groovy,” he said. “I want to make those feet tap, those heads bop, those necks break. When people hear that bass, you’ll have no choice but to sing along.” 

For updates on Boulevards’ music follow him on Twitter. For more music-related musings, follow Juliann DiNicola on Twitter

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