Say the name "Chaka" and most folks in the know instantly think of a woman who has made an indelible and lasting impression on the music scene of the past three decades. First, as the lead singer of the massively successful R&B, funk and pop band Rufus, then as a solo artist in her own right who has influenced an entire generation of female vocalists (think Mary J. Blige, Erykah Badu, Ledisi, Maysa among others). Like Aretha, like Joni, like Tina, a first name will do. For there's only one Chaka, woman of fire, possessed of a powerhouse, unforgettably distinctive trademark vocal style who sings with unrelenting passion, honest emotion and authenticity; no matter what the song, you can count on Chaka to deliver with realness, every time.
Seldom has that been more evident than on the aptly-named FUNK THIS, in some ways a return to her musical roots with Rufus, a glorious collaboration with the super hit-making team of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. It's the album that many a Chaka fan will instantly say they've been waiting for, a tough 'n' earthy showcase for the gritty, in-your-face sound that first attracted the solid and loyal audience that has been with Chaka "through the fire" (also the title of her autobiography), through the ups and downs and ins and outs of a career filled with accomplishment, achievement and, as she herself admits, its share of highs and lows.
The iconic singer says it best: "This album may remind people of my early Rufus albums because I'm in a similar 'soul space'. I've been on a little journey in the last few years, finding Yvette again," she notes, referring to her birth name. "I went through a period of being insecure. I'm walking a different path now. I've changed. This album is different from any other album I've recorded because it reflects what I'm about, who I am now."
Distinct from recent recordings – such as the critically-acclaimed "Classikhan," the 2004 album, partly recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, that included songs from her years growing up in Chicago – FUNK THIS embodies the essence of Chaka's fiery approach to music, bringing together a selection of her own compositions and collaborations with fresh readings of classic tunes originated by longtime musical pal Prince (Sign O The Times), one of Chaka's musical heroines Joni Mitchell ("Ladies' Man") and Jimi Hendrix ("Castles Made Of Sand"). There's a brilliant revisit of two Rufus classics – "Pack'd My Bags," and "You Got The Love"– fused into an unforgettable medley and for good measure, "Disrespectful," a hardcore duet with superstar Mary J. Blige.
"The album's called FUNK THIS because it's funky!" Chaka grins, when asked how she came up with the title and concept for the CD, her first for Burgundy Records. "Honestly, the idea for it came to me in a dream and I like that we're calling it FUNK THIS because it gives people an indicator of what to expect." With the masterful production of fellow Grammy winners Jam & Lewis (whose list of credits, like Chaka's, would fill pages), FUNK THIS gives the dynamic singer an opportunity to do what she does best: whether revealing her own recent journey through the words of "Super Life" or adding her stamp to the turgid 1969 soul classic "Foolish Fool" (originally recorded by Dee Dee Warwick), the album presents the diversity of Chaka Khan, from the poetic "Angel" to the revelatory "Will You Love Me?".
Of working with Jam & Lewis and their talented crew of musicians (including the Avila brothers, 'Big Jim' Wright and special guest Jesse Johnson), Chaka says, "When we first met, it was like a mutual admiration society! I mean, who wouldn't want to work with Jimmy & Terry?" The combination is dynamic: track by track, FUNK THIS represents Chaka, 2007, at the top of her game.
She gladly reveals her thoughts on each of the album's 13 cuts. "I first heard Dee Dee's "Foolish Fool" when I was growing up and it made a deep impression on me. It's been part of my fibre ever since. When we were discussing cover songs to do, I said, 'I gotta one for you!' It's intense and Dee Dee must have been through something traumatic to sing it the way she did. I know a lot of women feel what the song says, 'she's gotta be crazy if she thinks she can take you from me!' Yeah!"
The poignant ballad "Angel" was based on a poem Chaka wrote "a few years ago when I was in an 'altered' state. I pulled out the words and I thought, 'wow, I wrote this?' The lyrics are pretty intense for someone who was out of their mind at the time. It's a very special song to me, especially since I've started walking a different path, since I've been through a whole life change."
The upbeat "Will You Love Me?" co-written with Doug Rasheed is "a sad, pleading song. It's about my own insecurities – like who is coming to my rescue? It's deep, beautiful."
The beautifully acoustic "One For All Times," penned by Chaka with Terry Lewis, "has a Rufus kind of feel to it. It's about eternal love, the kind of song that Joni Mitchell might have written if she were black!" Chaka grins. Speaking of Mitchell, "Ladies' Man" is a gem from the legendary singer/songwriter's catalog. "I've known Joni for about twenty years and I was so honored to be asked to honor her at a Songwriter's Hall Of Fame in Toronto. We got to hang out for the first time in some years and I told her I wanted to record one of her songs. She said (imitates Joni), "No, Chaka you have to do 'Ladies' Man' so how was I going to say 'no' to Joni Mitchell?"
In the realm of musical legends, Prince has also occupied a special place in Chaka's heart, from the days before his "I Feel For You" gave her a million-selling Grammy-winning No. 1 international hit record in 1984: the biting "Sign 'O' The Times" seems like a perfect choice for FUNK THIS. "I've always loved the song and its message seems very prophetic now.
I included a part of "I'm Every Woman" because adding that felt very natural when we were recording," Chaka notes, referring to her original 1978 Ashford & Simpson-penned first solo hit. "Castles Made Of Sand" from the Jimi Hendrix classic LP, "Axis, Bold As Love" is given a Khan workout: "I listened to that song a lot in my 'acid' days," Chaka says. "That album was one of those jam records we all listened to back then. The lyrics are sad and tragic but I tried to make it positive. The question is, if you build your castle, is it gonna stand?"
Chaka's self-penned, self-affirming "Super Life" addresses that very same question in its own way: it's a very special, very personal song. "I wrote it a few years ago when I started walking on a more life-sustaining path and it's about the promise I made to myself for the rest of my life. The lyric says, 'I'm gonna live a super life, for the babies, for the children' and that's what I'm doing." In the realm of honest lyrics, "Disrespectful" comes from the pen of Mary J. Blige: "We were going to write together but Mary started writing this song and it was so strong, she finished it herself," Chaka reveals. "It's an absolute powerhouse, crazy, insane track! When you listen to it, it's hard to tell which of us is singing! It's a tour-de-force about one of the few subjects two women can sing about!"
With a nod to the successive gold and platinum albums and non-stop hit singles that catapulted Rufus to the top from 1974 to 1981, a medley of two Rufus favorites reunites Chaka with the band's guitarist Tony Maiden who also co-penned "Back In The Day" with Chaka. "I chose 'Pack'd My Bags' because I wrote it, I love it and I've never tired of singing it; we put in "You Got The Love" and it turned out very well." Another notable cut on FUNK THIS is a soulful duet with Michael McDonald on "You Belong To Me," the classic Carly Simon song.
FUNK THIS is an important new addition to the extensive Khan catalog of nearly a dozen solo albums, spanning almost thirty five years of recording and performing worldwide. An eight-time Grammy winner, Chaka Khan can truly claim the title 'renaissance woman.' Her distinctive vocal style has influenced and impacted a whole generation of hit making contemporary artists and her commitment as a humanitarian and philanthropist has continued to thrive through the work of her own Chaka Khan Foundation.
Growing up in Chicago during the 1950s and '60s, Chaka – born Yvette Marie Stevens – developed an early awareness of the creative and political movements around her. She formed her first singing group when she was 11 and joined the Black Panthers in her late teens, heading up their free breakfast program for kids. By age 20, she had found the perfect outlet for her creative energy as the singer for Rufus, and five years later, as a breakout solo artist. Known for a catalog of classic hits: "Tell Me Something Good," "Sweet Thing," "Once You Get Started," "Everlasting Love," "Do You Love What You Feel," "Ain't Nobody," "I'm Every Woman," "I Feel For You," "Through The Fire," "Clouds", "I'll Be Good To You", and "Whatcha Gonna Do For Me," Chaka has worked in practically every genre of music from pop, R&B, rock, disco, world music and fusion to jazz, rap, hip-hop, and classical. The diverse list of distinguished collaborators with whom Chaka has recorded includes but is not limited to Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Ashford & Simpson, Rod Stewart, Manhattan Transfer, Dizzy Gillespie, Gladys Knight, Joe Henderson, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, Lenny White, Bobby McFerrin, Melle Mel, Lionel Hampton, Eric Clapton, Fourplay, Peter Cetera, Queen Latifah, Brandy, Tamia, Kanye West, Shaggy, Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Clarke, Ry Cooder, Bruce Hornsby, Guru, Phil Collins, De La Soul, Michael MacDonald, Steve Winwood, and, Miles Davis. Emotive vocals have been the trademark of Ms. Khan who has graced the soundtracks of several movies including "Clockers," "Set It Off," "To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar," "Miami Vice," "White Knights," "Moscow on the Hudson," "Disappearing Acts," "Waiting to Exhale," and "Standing In The Shadows Of Motown," and the recent Tyler Perry hit "Madea's Family Reunion".
Winner of the 1995 London's Best Actress Capitol Radio Listener's Poll Award Recipient for "Mama, I Want to Sing", a Diamond Life Awardee of Excellence from the International Association of African-American Music (IAAAM), recipient of the "Soul Train's Lena Horne Lady of Soul Career Achievement Award", declared a "power mover" by Vibe Magazine, and given the date October 19th as Chaka Khan Day by the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago, Chaka's impact on popular culture is undeniable spanning almost thirty-five years of recording and performing worldwide."
A renowned proponent of 'old school' soul music, her energy, dynamism, and passion through live performances for over three decades, Chaka has brought her special brand of vocal magic to audiences the world over. Her prowess as a credited creative force behind her impressive catalog of solo albums is one that is held in high regard by her peers: executive producer for the 1992 Grammy-winning "The Woman I Am" and Chaka's 1998 album "Come 2 My House" featuring a number of Khan compositions. Chaka's range as an artist is both timeless and limitless as demonstrated in her ability to interpret a range of enduring songs associated with artists such as Peggy Lee, Patsy Cline, Shirley Bassey, Oscar Brown Jr. and Lena Horne, captured on her 2004 release "Classikhan," recorded with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
But it's away from the stage and the recording studio that Chaka's light has continued to promote a need for change. Her inspiring autobiography "Through The Fire" was acclaimed for its soul-bearing candor and honesty and her commitment to women and children at risk is seen through her countless hours of dedication to the Chaka Khan Foundation. Formed in 1999, the Foundations' initiative has involved a partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School district mentoring 5th and 6th grade students who are college-bound. Of her work with the Foundation and her other philanthropic endeavors which include participation in numerous charity benefits devoted to conquering AIDS and HIV prevention, Chaka simply says, "It's time to build up and time to give back".
Entrepreneurial in spirit, Chaka's entertainment company Chaka Khan Enterprises is definitely a family affair. Her mother, Sandra Coleman, works as her business manager; and her sister, Tammy McCrary, is her personal manager; while her daughter Milini (who enjoyed success as the lead singer for the group Pretty in Pink) has a burgeoning solo career and her son Damien is also an aspiring record producer. In addition to the Chaka Khan Foundation, Chaka is also responsible for her own line of chocolates ("Chakalates"), sold in Neiman Marcus Stores and the guiding force behind her own Earthsong record label.
Honored by BET with a much-deserved "Lifetime Achievement Award," Chaka's enduring spirit and passion for music and life have endeared her to music lovers the world over. "Music has always been the background theme to life," she states, "and people are profoundly affected by what they hear. I think I always knew I'd forever be doing this. It's what I was put it for. It's always been kind of like a ministry – now it's a conscious one," she says referring to her own recent life changes. "Every song on this new album has a message, an in-depth message which can be applied to many things in life. Every word is heartfelt and I didn't sing anything I didn't feel." The provocatively-titled FUNK THIS is, she says, "the album I've been promising my fans for the past ten years." And the kind of funk on the CD? "It's funk of many kinds with a wide range of different feelings. It's soulful, soul-felt and from my soul." That about says it all!