Boulevards: Reviving Funk in the Millennial Era

Jamil Rashad grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina where he was raised on a steady— and eclectic—diet of music. His father, who has worked at a jazz radio station for over 30 years, shared with his son the myriad sounds that filtered through his airwaves. The younger Rashad spent many years sifting through boogie, funk, and jazz records, and then, later, dabbling in hip-hop and EDM on his own—all the while searching for a sound that was uniquely him. Eventually he found it in a style he calls “party funk.”

Rashad now operates under the moniker, Boulevards, splitting his time between Raleigh and New York. He does most of his writing in his hometown while taking advantage of NYC’s size, energy, and connectivity. Those three descriptors are all central tenets to his music, too. Party funk is an amalgam of the sounds he grew up around: it has funk’s instrumentation and larger-than-life sex appeal and boogie’s vintage rhythms. But above all else, party funk is defined by Rashad’s infectious energy. It feeds a crowd, willing people to dance away their worries and feel sexy in the process.

Rashad, who’s currently touring in support of his debut record, Groove, spoke to me on the phone from Nashville. We talked about the record, his writing process, and his path toward finding his own means of artistic expression. He also told me about the emotional day in which he found out that one of his greatest inspirations, Prince, had passed on.

Can you retrace your musical history, up to the point where you decided that you wanted to make music?

When I was a kid, my dad gave me jazz CDs and funk CDs and put me onto different types of music. I was dabbling in hip-hop, like the boom bap hip-hop from the ‘90s, and writing poetry. Then I started freestyling in high school, and started producing and sampling. At that point, I didn’t know what I was doing; I was just trying to express myself creatively. Then I was in a hardcore band [laughs], and then I went kind of solo. [The band] broke up and I start dabbling on my own, studying pop music, funk music, electronic music, dance music—just trying to figure out my niche. I didn’t really figure it out until a couple years ago and I said, ok, this works. This is what I wanna do. This is what I want to pursue. This is what I want to perfect. It took a lot of steps, a lot of setbacks, a lot of growing, and a lot practice to get where I’m at. And I’m still trying to get better.

What were some of the musical phases you went through from hardcore to where you are now?

I was doing electronic stuff, like EDM beats, and some experimental. Some Hot Chip type stuff. Boys Noize. Justice. Bloody Beetroots. Party stuff. I just had to figure out what worked for me, but I also wanted to express myself in a fuckin’ cool way. I wanted to make music that people could connect to and make them want to dance. Then I made my own EP with XXXChange and Dan Walker from The Death Set and that was kind of the start of Boulevards. And I love funk music. I’ve always loved funk music. And I think after that EP dropped, I decided that that is what I wanna do. This can be done.

Your music is neo-funk, a nod to some classic funk, but it’s definitely contemporized. It’s not overtly pastiche. Are you very intentional of making sure you contemporize the sound? Or is that what’s coming out simply because you’ve dabbled in all these other genres?

When I wrote the record, I wanted to make something that was honest to me. That’s the first and foremost thing to me when I write records. I need to be honest with myself, but at the same time, I have a love of boogie music, a love for funk music, a love for jazz music, a love for pop music. So I wanted to create a song that had the old school flavor but was also fresh and new, something that our generation can enjoy, because my parents and your parents had the generation of funk music and boogie music and disco; our generation doesn’t have that anymore. It just doesn’t exist. So I wanted to be able to make that and start a new era of dance music, of party funk music. I feel like kids need that. With all the crazy stuff happening in the world right now, people want to let loose and listen to stuff that makes them feel good.

You’ve described your music as party funk. If you could have an ideal night to play your music—you pick the setting, the people that are going to be there— what would the party be like?

Oh man, you know I’ve thought about this a lot. Because, you know, you go to these dive bars and restaurants and they might play funk music, but there’s no place that I know of that plays funk music all the time. To me, going out is getting dressed up, throw your cologne on, put on some nice wingtips, a nice jacket, going out with my friends and just playing funk music/disco music/boogie music all night. Sippin’ on a glass of whiskey and just dancing with my friends and my girl. Having a good time and just sweating out all our worries. And that’s what I feel like people wanna do. You know, at Paradise Garage, Studio 54, those warehouse Brooklyn parties, that’s what people did. They got decked out, they wanted to feel sexy, they wanted to go out dance and just let loose. No drama, just let loose. That’s the kind of night that I like to have.

You’ve talked about your influences a lot in the past—Rick James, Earth, Wind & Fire—and you can hear those in your music. Prince must have been an influence as well, yeah?

Prince was definitely a big influence on the music I create. I always connected more to Rick James, but I listened to Prince’s records and his work ethic definitely inspired me to create the music that I do today. There’s no doubt about it, he’s a hero to me, for sure.

Can you talk about how you felt when he died?

You know, it’s funny. That was a very emotional day for me. I’m a big Michael Jackson fan and I think Prince’s death shook me more than that. I was in an email chain and the founder of Captured Tracks, Mike Sniper, sent me an email that said ‘Rest in Peace Prince’ and I didn’t know what to think. My heart dropped and I just started tearing up. I called my girl, really emotional and crying and I said, ‘Prince is dead.’ She said, ‘wait, no, let me call you back.’ She called me back and she was distraught. It was an emotional day. I remember calling my mom at work and she was upset. It’s crazy how this man has touched people’s lives. It doesn’t matter if you were in a work place, if you’re a lawyer, or an accountant, or an artist, or a dancer. He has touched people’s lives. He has made an impact on a lot of people’s lives.

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