Breaking: Boulevards

Getting up to get down with the Raleigh fount of funk.

BACKSTORY: Former punk-rocker Jamil Rashad, who relaunched his career as a dancefloor groover under the nom de funk Boulevards in 2013
FROM: Raleigh, North Carolina
YOU MIGHT KNOW HIM FROM: Last year’s self-titled, self-released EP or the instantly charming video for single “Got to Go”
NOW: Preparing for a slew of dance parties on tour to support the April release of his debut LP, Groove!, on Captured Tracks

For Boulevards—a.k.a. Jamil Rashad—fluency in all things funk is a matter of DNA. “My dad works at a radio station,” says Rashad. “He’s from Philadelphia, so his background in Philly soul and jazz and funk music definitely influenced the music I write now.”

That “now” is important, because it’s been a long road. In high school and college, the Raleigh native spent most spare minutes honing his craft. “I was on the computer making beats all the time,” says Rashad. “And one night, somebody stole my laptop, so I didn’t know what to do. I kind of gave up on production. I was listening to decent rappers at the time. Myspace was hot. When that went away, I kind of fell in love with the technical aspect of punk music.”

Yes, he said “punk,” not “funk.” The overlap is not necessarily obvious, but it’s significant—and the energy contained in a room full of sweaty music lovers jumping and dancing is a major part of it. “The double bass drum, the shredding, the guitar solos—I was fascinated with that scene,” says Rashad. “My punk and hardcore music is still somewhere on the Internet. I won’t say the name, but if people dig deep enough, you can hear me screaming on some tracks.”

“I wish I would’ve known this earlier, but that’s my thing,” he says. “I just didn’t know how to express that funk.”

The inception of Boulevards specifically can be traced back to the breakup of Rashad’s hardcore band. He recalls sitting at a restaurant with a friend after one of the band’s final shows. Her advice? “Jamil, you need to go solo.” Rashad calls that his light-bulb moment. “I started trying to find my sound,” he says. “I knew I wanted to create something that was high energy, and I started writing pop songs and listening to a lot of Top 40 radio, trying to find my niche. I was always writing music, but it took me a long time to find out what I wanted to do.”

That’s when funk found him again. “I wish I would’ve known this earlier, but that’s my thing,” he says. “I just didn’t know how to express that funk.”

When he talks about inspiration and the records that helped define him, he mentions Kool & the Gang’s Celebrate! and OutKast, but he emphasizes Rick James’s Throwin’ Down and Street Songs, as well as the work of Prince. “Controversy. Scratch that: Sign ‘O’ the Times,” he says.

With Groove!, his full-length debut as Boulevards, Rashad pays homage to those influences by respectfully reinventing them. His vocal flourishes recall everyone from Michael Jackson to Prince’s alter ego Camille (who, appropriately, pops up on Sign ‘O’ the Times). The message of Grandmaster Flash runs through “Cold Call,” but not verbatim. “Got to Go” is gone in just over two minutes, but if you’re not dancing by then, you may need to see a doctor.

So what’s a typical night like for Rashad, the new prince of good times and party vibes? He’s still studying up by listening to music—at home. “I usually stay in. When I go out, I go out with my lady.” All in the name of funk. FL

This article appears in FLOOD 3. You can purchase the magazine here.

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