Funktelligence, or “Funktell” if you’re down, is what the Roots would call “organic hip-hop jazz.” That’s pretty close to where Funktell’s at, but there’s also the occasional dose of R&B and arena rock (if you can imagine). This Ann Arbor group’s essence, however, is already captured by the jaunty name they’ve picked to grace future marquees. Funktelligence … believe it. An amalgam of this many sounds deserves its own compound word, Webster be damned.

True funk has always been a dish best served al dente and Funktell is about as fresh as it comes, even if the ingredients aren’t always homegrown. It’s easy to hear reverberations of Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Organix-era Roots, early Spearhead and other hip-hop hybrids in the Funktell mix. That said, one can’t help but thank God that somebody’s been listening and expanding on the sincerity vibe that’s so essential to hip hop’s respectability. At last, there’s still hope for genuine positivity and instrumental ability in a genre whose pop figures continue to get away with whack production and making money by rapping about making money (bling, bling, my ass).

Featuring guitar, bass, drums, keys and an array of rappers and vocalists, Earthtones shows a complex band from many different angles. “Creepin’” jumps off with some seriously smooth rhyming by Funktell’s Jax and IX Lives that’s nearly overshadowed by Natalie White’s flavorfully crisp R&B vocals. “The Movement” showcases some of the best rhyming talent in metro Detroit, with guest vocals by Texture, Magestik Legend and OneManArmy. “Interlude” is style-bending funk with Prince-like guitars and drum ’n’ bass rhythms.

With minor lapses into unoriginality — “Watcha Wanna Do” opens in a style that’s clearly bitten from Busta Rhymes’ “Dangerous,” and “Exitlude” features a less impressive rendition of Rahzel’s supa-DJ beatbox routine — Earthtones is on the level with hip hop’s finest instrumental moments.

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Robert Gorell writes about music for the Metro Times. E-mail him at

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