^ Words + Photos by Antonio Hernandez.
Funky Bob is the alias of Baltimore-based musician Robert Chittams. While at Morgan State, he eventually majored in Classical Piano, after arriving on a tuba scholarship. While a stint with the university’s marching band ultimately didn’t work out, he found an outlet for songwriting and performing as part of indie rock band Minus The Sky.
Over the past year, Funky Bob has steadily released his own remixes and original instrumentals, ranging from downtempo hip-hop, to upbeat Baltimore club-inspired tracks and soul-tinged grooves. His most recent release, the three track “Funky Marley Remix EP,” is a showcase of his talents as a beat-maker, producer and arranger, all centered around Bob Marley acapellas.
Funky Bob talks origins, forming Minus The Sky, and how he plans to push the envelope in music as a solo artists.
Q: How did you get started writing, playing and producing music?
FUNKY BOB: In elementary school. I started with the viola for seven years and went to a performing arts middle school. High school [was] where I realized that music was going to be my profession. I went to college, got my degree in Classical Piano Performance. That’s where I realized it’s something I could make a career out of. That’s where I fell in love with the nitty-gritty hard work of being a musician.
Q: In reference to that hard work, what do you spend most of your time doing?
FUNKY BOB: I try to spend a lot of time practicing. When I was an undergrad I had to spend at least three hours a day in the practice room, just to be prepared. Classical music can be very demanding. I try to translate that to the contemporary stuff as well. It’s really easy to take the easy route when it comes to contemporary, and I want to push the envelope.
“I played so many open mics at Morgan, and that’s where I got to really understand music”
Q: Describe the community at Morgan for artists and musicians?
FUNKY BOB: It was surprisingly accepting to a lot of different kinds of genres and styles. We performed there and did well, even though we were at an HBCU. That’s where I developed myself as a musician, because I played so many open mics at Morgan, and that’s where I got to really understand music. When you have to play by ear, you learn the building blocks of music and you can translate it over.
“I learned how to read music and became a piano major within a year”
Q: What influenced you to study Classical Piano?
FUNKY BOB: I got into Morgan on a tuba scholarship. I played tuba for seven years, and still can play now, but it’s something I just don’t do. I realized that being in a marching band is very demanding, and so I left that. I learned how to read music and became a piano major within a year.
I auditioned a couple times, and those couple times I didn’t get in. The third time, they accepted me a music major. I didn’t know how to read music until I got to Morgan. I learned in a matter of a few months, just so that they can let me in the program.
Q: How did the band form?
FUNKY BOB: It wasn’t formed at Morgan, but the four members attended Morgan at the same time. We didn’t all know each other, but we ended up meeting each other. Morgan was a common place. We’re in the studio right now, working on an EP. What’s cool about our band is that, we’re accepting as solo artists. They support my solo music, I support their solo music. We come together to make music, and as far as bands go, that helps with our longevity, in not dealing with clashes of creativity and control.
Q: Who do you look to for inspiration?
FUNKY BOB: The kind of people I like to inspiration are Flying Lotus and Thundercat. Those guys are really trying to push the sonic envelope. I kind of feel like with music, we’ve done a lot with what’s already being done. All our music is at 4/4, you can examine Spotify, and it will show that 70% of Spotify is at one key. That’s crazy because we keep doing the same things over and over again. What can I do differently?
“You can examine Spotify, and it will show that 70% of Spotify is at one key. That’s crazy because we keep doing the same things over and over again. What can I do differently?”
Q: For your own work, what will you be focusing on?
FUNKY BOB: I’ve been trying to enter the space of the music, where I transcend genre, really playing feeling. My inspiration from that comes from John Coltrane, and a few other guys because they were all about that transcendence.
Q: Since you’ve started DJing, how have your experiences been?
FUNKY BOB: It’s been really cool because, it’s like an assembly line. Being the DJ is the final part. You deliver the product. At first, I was at the beginning of the assembly line, at production. Now, being able to read a room and play stuff it’s like wow, this is what’s hot, this is what’s not. You learn trends and it directly translates back to production. It’s a dope experience, you get the best of both worlds.
Q: Where will you be in 5 days, 5 months and 5 years?
FUNKY BOB: Five days, I should hopefully be releasing my Bob Marley remix EP. In five months, hopefully should have a finish product for Minus The Sky’s project and then I’m going to start working on a solo EP myself. I want to actually want to start singing some of my stuff. I don’t consider myself a singer, but more of a producer that sings.
In five years, I hope to be at a point where I don’t have to work jobs that I hate. I want music to be able to fund me a 100%, and to be able to live off of music.