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California Loved 

Roger Troutman and his family brought funk to West Coast hip hop and influenced everyone from Ice Cube to Tupac Shakur. Then his older brother put four bullets in him.

Wednesday, Aug 14 2002

Page 2 of 5

Zapp's sound was practically custom-made for those cars, rattling their speakers as ridahs slumped deeper and deeper into the driver's seat, announcing their arrival before they hit the corner. Heads turned, and gangstas in cutoff khakis and house shoes glared as they rolled up. But a scowl could quickly turn into a nod of love if those speakers were bumping "Computer Love"; one's musical selection confirmed one's credentials. And along with the proper oldies, no self-respecting lowrider left the garage without a Zapp tape.

"Roger Troutman and the funk really struck a chord with the people here on the West Coast," says Davey D. "It probably goes back to how laid-back things are in California. It's a driving culture."

"The West Coast has always embraced funk," agrees Rhino Records funk expert Barry Benson, who's produced two Zapp and Roger anthologies. "I think it's because dance music never really meant the same to the West as the East. We've always been on some low, downtempo, 80-beats-per-minute dance music. That was the R&B out here. Even in the disco days, you still had Cameo, the Barkays, and Lakeside doing their thing, all those real laid-back kind of rider groups."

Zapp and Roger first blew up in 1980, with the eponymous debut Zapp, buoyed by the success of "More Bounce," which reached as high as No. 2 on the R&B charts. The song hit the streets when many of the West Coast's hip hop legends were teenagers or younger, still tying their Pumas with the fattest laces available and still absorbing the music they would shuffle and reinvent years later on the mike. One of those kids was Pacoima native James Robinson, aka J-Ro of L.A.'s infamous lush-hop trio Tha Alkaholiks. An avid Zapp fan, he and partner Harlan "Wolf" Morgan spent two years after Troutman's death putting together the tribute album Still More Bounce. Now out on WolfPac Records, the disc was a shoestring operation; when J-Ro started the project, he figured his paltry budget would keep top-notch artists away. But word of the tribute spread, and talent like Ice-T, Snoop Dogg, singer Chico DeBarge, Cypress Hill's B-Real, Xzibit, Ras Kass, and many others all ultimately jumped on board. For free.

"The man defined West Coast hip hop with his sound, with his instruments, and his talkbox," says Dr. Dre protégé Xzibit in a recorded tribute on the album. "Countless numbers of records have been made off this man's art. ... If it wasn't for you, Big Dog, we wouldn't be here."

Throughout the late '80s and early '90s, as gangsta rap rose in prominence, West Coast hip hop producers borrowed -- and often outright stole -- from Troutman. "It's so hard-core," Ice Cube says of Troutman's music. "[Songs] like 'More Bounce,' 'So Ruff, So Tuff,' 'Heard It Through the Grapevine' -- these songs are not your typical 'Baby, come love me ...' [songs]. These are motherfuckin' songs that were the gangster rap of their time. ... He was very important to hip hop."

J-Ro and Tha Alkaholiks specifically tried not to copy Troutman's sound. Nonetheless, they admit they were heavily influenced by him. "We loved Roger the same way as everyone else," says J-Ro. "He was just a part of the West Coast culture. That's what you heard at every party. He, along with George Clinton, Parliament, and the rest of those cats. It was a part of the gang culture, and regular folks loved it as well. As far as the parties were concerned, once they played some [of Roger's hit cover] 'Heard It Through the Grapevine' or 'Flashlight,' that's when it was time to go, because that's when people were getting rowdy and throwing their sets up."

Even the great ones stole from Troutman. The Notorious B.I.G. borrowed from Roger's vault for "Hypnotize," and "Keep Ya Head Up," Tupac Shakur's manifesto of self-love, sampled Roger's "Be Alright." Rap group EPMD's career-making hit, "You Gots to Chill," bit "More Bounce" all the way to the core. In fact, to this day, "More Bounce to the Ounce" remains one of hip hop's most sampled songs ever.

Dayton, Ohio, is just about the last place you'd look for the roots of West Coast funk. The blue-collar home of the National Cash Register Co., Dayton's the city where the Wright Brothers first started dabbling in aviation, the birthplace of track legend Edwin Moses and writer Paul Lawrence Dunbar. And it was here, in this slow stretch of the Midwest a world away from the streets of California's inner cities, that the Troutman family band built its skills.

They weren't supposed to be in Ohio. When Dock Troutman, grandfather to the Troutman brothers, headed north from his native Georgia in the 1930s, he was aiming for Detroit. But the former sharecropper made it only as far as Hamilton, Ohio, where he found success as a businessman, selling ice in the summer and coal in the winter and serving as the local black bail bondsman year-round.

As it turns out, Ohio was the perfect breeding ground for Zapp's hybridized brand of funk. Located close to the musical hotbeds of Chicago and Detroit and down-South spots like Memphis, the Troutmans had access to the best that black music had to offer, from soul to blues to rock and even country. And Roger Troutman soaked it all up.

"Roger was born to [perform]," says Lester Troutman, Zapp's drummer and, with his thick, black hair, bushy eyebrows, and clear, white eyes, a near carbon copy of his slain older brother.

"Dude was a comedian, man," agrees Terry "Zapp" Troutman, the youngest brother, whose nickname gave the band its name. "He was the type that would crack on you no matter what time of the day it was. When we were kids, Roger never got a whupping. My mother and father never hit him. You gotta have skills to do that. If you can get past your parents, you have to have something going for you."

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P-Frank Williams


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