SPRINGFIELD — At first, it’s just hard to believe you’re sitting in the basement of a condo — in Springfield — with the guy whose music was sampled by Snoop Dogg on “Gin and Juice.” He’s Steve Arrington.
Produced by Dr. Dre, it was a Top 10 hit for Snoop back in 1994, and say what you want about rap, but even if you haven’t heard the song since before Clinton left office, that chorus is probably still stuck in your brain.
“Rollin’ down the street smokin’ indo, sippin’ on gin and juice.
The words were changed, of course, but musically, the chorus of “Gin and Juice” is the chorus of “Watching You,” a 1981 funk song by the band Slave, whose lead singer, Steve Arrington, has called Springfield home for the past nine years.
And on this day in 2010, Arrington did his best to make himself seem like anything but a big deal, greeting his guest with an unexpected man-hug and graciously offering a choice of beverages — but unfortunately no gin or juice.
Funny, though, it had the opposite effect.
Man, I just got hugged by the guy who was sampled by N.W.A. on “Gangsta Gangsta.”
“What’s really fascinating,” Arrington would later explain, “is the fact there’s a whole new generation of kids who know my old music.”
He had no idea.
Arrington famously quit the music business in 1991, having come to prominence in the late ’70s as the drummer, then lead singer, for Slave, a band that sprang from the same Dayton funk scene that birthed the Ohio Players.
He’s one of the rare few in the music industry who can make the claim that, “They didn’t push me out. I walked out.”
Having found Jesus in 1984, even making a few well-received albums with the Lord in mind, he eventually decided to give everything to the glory of God.
“For a while,” he said, “I didn’t even watch secular TV. I threw away all my albums.”
A good 1,500 records were tossed.
Just like that.
“As long as I had Thelonious and Yes and Prince and Coltrane and Miles around, that’s where I was always going to get my inspiration,” he recalled. “I distanced myself so my inspiration would come direct from the holy spirit.”
He moved to Springfield from Dayton to be closer to his church, River of Life in Urbana, even serving as worship leader there for a few years.
“People thought it was a phase,” he said.
But a funny thing happened while Arrington was praying.
Revered by hip-hop producers, snippets of songs from his early ’80s heyday began turning up in rap songs, attracting an entirely new generation of admirers.
The incendiary supergroup N.W.A. was among the first, removing the guitar riff from his 1983 song “Weak at the Knees” — recorded with his post-Slave group, Steve Arrington’s Hall of Fame — and transplanting it into the potty-mouthed “Gangsta Gangsta,” a song on the double-platinum “Straight Outta Compton” album, in 1988.
Jermaine Dupri and Jay-Z put “Weak at the Knees” to good use a decade later on “Money Ain’t a Thang,” their Grammy-nominated hit in 1998.
Dupri apparently digs the song so much, he also found a way to stick it into the 2005 Mariah Carey track “Get Your Number.”
So when Arrington, now 54, asks if you’d like to hear his new single — the song that, come December, will serve as his official comeback to the music scene — it initially doesn’t sink in.
When it does, that’s when the anxiety sets in.
Before he up and quit the industry, Arrington was hailed by many as a genius in funk circles, with the potential to rival Rick James or maybe even Prince.
A 2½-hour conversation with Arrington reveals a crazy assortment of influences, from John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix to the Sex Pistols and the prog band Yes, whose 1972 album “Close to the Edge” he calls divine.
But the man himself has been out of the game for almost 20 years.
He never stopped loving music, but he’s been more content in recent years to spend his time watching football.
On any given weekend, you’re likely to find him cheering on the Buckeyes and the Bengals at either of Springfield’s Buffalo Wild Wings locations.
Weird to think that the guy who opened for Marvin Gaye on his “Sexual Healing” tour would just be kicking it at the local BW-3.
So when Arrington wonders if you’d be interested in taking a listen to this new song of his called “I Be Trippin’,” you brace yourself for either the greatest, or the most terrifyingly awful, listening experience of your life.
Then it begins.
He recorded the vocals right here in Springfield, in the basement studio he refers to as “The Lab.”
The music was done in Los Angeles as part of his new deal with Stones Throw Records, a label that’s smack-dab in the middle of a funk revival.
If his basement is The Lab, then Arrington is Dr. Funkenstein.
This cat has a monster of a song on his hands.
“I’m fully engaged back into what I call ‘good news music,’ ” he said. “It deals with the human condition. It isn’t music that is primarily sung to the church. It’s music that’s sung to everybody, but with good news at the core.”
(Courtesy: Springfield News-Sun)