From the breaks that first propelled Kool Herc’s parties in ’73 to Dre’s minimoogs to Mystikal’s manic James Brown tics, funk has not only provided a foundational structure to hip-hop, it’s often risen to the surface and flat-out driven it. West Coast indie-rap vet Aceyalone has spent more than 20 years riding the outskirts of that territory, through his time with Freestyle Fellowship to his cult-classic solo debut All Balls Don’t Bounce to the later-career triumph of RJD2 teamup “A Beautiful Mine” (aka the Mad Men theme song). So after a long career — concurrent with a stab at making another excursion into grown-man rap — Leanin’ on Slick sees Aceyalone toeing that line between underground rap and the traditions that scene built its base on.
The title track draws off the J.B.’s sound more in a way befitting a ’70s indie-label garage-funk band (or a Daptonian revivalist group) than, say, the Bomb Squad, and the lyrical conceit isn’t the only throwback — Acey’s smooth-rolling delivery relays hustler tales from days when Caddies rolled long and low instead of high on 24s. That’s not the only nod to vintage soul: “I Can Get It Myself” cockily struts through the door that James Brown demanded be opened back in ’69, the handclaps and horn stabs of “What You Gone Do With That” is an old-school road-show with Acey’s own overdubbed echoes standing in for call-and-response vocalists, and the pairing of his steady-job grind motivation with a wailing Cee-Lo chorus makes “Workin’ Man’s Blues” the closest Aceyalone’s come to a genuine but uncompromised potential pop crossover. If the record vibe skews older, it’s by design — leadoff cut “30 and Up” practically decrees it — but if this is the album young Aceyalone figured he’d be making once he approached middle age, he had some right-thinking foresight.