The Legend of Zackey Force Funk

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The Long Beach modern funk innovator survived jail stints, house arrest, and the ‘90s to become a rocket mechanic and one of the most influential heirs of the funk tradition.

Zackey Force Funk has lived many lives in his 48 years. Born Zack Hose, the Tucson-raised modern funk maestro trafficked kilos of cocaine and marijuana during the ‘90s, which eventually led to four years in prison, and another few on house arrest. He owned and ran record stores, and hosted music and art events that helped give birth to Tucson’s funk scene. He learned how to work on airplane engines, and eventually moved to Long Beach where he became a rocket mechanic, working for SpaceX and Virgin Orbit.

During those years on house arrest, he started writing graffiti, as well as his own music, to keep himself busy and out of trouble. He was guided in part by his younger brother Nate, also known as N8NOFACE, the synth-punk visionary currently tearing up the underground. But the elder Hose was influenced more by Hall & Oates, Egyptian Lover, gangsta rap, and Zapp, which steered him into being a foundational component of this generation of electro-funk music. To listen to Zackey Force Funk is to fall into a strange and captivating hybrid of highly danceable music, with lyrics about hustling, and a love for the streets.

In the early, exciting days of MySpace, Zack used that network to help kickstart his music and art. The former caught the attention of legendary DJ/producer Justin “Kutmah” McNulty, among others. It was Kutmah who connected Zack with Hit + Run, and before he knew it, Zackey Force Funk was getting burn all over the place.

His song “Press Play” with XL Middleton and Eddy Funkster quickly became a lowrider anthem upon its release in 2013. Indeed, it sounds like it was made specifically to blast out of the speakers from a tricked-out 1964 Chevy Impala. His subsequent music has continued to blend a party vibe with a hint of danger, and vocals that hit a range as wild and dynamic as Mike Patton’s in Lovage. While he may have started making music in Tucson, the vibe has always felt as if it belongs in clubs like the old Airliner, or thumping along the streets of Whittier Boulevard. There is an almost sunny vibe to his music, married to the grime, that makes it feel like a quintessential part of L.A.

He’s now released seven records as Zackey Force Funk, one album with Eddy Funkster as Líneas, and the groundbreaking, electro-funk-glitch-hop album Exorcise Tape, with renowned electronic-psycho-pop-rock musician Tobacco, for a project called Demon Queen. He’s also collaborated with Brian Ellis, Egyptian Lover, and many others.

Zack hasn’t been in any real trouble for 20 years. Nowadays, he works on rockets, makes music, and focuses more on finding a positive side of life, “one with art and creativity.” But he’s had a wild journey, and recently documented it all in book form, The Memoirs of Zackey Force Funk. The book is certainly jarring and intense, but at the same time it’s uplifting and inspirational. While chronicling the insane struggles of his early life, Zack also details how he learned to re-tune his thinking and behavior, and managed to “defeat all this fuckin negativity with positivity.”

“I’m always gonna try my hardest to think positive in the worst situations,” he tells me. “We’re only here for a limited amount of time; you deserve to be happy. It’s not about how much money you make or how successful you are, but how much you gave back to the community. When you die, you’ll see how much you really were worth. Even a cockroach in China right now, is probably related to us in some way. And that’s a good thing. We’re all connected and we’re all one.” 

Over a healthy serving of Heineken’s, ceviche, and buffalo chicken mac & cheese at Pike Restaurant & Bar in Long Beach, Zack talked about his love for L.A., Long Beach, and his hope for the future of our adopted home. “I like it here,” he tells me. “I’m happier now.”

What inspires you about Los Angeles?

Zackey Force Funk: Los Angeles is the greatest city in the entire world. I’ve traveled all over, and I really think it’s the greatest city in the world. Because you really can be whoever, or whatever, you want. I can come out here and be a funk artist, and I don’t have to worry about crime or trying to be a criminal. My son’s gay; he can come out here, and put makeup on, and dress however he wants, and walk down downtown L.A. or downtown Long Beach, and not get messed with. It’s normal, it’s OK. He can’t do that in Phoenix, he can’t do that in Tucson. He’ll get fucked with.

You can literally be whoever you want to be in this city and county, and it’s OK. That, to me, is the number one greatest reason why it’s the best city in the whole world. You’re not gonna get that… Maybe in New York? I don’t know. But who wants to be in New York in January, when it’s a blizzard?

This is the greatest city in the world, I’m telling you.

My family is in Arizona, so I go out… But after a day or two, I’m over it. Get me the fuck back to California. 

The heat will kill you, it will make you angry. It will make the most passive person turn into a criminal, it’s so hot. So that right there is peaceful. 

I like sitting by the ocean. I like knowing that I can be myself. I like that I’m around creative people. Let’s face it: the most creative people in the world are here. So I can talk about weird shit, creative things, and they’ll understand me. As opposed to Arizona, it might not be that way, or other cities, it might not be that way. 

Whatever I do, I wanna be progressive. I’m gonna be 50 years old soon; I’m not trying to be the next Justin Bieber. I’m gonna make the music that I wanna make, no matter how weird it is. It’s cool that in L.A., there’s people who can get with it. They know it’s progressive, and that I’m trying to do something, and they respect it. As opposed to doing some trendy-ass shit.

What got you to move to Los Angeles? Was it just music, or a sense of reinvention?

ZFF: I was already getting released out here with the Hit + Run crew, and I already knew Kutmah. I was already starting to do shows out here in L.A. more and more. And it was becoming harder for me to get out here. My brother finally met a girl from L.A., and moved out here. He was doing music. And I’ve always been close to my brother, I was doing music, and I always wanted to come to L.A. He finally got an aviation job. I’m older, I have kids, so I want to have some stability, health insurance, shit like that. A job, a paycheck. I don’t know about making money off of music. To me, making money off of music is crazy, it’s foreign to me. It’s a hobby.

But he was doing well out here, and got a job at Gulfstream, right out here at Long Beach Airport, fixing jets. And I had just broken up with my ex, so there wasn’t really much growth for me in Tucson anymore; there wasn’t much holding me back. My kids were moving out of Tucson, up to Scottsdale, my ex moved up to Scottsdale. I was trying to get out of crime, and Tucson can suck you in.

So with my brother moving out, and music, and I got fired from my job fixing planes because of a urinalysis refusal, so I was like, “Dude, let me get the fuck outta Tucson.” So I came out here, got a job as a contractor fixing planes with my brother, and started doing more and more music stuff. And I have not moved since; I’ve been here ever since. Same spot that I moved into the first day here, it’s been eight years now.

And I don’t think I’ll ever leave Long Beach. I love L.A., but L.A. has changed so much because of COVID. The nightlife has changed a huge deal in L.A. Funkmosphere would be on Thursday nights, Dub Club would be on Wednesday nights, you had Motown Mob on Mondays. Before COVID, I would want to actually work the weekends, and go to my parties in L.A. throughout the week. Low End Theory Wednesday nights. There was just so much going on in L.A. during the week.

COVID hit, and a lot of things changed. All the places are dead now; none of those places are open anymore. And it seems like Live Nation bought everything out. We were about to get our residency Friday nights at The Echo, it was gonna change my life. I was gonna quit my job. It was gonna change my entire life. Then COVID hit, and that all stopped.

Live Nation bought Echoplex. We even reached out to them, and you could tell they were more based on having more concerts, touristy shit on the weekends, and let’s not worry about these weekly residencies and local shit.

So now, because Orange County is hardcore right-wing, Trumpy motherfuckers who don’t believe in COVID — no disrespect to O.C. — they have the best, coolest Hispanic/Latino funk scene in the world. They’re the capital of funk. East L.A. is getting more and more gentrified, more souldies, cruising on Sundays, whereas Orange County is more funk, hardcore funk. More lowriders, shit like that. 

The center for funk, for me, is in Orange County. And because it’s hardcore right-wing, the clubs never stopped. They’re open. You don’t have to wear a mask, you don’t have to show a vax card. So, during the pandemic, the past two years, L.A. has really died down in the funk scene. There’s no more Scam & Jam; Funkmosphere is kinda gone, it’s just barely starting back up, I think recently for the Townhouse. But even then, it’s different.

But, you go to Orange County, and it’s cracking, every club’s cracking. Everywhere you go to is just packed, all playing funk.

So, being in Long Beach, I can go 25 minutes south, and do shows in Santa Ana and Anaheim, or go 25 minutes north, and do shows in downtown L.A. If I move to L.A., it’s gonna be hard for me to do shows in Santa Ana; if I move to Santa Ana, it’s gonna be hard for me to do shows in L.A. Long Beach came to be the most perfect city for me. 

Also, from being from the desert, from Tucson, I fuckin hate the desert. I wanna be by the water, you know what I’m saying? I’m five or ten minutes from the water in Long Beach, I get the Long Beach ocean weather, I’m 25 minutes from the funk scene in Santa Ana, I’m 25 minutes from the souldies scene in L.A. I don’t want to live anywhere else; it just makes sense for me to stay here. 

Things are coming back, but they are coming back differently. I’m sitting here talking to you about L.A., I’m talking about Santa Ana, but I unfortunately never talk about Long Beach, because it never really popped off. But, now, things are starting to change, even in Long Beach. I’m starting to see The Grasshopper is doing more funk and soul, Alex’s Bar is doing more funk and soul. So that’s really helped me out, and I think Long Beach is slowly starting to change into a more funk and soul scene, which is good. It’s great for the county, good for people like me, good for people in Long Beach, even for people in L.A. Cause they don’t really have shit up there right now, they really don’t. A few small venues, but… Scam & Jam’s gone. They’re only doing shows in San Diego now, because of the COVID restrictions and shit like that. 

It’s cool, right now Long Beach is popping off a little bit. And Funkmosphere now, starting back up, at Venice Townhouse. I could see that helping L.A. out. East L.A., they still have some shit, Boyle Heights has some small, little clubs that play soul stuff. 

But the big parties are gone now. The only one who’s holding it down on a street level is The Night of the Blaxican. They try to bring communities together in South L.A. I’ve been doing shows with them. That’s probably the biggest party. Because they’re more underground, they don’t have to deal with restrictions as much… Even though they do now, they’re starting to go more commercial now. 

It is coming back slowly. 

I guess it’s kind of contingent on the health department…

ZFF: Pretty much. And Live Nation… I’m really worried about L.A. They bought up everything, The Regent, Echoplex, I mean they own everything now. The culture in L.A. might be changing. I’ve been here eight years now. Since I moved to L.A. County, I’ve seen so much gentrification… downtown L.A. doesn’t even look the same. It looks completely different than it was eight years ago. I’ve personally seen a huge change with gentrification, you can tell it’s coming. It’s already here. 

Are you still doing graffiti?

ZFF: I’m about to start again. I’ve been doing more sculptures. I don’t think people are more open to sculptures, but I think they’d be more open to graffiti. Me, my brother, and Val (his girlfriend), we’re gonna do a show in Long Beach this summer, when he gets back from tour, and I really want to do sculptures, because graffiti gets buffed over, it gets crossed out. Paint’s expensive now, and I’m not gonna go steal paint. So now I gotta go buy all this expensive-ass paint, and it’s gonna get crossed out or buffed out. Whereas a sculpture is a different story. The way I make it, it’s gonna last forever. You can hang it in the house.

I just noticed, out here in Long Beach, and especially in Santa Ana, Orange County area, and even L.A., they respect graffiti out here, and I like that, that’s cool. And I used to be really good at it. I’m thinking of making some burners around here, and everyone is willing to give me a wall. So I think that’s the next step; I really want to paint a graffiti piece, here in Long Beach preferably. And then start rocking some graffiti pieces, and “he’s back.” Then let me do a gallery show, show off some of my sculptures, and I’ll have Foos Gone Wild there, I’ll have N8NOFACE there, I’ll have the best funk DJs there. I’ll do a little performance there. I think that’s probably coming, this year. It’s on my list of things to do. 

What’s your history with lowriders? Is that just something you grew up with, or have you owned lowriders?

ZFF: Growing up in Tucson, we used to cruise South 6th, on Saturdays and Sundays, and you would see lowriders. I’ve always wanted one. Then when I came to California, it was a whole other level. This is the mecca, this is what we’d look up to. And when I came out here, my song “Press Play” became a lowrider classic. The lowrider scene is the one who made that song my most famous song to this day. So any lowrider community, and lowrider show you go to, you’re guaranteed to hear “Press Play” being played, and guaranteed they’re gonna know who Zackey Force Funk is. And the shows I go to — No Man’s Land, the Super Show, Moon Eyes, Hello Stranger — all my shows right now are kind of based on the lowrider scene. Even Scam & Jam here in L.A., is run by some homies who throw lowrider shows. 

It’s just all connected out here, the funk scene and lowrider scene. So I’ve been getting more and more into it. My best friend just bought a lowrider, he’s getting that done. Sooner or later, I’m gonna have to get one, but they’re not cheap, at all! [laughs]

The lowrider scene out here, all of California, is huge. I think it’s the mecca. And I’m very fortunate that they love the song “Press Play,” that’s their main song. 

What is next for Zackey Force Funk?

ZFF: My Lineas album (with Eddy Funkster) is coming out on Foos Gone Wild, this summer, with NFT. My album with XL Middleton is one song away from being finished. People have really been anticipating me and him doing an album together for years, since the song “Press Play,” we’ve never done one. We’ve been working on this album for two years. So that’ll be coming out as well.

My book is slowly starting to gain steam now. And I’m starting to get booked for a lot of shows. Maybe a tour?

And you’re working on an album with N8NOFACE?

ZFF: Yeah, just started. It’s not gonna be punk, it’s not gonna be funk, it’s all gonna be minimal wave. The song I recorded last night is just him holding down one key, no drums, and we’re just doing what we have to do with our vocals. 

What are you passionate about these days?

ZFF: Uniting all the scenes. There was a while where the modern funk scene kind of split up, and I kind of reunited that shit. I pride myself on that, because I’m not from L.A., I’m from Tucson.

An old man from Tucson, Arizona, coming out to L.A., and making people shake hands, let bygones be bygones, and bringing the scenes together. It’s important to me, because I’ve seen it happen. I’ve seen the success and progress it’s brought out. It’s inspired me to really be part of the community here in Los Angeles and Southern California. 

Foos Gone Wild, another example. They’re passing out free food, free clothing. You wanna help out the community too. I do shows for free a lot of time, to just give back, you know? It’s super inspiring for me.