We’re digging deep into the archives for this one. For those not familiar with electro-funk, it was an underground genre in the 1980s that bridged electronic dance music and hip-hop. In fact, in many ways it was a predecessor to the proliferation of rap music. The genre was known by a variety of names: electro-funk, techno-funk, and simply electro (not the goth/industrial version from a few decades later).
In the mainstream scene, some of the most well-known names were Newcleus, Shannon, Egyptian Lover, Afrika Bambaataa, and some of Midnight Star’s mid-80s material. While there could be more artists I’m not familiar with, Dwayne Omarr was the only electro artist utilizing Christian themes that I’m aware of. Interestingly enough, even though there’s a clear biblical, christocentric worldview on his debut album Holy Rock, Omarr was firmly planted right in the middle of the secular electro-funk movement of the 80s. In fact, you can hear his techniques–synth-bass, eloquent use of the vocoder–in hip-hop and electronica several decades later.
However, it was largely his Christian themes that led to his obscurity, at least as a performer. His career had already taken off as a songwriter and producer. In fact, by the time his album dropped in ’85, he had already bought his mother a condo from his earnings–all before his 21st birthday. Holy Rock tanked commercially, but it is still held in high regard as an innovative work of sonic art. Original 12″ copies can fetch near triple digits from online sales outlets. And his early work was so influential it caught the attention of Aphex Twin (mainstream electronica stalwarts), who released a collection of tracks and remixes on their Rephlex label in 2011.
For those who weren’t around in the 80s, including many of our readers here, Dwayne Omarr’s work on Holy Rock will sound incredibly dated or cheesy or both. But it was kind of one of those ‘had to be there’ scenes. These sounds were fresh and exciting in 1985, and they were heating up skating rinks everywhere!