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Funk Flex is Funk Flex, Even at a Vegan Wine Bar

"I'm the last of the Mohicans," the legendary Hot 97 DJ said on stage at Public Records.

(Hell Gate)

Public Records in Gowanus is one of the last places I'd expect to see DJ Funkmaster Flex, the legendary Bronx-born hip-hop DJ who has been holding down the nightly primetime slots at Hot 97 for decades. Because of rain, the party thrown by record label Fools' Gold was relocated to the interior of Public Records's combination vegan restaurant and wine bar. This made for a somewhat fitting venue for the crowd—lightly graying and stylish, born in the 1980s or earlier, but in party mode for the holiday weekend, flipping out when Flex dropped "Children's Story" by Slick Rick.

Flex seemed to be in his happy place, liberated from the constraints of playing the newest, hottest hip-hop records from across the three labels that control the music industry. "I know I play a lot of bullshit on the radio," he called from an impromptu DJ booth near the restaurant's entrance. "That doesn't mean I don't know what the fuck's going on. That doesn't mean I don't know where the game came from." On the radio these days, Flex is often a cantankerous oldhead, playing foil to the inevitability of today's increasingly eccentric and diverse pop-laden hip-hop. At Public Records, he was fully inhabiting that character. "A lot of these joints I've been playing are from before there was big money in the game. A lot of those artists didn't reap the benefits," he said ."I'm really giving you the essence of what it was."

Removed from the cacophonous Hot 97 airwaves (race car sounds and all) Flex's energy reanimated songs that have long faded into the canon. He would make detours into R&B and other genres—at one point he transitioned from "Tom's Diner" into "Dancing Queen"?— for just a few seconds, long enough to call out, "when this song was out it was okay to have a flat booty!" 

But he never let us forget that we were here to hear "real hip-hop," at one point interrupting Mary J. Blige to go "you thought we were gonna play some R&B? Wrooong!" And then dropping the metallic intro to "Simon Says" by Pharoahe Monche. 

Funk Flex had been summoned to Brooklyn by Fool's Gold, the record label fronted by DJ A-Trak, who spun right before Flex did. Fool's Gold is a New York institution itself—in the 2000's and 2010s it built a reputation for investing in internet-ty, leftfield hip-hop of the kind that would become hugely influential, and sometimes baffle old heads like Flex. But A-Trak, who grew up entering DJ competitions, bopped and beamed at his OG.

"I did my internship with Chuck Chillout," Flex reminded the crowd (Chillout is another esteemed hip hop radio DJ from the Bronx). "I'm cut from the cloth when an internship was appreciated. It was not for money, it was to see what was going on."

It was thrilling to see Flex shining in his prism of nostalgia, though I can't lie: It was funny to contemplate the decades of hip-hop history that culminated in one of the genre's most legendary DJs feeling stifled at work as Creative Program Director of one of largest radio stations now solely devoted to hip-hop (and doing occasional gigs playing nightclubs and opening for rappers), but free to stretch his wings at a Memorial Day party at a vegan restaurant in Gowanus."I'm the last of the Mohicans," Flex said. "And I'm up to date with my movement and these young boys out here are never gonna fucking pass me." And he didn't drop a single bomb all day.

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