Pam Warren, better known as Pam the Funkstress, passed away before her good friend Boots Riley could say goodbye. But if he had gotten the chance to see the trailblazing DJ in her final moments, he would’ve said the following:
Pam, you are fucking amazing, you altered my life in so many wonderful ways, and I wish I had a way to show love to you, to sit back and enjoy you, more than I did. But maybe that’s it. That’s just the way we interacted with each other.
Riley shared these words in a heartfelt Facebook post Friday, exactly one week after Pam died at the age 51. Riley expressed his sadness over the loss and recalled some of the most memorable moments he had with Pam, including the first time he met her. The Oakland multi-hyphenate said he was introduced to the DJ at a Bay Area “Hip Hop Conference,” where local acts paid to hear business advice as well as perform.
Another group that came on stage at one of these conferences that blew us the fuck out the water was called Funk Lab Allstars. They had C-Funk, the rapper who was one of the most charismatic rappers I had seen in the Bay Area. They had costumes that made me think that they might actually be part of Parliament/Funkadelic. They had undeniable funk blasting off their DAT tape. And they had one of the most exciting, animated, show-stealing DJs I had ever seen. She was mysterious to me. Maybe partly because I wasn’t yet well traveled socially- she displayed a confidence in a way that I hadn’t personally seen from a performer- much less a female performer before. A boisterous, comical, energy that can only come across on stage once you’ve totally mastered everything you’re doing. I mean she was dancing and enjoying herself while cutting up a record with mastery. She also dressed, at that time, in a way that these days might be described by others pigeon-holing her while attempting not to do so- as “gender non-conformist.” It was clear that this person couldn’t give less of a fuck. We were being totally shat on by this woman wearing a giant smile, big baggy jeans, a giant Ben Davis work jacket all the way buttoned up, and a black beanie with all her hair tucked in. Dancing all over our identities. That was Pam The Funkstress.
Riley became convinced that Pam had to join his hip-hop group, The Coup. So in 1992, he tracked her down at 2Pac’s debut album release party, an event Pam was DJing.
I waited around for the right time to talk to her and after watching Tupac dance with Yo-Yo to his own song, I headed over to Pam. I said “I don’t know if you remember me- “She looked at my awkward, soaked outfit and said “I remember you.” But the look on her face said “I remember your wack ass show from last year.” I told her we were in need of a DJ and she told me that she was working right now. I was persistent and called her every day for a week until she came and met with me and E-Roc. I don’t really know what made her join us at that time, but she did and my life was changed forever.
Riley went on to share other anecdotes that shed more light on Pam’s many dimensions. He spoke about her successful business endeavors; her vulnerable, yet tough, nature; her love for Prince; as well as her struggles as a female artist working in a male-dominated industry. He also mentioned the time Pam had her relative pull a gun on their road manager for making her cry.
“Call it what you want,” Riley said about the gun incident. “That was Pam the muthafuckin Funkstress.”
He said the last interaction he had with her took place in summer, when he was shooting an intimate scene for a project called Sorry to Bother You. Because there was some nudity, the set was closed to most of the crew so the actors could be comfortable. Pam, who was working across the street from the set, attempted to visit Riley during the shooting of the scene. Riley said he didn’t know about this until after the fact.
“Somehow, when folks turned her away, it made her think I personally turned her away and I was being uppity in some kind of way. I only know this because she said as much to the folks that turned her away. I tried calling her with no response. Texted her, explaining, with no response. I felt terrible,” he wrote. “Once I found out she was in the hospital, her family wasn’t letting folks talk to her. I understand that totally […] Time is precious and needs to be spent with those you feel closest to. I made her a video message at a time when things looked hopeful and she needed to fight. I didn’t say stuff that sounded like I thought it was the end. I’m told she saw it and smiled.”
You can read Riley’s full post here.