The second article in the classic breaks series is in reference to another famous and well used break beat called “Funky drummer” by James Brown. Like the “Amen break” discussed in the previous article it’s hard to imagine what music today would sound like if it wasn’t for the “Funky drummer” track and break beat being created. The “Funky drummer” break beat has been sampled, chopped up and used as an ingredient by so many artists and producers ever since samplers gave us the power to manipulate music. From classic hip hop artists like Public Enemy, Ultamagnetic MCs, and N.W.A to pop artists like George Michael, Kylie Minogue and new comer Emili Sande. Generations of performers have been drawn to and have felt inspired by this particular composition.
In this article break to the beat explore the origins of the “Funky Drummer” break beat from its creation, to its rise in popularity in hip hop and popular music. If you are not familiar with the “funky drummer” break beat and extract can be heard in below window. The extract is taken from the “Funky drummer bonus beat reprise” on the James Brown album “In the jungle groove”.
James Brown “Funky drummer bonus beat reprise”
The song “Funky drummer” was recorded in 1969 and released in March 1970 on King Records as a double sided 7″ Single. The full length version of “Funky drummer” however was not released until 1986 on James Brown‘s “In the Jungle Groove” LP. The 7″ Single of Funky drummer” contains two extracts from full version of the recording that is 9 minutes 13 seconds in length. The full length version of the track would have been too long to cut on a 7” Record and releasing extracts of a long song was a popular method at the time especially with Funk music that would often be created on the fly by musicians jamming together. Record labels would take the best 3 and a half minute sections of the jam for 7” singles
James Brown “Funky drummer” 7″ single released on King Records in 1970
The musicians involved in composing and recording “Funky drummer” were as follows and at the time of its release it reached number 20 on the American R&B Chart and number 51 on the American pop chart.
- James Brown – vocals, organ
- Richard “Kush” Griffith – trumpet
- Joe Davis – trumpet
- Fred Wesley – trombone
- Maceo Parker- tenor saxophone
- Eldee Williams – tenor saxophone
- Jimmy Nolen – guitar
- Alphonso “Country” Kellum – guitar
- Charles Sherrell – bass
- Clyde Stubblefield – drums
The full length version of “Funky drummer” was finally released on the LP “In the jungle groove” that was compiled and released in 1986 with the aim of capitalising on James Browns popularity with the hip hop audience. The album also contained a bonus beat reprise of “Funky drummer“ that was edited by Danny Krivit and consists of various loops of different drum sections of the track alongside some of James Browns popular vocal ad-libs. The Full length version of “Funky drummer” can be heard below:
James Brown “Funky drummer” full length version
Also in 1986 Louis Flores released his slightly edited version of “Funky drummer” on the DJ friendly “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” compilation LP SBR 512 on Street Beat Records. The Louis Flores version also extended out the drum break for use by hip hop DJ’s so they could loop up the break easier using 2 turntables and a mixer. The “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” series are considered by some to be the building blocks for classic hip hop as they were widely available and contained most of the break beats popularised in the late 70′s / early 80s by DJs like Kool Herc, Africa Bambatta, and Grandmaster Flash. As sampling technology became available it was the first place many hip hop artists looked to for samples in order to construct backing tracks.
Ultimate Breaks & Beats vol 12 – Street Beat Records 1986
I believe that there were 3 main reasons for “Funky drummer” becoming one of the most popular drum breaks sampled in hip hop in the late 80′s Early 90s. The first reason being that it is an exceptional drum break by one of the worlds most popular Soul & Funk artist James Brown.
The second reason is that in 1986 three versions of “Funky drummer” were released and marketed towards DJs that were playing/creating hip hop music part of which involved manipulating drum breaks from existing records. Two versions of “Funky drummer” were available on the “In the jungle groove” album, one of which was a bonus beat reprise perfect for being looped using the back to back method of DJing with two copies of the same record. This was also the case with the version of “Funky drummer” edited by Louis Flores from the “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” series.
The 3rd reason for “Funky drummer’s” rise in popularity I believe is because at the time of it’s re-issue in 1986 samplers had just become widely available and had enough memory to loop a break beat. The track it’s self is not an up-tempo dance track and I believe that funky drummer would not have been played at the block party’s in the same way as tracks like “Apache” by the Incredible Bongo Band. For this reason it was possible that many hip hoppers had not heard this particular break until the re-issue’s were released. This coupled with the “In the jungle groove” album containing several of James Brown‘s up-tempo dance tracks like “Give it up or turn it loose” and “Soul Power” the break fell straight in to the hands of DJ’s who may have purchased it to play the other numbers. The point is in 1986 when “Funky drummer” was re-released it may not have been a popular record with DJ’s to play and manipulate live but with the addition of a sampler this break could be manipulated in an entirely new way and rather that sample a break beat like the “Apache” that was well known the “Funky drummer” was fresh to the hip hop ear.
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Two of the first artists to sample the “Funky drummer” were Sweet Tee & DJ Jazzy Joyce on their track entitled “It’s my beat“. “It’s my beat” was released in 1986 on Profile Records and was produced by Herbie Love Bug who also produced for rappers Salt N Pepa. Note that this record was released the same year as the Ultimate breaks & Beats compilation and the James Brown “In the jungle groove” album containing the bonus beat reprise of “Funky drummer“.
Sweet Tee “It’s my Beat” 1986 Profile Records
From 1987 to1990 the “Funky drummer” had well and truly left its mark on hip hop music which in turn had begun to totally change the way records were produced. Below is a selection of some of my personal favourite hip hop tracks that sampled the “Funky drummer” break beat.
Public Enemy “Rebel without a pause” Def Jam Records 1988
Big Daddy Kane “Mortal kombat” Cold Chillin Records 1989
Above The Law “What cha can prove” Ruthless Records 1990
LL Cool J “Mama said knock you out” Def Jam Records 1990
Paris “I Call him Mad” Tommy Boy Records 1990
Son Of Noise “Dedication to Dennis” Kold Sweat Records 1992
By 1990 The “Funky drummer” break beat had become so popular that it had started to appear on records outside of the hip hop scene. Sampling was becoming more popular and had started to become part of making all types of music. Hip hop and Dance music had received a lot of criticism from radio DJ’s, journalists and artists outside of those music scenes in the 1980s and some people were implying that because of the techniques used to create hip hop that it was not proper music. Attitudes in the mainstream changed in the 1990s when both Pop and Rock musicians started using some of the same techniques. Artist from George Michael, to Kenny G, to Duran Duran, to Prince all utilised the “Funky drummer” break in there recordings.
Some examples of non Hip hop records that used the “Funky drummer” break beat are below:
Kenny G “G-bop” Arista Records 1992
Candy Flip “Strawberry fields forever” Debut Records 1989
Sinead O’Connor “I am stretched on your grave” Ensign Records 1989
Popular music’s love for the “Funky drummer” break did not go unnoticed in Hip hop. In the early 90s the break beat had become so popular that creators of hip hop music were finding it un-original. What didn’t help the situation is that major label artists were getting paid far more than any hip hop artists that pioneered the art form. In the early 90s hip hop producers like DJ Premiere and Pete Rock were pioneering a new method of sampling know as “digging in the crates” where DJs and producers would seek out and manipulate samples from obscure records that rival DJs may not have in their collection.
“Last year the funky drummer was a remedy for sell outs to earn – now the apache break awaits its turn – The so called black music reps don’t know shit about the ghetto – but control airplay and radio” – Son of Noise “Milk in the chocolate”.
Son of Noise “Milk in the chocolate” Kold Sweat Records 1991
Hip hop artists Subsonic 2‘s track “Unsung heroes of hip hop” perfectly describes the rise in popularity of the “Funky drummer” break beat. “Unsung heroes of hip hop” highlights the fact that so many people were sampling the drum break yet most were unaware of who the drummer was. The MC give’s reference to “Ultimate breaks & beats” and also describes the “Funky drummer” as being the basis of many pop records in the early 1990′s.
Subsonic 2 “Unsung heroes of hip hop” Columbia Records 1991
Fortunately the back lash did not last and eventually drummer Clide Stubberfield along with many other members of the James Brown Band are now internationally recognised for their contributions to modern music. Through the years the “Funky drummer” break beat has remained one of the most prominent samples in hip hop and pop music.
Below Hip hop producer Marly Marl interviews Clide Stubberfield about the creation of the “Funky drummer” beat
Since sampling technology has allowed us to sample and manipulate pieces of music the ”Funky drummer” break beat has always remained a prominent drum break in popular music culture. In 2010 artist Katy B landed a top 10 hit in the UK with her track entitled “Broken record” The ”Funky drummer” drum break can be heard throughout the track.
Katy B “Broken Record” Sony Music Ent 2011
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The “Funky drummer” also recently made an appearance on international rap superstar Nikki Minaj‘s album “Pink Friday” on the track entitled “Save me“. The album was released in 2010 and has sold over 1.7 Million copies.
Nikki Minaj “Save me” Cash Money Records 2010
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Last year In 2011 and 25 years after its full length version was reissued the “Funky drummer” break beat was sampled yet again in a chart topping single entitled “Heaven” written by soul singer/songwriter Emeli Sande. Febuary 2012 Emeli Sande won the critics’ choice Brit award for her debut album “Our version of events“. The “Funky drummer” break beat is a massive part of the biggest single from the album and can be heard throughout the track.
Emeli Sande “Heaven” Virgin Records 2011
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At the present time it would appear that every generation has been touched in some way by Clide Stubberfield‘s drum solo from 1969. To conclude the second article in the classic breaks series music today would definitely sound a lot different if the “Funky Drummer” break beat had not been created. Hip hop music has also played a big part in popularising the break beat as well as breaking down many musical barriers that existed in the 80′s and 90′s with regards to sampling and also with music as an art form. I’m sure we will be hearing the familiar pattern of the “Funky drummer” many more times in all styles of music in future years.
The below website contains a list of artists that have sampled the “Funky drummer” break beat since its creation.
Please also check out the Classic Breaks article part 1 on the “Amen Break” by clicking here
DJ Rob Swift’s Beat juggle tutorial using “Funky drummer”