I am back with some more stuff about the roots of hip hop music. And this time it is gonna be funky. Ya’ll know I have always wondered why do I feel an essence of funk in the works of pioneering DJs of Hip Hop. Like Bam fused the R&B music of James Brown, the funk of George Clinton, and even the sometimes electronic music of groups like Kraftwerk to create songs like “Planet Rock” and “Looking for the Perfect Beat,” and helped deepen the musical roots of hip hop. In my earlier posts, I mentioned about “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugar Hill Gang which belongs to funk-disco-old school hip hop genres. These funky musicals are tappy and create a highly hooking vibe.
Two years back, out of the blue, I was dancing to breakbeats. My journey shifted from Bharat Natyam to Breaking. Music genres changed, culture changed, people changed. And believe me, like any newbie I struggled with the music. Listening to those breakbeats for around 1 year, I was bored and curious of what made these old men keep on going with hip hop. But then, one fine day I came across “Galaxy” which is the tenth studio album by funk group – War. I cracked up with delight! That was the energy I needed to get back to what I was. This was it. These were the roots of hip hop. This was Funk.
James Brown, Pee Wee – Fathers of Funk
FUNK is a rhythm-driven musical genre popular in the 1970s and early 1980s. It is the link between soul and African-American musical styles. Like many words rising from the African-American oral tradition, funk defies literal definition. As a slang term, funky is used to describe one’s odour, unpredictable style, or attitude. Musically, funk refers to a style of aggressive urban dance music driven by hard basslines and drumbeats and highlighted by any number of instruments involved in rhythmic counterplay, all working toward a “groove.”
Not only a genre, but Funk is the ancestor of our hip hop culture. James Brown (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006) was a founding father of funk and one of the most important American musicians of all time. He was popularly referred to as the “Godfather of Soul.” Brown had both the message and the music to live up to that title. But he also put forward a funky new sound that later became known to the world as “hip-hop.”
If James Brown was the Godfather of Soul, then Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis was his partner in crime. Pee Wee joined the James Brown Revue in 1965, became bandleader within six months, and soon began writing with James Brown. He co-authored “Cold Sweat,” which is widely considered the first funk hit, in 1967. It was followed by many others and Pee Wee Ellis soon became known as “the Man Who Invented Funk.”
It’s no coincidence that Mr. JB is one of the most sampled artists in hip-hop. JB’s masterwork “Funky Drummer” will always be one of the most talked songs in hip-hop. The drums have served as the backbone for many songs by Nas, Dr. Dre and Public Enemy. Kanye West, a sampling genius, has borrowed from Brown’s “Funky President” many times.
JB as respected in nearly every genre: funk, disco, rock ‘n’ roll, soul, and, of course, hip-hop. When it comes to hip-hop, he is the musical core on which nearly every rap beat was built. Rap producers made an art out of sampling “Soulbrother”. He blessed us with the pioneering rhythm that radiated the sound of hip-hop.
George Clinton, the founder of p-funk, says that funk encouraged folks to move in a spiritual manner. In fact many of the songs Clinton performed were nothing more than modern day spirituals that were ripe with metaphors that held religious conotations. For example the song ‘Flashlight’ was really a gospel song which called upon the Lord to shine some light on the ‘funk’ (hard times) that Black people here in America were experiencing.
Hip Hop & Funk
Also, funk had its influence on the call-and-response style of emceeing. To hype the crowd at these block parties, DJs were accompanied by a Master of Ceremonies, also known as an MC or emcee. An MC would present the DJs, entertain the crowd, speak or rhyme to the audience, and provide spoken vocals over the music. By the late 70s record labels such as ”Sugar Hill” popularized this growing DJ and MC trend. Some of the first rap music records were recorded by live disco bands and an MC rapping over the music. Later on this was incorporated into the forming of hip hop culture.
Funk samples and breakbeats have been used extensively in hip hop and various forms of electronic dance music, such as house music, old-school rave, breakbeat, and drum and bass. It is also the main influence of go-go, a subgenre associated with funk. Go-go originated in the Washington, D.C. area with which it remains associated, along with other spots in the Mid-Atlantic. Inspired by singers such as Chuck Brown, the “Godfather of Go-go”, it is a blend of funk, rhythm and blues, and early hip hop, with a focus on in-person jamming in place of dance tracks.
Funk has led to a time of self-discovery, struggle and social change. Along with the godfather, Sly & the Family Stone, George Clinton’s Funkadelic and Parliament, Kool & the Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire completed the funk fam. During the 1970s this fun music changed the streets of America with its outrageous fashion, vision and slang. But more than that, funk was a celebration of being black, providing a platform for a new philosophy, belief system and lifestyle that was able to unite young black Americans into taking pride in who they were. Hip Hop has inherited this will of humanity.And such are the funky roots of hip hop.
Hip Hop and Funk have eradicated the monotone and gifted millions of people all round the globe with colorfulness. One post would be very less to talk about how I feel about hip hop. But, like our pioneers say, do your research. Knowing the techniques is not enough. Know the roots. DECIPHER THE STREETS. It’s big. For more detailed knowledge, check this one.
Big ups to all our great fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers. We all have been blessed with this divine culture.
Keep growing!! See ya’ll soon.