Philadelphia funk rock enthusiast Nik Greeley and his band The Operators have been exploring and refining a modern take on roots-tinged funk revivalism since his old band Black Stars ended their run a couple years back. Greeley also holds down a day job as Social Media Manager for the Ardmore Music Hall, meaning he gets to rub elbows with — and sometimes open for — some of funk’s greats. This Friday, December 30th, Greeley and the Operators will rock out at The James Brown Dance Party, headlined by Brown’s longtime drummer Clyde Stubblefield. With the gig on the near horizon, Greeley revived his Funk 101 column to reflect on the concept of The Funky Drummer, tracing the influence of beats through funk, into hip-hop and beyond. Tickets and more information on the JB Dance Party can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar.
Welcome back for another edition of Funk 101, everyone! Hope you’re all having a very funky holiday season. Last time we spoke, The Operators & I were gearing up to perform with George Clinton & P-Funk at The Ardmore Music Hall, and we went over the essential Funk tracks for your listening pleasure. We also discussed The Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown & his killer band, The JB’s, and how they gave birth to Funk music with their hit “Cold Sweat”. Which brings us to our next segment of Funk 101, and how James Brown would also help give birth to another powerful musical genre we all know and love, with the help of a drum groove that would make the world dance & nod their heads for years to come.
Clyde Stubblefield, The Funky Drummer himself, one of James Brown’s long time drummers and member of the JB’s would lay the foundation for funk and hip-hop as we know it with seminal tracks including “Funky Drummer,” “Cold Sweat,” “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud,” “Mother Popcorn” and the album Sex Machine. “Funky Drummer” is still to this day is one of the world’s most sampled musical segments and has been used by many of the all time greats including Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, N.W.A, Run DMC, and the Purple One himself, Prince. In fact, when Stubblefield was Ill in the early 2000’s, Prince was a major financial supporter, citing Clyde as one of his musical & drumming idols. That’s how much the man is respected. “Funky Drummer” is so heavily sampled, Stubblefield even took his case to court in 2011 in hopes of gaining royalties for his famous groove, but still yields no payments from any of the songs that use his famous beat.
So, just like blues and jJazz and innovators like Miles Davis helped give birth to the funk, The Godfather of Soul and The Funky Drummer would give birth to hip-hop, and arguably dance music as a whole, and showed that a beat or groove could be just as powerful as any hook or chorus in a song, and gave us the rhythm to keep it moving on the dancefloor forever. Below are some classic tracks featuring the legendary sample. Be sure to come see Clyde & my band, Nik Greeley & The Operators Friday, December 30th as we pay tribute to James Brown on the 10th Anniversary of his passing with The James Brown Dance Party: An All-Star Tribute to JB featuring members of Tedeschi Trucks Band, Charles Bradley, Swift Technique, and Elise Testone.
1. James Brown – “Funky Drummer”
I had to start it off here with the original track that would spawn all of this wonderful music we know and love. There’s nothing quite like the crispness of that snare & hi-hat, the pocket is just so tight, this is the groove that defined funk, and gave birth to so much more.
2. Public Enemy – “Fight The Power”
Remember Chuck D’s immortal opening line?
“1989 the number another summer, get down
Sound of the funky drummer
Music hittin? your heart, ’cause I know you got soul.”
The most powerful hip-hop song of all time hittin’ your ear drums like a ton of bricks with a message & beat that is timeless, and still holds serious relevance in our society today.
3. LL Cool J – “Mama Said Knock You Out”
LL gets seriously hype on this one, and became one of the biggest hits of his career going Number 1 on the Billboard charts in 1991 and earned him a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance. This song combines “Funky Drummer,” Sly Stone’s “Trip to Your Heart” and the drum break from Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance.”
4. Run DMC – “Run’s House”
One of the hardest hittin’ singles in the Run DMC catalog and fan favorite off their 1988 album Tougher Than Leather. They also tipped their caps to Stubblefield with this track, while also making another classic music video that would be on heavy rotation on MTV.
5. Dr. Dre – “Let Me Ride”
This song has got it all, The Funky Drummer + P-Funk + Bill Withers all wrapped in to one big G-Funk spliff and voila, you have Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. This song makes you wanna be in Cali rolling around in a convertible with the speakers blasting. A must have album in any record collection, and Dre showing why he is one of the true masters, who has a musical ear like no other.
6. Sublime – “Scarlett Begonias”
This was one of the first song’s I heard other than a hip-hop song that samples “Funky Drummer” in a unique way, while also paying tribute to The Grateful Dead and one of their best tunes, “Scarlet Begonias.” Bradley Nowell was ahead of his time in terms of combining several different styles tastefully while crafting really great pop tunes. This always brings me a warm vibe and takes me back to being a kid.
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