The funky drummer funks no more

It took only 20 seconds for Clyde Stubblefield to drum his way to immortality. They came near the end of James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” recorded in a Cincinnati studio in late 1969. Brown counts him in — “1, 2, 3, 4. Hit it!” — and Mr. Stubblefield eases into a cool pattern, part bendy funk and part hard march. It’s calm, slick and precise, and atop it, Brown asks over and over, “Ain’t it funky?”

It was. That brief snippet of percussion excellence became the platonic ideal of a breakbeat, the foundation of hip-hop’s sampling era and a direct through line from the ferocious soul music of the civil rights era to the golden age of history-minded hip-hop of the 1980s and 1990s.

Though Mr. Stubblefield wasn’t enamored of the song — “I didn’t like the song. I still don’t really get off on it,” he told Paste magazine in 2014 — its mark became indelible. Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” Boogie Down Productions’s “South Bronx,” Sinead O’Connor’s “I Am Stretched on Your Grave,” George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90” and Kenny G’s “G-Bop”: Mr. Stubblefield’s “Funky Drummer” break appeared as a sample in all of those songs, and over a thousand more, beginning in the 1980s, right up through present day.

It’s not a sample here but it is copied as the basic beat of the piece:

15 thoughts on “The funky drummer funks no more”

  1. “Funky” originally meant smelly, as in farts and other offensive effluvia from the arse. Hence the old New Orleans jazz tune “Funky Butt”.

    I just thought you’d like to know.

  2. Yup – true – but I thought it was the perfume from round the front after a bout of congress and with the post-coupling bath or shower having been delayed.

  3. You mean I read a bowdlerised version? Shocking! I blame that Vladimir Putin.

    But on the other hand, what about that there Butt in the title of the old tune?

  4. Thanks, Tim. Worthy of a Timmy Elsewhere headed post, for sure. Glad to know I’m properly aligned with the truth on the matter.

    Speaking of matter, I’m now trying to work out how to tax babies for consuming your labours at clearing up their production.

  5. So Much For Subtlety

    So what all this linguistic analysis boils down to is that this particularly funky drummer is getting a lot more funky about now?

    Despite the best effort of mortuary science.

  6. Darren, I listened to Fool’s Gold and Funky Drummer, and didn’t think that the latter was the basis for the former. Hot Pants sounds a lot more like it.

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