This post will examine James Brown’s contributions to the music industry, influence on genres; such as funk, and the elements that create the sound of funk.
The GodFather of Funk
A man of many names. “Mr. Dynamite”, “The Godfather of Soul”, “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business”, “The Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk”, and “The Godfather of Funk”. Though he has accumulated multiple nicknames, everybody knows him as James Brown. James Brown was born on May 3rd, 1933. Early in his career, he was an exceptional gospel singer. He eventually transitioned to R&B with the group “The Famous Five”. In the early 1960s, James Brown kicked off his solo career and began molding the sound of funk.
Origins of the Sound Of Funk
During the Civil Rights Movement, James Brown’s sound took a shift. He took on a more “africanized” style of music that emphasized black pride. He started releasing songs like “Say It Loud— I’m Black and I’m Proud”. This style of music focused on the stripped-down interlocking rhythms that would later on influence funk music. Funk music is a mix of blues, jazz, and R&B. It was based on an unique on-beat/off-beat structure that originated in traditional African music. With the use of guitar riffs and bass lines, funk can create an intense groove. These characteristics gave birth to hip-hop. Funk music ended up being the “sound of the Civil Rights Movement” with its “unapologetic blackness” and celebration of black pride. The first song to credited as a funk song was, “Cold Sweat” by James Brown. It has a one-chord bass and drum focused instrumental that was separate from the traditional R&B sound. After “Cold Sweat” was released, other artists began trying the sound of funk.
A Funky Transition
R&B artists began making music with a “funkier” sound. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Isaac Hayes. They focused on the One and polyrhythmic grooves. The One is the emphasis of the first beat. “Thank You (Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” and “Family Affair” by Sly and the Family Stone’s were funk singles that had reached number one on the Billboard charts. This allowed the genre of funk to gain exposure and new fans.
James Brown paved the way for artists and musical groups to develop their own idea of funk. During the 1970s, funk music became mainstream. Artists like Commodores, Sly and the Family Stone’s, Bootsy’s Rubber Band, and Kool and the Gang were popular groups while funk was mainstream. Disco music emerged through this era of mainstream funk. Around the 1980s, funk music phased out of the radios making room for pop and rock music. Artists; like Rick James, Prince, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Living Colour, Incubus, Outkast, and Gnarls Barkley, incorporated elements of funk. Funk has branched off into subgenres like electro-funk, boogie, funk rock, and funk jam. George Clinton created his own version of funk. It is called “P-Funk” style. He used distorted electric guitars and synthesizers to create a new sounds.
This post examined the influence and contributions of James Brown in the genre of funk, and the artists that preceded James Brown while redefining the sound of funk.