Funk is important because it was the first time African-American artists were so uncensored and allowed room for authenticity to share stories of the Black American experience.
In the 1960s, Black America gave birth to the musical genre of Funk. Funk was inspired by and incorporated influences from Jazz, R&B, and Soul. The significance behind the name “funk” is to convey how Black Americans felt about their realities living in America. Their experiences were “funky” because they were unpleasant and traumatic. However, Black Americans reinvented the word to convey ideas of Black pride.
The first-ever Funk artist is James Brown. “Papa Got a Brand New Bag” (1965) was one of Brown’s biggest hits. The song had strong influences from R&B but began to develop a new beat. “Papa Got a Brand New Bag” wasn’t precisely Funk, yet it laid out the framework for Brown’s first funk song. In July 1967, James Brown released his song “Cold Sweat.” This song changed the music game forever. “Cold Sweat” had elements like snare hits and the emphasis on “one” every eight beats. It also had a drum solo and only two chords. The beat of Funk was born on this track.
The next year James Brown released “Say It Loud, I’m Black and Proud” (1968). To this day, the song is commonly associated with the Black is Beautiful Movement. Four months before the song dropped, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. “Say It Loud, I’m Black and Proud” deeply resonated with all of Black America, given the country’s climate. The song was a moment of victory for Black America despite the moment of defeat. The song was unapologetically Black. This was important because, even today, Black people have a complicated relationship with their Blackness. 1968 forced Black Americans to see their Blackness outside the lens that they adopted from white people. Black and proud were never synonyms with each other, but Brown’s song rejected these ideas and completely flipped the narrative.
Consequently, “Say It Loud I’m Black and Proud” social importance and social responsibility became the building blocks for many funk artists to come. Funk may have been great party music, but it ultimately spread important beliefs about Black experiences. Some more notable funk artists include George Clinton, Stevie Wonder, Kool & The Gang, and Sly & The Family Stone, who created slap bass sound.
Funk brought Black feelings and Black experiences to the forefront in a very upfront and unapologetic way that could not be ignored. Funk set the bar high for Black American artists to come and created an obligation for Black artists to incorporate their Black identity into their music.
“Bio.” James Brown, 3 Dec. 2018, www.jamesbrown.com/bio.
“Funk.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/art/funk.
Mitchell, Zoë and Meghna Chakrabarti. “’Say It Loud’: 50 Years Ago, James Brown Redefined Black Pride.” ‘Say It Loud’: 50 Years Ago, James Brown Redefined Black Pride | Radio Boston, WBUR, 24 July 2018, www.wbur.org/radioboston/2018/07/24/james-brown-black-pride.
Weiner, Natalie. “With One Raw, Irresistible Song, James Brown Found the Sound of the Racial Unrest of 1967.” Medium, Timeline, 26 June 2017, timeline.com/with-one-raw-irresistible-song-james-brown-found-the-sound-of-the-racial-unrest-of-1967-18017dbce903.