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Saturday, October 8, 2011

The History of Funk Music

What is Funk?

Along with R&B/Soul and Rap/Hip-Hop, Funk is one of the most enduring popular music forms to emerge out of the American black community. Although Funk predated the Disco revolution, Funk began to have a major impact on club music as Disco began to fade. Funk evolved from R&B but grew more earthy and rhythmic. A distinguishing feature is the beat emphasis of Funk. The primary accents are on the 1 and 3 counts (of 4). The guitar and horns often are used as primarily rhythmic and percussive instruments in Funk. As the rhythm became more prominent it also became more complex with extensive use of syncopation.
James Brown is the undisputed "Godfather of Funk." The "Hardest Working Man in Show Business" demonstrated the use of syncopation and scratching rhythm guitar on the influential hit Papa's Got a Brand New Bag. Over the years James continued to produce more rhythmically sophisticated Funk recordings, and he spread the gospel of Funk in his wild stage shows. In the 1970's, George Clinton and "Bootsy" Collins, a former member of James Brown's band, emerged as the leaders of the Parliament-Funkadelic conglomeration of bands. They brought Funk forward as a powerful force in popular music. Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk) and Flashlight brought Funk to the attention of mainstream audiences. Through most of the 1970's, Funk was rarely heard in discos. Parliament-Funkadelic concert events drew huge crowds that gyrated and danced for hours, but their audience was not a Disco audience. Disco presented a sound in which all four beats tend to be equal in accent. Some of the most intense examples of the disco beat are evident in the pounding bass beats of the work of Giorgio Moroder on hits such as Donna Summer's I Feel Love.
In 1978, Rick James laced his brand of Funk with a touch of Disco and produced the smash album Come Get It! featuring a brand of Funk that was palatable to dance audiences. He continued to have moderate success on the Disco chart until 1981's party anthem Give It To Me Baby became a #1 dance smash. Other performers helped bring the sound of Funk onto the dancefloor. The Gap Band's aggressive, bass heavy sound found a receptive audience. Songs such as Burn Rubber and Humpin' featured a sexual grind with a bit of bluesy attitude. Cameo carried the Funk standard onto dancefloors of the mid-1980's with the synthesizer-based beats of She's Strange and Word Up! Bootsy Collins - Ah...The Name is Bootsy, Baby! The Funk influence can be seen later in the 1980's in the work of superstars such as Michael Jackson and Prince. Billie Jean's heavy beat on the one is a testament to Funk's lasting influence. Wendy Melvoin's scratching guitar, the fuzzy bass, and vocals punctuated by grunts and moans on Prince's Kiss come together for a picture-perfect piece of Pop-Funk. The golden era of Funk is long gone, but the various elements introduced by seminal performers such as James Brown, George Clinton, and "Bootsy" Collins continue to be influential. Rap and Hip-Hop performers continue to sample pieces of Funk classics and celebrate the accent "on the one."