#MNR: On The 1 (Long Live the Funk)
“I got soul. And I’m super bad.”
“Sometimes I feel so nice (good God), I jump back. I wanna kiss myself.”
Mr. James Brown, Godfather of Soul and Father of the Funk
Funk – A style of aggressive urban dance music driven by hard syncopated bass lines and drumbeats and accented by any number of instruments involved in rhythmic counterplay, all working toward a “groove”.
Funk Roll Call
James Brown, Clyde Stubblefield, Bobby Byrd, The J.B.’s, Sly Stone, Larry Graham, Jimi Hendrix (yes, Hendrix), George Clinton, Parliament, Funkadelic, Boosty Collins, Catfish Collins, Robert “P-Nut” Johnson, Gary “Mudbone” Cooper, Ohio Players, Average White Band, The Bar-Kays, B.T. Express, Brick, The Brothers Johnson, Cameo, Kleeer, Con Funk Shun, Dazz Band, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Fatback, Charlie Wilson, The Gap Band, Faze-O, Graham Central Station, Isaac Hayes, Leon Haywood, Heatwave, Rick James, Kool & The Gang, L.T.D., Mtume, Rufus, Chaka Khan, Slave, Stevie Arrington, Roger Troutman, Zapp, One Way
I didn’t include artists like Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield, The Isley Brothers, The Temptations, and few others because they transcend genre.
This blog was indirectly birthed by my love for the renowned and infamous game GTA (Grand Theft Auto) V Online. The GTA series has received acclaim for its soundtracks, beginning with San Andreas in 2004. SA features in-game radio that can be tuned into eleven stations. The concept stuck. V features the station Space 103.2, DJ’d by the iconic Bootsy Collins and featuring his signature song “I’d Rather Be With You,” arguably the best funk song ever. I’ve found that when I’m riding out in my Insurgent, essentially an Oshkosh Sandcat on HCH (big ass armored SUV), I most enjoy listening to 103.2. I love cruising Los Santos listening to the funk. Keep that thought in mind.
There’s one certainty about music; it constantly evolves. Mr. James Brown and Sly Stone stretched the burgeoning R&B sound to new dimensions, but they wouldn’t have done so without their bandmates. The sound… What is the funk without the beat of the drum? No one did it better than Mr. James Brown’s drummer Clyde Stubblefield, whose drumbeats were heavily influential in early rap sampling (the boom bap). Young geniuses like Bootsy Collins (who first gained acclaim with Mr. James Brown) and Larry Graham (Sly’s bandmate and Aubrey Drake Graham’s uncle) drew a bit of influence on the electric bass guitar from the undisputed GOAT of guitar, Jimi Hendrix. Bootsy and his brother Catfish eventually parted ways with JB and linked up with the great George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. They took a hit of Sly’s acid-laced genius and created a whole new lane. Those are the seeds. Needless to say, they reaped immense fruit.
I wasn’t around for its origin, but I was damn sure present for roll call when funk lowkey took over the sound of R&B for the first piece of the 1980s. This is evidenced by already established icons like Stevie Wonder, Ronald Isley and Brothers, and others making their forays into the subgenre. The funk never quite dominated the radio airwaves for a few reasons, namely its nonconformity to the norms of the three-minute radio single as well as its slick, esoteric, double entendre, and sexually themed lingo which made it harder to digest for the untrained ear (squares and unknowing white folk). Heavy use of the Moog synthesizer (which Stevie introduced to Black ears in the early ‘70s) and later models eventually made its way into the sound of popular music, notably R&B and New Wave. Funk took the synthesizer and ran with it. Funk artists and bands didn’t completely abandon the drums, electric bass, and horns that put it on the map. The sound merely evolved, letting the synthesizer imitate and innovate the sounds of other instruments. A kid named Roger Troutman (a George Clinton disciple) from out of Ohio (the unofficial home of the funk) took the Moog Minimoog and used a custom-made talkbox and blew the fucking hinges off the funk. His group Zapp and others shaped the sound of the early ‘80s, creating synth dominant grooves that made lowrider excursions feel like movie scenes and made basement parties indelible in the memories of folk from my mama dem era. There was also a generation of kids a bit younger than Shareon from out west and a few from NY that were too young to drive or attend the function yet were old enough to recognize that the sound pumping out the speakers in their neighborhoods was the shit. They weren’t in the running to be funk artists, but the sound they heard would soon influence them as rappers. Parliament and Zapp were Dr. Dre’s go-to, instrumental in the shaping of the G-Funk sound that led the west coast to rap supremacy in the early to mid ‘90s. George Clinton and Roger Troutman are both on Pac’s All Eyez On Me, on separate songs. Ice Cube (my third fav all time) and Beastie Boys member Mike D have interviews that talk on how the funk influenced their young and impressionable minds. There is a common misconception that the sounds from the talkbox and Auto-tune are one in the same. The talkbox actually uses the mouth while Auto-tune is a digital manipulation of sound. But artists like Lil Wayne and his subsequent generation of offspring in the rap game drew their entire love for Auto-tune from what they heard their parents, uncles, and aunties playing as children – funk tracks that featured Roger Troutman on talkbox. Debate all you want, or just go ask your auntie on the low to keep from being embarrassed by all the old folk. Slip her a J. She’ll happily verify the story.
Funk’s Influence on Monday
I live for the funk, word to Chief Rocka and New Jerusalem (IYKYK). I love it all, from the Godfather to Sly to Stevie Arrington to Charlie Wilson to Zapp to infinity. As a 42-year-old Black man, I can now fully appreciate why legendary DJ and radio personality Tom Joyner is strictly funk. It makes me love Steve Harvey even more (he lost me a couple years ago with his bougie shit, but we all make mistakes) for choosing to make Steve Hightower (lead character on The Steve Harvey Show) a teacher who was a former funk legend. He made sure the funk was mentioned in damn near every episode. My favorite funk song of all-time is “Superbad” by the Godfather Mr. James Brown. The aforementioned “I’d Rather Be With You” by Bootsy and his Rubber Band is a photo finish second. You’ve gotta see the YouTube of them performing it live in concert. It’ll be the best twelve minutes of your day. Seeing and listening to P-Nut and Mudbone singing their iconic parts as well as Bootsy slaying the electric bass is other worldly, truly. Stevie Arrington exploded on “Watching You.” Charlie Wilson and his brothers were so damn funky on “I Don’t Believe You Wanna Get Up and Dance (Oops!)” that I gotta jam out wherever I am whenever I hear it playing. “Flashlight,” “(Not Just) Knee Deep,” and “I’ve Been Watching You (Move Your Sexy Body)” aren’t just Parliament hits, they are staples in my funk catalog. “Cutie Pie” by One Way is the epitome of early ‘80s lowrider funk to me. So is “Riding High” by Faze-O and “More Bounce to the Ounce” by Zapp. Roger Troutman on production and talkbox alongside the lead vocals of Charlie Wilson and Shirley Murdock on “Computer Love” are as funky as it gets. There are so many songs that I consider to be my favorites, way too many to name. But I had to mention these tracks.
The funk will never die. Its influence is way too intertwined into popular music. My guess is that a few of the current Generation Z (or whatever the fuck sociologists named this era) music heads will grow older and seek to find the origins of their favorite music much like we did. And just like us, their odyssey will take them deeper and deeper into the sound until they one day arrive at the juncture of On The 1 Street and Funk Boulevard. And the beat goes on…
LONG LIVE THE FUNK