Popular Samples in Rap Music: Songs Sampling “Funky Drummer” by James Brown
James Brown may have pioneered funk, but his legacy has another side to it. Parts of his music have been sampled in many songs over the years. One notable sample of Brown’s is the drumbreak in his 1970 track, “Funky Drummer.” The break is at 5 minutes and 15 seconds into the song, and many rap songs in the 1980s and ’90s used it as either a drumbeat of their own or a breakdown similar to Brown’s.
The sample was prominent in ’80s and ’90s hip-hop, but it’s also scattered across all music.
The following article will examine a few of the many songs sampling the famous drumbreak of James Brown’s “Funky Drummer.”
BDP – “South Bronx” (1986)
BDP disses MC Shan—while providing a lesson on the history of hip-hop—throughout a beat with several scattered samples of “Funky Drummer,” including its famous drum breakdown behind utterances of “South Bronx,” as well as repetitions of James Brown shouting “Get it!”
Public Enemy – “Bring the Noise” (1987)
Like the break in “South Bronx,” you can hear Brown’s famous drum solo in a small portion of this Public Enemy classic. It begins at 1:07 and ends only seconds later.
N.W.A – “F*** Tha Police” (1988)
This hip-hop protest anthem is made of well-combined samples. With this song, producers Dr. Dre and DJ Yella did the audible equivalent of gluing magazine cutouts to posterboard… and made it about how bad they hate cops. With all these layered samples, it’s still difficult to find “Funky Drummer.” Where is it? Like the two songs above, it’s a break from FTP’s main loop, used first at 2:14 behind “Judge Dre” saying, “MC Ren, will you please give your testimony to the jury about this f***ed up incident.”
The background song in the opening court skit is none other than Public Enemy’s “Bring the Noise.”
Public Enemy – “Fight the Power” (1989)
One year after “F*** Tha Police,” another hip-hop protest song surfaced, by Public Enemy. Producer Bomb Squad sampled four songs for this masterpiece, two of them from James Brown… “Hot Pants” and (dum da da dummm) “Funky Drummer.” “Funky Drummer” is slighty sped up, looping throughout seemingly the whole song. Even Chuck D credits the sample, saying, “Sounds of the ‘Funky Drummer.’”
George Michael – “Freedom ’90” (1990)
You don’t have to be a rapper to sample “Funky Drummer.” One of the late George Michael’s most popular records uses one of James Brown’s most popular samples as a looping drum track.
LL Cool J – “Mama Said Knock You Out” (1990)
For this early ’90s LL classic, producer Marley Marl added many samples over a “Funky Drummer” loop to intensify LL’s rebellion against critics. Don’t call it a comeback!
Dr. Dre – “Let Me Ride” (1992)
The verses in this Chronic gem contain a drumbreak from Bill Withers’ “Kissing My Love.” Where’s the “Funky Drummer?” It’s in the hook, played beneath the other drums. Hayul yayuh! (Read: hell yeah.)
Lupe Fiasco – “The Cool” (2006)
Produce by Kanye West, this song’s “Funky Drummer” sample loops louder and louder and later serves as the central drumbeat of the song.
Nicki Minaj – “Save Me” (2010)
As this song starts, the “Funky Drummer” sample can be heard sped-up in the background and silenced with a digital hand clap at 11 seconds. Then the sample disappears… to later reappear for two more 11-second repetitions, as if it’s splitting the track into sections.
Ed Sheeran – “Shirtsleeves” (2014)
The drumbeat behind Ed’s song will surely bring you back to the ’80s when rappers sampled James Brown religiously… or bring you back to the early ’70s when you had to wait five minutes after Brown’s “Funky Drummer” came on to hear an uncredited drummer show his skills.
Clyde Stubblefield is that funky drummer. He played the drums for that song but rarely got credit. Let’s give him credit for inspiring a basis for many artists’ rhythms over the years.
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