James Brown; the godfather of soul and the king of funk. When most people hear Brown’s name, they envision screaming fans, funky horn lines, and sultry dance moves. But James Brown was more than an icon, he was an innovator and a powerhouse in the music industry. As the great Reverend Sharpton once said, “What James Brown was to music in terms of soul and hip-hop, rap, all of that, is what Bach was to classical music. This is a guy who literally changed the music industry. He put everybody on a different beat, a different style of music. He pioneered it” (Music Industry Felt Influence of ‘Godfather of Soul’). Over the course of his career, Brown would be awarded three Grammys, two in 1965 and another in 1992 for lifetime achievement. While Brown has since passed away, his legacy still reigns strong within the industry. James Brown single-handedly established the funk genre and heavily influenced the development of hip-hop. His music also impacted society, breaking down racial barriers which were previously placed on African American artists. Today, Brown’s influences can be found in modern artist’s tracks such as Kanye West who sampled one of Brown’s songs in multiple tracks such as “New God Flow” and “Clique”. Through this analysis, one will gain an understanding of how Brown created the genre of funk and shaped hip-hop into what it is today.
James Brown’s first contribution to the music industry was his development of the genre of music known as funk. In an era, which was dominated by doo-wop and rock and roll, Brown’s new style transformed the industry and brought about a new wave with a fresh look and feel. Brown’s shift from doo-wop to funk was first heard in the 1960 single, “Out of Sight”.
Brown explained this of the track:
(Y)ou can hear the band and me start to move in a whole other direction rhythmically. The horns, the guitars, the vocals, everything was starting to be used to establish all kinds of rhythms at once… I was trying to get every aspect of the production to contribute to the rhythmic patterns. (The Long and Short, 2016)
“Out of Sight” brought about a new formula that would become the mainstream for funk. There are three main components of this formula that one should understand, which are as follows: firstly, there was a shift in meter from a shuffle style 12/8, to a 4/4 feel with a heavy emphasis on the first part of each beat. Secondly, there was a shift from upright bass to electric bass as well the use of syncopated guitar rhythms. Thirdly, there are elements of Afro Cuban drum patterns dispersed throughout (The Long and Short, 2016). Brown’s formula would serve as a building block for future funk bands such as Funkadelic and Parliament, as well as artists of other genres such as Hip-hop who would later use Browns works as a backbone to their tracks.
The 80’s were a critical time for rap and hip-hop artists. In just a short period of time, several iconic artists began sampling Brown’s works, taking him from the king of funk to the number one sampled artist in the industry. There were several