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How J.B Influenced Us

 

By Mtume ya Salaam of Kalamu.com

 

Type ‘James Brown’ into a search engine or a sample-source website and you’re going to get back pages and pages of hits.

 

So many that you’ll initially think you made a mistake. But no, it isn’t a mistake. James Brown samples are just that prevalent. James is listed as The-Breaks.com’s number one most-sampled artist ever. And his total sample count of 903 is more than triple that of the nearest contender.

 

It’s said that J.B. makes millions per year on sample-related royalties alone. 

 

So why? Why did James Brown’s music have such a pull on all of us?

 

The answer is actually simple. It’s rhythm. 

 

James Brown, the maestro managed to turn his entire band into a rhythm instrument. And by ‘entire band’ I don’t just mean the traditional rhythm section of the drummer and the bass player.

 

Listen closely to the horn riffs on “Funky Drummer” or “Get Up, Get Into It.” That’s rhythmic—not harmonic or melodic. Listen to the classic ‘chicken-scratching’ of the guitar on “The Payback.” Again, that’s rhythm.

 

By the late 1960s and early '70s, the period most-favored by hip-hoppers, J.B. was deep into his 'New Super Super Heavy Funk’ phase. Even his vocals were rhythmic. He chant, spoke and grunted his way through nearly every record.

 

There was virtually no attempt on J.B.’s part to actually ‘sing.’ He’d eschewed melody and harmony almost entirely to create symphonies of pure rhythm.

 

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Truthfully, trying to take a brief look into the world of J.B is like trying to write a brief history of the universe, but we’re going to give it a shot anyway. To keep the job manageable, and keep this post down to a readable length, I’m going to limit the list to five and keep my comments brief . So here, in reverse order, are hip-hop’s five favorite J.B. breaks ever.


 

5. (Tie.) “Blow Your Head” – From Fred Wesley & The J.B.’s Damn I Right I Am Somebody (Polydor, 1974) & “The Grunt” – From The J.B.’s Food For Thought (Polydor, 1972)

For me, these two tracks from the J.B.’s - the Godfather’s backup band - were the jaw-droppers. Even back when my musical diet consisted of 95% rap and 5% reggae, I’d heard enough classic soul around the house to know my hip-hop heroes were rapping over lifted loops.

 

Those next-century-sounding ‘sirens’ from Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back? Straight outta “The Grunt.” The eerie, Big Brother-ish keyboard whine from “Public Enemy #1” and “9th Wonder? That would be the intro to “Blow Your Head.”

 

If you’re familiar with Golden Age-era hip-hop and you haven’t heard either one of these, you’re in for a surprise.

Times Sampled (according to The-Breaks.com): 33 each

Overall Rank on Top 20 ‘Most-Sampled’ List: N/A

Mtume’s Picks: Public Enemy – “Public Enemy No. 1,” Ultramagnetic M.C.’s – “Ease Back,” Digable Planets – “9th Wonder (Blackitolism)”


 

4. “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” – From In The Jungle Groove (Polydor, 1985) (Originally issued as a single in 1970)

The actual groove is too hyper for anyone except, say, a Big Daddy Kane, who visited and revisited this sample several times during his career. For everyone else, it’s all about the guitar line, which is remarkably funky and upbeat, yet at the same time, strangely ominous. I first remember hearing this sample on K.R.S.-One and Scott La Rock’s classic boast/tribute/threat “
South Bronx.”

Times Sampled: 59

Overall Rank: #12

Mtume’s Picks: Boogie Down Productions – “South Bronx,” Original Concept – “Can You Feel It?,” Kool G. Rap & D.J. Polo – “Poison.”

 

3. “The Payback” – From The Payback (Polydor, 1974)

Any revenge song that includes a line like, “I don’t know karate, but I know ka-razy” can’t be half-bad. Throw in a bassline for the ages, a guitar line that’s about as addictive as nicotine and some serious funk coming from the drum kit and it’s another classic. “I’m a man,” J.B. says. “I’m a man. And I’m a son of a man.”

 

What about the soul sisters in the background?

Times Sampled: 65

Overall Rank: #9

Mtume’s Picks: L.L. Cool J – “The Boomin’ System,” Ice Cube – “Jackin’ For Beats,” En Vogue – “Hold On”

 

2. “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” – From Reality (Polydor, 1975)

This one has been chopped up so frequently and so completely, that it’s hard for me to hear it as an actual song. For someone with hip-hop ears, “Funky President” sounds more like a megamix of rap breaks than it sounds like a musical performance by an actual band. How’s that for weird? A sample source that has been sampled so much that it starts to sound like a mix of samples.

Times Sampled: 100

Overall Rank: #5

Mtume’s Picks: Eric B. & Rakim – “Eric B. Is President,” Ice Cube – “Jackin’ For Beats” (again), Das EFX – “They Want EFX”

 

 

1. “Funky Drummer” – From In The Jungle Groove (Polydor, 1985) (Originally issued as a single in 1969)

Number one by far. And, I can say with certainty that the 182 records listed on The-Breaks.com are only the tip of a very large, wide and deep iceberg. Remember, The-Breaks lists only verifiable samples and nearly all of them are from the world of hip-hop.

 

But like the ‘Amen’ break, the break from “Funky Drummer” has become ubiquitous enough that it is no longer always thought of as an actual sample, and its use certainly isn’t contained to hip-hop.

 

These days, the James Brown beat can turn up anywhere: Commercials, pop tunes, movie soundtracks, random NBA dancers’ halftime routines, embarrassingly bad Madonna/Lenny Kravitz records, literally anywhere.

 

The “Funky Drummer” break may have began as a fragment of a song, but it’s become an integral part of the soundscape of the modern world. The thing is, someone had to play that beat. That someone is James Brown’s main man and master funk drummer Clyde Stubblefield. With the possible exception of the ‘Amen’ break’s G.C. Coleman, Stubblefield is probably the most unwittingly prolific session musician in the history of recorded music itself.

Times Sampled: 182

Overall Rank: #1

Mtume’s Picks: Run-DMC – “Run’s House,” Ice Cube – “Jackin’ For Beats” (why not?), Sinead O’Connor – “I Am Stretched On Your Grave”

 

When you consider that rap music in its essential form is nothing but vocal rhythms (MCing) layered over drum rhythms (DJing) with no melody or harmony, it shouldn’t be surprising that hip-hop and James Brown would fit so well together.

 

In fact, the Godfather of Hip-Hop himself, DJ Kool Herc has been quoted as saying that if it weren’t for James Brown, there would no such thing as hip-hop. All I can say to that is ‘amen.’ (No pun intended.) This one’s for you, J.B. Rest in Peace!

 

Mtume ya Salaam is a published writer and an expert on contemporary Black music. He lives in New Orleans, USA and can be reached at mtume_s@yahoo.com.

 

Please e-mail comments to comments@thenewblackmagazine.

tayari kwa salaam Says:

 

Hush mah mouff! It’s James Brown!

Little did I know bout how much he meant to hip hop. I mean, I know he is an influence, but to the extent you're reportin here . . . damn!

 

youngblood Says:

Funk is a process; a process changing one’s perception of self in time and space. One of the greatest songs in the history of popular black music is James Brown’s sixties soul classic, ‘Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud’. Never before had any popular entertainer captured the mood of Black people.

 

It was The Godfather dancing under the white hot and exacting glare of television light. Adorned in black silk papa humped and slid, leaving sweaty images of obsidian Jesus on the back of his shirt and shinning images of Blackness in the national consciousness. They hated James. We loved him. As we raised our voices in song a dark cloud of polution also billowed as hundreds gathered to burn James’ records. Now they love him. And We hate to see mug shots of him on every national news telecast and tabloid; hair laid to the side ‘processed’ like unfortunate strands of genocide. Good song though!

 

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