Get ready to groove, because we’re about to take a deep dive into the funky, soulful sounds of James Brown’s “Funky Drummer.” This classic track, released way back in 1970, features an epic drum break that has been sampled countless times by Hip Hop artists over the years. In this piece, we’ll be exploring ten of the most iconic Hip Hop tracks that used the “Funky Drummer” sample.
First, a little background on the original song. “Funky Drummer” was recorded in Cincinnati, Ohio on November 20, 1969. It’s an extended vamp with individual instruments, like the guitar, tenor saxophones, and organ, improvising brief licks on top. Brown’s vocals are sporadic and declamatory, mostly focused on encouraging the other band members. But the real star of the show is Clyde Stubblefield’s drum break. Brown announces it with his trademark shout of “give the drummer some,” and Stubblefield proceeds to deliver an eight-bar solo that has become one of the most famous drum beats in music history. After the break, Brown seems so impressed that he decides to name the song “The Funky Drummer” on the spot.
Now, let’s fast forward to the world of Hip Hop. The “Funky Drummer” sample has been used by everyone from Public Enemy to Lupe Fiasco, and we’re going to focus on ten of the most iconic tracks that have used it to create unforgettable beats. All of these tracks are proof of the enduring influence of James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” on the world of Hip Hop. It’s a testament to the power of great music that a single drum break recorded over 50 years ago inspired generations of artists to create something fresh and exciting. So turn up the volume, and let’s get funky!
Public Enemy - Rebel Without a Pause (1987)
“Rebel Without a Pause” was released in 1987 as the first single for Public Enemy’s second album, the seminal “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.” The song’s production is characterized by its distinctive whistling sound (courtesy of sampling of an alto saxophone glissando from The J.B.’s instrumental “The Grunt”), and the use of heavy bass and a sample from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” has become an iconic example of the use of sampling in Hip Hop.
The track opens with a looped sample of the “Funky Drummer” breakbeat, with the loop playing continuously throughout the song’s verses. The use of the “Funky Drummer” break in “Rebel Without a Pause” was a significant moment in the development of sampling as a production technique in Hip Hop. The track’s success helped to cement the idea of sampling as a legitimate and innovative approach to creating music, and it set the stage for the sampling-heavy productions that would come to dominate the genre in the years that followed.
“Rebel Without a Pause” is an iconic track in Hip Hop history, not only for its powerful lyrics but also for its innovative production techniques. The use of the “Funky Drummer” break in particular has become a defining moment in the history of sampling and has influenced countless Hip Hop producers in the years since its release. “Rebel Without a Pause” was not the first track in Hip Hop to use the “Funky Drummer” breakbeat though, Marley Marl used it to great effect for Kool G Rap’s “It’s a Demo” a year earlier.
Boogie Down Productions - South Bronx (1987)
Boogie Down Production’s “South Bronx” is a seminal song, and one of the standouts on BDP’s classic debut album “Criminal Minded”, which helped to establish the group and its frontman, KRS-One, as major forces in the genre. The track’s instrumental is driven by a sample from “Funky Drummer”.
The track’s use of the “Funky Drummer” break is notable for the way it builds on the original sample, adding layers of instrumentation and production techniques to create a dynamic and energetic sound. The break is looped throughout the track, providing a solid foundation for KRS-One’s commanding vocals.
KRS-One’s lyrics on “South Bronx” are a celebration of the titular neighborhood and its role in the development of Hip Hop culture. He references various landmarks and figures from the area, painting a vivid picture of the vibrant and creative community that gave birth to the genre.
LL Cool J - Jack the Ripper (1987)
Because it never appeared on his non-greatest hits albums, “Jack the Ripper” is an often overlooked track by Hip Hop GOAT LL Cool J. It is one of his best songs though, built around a sample of James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”.
The sample is used in a unique way on “Jack the Ripper,” with producer Rick Rubin chopping up the break into small fragments and rearranging them to create a new rhythm. The result is a hard-hitting and energetic track that showcases LL Cool J’s impressive flow and lyrical prowess.
The song’s lyrics are focused on LL Cool J’s dominance in the rap game and his willingness to take on any challengers, with the lyrics directed at rival Kool Moe Dee in particular. He uses a variety of metaphors and punchlines to assert his superiority, while the sample of “Funky Drummer” provides a driving beat that underscores his confidence and swagger.
Run DMC - Run's House (1988)
“Run’s House” is a 1988 song from Run-DMC, released as a single from their album Tougher Than Leather. The “Funky Drummer” sample is used in a straightforward way on “Run’s House,” with the break providing the backbone of the song’s driving rhythm. Over this foundation, Run-DMC’s trademark call-and-response style and hard-hitting lyrics create a powerful and infectious groove.
N.W.A - Straight Outta Compton (1988)
The “Funky Drummer,” breakbeat is used in a powerful and effective way on “Straight Outta Compton,” providing a driving beat that underscores N.W.A’s angry and confrontational lyrics. Over the break, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and Eazy-E deliver verses that are notable for their unapologetic and uncompromising tone, as well as their depiction of the harsh realities of life in South Central Los Angeles. The use of the “Funky Drummer” break adds to the track’s sense of urgency and intensity and helps to cement its status as a classic of the genre.
Eric B. & Rakim - Lyrics of Fury (1988)
“Lyrics of Fury” is a classic Eric B. & Rakim cut, released in 1988 as a single from their album Follow the Leader. The “Funky Drummer” breakbeat is used in a distinctive and creative way on “Lyrics of Fury,” with the break being chopped up into small fragments and rearranged to create a complex and dynamic rhythm. Over this intricate instrumental, Rakim delivers one of the most impressive and technically proficient rap performances of all time.
N.W.A - F*** tha Police (1988)
The use of the “Funky Drummer” break on “F*** tha Police” is notable for its simplicity and repetition, which creates a sense of urgency and tension that underpins the song’s aggressive and confrontational lyrics. Over the break, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and Eazy-E deliver verses that criticize police brutality and racial profiling and call for an end to systemic racism and injustice.
The song’s lyrics are controversial and provocative and have been criticized for their use of profanity and violent imagery. However, they have also been celebrated for their boldness and their role in bringing attention to issues of police brutality and racism in America. Overall, “F*** tha Police” is a landmark song that remains a powerful and relevant statement on the state of race relations and law enforcement in the United States.
Public Enemy - Fight the Power (1989)
“Fight the Power” is an iconic Public Enemy song, originally released in 1989 as the leading single from the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s film “Do the Right Thing.”
The use of the “Funky Drummer” break on “Fight the Power” is notable for its prominent placement and repeated use throughout the song, creating a driving and energizing rhythm that underpins the track’s socially conscious and politically charged lyrics. Over the break, Chuck D delivers verses that criticize racism, oppression, and police brutality, and call for resistance and change.
The song’s lyrics and its accompanying music video, directed by Spike Lee, were seen as a powerful statement against institutionalized racism and discrimination and became a cultural touchstone for a generation of activists and artists.
LL Cool J - Mama Said Knock You Out (1990)
“Mama Said Knock You Out” is one of LL Cool J’s most iconic songs, released in 1990 as the lead single from his album of the same name.
The use of the “Funky Drummer” break on “Mama Said Knock You Out” is notable for its heavy use of distortion and filtering, creating a gritty and aggressive sound that underpins LL Cool J’s forceful and confident delivery. Marley Marl chopped and looped the break throughout the track, providing a dynamic and rhythmic backdrop for the song’s lyrics, which celebrate LL Cool J’s skills as an MC and his determination to succeed in the face of adversity. The song’s lyrics and its accompanying music video were seen as a triumphant comeback for LL Cool J, who had been criticized for his previous album’s commercial sound.
Dr. Dre - Let Me Ride (1992)
“Let Me Ride” is one of the lead singles from his seminal debut solo album The Chronic. The use of the “Funky Drummer” break on “Let Me Ride” is notable for its smooth and laid-back groove, which forms the foundation of the song’s relaxed and confident vibe. The break is chopped and filtered throughout the track, providing a dynamic and rhythmic backdrop for Dr. Dre’s smooth flow and the song’s infectious hook.
- Kool G Rap & DJ Polo – It’s a Demo (1986)
- DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince – The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff (1987)
- Run-DMC – Beats to the Rhyme (1987)
- Public Enemy – Bring the Noise (1987)
- Public Enemy – Prophets of Rage (1988)
- Public Enemy – She Watch Channel Zero?! (1988)
- Slick Rick – The Moment I Feared (1988)
- Stetsasonic – Sally (1988)
- Ultramagnetic MCs – Give the Drummer Some (1988)
- Beastie Boys – Shadrach (1989)
- Biz Markie – Spring Again (1989)
- LL Cool J – Nitro (1989)
- Paris – The Devil Made Me Do It (1989)
- Chill Rob G – Let the Words Flow(1989)
- Big Daddy Kane – Mortal Combat (1989)
- The Stop the Violence Movement – Self Destruction (1989)
- LL Cool J – The Boomin System (1990)
- Above the Law – Murder Rap (1990)
- The Jaz feat. Jay-Z – The Originators (1990)
- Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth – Go With the Flow (1991)
- The Pharcyde – Officer (1992)
- Gang Starr -The Illest Brother (1992)