A Flair for Funk

Funk music originated from an African-American medley of jazz, soul, and primarily RnB sounds that were popular in the USA in the 1960s. But few genres can be pinpointed so clearly to one artist.

To understand the origins of funk, one must go back to James Brown. With its vivacious sound and sexuality, his 1967 record Cold Sweat is often cited by critics as the first funk record. But in his autobiography, Brown himself says that his sound changed in 1964, with Out of Sight. It was another beginning, Brown noted: “You can hear the band and me move in another direction rhythmically…” In this record, we can hear the birth of a groovy, and innovative, new beat. Unlike RnB, it isn’t driven by a series of chords, but instrumental interactions—Brown focused on the first downbeat in the rhythm (listen to the drums in 1971’s Make it Funky for a clearer example) and created a space where his vocals and the band could improvise. Brown was preaching to his audience, sometimes provoking them, and inadvertently seducing them. Like a lot of early rap music—and funk is the foremost influence of hip-hop—his lyrics were about being a hustler, a lady’s man, and in live performances they were usually dropped for moments of improvisation to ride the beat.


December 2022


Also read