James Brown

Funky Drummer

Composed by James Brown

Song Review by

Even though it sounds more like a loose studio jam than a full-fledged song, "Funky Drummer" is one of the cornerstones of James Brown's musical legacy, thanks to its status as perhaps the most familiar and oft-sampled breakbeat in hip-hop history. The titular drummer responsible for creating that breakbeat was Clyde Stubblefield, who first joined Brown's band around 1965. "Funky Drummer" was recorded in late 1969 and first released as a two-part single early the following year, when it made the R&B Top 20. Brown chants skeletal lyrics once in a while, but mostly just offers instructions and encouragement to his bandmembers. In the absence of any chorus-based song structure, the track is explicitly centered around its breakbeat, which the listener can hear gradually evolving underneath, starting after the band hits the first change. Despite that change, which demonstrates a planned musical framework, "Funky Drummer" is overall a document of spontaneous creation, as Brown's crack musicians play around within that framework to create something surprisingly enduring, given the looseness of its origins. It's just fortunate the tape was rolling that day. Brown himself hears Stubblefield's playing and orders the rest of the band to lay out for a solo, telling his drummer, "Don't turn it loose, 'cause it's a mother." How right he was: "Funky Drummer" has been sampled by everyone from Eric B. & Rakim and Public Enemy (among countless other hip-hop acts) to Beck, Madonna, and even Sinéad O'Connor. In turn, it helped keep Brown's music alive and vital for a whole new generation.

Appears On

Year Artist/Album Label Time AllMusic Rating
The Payback 1973 Polydor
In the Jungle Groove 1986 Polydor 2:54
Star Time 1991 Universal 7:01
Soul Pride: The Instrumentals 1960-1969 1993 Polydor 9:27
Foundations of Funk - A Brand New Bag: 1964-1969 1996 Island/Def Jam / Universal Music 5:34
Sampled 2000
Various Artists
Virgin 6:07
Mastercuts: Breaks [2001] 2001
Various Artists
Mastercuts 7:03
Out of Sight: Greatest Hits 2002 Mercury
James Brown Ultimate Remixes 2002 Universal Distribution 4:33
No Image 2003 S12 / Simply Vinyl
Get on Up: Hip Hop Trax Sampling James Brown 2003
Various Artists
Universal Distribution
The History of Breaks 2004
Various Artists
Tinted 0:42
70's Funk Classics 2004 Universal 7:00
No Image 2007 Polydor / Universal Music
5 Classic Albums 2014 Polydor 9:15
blue highlight denotes editor's pick