James Brown: The Master on the Mic

If there is any artist who has been sampled more than James Brown, please let me know. When thinking about the evolution of hip hop, not one artist comes to mind more than the Godfather of Soul, whose technically funky riffs and soulful chords laid the foundation for beats and breaks, which would come to define the hip hop genre in the late 1970s.

In a previous blog post of mine about Public Enemy’s controversial, protest song, “Fight the Power”, I mentioned the use of funk music samples in the revolutionary protest anthem. Two of James Brown’s classic tunes, “Funky Drummer” and “Hot Pants” are chopped up and incorporated into the PE track. (FYI: “Funky Drummer” is one of the most sampled songs in hip hop and pop music)

It makes perfect sense why PE would choose to sample Brown’s music in their song. His music not only commanded attention for its upbeat, soulful melodies, but for its powerful statements and non apologetic attitude, which, hands down represents the rebellious outlook of hip hop.

Since there are too many songs to possibly mention who have connections to James Brown, here are a few of my favorite hip hop songs who sampled Brown’s music to create a distinctive beat that is both funky and fresh.

– A Tribe Called Quest – “Lyrics to Go”

ATCQ is one of my all time favorite hip hop groups. When it comes to clever, nonchalant  lyricism, you can’t touch Q-Tip and Phife Dawg. “Lyrics to Go” is a single their smash hit 1993 album, Midnight Marauders, and the song’s funky guitar riff originally comes from the 1971 James Brown’s  song, “Just Enough Room for Storage.” The original beat is easy to recognize, but it is still dope in Tribe’s song.

 – Boogie Down Productions –  “Poetry”

Criminal Minded, the debut album of BDP was one of the first “old school” hip hop albums I ever bought. And by “old school” I mean pre 90s. I fell in love with the entire album, especially the bass heavy, banger “Poetry” with DJ Scott La Rock scratching on the ones and twos and KRS One dropping intelligent science on the haters. And who could come up with a funky beat without getting a little help from James Brown? In this case, they sampled his single “Soul Power Pt I”  from his 1972 album, Soul Classics.

 – De La Soul – “Me, Myself and I”

De La Soul, the quirky, Afro-centric group from Long Island, NY, made it cool to be eccentric and still be accepted in the hip hop circle. That’s why this song from their 1989 debut LP 3 Feet High and Rising, fits them to a T. Every time this song by De La Soul is played, the main sample everyone recognizes is Funkadelic’s “(Not Just) Knee Deep.”  But, that was not the only funk band De La Soul sampled on the track. Yes, there is a bit of James Brown in the song as well.  “The Little Groove Maker Pt I” from his 1969 album, Its a Mother  is incorporated into the beat.


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