Last week, Wake-Up Video commemorated an important moment in the history of hip-hop that saw the beginnings of musicians being properly compensated for the use of their songs in samples in rap tunes. On this day in 1969, another huge moment occurred in the history of sampling, as James Brown and his band recorded the song “Funky Drummer,” a track that would go down in history as (likely) the most-sampled track of all time because of its drum solo.
The drums in question were played by Clyde Stubblefield, who would later come to be known as “The Funky Drummer” because of his work on this particular track. As it stands, “Funky Drummer” isn’t much of a song — there’s no real vocal performance from Brown and the groove just sort of ebbs and flows. Instead of a proper vocal, Brown mostly encourages various members of his band, egging them on as they jam. When he gets to Stubblefield, he declares the beat “a mother,” and the ensuing eight bars of drum magic helped fuel some of the biggest hip-hop tracks in history.
It’s uncertain exactly who got to “Funky Drummer” first, but it certainly got passed around an awful lot. In addition to being name-checked on Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” (where it is also sampled), “Funky Drummer” is all over N.W.A’s “F— Tha Police,” LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” Ice T’s “Original Gangster,” Eric B. & Rakim’s “Lyrics of Fury,” Dr. Dre’s “Let Me Ride” and Ultramagnetic MCs’ “Give the Drummer Some.” (There are literally dozens, if not hundreds, more songs out there that borrow from “Funky Drummer,” including non-rap tracks by Prince, Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode and New Order.) Run-D.M.C. also went to the “Funky Drummer” well with “Run’s House” (from 1988’s Tougher Than Leather).