How James Brown Invented Funk


– Hey, LA, are you there?
– Hey, Nahre, I’m here. What’s up?
– Hey. I wanted to ask you a question. First, listen to this. (upbeat funk music) ♪ Hey ♪ Sounds like a James
Brown song, doesn’t it? – Yeah. – But it’s not, what is it about this that we’re both hearing that
makes us think of James Brown? What’s going on musically
that makes James Brown sound like James Brown?
♪ One, two, three, four ♪ (“Get Up” by James Brown) ♪ Get up, get on up ♪ Screams, spins, and splits all make for a great show, but
what was the Minister of the New, New Superheavy Funk doing? To answer that question,
we have to go back to 1964 when funk was born.
(upbeat funk music) – So a lot of people say that funk started with Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag in 1965. Others say it started
in 1967 with Cold Sweat, but James Brown says in his autobiography that his sound really
started to change in 1964 with his album Out of Sight. ♪ Got to tie your sneakers on ♪ “Out of Sight was another
beginning, musically “and professionally, you
can hear the band and me “start to move in a whole
other direction rhythmically. “The horns, the guitar,
the vocals, everything “was starting to be used
to establish all kind “of rhythms at once, I as
trying to get every aspect “of the production to contribute
to the rhythmic patterns.” ♪ You know you’re out of sight ♪ ♪ Ow ♪ – Brown got away from melodies. His music was very rhythmically focused, even the tambour, his delivery
style, was percussive. – Yeah.
– And I think that’s what made funk such a grooving, such a popular sound
because even the musicians, they are not really always singing. It’s more group chanting.
– Yeah. – But it’s not driven
by a series of chords. It’s driven by rhythmic interactions. – And not only was he
using every instrument to add to the song’s rhythmic pattern, but he was creating a whole new pattern. So most music of that
era gave heavy emphasis to the back beat, on the two
and the four of the measure. It sounded like this. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four.
(upbeat percussion music) One, two, three, four. What James Brown did was he
put the emphasis on the one, on the downbeat of the measure. And that sounds like
one, two, three, four. One, two, three, four.
(upbeat percussion music) ♪ One, two, three, man, get funky ♪ ♪ Man, get funky, huh, man, get funky ♪ Emphasizing the one
created space in the groove so that the band could add
syncopation to the other beat. Syncopation is just
placing rhythms or accents in places where we don’t expect it. So if these are the strong beats. Three, four, one, two, three, four. Syncopation is just putting accents in between the strong beats. So sound like, one and two and three and
four and (beat boxes). (“Mother Popcorn Part 1” by James Brown) ♪ Yeah, yeah ♪ ♪ Yeah ♪
– So here is some of the observations that I’ve picked up while listening to James Brown songs. The first thing is that
his voice is very unique. The quality of how he
sings is almost shouting and singing, it’s somewhere in between. And his melodies and
phrases are more like staffs rather than long, lyrical melodies. – This is James Brown, and
when doing Sound Field, y’all, make it funky (laughs). I do what I can to mimic him and to give it a real heavier rasp. So I’ll growl a little bit,
you know what I’m saying? – Okay.
– I just wanna do my thing. You know, movin’, groovin’,
like a love machine. Is that alright? – Yes.
– Yes, sir. – (laughs) Indeed.
– James would take very simplistic approaches. He would take a lyric and give it rhythm, and then, he would wrap it with his soul and dip it in funk (laughs). That was preachin’, you
know, when they would preach, they would (grunts). It’s called hoopin’.
– It’s all from the black church, his
influence was more the preachers than the singers per se. His phrasing, and then, again (grunts), you know, at the end.
– Yep. – And the preachers, they
are performing in a style that generates responses
from the congregation. James Brown does the
very same thing on stage. He is catering to the
needs of his audience, and they understood, they
identified with his performance. And that’s why he remains so popular. At the same time, it is also the reason why he did not top really the pop charts. He was too much, but
it was just too black. (LA laughs) – Do you remember the
song that I played for LA? The one that sounded like James Brown? (upbeat funk music)
♪ Hey ♪ Well, it’s pretty close,
it’s actually Bobby Byrd, James Brown’s songwriting
partner, sidekick, and hype man. Listen to James Brown calling out for Byrd on his hit song, Sex Machine.
♪ Get on up, Bobby ♪ ♪ Should I take them to the bridge ♪ ♪ Go ahead, take ’em on to the bridge ♪ ♪ Take ’em to the bridge ♪ ♪ Can I take ’em to the bridge ♪ At the hook of the song,
that’s actually Bobby Byrd calling for us to get on up. ♪ Get up, get on up ♪ ♪ Get up, get on up ♪ ♪ Stay on the scene, get on up ♪ ♪ Like a sex machine, get on up ♪ The use of this gospel-inspired
call and response and vocal punctuations
have inspired generations of hip hop artists, you
can even Brown’s influence in today’s adlibs. ♪ In the kitchen, wrist twistin’
like a stir fry, whip it ♪ ♪ In the kitchen, wrist twistin’
like a stir fry, whip it ♪ ♪ In the kitchen ♪
La and I are going to write a song influenced by James Brown, and given the fact that I’m
not that well-versed in funk, I’m not sure what we’ll come up with, but we’ll give it a try.
– Okay, so Nahre, I’ve had this beat in
my head for a long time, and if James Brown was
still here with us today, this is what I would
give to ’em, you ready? – Yeah.
– Okay, here we go. One, two, three–
(upbeat percussion music) – Nice!
– Yo, cool, cool. Do you think you could add
some James Brown flavor to it? – Something that has
maybe with a blues scale. – Mhm.
(bright piano music) Okay. Yeah.
(bright piano music) – Okay, let’s try this.
– I like that, no. I like it going up, yeah, going up, climb down, that’s tight.
– How would I articulate this to make it sound funkier?
– It could be like– – ‘Cause I’m listening to the notes. – (beat boxes) Even if
you added more space, like a bar of rest, you
know what I’m saying? So (scats). – Oh, did you just offset it? – Yeah, it’s like one, two, three, four. (LA scats) (Nahre laughs)
You know what I’m saying? (funky piano music)
Yeah, one and two and three and–
(funky piano music) Yeah, yeah!
(funky piano music) – Okay, okay.
– Yeah, that kind of vibe. Okay, so Mr. Moore, Nahre and I, we created this song that’s
influenced by James Brown. – Alright.
– And I’d love to play it for you, and tell me what you think. (upbeat funky music) – Yeah!
– Yeah? – Yes, sir.
– Do you hear any– – The funk.
– Any James Brown influence in there?
– Yeah, that’s definitely, I would say, add some
horns to that, get up on. The horns would make it pop.
– Yeah, that would be the extra seasoning on it.
– Yes, sir! What it is, let’s make it funky! – [LA] Okay! – Let us know in the comments
below what you thought of our song and some of
your favorite funky tunes. Also, please subscribe.
(upbeat funky music) (bright music)