James Brown is known by many as the “Godfather of Soul,” although one of his primary influences was actually on the creation of funk music. His songs are unique, often appealing to some fans who do not traditionally enjoy soul, funk, or rhythm and blues.
Brown was able to craft his sound from the ground up, working not only as a musician but also as a producer and songwriter. In this capacity, he often performed songs that showcased his backing musicians, such as percussionist Clyde Stubblefield on the song “Funky Drummer.” He also recorded songs such as “Out of Sight” and “I Got You (I Feel Good),” both of which featured grooves that were considered relatively unconventional at the time of their release in the 1960s.
Among James Brown’s influences are many hip hop artists who have sampled his lyrics. The first notable example was “Eric B. Is President” by Eric B. and Rakim, which sampled the song “Funky President.” Numerous hip hop artists followed suit, and many believe James Brown to be one of the most sampled artists of all time. Even many hip hop artists who have not sampled Brown’s music have tried to achieve a similar feeling to that of his records, especially artists such as the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J during their time with producer Rick Rubin. Much of this style revolved around giving each instrument (bass, drums, guitar, etc.) its own moment in the spotlight, creating a more dynamic melody.
This aspect of Brown’s style notably influenced Rubin’s production of the album BloodSugarSexMagik by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. In fact, Brown’s style of funk influenced a number of rock acts. He actually performed with rock musicians on multiple occasions, sharing the stage with the Rolling Stones in 1964 for a concert film entitled The T.A.M.I. Show. Brown’s ability to mix genres such as blues, funk and soul was comparable to the style of Little Richard, right down to the edgy vocals and rhythmic instrumentation.
It wasn’t just Brown’s sound that was influential, but also the manner in which he worked the stage. Even in the 1980s, long after he had established his career, he was still known as one of the better dancers performing funk and R&B music. By that point in time, he knew he was the Godfather of Soul, and often accompanied himself on an organ with his title emblazoned across the side of it. He was all about showmanship, and he brought immense energy to the stage at every point in his career.
James Brown is largely considered to be one of a kind. While certain aspects of his style might be compared to Little Richard, and other aspects might be compared to George Clinton, his style was still unique from that of other artists. Nobody had used the type of funk grooves that he used before he hit the stage, and even his style of dance was its own animal. He performed nearly right up until his death due to pneumonia and congestive heart failure in 2006. His manager has stated that up until then, Brown rarely allowed illness to get in the way of a show. From beginning to end, he was all about performance.
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