Funk began in the late 1960s, when soul music developed a fierce rhythmic drive. Drums and bass guitar came to the fore, playing short, repeated, eminently danceable riffs. The undisputed masters of this sound were James Brown and his band, the JBs, with songs such as ‘Talkin’ Loud & Sayin’ Nothing and ‘I’m Payin’ Taxes, What Am I Buyin’; the latter reflecting the fact that early funk music was often strongly politicized, due to the contemporaneity of the Black Power movement.
At this time, while funk was itself still a fairly new musical form, its influence was beginning to be seen elsewhere. Jazz artists such as Miles Davis were incorporating funky elements in their work, while others, such as Herbie Hancock, fused the two forms to such an extent that a new genre, jazz funk, came into being. As the 1970s progressed, funk became the major form of dance music and spread to Britain, with the funk flag being flown by Scottish group the Average White Band, whose ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ was a hit in both the UK and the USA in 1974. At around the same time, funk became less lyrically concerned with politics, and more with sex (the word ‘funk’ was originally African-American slang for the distinct smell associated with sexual activity); LaBelle’s ‘Lady Marmalade’ and the Ohio Players’ album Honey are good examples here. This overt sexuality was one of the elements that led to disco music growing out of funk in the mid-1970s. With the rise of disco, funk become more extreme, with the leading groups of the time being Parliament and Funkadelic, or P-Funk, as they were collectively known (the personnel of both being almost identical). P-Funk was characterized by a complex, multi-layered sound wrapped in outlandish cartoon and sci-fi imagery, with characters such as Sir Nose D’Voidoffunk and Starchild adding to the sense of funk as being detached from the everyday world.
In the early 1980s, the complex P-Funk sound gave way to a more stripped down style, epitomized by groups such as Cameo and Zapp, while simultaneously the slick production values of bands like Mezzoforte and Level 42 led to a surge in popularity in jazz funk. Throughout of the 1980s and 1990s, the mainstay of funk has been in its strong influence on rap music, with all the varying styles of funk being much sampled by hip hop producers.Tags: funk music, funk style, Jazz artists