By Shayne McGregor
Where would rap music be today if it weren’t for Clyde Stubblefield’s drum break on James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” (1970)? The influence of Clyde Stubblefield’s drum solo on the American rap scene has been well documented, and, there’s a good chance that without Stubblefield’s twenty second drum solo, rap music in a speculative world in which “Funky Drummer” didn’t exist would be unrecognizable to modern-day rap enthusiasts. Why do I say this? Well, a search of Brown’s “Funky Drummer” on whosampled.com reveals that since its initial release on the 1986 compilation album In the Jungle Groove, “Funky Drummer” has been sampled on over 1,400 songs, the majority of which belonging to, using the website’s categorizing system, the Hip-Hop/Rap/R&B genre.
Given the sheer diffusiveness of“Funky Drummer” since the mid 1980s, it would follow that our whole conception of what a “rap sound” is would be different had it not been for Stubblefield’s drum break. And since Stubblefield’s passing in February of 2017, there has been a concerted effort to recognize and pay homage to Stubblefield’s impact on the American music and pop-cultural scene more broadly. Take for example genius.com’s recent video detailing the sample history of the Stubblefield drum break.
Or even, shortly following his passing, amoeba.com’s list of artists who have sampled Stubblefield over the years.
While these efforts at mass cataloging are important for simply giving credit where credit is due, what they potentially obscure are the nuances of Stubblefield’s influence. By reducing Stubblefield’s impact to a number, such as 1441 songs or a series of lists, we actually aren’t able to tell the full story of Stubblefield’s impact on international artists who are recording music overseas. While this project doesn’t aim to tell the full story of Stubblefield’s global impact, it does hope to begin the conversation of explaining Stubblefield’s global influence by telling the story of the roots/routes of transnational/international migration and globalization that allow for the transformation of Clyde Stubblefield’s drum solo from a twenty-second break beat to a convention in global music production. Additionally, using Stubblefield’s drum break as a point of reference, we can also potentially tell the story of how sampling techniques are being duplicated and revised once they move from one country to another, as well as from one musical genre to another.
Beginning with “Funky Drummer,” we are introduced to the twenty-second drum solo that would go on to influence over 1,400 other songs. While “Funky Drummer” is a really good song, those just interested in Clyde Stubblefield’s drum solo should jump to 4:25.
While “Funky Drummer” was released as a single by King Records in 1970, the song wouldn’t see an album release until 1986 with In the Jungle Groove
Not only did 1986 bring us In the Jungle Groove, but it also brought us one of the first tracks to sample the Stubblefield break. I’m referring to dancehall artist Daddy Freddie’s “Born Christian” track which was released on his 1986 album, Body Lasher. According to the website, whosampled, the Stubblefield sample appears at :36, :51, and 1:18.
Jumping ahead to 1999, we see the release of Japanese American Utada Hikaru’s first Japanese studio album, First Love. This album features the track “Give Me a Reason,” a track on which the Stubblefield sample can be heard immediately.
2012 sees the release of Scottish singer/songwriter Emeli Sandé first album, Our Version of Events. This album features a track entitled “heaven” which, like “Give Me A Reason,” samples Clyde Stubblefield right from the beginning.
What I have provided so far as examples of Clyde Stubblefield’s global reach is only the tip of the iceberg. There are several other international artists artists and musical groups who have sampled Clyde Stubblefield. While the roots/routes between Stubblefield’s drum break and these other artists remain untraced, what I have provided so far reveals that Stubblefield’s impact on music was global from the very start. Though, how to begin tracing the roots and routes remain a question. Any thoughts on how to begin this research would be appreciated.