How James Brown Influenced Hip-Hop

James brown standing in front of a microphone

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James Brown (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006) was a founding father of funk and one of the most important American musicians of all time.

Brown was a music icon and innovator. He was popularly referred to as the "Godfather of Soul."

James Brown's Legacy

Brown had both the message and the music to live up to that title. But he also put the "Good Foot" forward with a funky new sound that later became known to the world as "hip-hop." It's no coincidence that Mr. Brown is one of the most sampled artists in hip-hop (peep the "Get Up, Get Into It And Get Involved" sample on Nas' "Where Are They Now" from Hip-Hop Is Dead) till date. 

His rhythmic innovations had a major influence on most popular music styles, including R & B, soul, funk, disco, rock 'n' roll and, of course, rap. 

If you've heard any number of essential rap albums from the 1980s or 1990s, you've probably encountered a James Brown sample. From BDP to BDK, hip-hoppers have inserted an generous array of Brown-based cuts into their songs.

Brown's 1970 masterwork "Funky Drummer" remains one of the most cribbed songs in hip-hop. The drums have served as the backbone for many songs by the likes of Nas, Dr. Dre and Public Enemy.

Kanye West, a sampling genius, has borrowed from Brown's "Funky President" on multiple occasions ("New God Flow," "Clique").

Brown was respected in nearly every genre: funk, soul, rock and, of course, hip-hop. When it comes to hip-hop, James Brown is the musical core on which nearly every rap beat was built.

Rap producers made an art out of sampling Soulbrother #1. Brown blessed us with the pioneering rhythm that spawned the sound of hip-hop. He really was the godfather of hip-hop.

Brown's influence wasn't always in musical form. For instance, you can hear the spirit of 1973's "The Payback" all over Kendrick Lamar's "King Kunta." 

Ways James Brown Influenced Hip-Hop

  • His call-and-response style influenced hip-hop choruses.
  • His dynamic rhythms on earlier records inspired break beats and funk drumming.
  • Some of his musical showmanship and footwork inspired young breakdancers.
  • "Funky Drummer," James Brown's 1969 recording with drummer Clyde Stubblefield, is a frequently sampled break in hip-hop.

Through groundbreaking grooves like "Funky Drummer," "Make It Funky," and "Give It Up or Turn it a Loose," Brown was creating the future on which hip-hop would spring. Brown shares an undeniable kinship with hip-hop.

Best James Brown Samples

  • Sampled Source: Bobby Byrd – “Hot Pants (I’m Coming, I’m Coming, I’m Coming)”
  • Sampled On: Big Daddy Kane - "Raw"
  • Sample Source: Bobby Byrd – “I Know You Got Soul”
  • Song: Eric B. & Rakim – “I Know You Got Soul”
  • Sample Source: James Brown - "Funky Drummer
  • Sampled On: Dr. Dre - "Let Me Ride" | Nas - "Get Down"
  • Sample Source: James Brown - "Funky President"
  • Sampled On: GOOD Music - "New God Flow" | Big Sean - "Clique"
  • Sample Source: James Brown - "The Payback"
  • Sampled On: Joe Budden - "Pump It Up"
  • Sample Source: James Brown - "Say It Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud"
  • Sampled On: Cypress Hill - "Insane in the Membrane"
  • Sample Source: "Get Up Offa That Thing"
  • Sampled On: Public Enemy - "Rebel Without a Pause"
  • Sample Source: James Brown - "Hot Pants"
  • Sampled On: Gang Starr - "2 Steps Ahead"

James Brown will always be remembered as a seminal force in the evolution of hip-hop.

May his soul rest in peace.