Over the years, the music industry has evolved significantly, with more genres and subgenres taking root and flourishing globally.
The 1960s and 70s are some of the notable decades that inspired modern-day songs. Funk Music, a genre of African American origin, emerged in the 1960s and became popular in the 1970s and ’80s.
But what is funk music? Herein, you’ll learn the definition of funk music, its characteristics, top examples, and more.
What Is Funk Music?
Funk is a rhythmic and dance-oriented music genre that incorporates elements of popular genres such as jazz, soul, and R&B. This music genre emerged in the late 1950s and early-1960s from African American communities and gained popularity in the ’70s and early ’80s.
Funk emphasized an interplay between strong bass lines and drums that resulted in grooves. This was unlike the other established genres that emphasized melody, chord progression, and arrangements.
Due to the incorporation of bass in funk music, bass players were among the key players that made this genre stand out.
Bass players used a combination of high and low-note rhythms with slap playing technique. Guitarists used a mix of fast, strumming patterns and complex jazz chords that blended with the other elements, creating danceable funk music.
Funk Music Characteristics
Funk music has several defining characteristics, making it a unique standalone genre and a significant influence on other subgenres.
- Syncopation: Funk music uses syncopated drum beats and strong bass lines accented by guitar and horns to create a groove. Funk stresses these weak musical notes instead of the strong ones to make the song easy to dance. James Brown used these funk musicals with his popular hit, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” which he performed with his band.
- Seventh cord variants: Funk music is known to use densely voiced chords. Musicians rely on the 7th chords to produce densely voiced chords and their variants, such as the 9th, 11th, and 13th.
- Using bass guitars to play groove lines: Funk music emphasizes an interplay between bass lines and other musical instruments to create grooves. The bass players use bass guitars to produce rhythms needed to create grooves. No wonder famous funk musicians like the Family Stone, Bootsy Collins, and Larry Graham are bassists.
- Drumbeats are unusual and unpredictable: When creating grooves, drumbeats depend on the drummer’s emotions and feelings.
- Use of a wide range of keyboards: Funk music uses keyboards such as electric piano, acoustic piano, clavinet, funk synthesizers, and Hammond B-3 organ.
- Energetic Performances to create black aesthetics: Funk music emphasizes building black aesthetics by using performers’ shouts, moans, yells, and colorful costumes.
7 Examples of Funk Music
After answering the question, “What is funk music?” you may be interested in some of the best funk music. Below are examples of funk music you may want to consider in your playlist:
“Superstition” by Stevie Wonder
“Superstition” is one of Stevie Wonder’s most significant hits, released in 1972. Wonder preaches about the futility of being superstitious. He affirms that being superstitious is believing in things you don’t understand. Wonder in the song’s lyrics provides popular superstitions of the day.
For example, the “13-month-old baby” that got “seven years of bad luck” after “breaking the looking glass.” To most babies of that age, breaking the looking glass is one of the good things they love. And to rid yourself of bad luck, you should do other superstitious things such as washing “your face and hands.”
Wonder asserts holding to such superstitions you don’t understand will make you suffer more.
“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” by James Brown
“Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” is James Brown’s first distinctive funk style, released in 1965. Brown calls everyone to see how he has invented a new genre in his “brand new bag.” The opening lines invite everyone to see and dance to this new music.
The song is full of slang, but that’s one distinctive feature of funk music. Despite being an old man, he’s not a ‘drag’ clinging to the same old styles. He claims that his new style of music is “not too fancy” or outrageous but flawless and suitable on the dance floor.
Brown is confident with his new genre and asserts that people should not play him for a fool. He calls out those who belittle his invention by telling them, “see you later.” Brown is confident that his new genre of music will become a success.
“Super Freak” by Rick James
“Super Freak” by Rick James is about a super freak girl. From the first verse, we know she’s a street girl. This gill is the type you can’t “take home to mother.” The girl welcomes James to her room every time he shows up. He says she’s kinky and young and loves “to taste her.”
Apparently, this girl “with her girlfriends” knows how best to please the “boys.” While James doesn’t expound how super freak the girl is, we know she’s sexually attractive “from her head” and “to her toenails.”
She pleases all the “boys in the band” and doesn’t mind group fun. she says she can manage a trio in “room 714.” And when James gets to her room, she has “incense, wine, and candles” for a freaky scene.
“Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” by Parliament-Funkadelic
“Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” is a 1975 funk song by Parliament-Funkadelic released as the second in the album Mothership Connection. Parliament-Funkadelic group asks its audience to “tear the roof off” and “give up the funk” because there’s something more worthwhile to consider.
The song has a few chants repeated multiple times. The Parliament members felt that the music industry shut them out, demanding to be allowed to get in. it’s no wonder they repeat the phrase, “Let us in,” and “We’ll turn this mutha out,” more often.
Parliament members want the music industry to take control and give up the negative attitude/emotions and let them in because they have a better rhythm.
“Brick House” by Commodores
“Brick House” is funk music by Commodores, released in 1977. The song tells a story of a female who’s full-figured, sexually attractive, and in any guy’s imagination. The “lady’s stacked,” meaning she has large buttocks and bust, and let’s “it all hang out.”
The woman knows she has everything a woman needs to win a man. She uses “stuff” to get a bust size of thirty-six, a waist size of twenty-four, and a hips size of thirty-six. Her clothes make her sexually attractive and make old men “wish for younger days.”
“Get Down On It” by Kool & the Gang
“Get Down On It” is a funk song by Kool & the Gang released in 1981. The song is an invitation to everyone to move their bodies and dance.
The song asks everyone what they want to do in the opening lyrics. It goes on to ask how you want to do it if you really want to dance. Will you dance “by standing on the wall?” If you want to dance, you must move away from the wall.
“Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson
“Don’t Stop Until You Get Enough” is one of Michael Jackson’s songs released in 1979. The song’s message, don’t stop till you get enough can be interpreted differently – from love to sex.
Jackson says he wants this love to keep on because the feeling is so powerful and makes him satisfied. He’s feeling lovely, and his fever and temperature are rising due to the force the feeling comes with.
He wants the lover to keep touching him, so he can “feel on fire.” The sensation is high, and he wants love to take them through the hours. He calls heartbreak an enemy to be despised and wants love to be eternal.
5 Top Funk Musicians
Below are the top five funk musicians of all time.
James Brown (1993-2006) was a famous American singer, songwriter, musician, dancer, bandleader, and record producer.
He’s the central pioneer of funk music, introducing his first funk song, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” in 1965. His popularity grew in the 1960s after releasing other hit singles such as “I Got You (I Feel Good).”
Brown’s music career lasted for more than 50 years, and throughout his career, he influenced the growth of several music genres.
By the 1970s, he had established funk as a standalone genre after forming a band called the J.B.s. With this band, he released several hits such as “The Payback” and “Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine.” Brown sold over 50 million records throughout his career.
Steve Wonder, born Stevland Hardaway Morris (1950), is an American singer and songwriter. He’s one of the pioneers of soul, rhythm and blues, pop, funk, gospel, and jazz. His influence across those genres made them develop significantly.
His fifteenth studio album, Talking Book, released in 1972, featured his most distinctive funk song, “Superstition.”
Wonder released other funk songs such as “Higher Ground,” “Maybe Your Baby,” and “You Have Done Nothin’,” among others. Throughout his career, Wonder has sold over 100 million records.
Commodores is an American band that released popular soul and funk music in the late 1970s and mid-1980s. The co-lead singer, Lionel Richie, helped the band have a successful music career in the ’70s through the early ’80s.
The band’s biggest hits include some funk-influenced dance songs such as “Brick House,” “Lady (You Bring Me Up),” “Fancy Dancer,” and “Too Hot ta Trot.” Throughout its career, the band won one Grammy Award and has sold over 70 million albums globally.
Parliament-Funkadelic is an American group of musicians primarily consisting of Parliament and Funkadelic funk bands. The group was headed by George Clinton and had a distinctive funk style that drew elements from science-fiction, psychedelic culture, outlandish fashion, and surreal humor.
The group’s best albums and hits include Maggot Brain, Mothership Connection, One Nation Under a Groove, and hits such as “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)” and “Flash Light.” They also greatly influenced the development of other genres, such as hip-hop, post-punk, and techno.
Rick James, born James Ambrose Johnson Jr. (1948-2004), was an African-American singer, songwriter, and record producer. James’ biggest crossover single was “Super Freak,” which combined the elements of funk, rock, disco, and new wave.
He also released other funk songs such as “Give It to Me Baby,” “Mary Jane,” and “Cold Blooded,” among others. James released other hits in genres such as R&B, soul, and doo-wop. Throughout his career, James sold over 2.6 million albums worldwide.
The History of Funk Music
Funk music emerged in the late 1950s and became well-established in the 1960s. Its pioneer, James Brown, created a signature rhythm and directed his band, The Famous Flames, to play “on the one.” This signature rhythm emphasized the strong downbeats to complete each song.
The success of fun in the late ’60s led to the emergence of several bands such as Parliament-Funkadelic (which developed the P-Funk style), Family Stone (which brought the psychedelic element), and Sly. Funk’s peak period was in the 1970s, merging with other genres such as jazz, disco, and rock.
Several genres that emerged in the ’60s and ’70s became less prevalent in the ’80s, but funk continued thriving as it absorbed the decade’s technological advancements. Various icon artists such as James Brown, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Rick James helped funk become more popular in the ’80s.
Funk became less commercial in the 1990s and 2000s but was still an element in popular subgenres such as R&B funk, metal funk, and rock funk. Ice Cube was the first artist to use G-funk in the 2000s, raising its popularity in live concerts and dance clubs.
In recent years, funk is not as popular as it used to be in the ’70s and ’80s. However, funk’s influence in its subgenres is still felt today. Artists like Kendrick Lamar (who uses P-Funk) and Childish Gambino use some elements of funk in their hit songs.
What Is Funk Music? Final Thoughts
As a standalone genre, funk was a popular music style in the 1970s and 1980s. This style of music uses syncopated bass lines and drums accented by other equipment such as guitar and horns to create grooves.
The emergence of funk in the ’60s paved the way for other subgenres that are still popular today. The genre led to the success of many artists and bands whose songs are worth your time.