DAA Daily

The History of Funk

By Ana Chauhan, Daily Digest Editor, The Pawprint

In the context of music, funk refers to the style of urban dance music driven by prominent bass lines and drum beats, complemented by any number of rhythmic instruments. 

The development of the word funk derived from jazz improvisation which referred to a truthful reflection of African-American voices. The word itself refers to the unpleasant environments and tales of tragedies that this group went through. 

In the late 1960s, James Brown’s band established what’s now recognized as a classic funk beat. Whilst traditional jazz emphasized the backbeat, funk aggressively accentuated the first note. Similar bands such as Sly and the Family Stone alongside Brown started creating musical foundations with funk rhythms with lyrics that took on tough themes. 

The disco music of the 1970s made funk the musical standard for many bands such as Kool and the Gang and Ohio Players. Similarly, soul singers such as Stevie Wonder started accompanying the rhythm with poetic lyrics. Many bands during this time expressed their love of funk which they saw as a means of personal liberation. 

Artists such as Prince and Rick James popularized funk in the 1980s by coating it with more sexual lyrics, whilst in music popular with the African-American population, the beat became a standard. Its influence spread to other musical genres, with rap music sampling beats from popular funk songs. This is when it grew in standing amongst the hip-hop scene. Due to hip-hop’s influence on culture, funk ended up providing the base for most American music of the 1990s.

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