Top 5 Funk Artists of All Time
We took an informal poll on some social media with a decent-sized number of respondents and here's the findings. The following are the top five best funk artists/bands of all time according to the group polled.
James Brown – He may be known as the Godfather of Soul, but James Brown gets even more musical pioneering credit than that as the Founding Father of Funk. Brown was one of the main culprits in the transition of R&B into soul. From there, he took the next giant step pretty much alone, leading soul into the new age of funk in the late '60s and early '70s. Having begun laying the foundation of the genre early on with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" and "Cold Sweat," Brown really brought it home with "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine." The bold groove was unmistakably funky, the arrangement roomy enough to hold it. When he later teamed with the Collins brothers -- guitarist Catfish and bassist Bootsy – his sound got harder, chunkier, with more bottom. Brown has been so thoroughly influential that critics have “hailed his innovations as among the most important in all of rock or soul.” Papa surely needs a brand new bag to carry that much genius around.
Sly & the Family Stone – As a brilliant conglomeration of soul, R&B, rock and psychedelia influences, Sly & the Family Stone were all about fusion, musical and racial, and they were the first fully integrated band in history with both white and black members. This was family with a capital 'F'. The joyous music incorporated group vocals, syncopated rhythms, and lively horns as it evolved into a pop-infused funk with their 1969 release Stand!. As the new decade came into play, Sly sank into a darker space and the tunes took on a more militant Black Power posture. This harder funk sound leaned heavily on an elastic bass and almost imperceptible vocals. Though the drugs took their toll, Sly is absolutely credited with providing a basis from which urban soul and the future of funk could emerge.
George Clinton – With Parliament, Funkadelic, and the P.Funk All-Stars, George Clinton is considered the third god in the funk holy trinity. Whereas Brown went sparse, Clinton went big with musicians jamming on the same groove for as long as they could hold it together. Clinton used the same collective of musicians in both Parliament and Funkadelic to revolutionize the sounds of funk by adding in flavors from Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, and Sly Stone. This was the party music that wound its way into the seedlings of disco and, eventually, hip hop. Together, they enjoyed over 40 R&B hits and three platinum records in the 1970s. Clinton carried on as a solo artist and with P.Funk into the '80s and signed on with Prince's Paisley Park label in 1989. He continues to funk it up and collaborate with younger artists in order to keep the genre fresh and relevant.
Rick James – As Motown Records started to fall out of fashion in the late '70s, Rick James came along. His early R&B career proceeded in fits and starts until 1981's Street Songs. On the strength of the funkified hits “Give It to Me Baby” and “Super Freak,” the album went platinum. Although he kept his solo career going, he collaborated with other artists as well as produced Teena Marie, the Mary Jane Girls, and the Temptations, breathing new life into the career of the latter. His work at Motown done, James hopped over to Reprise Records where he tried unsuccessfully to kick off a new sub-genre, "punk funk," via his number one hit "Loosey's Rap," which featured rapper Roxanne Shante. Rap and hip hop had too strong a hold. Then, in 1990, MC Hammer used “Super Freak” as the musical bed for his super-hit "U Can't Touch This." What could have been a resurgence for James was hindered by drug and legal troubles that plagued him until his death in 2004.
Cameo – Between their hard-driving funk sound and their exuberant stage presence, Cameo has earned more than a few comparisons to the Parliament/Funkadelic crew. Still, throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Cameo kept one step ahead of the game. Codpiece-wearing frontman Larry Blackmon led the band through a run of R&B hits that ranged from "Funk Funk" off their debut to "I Just Want to Be" and "Word Up," which even made it to number six on the pop charts. What was their biggest hit was also, quite possibly, their biggest limit. “Word Up” became the musical albatross that they couldn't get past and the group slid quietly out of sight in the early 1990s.
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