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funk

funk1 / ngk/ inf. • n. (also blue funk) [in sing.] a state of depression: I sat absorbed in my own blue funk. ∎ chiefly Brit. a state of great fear or panic: are you in a blue funk about running out of things to say? funk2 • n. 1. a style of popular dance music of U.S. black origin, based on elements of blues and soul and having a strong rhythm that typically accentuates the first beat in the bar. 2. [in sing.] inf., dated a strong musty smell of sweat or tobacco. PHRASAL VERBS: funk something up give music elements of such a style.

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funk

funk Style or energy of popular music. It was originally employed in the 1950s to summarize a form of modern jazz which, although influenced by be-bop harmonies, emphasized modern melodies. Funk developed into an independent form with artists such as James Brown and George Clinton.

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funk

funk cowering fear, panic. XVIII (first recorded as Oxford Univ. sl.). perh. identical with sl. funk tobacco smoke.
So vb. show fear. XVIII.

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funk

funkbonk, clonk, conk, cronk, honk, Leblanc, pétanque, plonk, tronc, zonk •honky-tonk • oink • Munch •bunk, chunk, clunk, drunk, dunk, flunk, funk, gunk, hunk, junk, Monck, monk, plunk, punk, shrunk, skunk, slunk, spunk, stunk, sunk, thunk, trunk •chipmunk • quidnunc • cyberpunk •punch-drunk • countersunk

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Funk

Funk

A rhythmically-driven, bass-heavy form of Black music, funk provided the bridge between 1960s soul music and late-1970s Disco. Emerging in America at the same time as the civil rights movement, funk became implicitly associated with Black pride because of its unapologetic celebration of traits that were often negatively associated with Black people. The key attributes that separated funk from other forms of popular music were expressiveness, unbridled sexual energy and a raw, gritty attitude. After its 1970s commercial heyday, funk continued to influence a variety of genres, most notably hiphop—with the massive back-catalog of funk records providing a large reservoir of different sounds.

As a musical form, credit for funk's origins is overwhelmingly given to James Brown. As a bandleader, he developed the use of the guitar, horns, and keyboards as purely rhythmic instruments used to support the bass and drum rhythm section. One of the first funk recordings is considered to be James Brown's 1965 single "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," which provided the syncopated blueprint for many of his later recordings such as "Cold Sweat," "Funky Drummer," and—the quintessential Black pride song—"Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud." The rhythmic experimentalism of these songs would widely be imitated, and expanded upon, by the likes of Sly & the Family Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic and Curtis Mayfield.

As a genre, funk's lineage can be traced relatively easily. But as a term, "funk's" origins are more unclear, though the following explanations are most likely. Just like jazz and rock 'n' roll, funk was used as a euphemism for sexual activity in many African-American communities throughout much of the twentieth century. Funk was used to connote something that is dirty and sexual, and by the late 1960s it soon became associated with the most earthy, gritty, and raw dancable forms of Black music.

Though it is possible to overemphasize Brown's importance in the development of funk, it is hard to do because many of the players pulled into Brown's orbit and schooled by him went on to become key players in the genre. Most notably, Fred Wesley, Pee Wee Ellis, Maceo Parker, and Bootsy Collins went on to play in Parliament-Funkadelic, Fred Wesley's Horny Horns, Bootsy Collins' Rubber Band, and a slew of lesser-known but no less significant outfits.

Funk was rife with fusion. Jazz musicians immediately gravitated toward funk, with Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Smith, and Donald Byrd (who formed the popular Blackbyrds in the 1970s) pioneering Jazz-fusion. Jimmy Castor and Rufus Thomas used funk to score a number of weird, dancable novelty hits, while other acts like War, Graham Central Station, and Mandrill fused rock with funk by adding a heavier beat and more distorted guitars.

Artists like Bootsy Collins, particularly during his tenure in the George Clinton-masterminded operation Parliament-Funkadelic, pushed the envelope of what was acceptable in Black and popular music. And others like Sly & the Family Stone blurred the lines between rock, soul, and funk music on dense, high concept albums like There's a Riot Goin' On. Silky-smooth soul stars soon incorporated funk into their music, with musicians like Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, and Marvin Gaye making some of the best music of their careers using strains of funk.

Though the genre was dominated by men, which was typical of any genre of the time, Millie Jackson, Betty Davis, and Jean Knight proved that women could add a female-centered perspective to the music, and still be just as tough and assertive as their male counterparts.

By the late 1970s, the experimental left-of-center nature of funk had been largely smoothed over by the standardized pulsating beat of disco. During the 1980s, when slickness ruled the R & B and pop airwaves, the raw crudeness that characterized funk made it a dirty word again—commercially speaking, at least. At this time, many of the most essential funk recordings had gone out of print, and interest in the genre had waned. But the emergence of hip-hop, with its widespread use of 1960s and 1970s funk samples, rejuvenated interest in classic funk recordings by the late 1980s. Referring to a hip-hop song by Eric B. & Rakim that sampled James Brown, hip-hop group Stetsasonic rapped in their song 1988 song, "Talkin' All That Jazz": "Tell the Truth/James Brown was old/Til Eric B. came out with 'I Got Soul'/Rap brings back old R & B/If we would not/People could have forgot."

As the result of hip-hop artists sampling old funk records and the extensive reissues of funk albums on compact disc, Bootsy Collins, George Clinton, Maceo Parker, James Brown, and others maintained modestly successful careers throughout the 1990s, touring and releasing records.

—Kembrew McLeod

Further Reading:

George, Nelson. The Death of Rhythm and Blues. New York, Plume, 1988.

Vincent, Rickey. Funk: The Music, the People and the Rhythm of The One. New York, St. Martin's Griffin, 1986.

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Funk

Funk



Funk is a style of music that emerged out of the African American community in the early 1970s. It represents a chapter in the long evolution of black music beginning with blues (see entry under 1920s—Music in volume 2) and jazz (see entry under 1900s—Music in volume 1) and continuing to gospel, rhythm and blues (R&B; see entry under 1940s—Music in volume 3), and soul. Like these other forms of music, funk was an expression of black popular culture that sought to recapture the essentials of the black music experience away from a watered-down version that was marketed more to whites than to blacks.

Funk's immediate predecessor was soul music. As soul music matured in the mid-1960s, some black performers began experimenting with a new sound that relied on heavy bass rhythms and drum beats. The most important of these innovators was James Brown (1933–). Known as the "Godfather of Soul," Brown is also widely acknowledged as the father of funk music. As Brown's style evolved from a more gospel-influenced soul style to a harder-edged rhythmic style, funk was born. The term "funk" was one that he used in such songs as "Funky Drummer" and others. The word referred to sexual activity but also to a general attitude that was both tough and full of style. By the late 1960s, funk was emerging as a tougher, rougher cousin to soul music.

Funk's years of popularity came in the 1970s. Funk, like most great musical styles, proved that it could move in many different directions at once. Parliament/Funkadelic, led by George Clinton (1941–), produced a version of funk that incorporated elements of black science fiction in such albums as Mothership Connection with down and dirty funk in such songs as "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)" and "One Nation Under a Groove." Kool & the Gang produced a more danceable style in songs such as "Jungle Boogie," as did the Commodores with their hit "Brick House." Earth Wind & Fire offered a more polished version of funk. Style was also an important element in funk, with Clinton's outrageous and futuristic costumes and Earth Wind & Fire's mixture of vaguely ancient Egyptian and African styles. Live funk shows were always big productions full of visual spectacles as well as great music. While funk continued as a style throughout the 1980s and 1990s and beyond, its heyday ended with the rise of disco in the late 1970s.


—Timothy Berg


For More Information

George, Nelson. The Death of Rhythm and Blues. New York: Plume, 1988.

McEwen, Joe. "Funk." In The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll. Edited by Jim Miller. New York: Rolling Stone Press, 1980.

Various Artists. Millenium Funk Party. Rhino Records, 1998. CD.

Vincent, Rickey. Funk: The Music, the People and the Rhythm of the One. New York: St. Martins/Griffin, 1986.

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