You might know that Madison's own Clyde Stubblefield was James Brown's Funky Drummer. But here's something you might not know: The drum solos Stubblefield performed on Brown's records were turned into extended DJ breakbeats by Bronx hip-hop pioneer Clive Campbell, a.k.a. Kool Herc, in the early 1970s.
This Friday at the Memorial Union Terrace, DJ Kool Herc won't have to sample Stubblefield's beats. The two perform live on the same stage in an encore of their 2006 Madison appearance. The show will serve to welcome to campus the fourth cohort of UW-Madison's First Wave Spoken Word and Hip Hop Arts Learning Community.
Wikipedia calls Kool Herc "a Jamaican-born DJ who is credited with originating hip-hop music." In 1973, when Herc was 18, he hosted dance parties in the Bronx high-rise where he lived. His props were two turntables, an amplifier and copies of his favorite funk records.
With duplicate records on each turntable, Kool Herc isolated and extended the song's percussion break. His innovation gave dancers more beats and more time to improvise their moves. "Break dancing" was born.
Sampling and looping break beats laid the musical foundation for hip-hop. And arguably, no break beat has been sampled more in hip-hop than the Clyde Stubblefield percussion solo heard on the 1970 James Brown single "Funky Drummer." You can hear it in many of the genre's classic tracks, including Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" and "Jump" by Kriss Kross.
The new First Wave students won't just get a glimpse of hip-hop's past Friday night. Also on the lineup is AfroFlow, a cross-genre musical ensemble led by the Ethiopian-born spoken-word artist Mike-E. AfroFlow's sound is most easily filed under world music, but the band reveals the way African styles have influenced a broad range of modern music.
"I can't think of a better example than Mike-E and AfroFlow of why hip-hop is an evolving academic and performance discipline," says Willie Ney, executive director of UW-Madison's Office of Multicultural Arts Initiatives, which oversees First Wave.
That may be true. But however hip-hop evolves, I get the feeling that one Madisonian's "funky drummer" sample will always be part of it.