Hip hop was born when DJs began rapping over dance records, and no dance records were better suited to rapping than those that included a “breakbeat”—a drum break that could be repeated almost endlessly as an accompaniment to rapping. It is impossible to know who first employed “The Funky Drummer” in this fashion, but it was so heavily entrenched in hip-hop’s DNA by 1989 that Public Enemy’s Chuck D. could call it out by name in “Fight The Power” as shorthand for hip-hop itself: “1989! The number, another summer/Sound of ‘The Funky Drummer.’“
“Funky Drummer” wasn’t so much a song as it was an extended groove. Like many of the James Brown records on which Clyde Stubblefield played, “Funky Drummer” had its beginnings in an ad-libbed jam before a planned recording session—a jam that the Godfather of Soul walked in on and declared ready to record. Instead of “lyrics,” “Funky Drummer” features James Brown sitting back and letting the groove hold center stage while interjecting the occasional bit of shouted encouragement to one of his individual band members. When he gets to Stubblefield, Brown lets it be known that he doesn’t want a fancy solo, but more of the incredibly funky underlying beat: “”Don’t turn it loose,” he can be heard saying, “’cause it’s a mother.”
The eight bars of drumming that followed on this day in 1969 went on to become the mother of all breakbeats.