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Beastie Boys Release 'To The 5 Boroughs' Deluxe Edition In Honor Of 15th Anniversary
"For the occasion, twelve rare tracks have just been released digitally in addition to the original 15 songs on the album," the group said in a tweet
GRAMMY-winning hip-hop group the Beastie Boys are celebrating 15 years of their GARMMY-nominated To The 5 Boroughs LP with the first-time digital release of the 15 songs on the album and 12 unreleased rare tracks.
"Hello everybody - To the 5 Boroughs came out 15 years ago today," the group said in a tweet on Friday, June 15. "For the occasion, twelve rare tracks have just been released digitally in addition to the original 15 songs on the album."
Photo: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
GRAMMY Rewind: Kendrick Lamar Honors Hip-Hop's Greats While Accepting Best Rap Album GRAMMY For 'To Pimp a Butterfly' In 2016
Upon winning the GRAMMY for Best Rap Album for 'To Pimp a Butterfly,' Kendrick Lamar thanked those that helped him get to the stage, and the artists that blazed the trail for him.
Updated Friday Oct. 13, 2023 to include info about Kendrick Lamar's most recent GRAMMY wins, as of the 2023 GRAMMYs.
A GRAMMY veteran these days, Kendrick Lamar has won 17 GRAMMYs and has received 47 GRAMMY nominations overall. A sizable chunk of his trophies came from the 58th annual GRAMMY Awards in 2016, when he walked away with five — including his first-ever win in the Best Rap Album category.
This installment of GRAMMY Rewind turns back the clock to 2016, revisiting Lamar's acceptance speech upon winning Best Rap Album for To Pimp A Butterfly. Though Lamar was alone on stage, he made it clear that he wouldn't be at the top of his game without the help of a broad support system.
"First off, all glory to God, that's for sure," he said, kicking off a speech that went on to thank his parents, who he described as his "those who gave me the responsibility of knowing, of accepting the good with the bad."
He also extended his love and gratitude to his fiancée, Whitney Alford, and shouted out his Top Dawg Entertainment labelmates. Lamar specifically praised Top Dawg's CEO, Anthony Tiffith, for finding and developing raw talent that might not otherwise get the chance to pursue their musical dreams.
"We'd never forget that: Taking these kids out of the projects, out of Compton, and putting them right here on this stage, to be the best that they can be," Lamar — a Compton native himself — continued, leading into an impassioned conclusion spotlighting some of the cornerstone rap albums that came before To Pimp a Butterfly.
To Pimp a Butterfly singles "Alright" and "These Walls" earned Lamar three more GRAMMYs that night, the former winning Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song and the latter taking Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (the song features Bilal, Anna Wise and Thundercat). He also won Best Music Video for the remix of Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood."
Watch Lamar's full acceptance speech above, and check back at GRAMMY.com every Friday for more GRAMMY Rewind episodes.
Photos: Larry Busacca/Getty Images; Kevin Winter/Getty Images for The Recording Academy; Brian Ach/Getty Images for Something in the Water; Kimberly White/Getty Images for Hennessy; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Bob Berg/Getty Images; Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images; Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images
A Guide To New York Hip-Hop: Unpacking The Sound Of Rap's Birthplace From The Bronx To Staten Island
The culture and art of hip-hop would not exist if not for NYC. Take a trip through Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island to learn how hip-hop developed sonically by the borough.
New York is indisputably the birthplace of hip-hop, but which of the city's five boroughs has dominated the genre continues to be a spirited debate among its scholars and natives.
The "Boogie Down" Bronx is the origin point of hip-hop history. It’s here Clive Campbell a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc threw a rec room party in 1973 that put hip-hop as we know it in motion. The city's northernmost borough is the home of groundbreaking artists from OGs Grandmaster Flash and Slick Rick, to contemporary stars including Cardi B.
Manhattan also plays a role in hip-hop’s evolution as a playground where rappers intermingled with punks, rockers and the thriving art scene throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s. Elements of each of these developing artforms culminating in the music of the Beastie Boys. And because he is so often referred to as a West Coast rapper, it’s easy to forget Tupac Shakur was born in Manhattan.
Staten Island is, of course, home to the one and only Wu-Tang Clan and its diverse cosmology. Even the suburbs can boast major contributions — Long Island is the home of Public Enemy and Erik B & Rakim; head north of the Bronx to Westchester County, and you'll enter the home of the late rapper DMX.
What’s clear when we look at each borough, is that the culture and art of hip-hop would not exist if not for New York. Without the contributions,style and unique cultures of neighborhoods within Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and Staten, the artform would not have developed into the juggernaut it is today. Press play on the Amazon Music playlist below — or visit Spotify, Pandora and Apple Music — to take an auditory tour of the best of the boroughs.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, hop on the train and travel from borough to borough for its unique history and sounds.
As you examine the breadth of NYC hip-hop, you’ll find artists with a deep and complex relationship with the city. Biz Markie, for example, was born in one area of the city, raised in another, and claimed membership to a crew for a whole other borough. His story, and that of others who deserve many flowers, demonstrate that while hip-hop can be dissected by region and subway line, it’s the Big Apple's density, multiculturalism, an urban innovation that has made it arguably one of America's greatest art forms.
Mass immigration from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in the 1950s made the Bronx the first majority Black and Latino borough in NYC by the mid-'70s. It’s not a coincidence that the Bronx was also woefully unserved by the city government, resulting in bleak economic conditions.
"Kids with little or no resources created something out of nothing," the Funky Four Plus One’s MC Sha Rock told ABC News said of hip-hop's origins. "No matter what was going on around us in New York City at the time, we looked forward to the park jams."
These jams featured breakdancing, DJs mixing, and MCing — all key elements of hip-hop that emerged from house parties and underground venues into a city-wide consciousness. "Hip-hop wasn't called hip-hop in the ‘70s, was called 'going to the jams,'" Sha Rock continued.
A few years before the park jams took off, DJ Kool Herc’s August 1973 rec room party put hip-hop as we know it on the map. Herc took classic records and popular hits, broke down the beats, and invited MCs to chime in over them invoking the Jamaican style of delivery, talking or chanting, usually in a monotone melody, over a rhythm known as "toasting" in reggae.
In 1975, the Bronx Boys Rocking Crew (or TBB) fostered another element of hip-hop when they organized late night tagging sessions. These young graffiti artists brought the color and life of their borough to the rest of the city, as painted subway trains provided moving canvases and controversy.
By the time the park jams were happening, some graffiti crews had expanded into competitive dance. With moves drawn from martial arts, gymnastics, and modern dance, "breaking, popping, and locking" would see b-boys and b-girls become as important as music to hip-hop as an art form. Breaking as an art has continued to flourish and will soon be an Olympic sport.
The borough would go on to boast Kool Keith, KRS One, Big Pun, Fat Joe, and Cardi B, among many others, as acts who have innovated the Bronx’s place in hip-hop culture. The borough is now home to the Universal Hip-Hop Museum and will host events at Sedgwick and a 50 Years of Hip-Hop concert at Yankee Stadium.
In 1990, Brooklyn was New York’s Blackest neighborhood, with 73.1 percent of its Black residents native born. The previous decade had seen Brooklyn rappers rise to prominence in hip-hop, by the end of the 1990s the world’s ear was tuned into Brooklyn.
Known for his use of three turntables, Cutmaster DC's early tracks "Brooklyn's in the House" and "Brooklyn Rocks the Best" were the first to mention Brooklyn as a force in hip-hop music. These early '80s tracks also featured DC's pioneering technique of cutting breaks over Roland TR-909 beats, a marked moment for hip-hop's technical advancement.
Combining speed, style and humor, few would influence hip-hop's syncopation and cadence like Big Daddy Kane. In their 2012 list of The Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time Rolling Stone called Kane "a master wordsmith of rap's late-golden age and a huge influence on a generation of MCs." Within a few years Brooklyn flow would be redefined by the slow deliberative annunciation of the Notorious B.I.G., whose delivery would become one of the most interpolated in rap history.
The styles of both would be emulated and refined by a young Brooklyn rapper named Shawn Carter. The artist later known as Jay-Z attended George Westinghouse High School in downtown Brooklyn, where his classmates included Busta Rhymes, Biggie and DMX — all of whom would play a critical part in the evolution of rap’s delivery styles.
The borough wasn’t only a boys club. MC Lyte, Foxy Brown, and new rappers like Young MA continue to put Brooklyn on the musical map.
The largest Borough by area, Queens boasts the Guiness World Record for most languages spoken and gained the nickname "The World’s Borough" for its diverse population. Whereas Bronx hip-hop was derived from Black American and Caribbean cultures, Queen’s hip-hop samples the world. While the 1970s saw the Bronx give birth to hip-hop, the 1980s saw the eastern borough of Queens mature the art form.
Queen’s hip-hop history has roots in two specific areas: the Queenborough Projects and Hollis. The Queensboro Projects, a.k.a. "The Bridge," were one of the few unsegregated projects in New York. It was also home to Marley Marl, who accidentally discovered sampling while working on a Captain Rock record as a studio intern in the early ‘80s.
"I was actually trying to get a riff off of a record. I made a mistake and got the snare in there before the sound came," he recounted to NPR. "The snare sounded better than the snare that I had from the drum machine when I was popping it…I was like, "Hold up!" This will enable me to take any kick and a snare from any record that people love and make my own beat." Marls’ use of the 808 pulse to trigger different samplers was revolutionary, and he would become a pioneer for his ability to blend sampled and 808 drum sounds.
Marl’s contribution would extend beyond the technical. As a member of the Juice Crew, he brought the voice of 14-year-old Roxanne Shanté to the world. She created a new lane for women in rap as well as the blueprint for the diss track on the seminal "Roxanne's Revenge."
About a half hour east on the F Train in Hollis, Queens, brothers Joseph and Russel Simmons (a DJ and promoter respectively) founded Run-D.M.C. with friends Darryl Mc Daniels and Jason Mizell. Run-D.M.C.'s sound featured a synchronized, aggressive delivery over simple but memorable rock hooks and beats. Later, the group established Def Jam Records, the label that would prove rap could sell millions of records to Top 40 audiences and bring rap to the mainstream as the first rappers to be featured on MTV.
As valuable as the musical contributions of Run-D.M.C are, they are equally vital to the development of fashion as an element of hip-hop. Street style, as it would come to be known, is born in Queens: Kangol hats, unlaced Addias, Carzal frames, and thick gold chains are now as synonymous with hip-hop as beats and samples. Today, fashion is so central to hip-hop, and vice versa, that New York's FIT Museum recently held an expansive exhibit on hip-hop style.”
Complex proclaimed Nas’ Illmatic "set off a seismic shift in rap geopolitics" and added that the 1994 record "galvanized Queensbridge hip-hop and by extension East Coast rap as a whole." His introspective and poetic approach to writing is credited for bringing the best out of his contemporaries and inspiring next generation rappers like Killer Mike and Kendrick Lamar, challenging them to meet his lyrical bar.
Though "The Fly Borough" is the most densely populated, the majority of its hip-hop history is concentrated in the northern Manhattan neighborhood of Harlem.
Home of the legendary Apollo Theater, the neighborhood was well rooted in Black music when World War II vet Bobby Robinson opened Bobby’s Records in 1946 — one of Harlems’ few Black owned businesses at the time. The record store would evolve as would Robinson’s involvement in music. He would become a producer and label head whose 1970 imprint Enjoy Records released music by hip-hop's earliest innovators, including Grandmaster Flash, the Treacherous Three, and Doug E. Fresh. The label would also feature Master Don, whose signature use of a "Funk Box" percussion synthesizer and its crispy digital hi hat is still heard in trap music today.
Harlem was also home to Dapper Dan, the first designer to "borrow" designer goods and modify them with hip-hop flair. His boutique operated from 1982-1992 and was essential to the merging of luxury brands and hip-hop culture. Although brands like Gucci first sued for copyright infringement, they eventually saw the value of hip-hop's branding power on high end fashion sales. In 2018, Dapper Dan and Gucci collaborated on a capsule collection.
Also during this ‘80s culture boom, three high schoolers from Manhattan applied the ethos of punk rock to the emerging street sounds of hip-hop.
The Beastie Boys began by pirating rap, self-admittingly "Rhyming and Stealing" for their 1986 Def Jam debut License to Ill, and went on to forge a new lane for the medium. They broke all the rules of sampling and production with their seminal Paul’s Boutique, which Rolling Stone noted is often dubbed "The Sargent Pepper of hip-hop" and lauded for its layer sampling technique. In their ranking of Paul’s Boutique Consequence of Sound wrote, "Paul’s Boutique sat at a finish line waiting for the rest of the world to catch up."
While the outer Boroughs would enjoy most of the attention musically throughout the '90s and 2000s, the 2010s would see Harlem again centered in hip-hop with the arrival of young rappers like Azealia Banks and the ASAP Mob collective.
RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard and later Cappadonna would find success as both a group and as solo artists. infiltrating the "big six" 1990s major record labels by design. You can also hear the influence of RZA on modern acts like El Michels Affair, which draws inspiration from Wu-Tang's melodic take on instrumentation and released two albums of instrumental soul covers of Wu-Tang Clan songs.
Their impact would go far beyond music however. Hip-hop biographer Will Ashon recounted Wu’s influence on fashion, noting that the group were part of a trend of simplification.
"Their whole modus operandi was to present themselves as real and unmanufactured, so their clothing choices had to reflect this. The rawness and directness of the music was supposed to be echoed in the rawness and directness of their clothing. They were a big part of the early 1990s move towards baggy and oversized clothes. Huge combat trousers or sweatpants, Timberland boots, hoodies, puffas, do-rags, gold fronts and so on. A ‘street soldier’ look."
As you’d expect, Wu’s presence looms large over future Staten Island artists, including G4 Boys and Killarmy. New artists like Cleotrapa, a spicy, no-holds-barred femme rapper, also counts Wu-Tang as an influence and is helping define Staten’s next chapter.
The history of the intersection of New York City and hip-hop culture is as big and diverse as the city itself. We could only touch on a handful of artists and creators in this piece, but the topic has been explored at length in books like Cant Stop Wont Stop by Jeff Chang and The Come Up: An Oral History of the Rise of Hip-Hop. Documentaries on hip-hop can be found on almost all streaming platforms Netflix’s notable Hip-Hop Evolution and Ladies First: The Story of Women in Hip-Hop.
Essential Hip-Hop Releases From The 1980s: Slick Rick, RUN-D.M.C., De La Soul & More
Releases from the 1980s are some of the genre's most consequential, paving the way for rap to be where it is now. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, revisit 10 releases from a decade that expanded the culture's framework.
The handful of rap songs released in the 1970s opened doors for the onslaught of creative variation that marked rap albums of the 1980s. Diss tracks, party anthems, socially minded material and gangsta rap all had a place in this era, defined by groups and solo efforts that strove to differentiate themselves from one another. Debuts from the likes of MC Lyte, De La Soul, Slick Rick and others kickstarted not only legendary careers, but a wave of innovations that undeniably led to rap’s commercial takeover in the ‘90s.
Hip-hop’s four elements (rap, DJjing, breakdancing and graffiti) grew independently and exponentially in form and acknowledgment in the ‘80s. Seldom was it deemed legitimate in the ‘70s but the ‘80s came with it a realization: that big business and big money could be squeezed from the culture. For better or worse, hip-hop began to lodge itself into the mainstream during this decade.
MTV placements, such as RUN-D.M.C.’s bloated collab with Aerosmith, brought posters into teenagers’ bedrooms and cross promotional ideas to the forefront. Films like as Breakin’ and Beat Street used hip-hop as a dramatic vehicle. And while there was a sense of underlying exploitation, it catapulted hip-hop culture nationally and worldwide. Graffiti was once viewed as vandalism was now on walls and podiums at art galleries, praised as “street art.” Sugar Hill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" seemed light years ago, and there was a palpable sense of maturation and explosion of ideas in the music.
A colorful cast of new artists pushed boundaries of the time. For one, Marley Marl, of the Juice Crew, was an innovator who preceded Wu-Tang as a super producer who surrounded himself with a motley crew of MCs, each with distinct approaches and personalities. He pioneered methods of drum programming and sampling, all of which began as early as 1983 when he was slowly piecing together the collective. Artists at his helm include Biz Markie, Roxanne Shanté, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane — all of which were innovators in their own right.
We’d be remiss not to cite just a handful of the many adventurous artists whose careers began in the '80s: EPMD, LL Cool J, Ultramagnetic MCs, Ice-T, Jungle Brothers and more. Their work and that of many others ushered in the beginning of hip-hop's golden age, as seen by numerous breakthrough albums in the later part of the decade; 1988 in particular, was a historically fruitful year.
This late ‘80s era encapsulates the genre's most consequential releases, ones that paved the way for rap to be where it is now. The following albums took the genre into warp speed, pushing its creative limitations to where it is today.
RUN-D.M.C - Raising Hell (1986)
RUN D.M.C.’s third studio album, produced by Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin, is arguably their greatest — not only in terms of commercial success, but also influence. Their distinct fashion and sound catapulted hip-hop culture (which was still foreign to many at the time) into the commercial realm.
In addition to juggernaut singles "My Adidas," "It’s Tricky," and "You Be Illin," this album featured "Walk This Way," a wildly ambitious crossover single in collaboration with none other than Aerosmith. It was rap’s first leap into another genre, garnering MTV plays and placing the album all over various music charts. It also was the first rap album to go platinum. Their popularity propelled rap albums that followed later in the decade, and also helped hip-hop gain unprecedented attention in the mainstream.
Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded (1987)
KRS-One’s solo career had many highpoints but his early era with BDP is what cements his legacy. While one of the first albums to have true elements of street edge, its approach vastly differed from that of Schoolly D or NWA. KRS lectured more than rap, he was spiritual and scholarly, weaving more stray observations and warnings of street life rather than glamorizing the violence.
Scott LA Rock and Ced Gee’s production was also progressive, opening up the sample palette to rock and obscure soul even further. This was not only their first album but also the only one that featured LA Rock, who was murdered about six months after the album’s release. "9mm Goes Bang" and "The Bridge Is Over" are classics that gave the country a peek into the worldview of New York natives.
Eric B & Rakim - Paid In Full (1987)
It's hard to think of a greater gamechanger in the art of rap than Rakim, a phenom who rightly went as Kid Wizard on tapes before releasing 1986's "My Melody" with Eric B. At a time when MCs were innocently basic, both structurally and lyrically, Rakim added internal rhymes schemes and multi-syllabic rhymes into his sentences. His voice was a calm monotone. His rhymes were writerly, filled with metaphors and a complexity unseen prior. His many one-liners would be referenced and repeated by generations of rappers including Wu-Tang and Jay-Z.
Paid In Full was a debut brimming with bonafide classics, "I Ain't No Joke," "Eric B. Is President," and "I Know You Got Soul." On Paid In Full, Rakim moved the needle miles forward for lyricism, altering every rapper that followed.
Beastie Boys - Licensed To Ill (1987)
Just behind RUN-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell, this rap debut from the brothers Beastie was the second to go platinum in the genre. It was also the only rap album by a Jewish hip-hop group to receive the coveted "5 Mic" rating from The Source, a magazine that was the hip-hop bible of its time.
The album was unquestionably hip-hop but was also multi-faceted. The track "No Sleep Til Brooklyn" featured a guitar solo from Slayer’s Kerry King, a call-back to the Beasties original rock roots. Songs like "Brass Monkey," "Paul Revere," "Girls," and "Fight For Your Right" were party anthems that kept his-hop’s positive party ethos afloat during a time when the music was shifting towards more serious directions.
The Beasties were fun, earnest, and distinct — beloved by both purveyors of the culture and fans of it, proving that hip-hop, if done right, is such an inclusionary artform.
Public Enemy - It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988)
Public Enemy's second album saw the group vastly mature from their debut, Yo! Bumrush The Show. The Bomb Squad's surgical studio techniques raised the bar for production and what was possible in terms of sample layering.
Chuck D, whose voice is one of the most powerful in all of recorded music, deepened his lyrical content even further, speaking on race, politics, class, power structures, and overall, more socially focused material. Songs like "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos," "Don't Believe The Hype" and "Rebel Without A Pause" were a gut punch, a jolt of seriousness and bombast unheard prior and unmatched in its era. It Takes A Nation... charted for 47 straight weeks on the Billboard 200 and many of its profound themes arguably are still relevant today.
NWA - Straight Outta Compton (1988)
Eazy-E and company were having a breakthrough moment when this song furthered their ascent into stardom and public infamy. A cacophonous origin story, it gave listeners a worldview most hadn’t heard and a taste of individual talent that was to come. Ice Cube and Dr. Dre soon became huge solo artists thereafter once the group disbanded. As posterboys of the gangsta rap, they had politicians, police, and the FBI all shook.
By 2015, when N.W.A.’s biopic film cemented their place in popular culture, they had long made history as one of the most consequential groups ever, both musically and culturally. Straight Outta Compton was their unflinching first step that had suburbia clutching its pearls en masse.
Slick Rick - The Greatest Adventures of Slick Rick (1988)
The ability to tell a succinct story with engaging detail is what makes an MC truly well rounded. Masters of this, Ghostface, Nas, and Black Thought, all have all cited Slick Rick as highly influential.
This was Rick's solo debut with production from RUN-D.M.C.'s Jam Master Jay as well as the Bomb Squad (of Public Enemy). Greatest Adventures... is forever colorful, anchored by Rick's charisma and ability to spin visual tales. Strikingly imaginative, he raps in different voices and cadences, able to be hilarious and vulgar, making his songs feel like comic strips. "Children's Story" remains a watershed moment of which all future storytelling raps would be measured by.
MC Lyte - Lyte As A Rock (1988)
The involvement of women in hip-hop culture cannot be overstated, despite being historically marginalized. Case in point: MC Lyte’s debut was commercially overlooked but its ripples are still felt today.
With production from Prince Paul, Audio Two and other innovative giants of the time, Lyte’s lyrics addressed drug use, racism, and womanhood. The album’s lead single, "10% Dis," is not only one of the greatest did tracks ever, but was also subsequently sampled and referenced years after, notably by the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Common, Mobb Deep, and Biggie. Here, at prodigious 18 years old, Lyte solidified herself as not just a formidable female artist, but one the all-time greatest MCs.
Too Short - Life Is Too Short (1989)
In 1989, the West Coast certainly didn’t see the same attention or action as the East Coast, but one Todd Shaw a.k.a. Short Dogg a.k.a. Too Short had been around since 1983, selling homemade cassettes from the trunk of his car in Oakland. Life Is was his fifth album, independently released in 1988 but officially re-released on a major label, Jive, with major distribution a year later.
Short's presentation was uniquely his own — part street stories, part party music, part pimp fiction. The production eschewed samples for more keyboard and drum machines. It utilized replayed funk riffs and Short’s lyrics were almost cartoonishly misogynistic and obscene. This album in particular exposed him to a national audience, placing Oakland— and the West Coast — on the map as a new region for rap music.
De La Soul - 3 Feet High & Rising (1989)
Prince Paul opened up a new galaxy of innovations on De La Soul's debut. His sampling of kids' records, doo-wop, and left-field sounds coupled with unconventional son structure made 3 Feet High & Rising kaleidoscopic and sunny.
Paul’s use and insertion of skits became his trademark, adding a movie-like feel to this children’s book of an album. Singles like "Plug Tunin'," "Potholes In My Lawn," and "Me Myself and I" lampooned the gangsta image, making De La's flowery reputation as hip-hop’s hippies even more pronounced.
Their attempt to shed this persona is why their follow-up was called De La Soul Is Dead. The foundational creativity that informs their brilliant career not only forever altered hip-hop, but it started here.
Photo: Rachel Kupfer
A Guide To Modern Funk For The Dance Floor: L'Imperatrice, Shiro Schwarz, Franc Moody, Say She She & Moniquea
James Brown changed the sound of popular music when he found the power of the one and unleashed the funk with "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag." Today, funk lives on in many forms, including these exciting bands from across the world.
It's rare that a genre can be traced back to a single artist or group, but for funk, that was James Brown. The Godfather of Soul coined the phrase and style of playing known as "on the one," where the first downbeat is emphasized, instead of the typical second and fourth beats in pop, soul and other styles. As David Cheal eloquently explains, playing on the one "left space for phrases and riffs, often syncopated around the beat, creating an intricate, interlocking grid which could go on and on." You know a funky bassline when you hear it; its fat chords beg your body to get up and groove.
Brown's 1965 classic, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," became one of the first funk hits, and has been endlessly sampled and covered over the years, along with his other groovy tracks. Of course, many other funk acts followed in the '60s, and the genre thrived in the '70s and '80s as the disco craze came and went, and the originators of hip-hop and house music created new music from funk and disco's strong, flexible bones built for dancing.
Legendary funk bassist Bootsy Collins learned the power of the one from playing in Brown's band, and brought it to George Clinton, who created P-funk, an expansive, Afrofuturistic, psychedelic exploration of funk with his various bands and projects, including Parliament-Funkadelic. Both Collins and Clinton remain active and funkin', and have offered their timeless grooves to collabs with younger artists, including Kali Uchis, Silk Sonic, and Omar Apollo; and Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, and Thundercat, respectively.
In the 1980s, electro-funk was born when artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Man Parrish, and Egyptian Lover began making futuristic beats with the Roland TR-808 drum machine — often with robotic vocals distorted through a talk box. A key distinguishing factor of electro-funk is a de-emphasis on vocals, with more phrases than choruses and verses. The sound influenced contemporaneous hip-hop, funk and electronica, along with acts around the globe, while current acts like Chromeo, DJ Stingray, and even Egyptian Lover himself keep electro-funk alive and well.
Today, funk lives in many places, with its heavy bass and syncopated grooves finding way into many nooks and crannies of music. There's nu-disco and boogie funk, nodding back to disco bands with soaring vocals and dance floor-designed instrumentation. G-funk continues to influence Los Angeles hip-hop, with innovative artists like Dam-Funk and Channel Tres bringing the funk and G-funk, into electro territory. Funk and disco-centered '70s revival is definitely having a moment, with acts like Ghost Funk Orchestra and Parcels, while its sparkly sprinklings can be heard in pop from Dua Lipa, Doja Cat, and, in full "Soul Train" character, Silk Sonic. There are also acts making dreamy, atmospheric music with a solid dose of funk, such as Khruangbin’s global sonic collage.
There are many bands that play heavily with funk, creating lush grooves designed to get you moving. Read on for a taste of five current modern funk and nu-disco artists making band-led uptempo funk built for the dance floor. Be sure to press play on the Spotify playlist above, and check out GRAMMY.com's playlist on Apple Music, Amazon Music and Pandora.
Say She She
Aptly self-described as "discodelic soul," Brooklyn-based seven-piece Say She She make dreamy, operatic funk, led by singer-songwriters Nya Gazelle Brown, Piya Malik and Sabrina Mileo Cunningham. Their '70s girl group-inspired vocal harmonies echo, sooth and enchant as they cover poignant topics with feminist flair.
While they’ve been active in the New York scene for a few years, they’ve gained wider acclaim for the irresistible music they began releasing this year, including their debut album, Prism. Their 2022 debut single "Forget Me Not" is an ode to ground-breaking New York art collective Guerilla Girls, and "Norma" is their protest anthem in response to the news that Roe vs. Wade could be (and was) overturned. The band name is a nod to funk legend Nile Rodgers, from the "Le freak, c'est chi" exclamation in Chic's legendary tune "Le Freak."
Moniquea's unique voice oozes confidence, yet invites you in to dance with her to the super funky boogie rhythms. The Pasadena, California artist was raised on funk music; her mom was in a cover band that would play classics like Aretha Franklin’s "Get It Right" and Gladys Knight’s "Love Overboard." Moniquea released her first boogie funk track at 20 and, in 2011, met local producer XL Middelton — a bonafide purveyor of funk. She's been a star artist on his MoFunk Records ever since, and they've collabed on countless tracks, channeling West Coast energy with a heavy dose of G-funk, sunny lyrics and upbeat, roller disco-ready rhythms.
Her latest release is an upbeat nod to classic West Coast funk, produced by Middleton, and follows her February 2022 groovy, collab-filled album, On Repeat.
Shiro Schwarz is a Mexico City-based duo, consisting of Pammela Rojas and Rafael Marfil, who helped establish a modern funk scene in the richly creative Mexican metropolis. On "Electrify" — originally released in 2016 on Fat Beats Records and reissued in 2021 by MoFunk — Shiro Schwarz's vocals playfully contrast each other, floating over an insistent, upbeat bassline and an '80s throwback electro-funk rhythm with synth flourishes.
Their music manages to be both nostalgic and futuristic — and impossible to sit still to. 2021 single "Be Kind" is sweet, mellow and groovy, perfect chic lounge funk. Shiro Schwarz’s latest track, the joyfully nostalgic "Hey DJ," is a collab with funkstress Saucy Lady and U-Key.
L'Impératrice (the empress in French) are a six-piece Parisian group serving an infectiously joyful blend of French pop, nu-disco, funk and psychedelia. Flore Benguigui's vocals are light and dreamy, yet commanding of your attention, while lyrics have a feminist touch.
During their energetic live sets, L'Impératrice members Charles de Boisseguin and Hagni Gwon (keys), David Gaugué (bass), Achille Trocellier (guitar), and Tom Daveau (drums) deliver extended instrumental jam sessions to expand and connect their music. Gaugué emphasizes the thick funky bass, and Benguigui jumps around the stage while sounding like an angel. L’Impératrice’s latest album, 2021’s Tako Tsubo, is a sunny, playful French disco journey.
Franc Moody's bio fittingly describes their music as "a soul funk and cosmic disco sound." The London outfit was birthed by friends Ned Franc and Jon Moody in the early 2010s, when they were living together and throwing parties in North London's warehouse scene. In 2017, the group grew to six members, including singer and multi-instrumentalist Amber-Simone.
Their music feels at home with other electro-pop bands like fellow Londoners Jungle and Aussie act Parcels. While much of it is upbeat and euphoric, Franc Moody also dips into the more chilled, dreamy realm, such as the vibey, sultry title track from their recently released Into the Ether.