The first rap song to sample ‘Funky President’ by James Brown
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The first rap song to sample 'Funky President' by James Brown

Sampling music is a core tenet of hip-hop production and is responsible for many of the genre’s most treasured hits. From Dr Dre to Pete Rock, Timbaland, and more, the number of producers that re-purpose and revive old music is unfathomable. However, one of the most sampled artists of all time is the late Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

Funk and soul singer James Brown was one of the most culturally significant icons of the 1960s. Not only was his music immensely popular, but his live performances were mindblowing. With phenomenal choreography, off-the-cuff improvisation, and stellar vocals, Brown was a star.

However, in the late 1970s and early ’80s, young creatives began repurposing some of his classics. In 1970, Brown released the legendary song ‘Funky Drummer’. Unbeknownst to the vocalist then, its drum break, improvised by Clyde Stubblefield, would become one of the most sampled songs ever.

The sample features within tracks by Dr Dre, Public Enemy, Jaz-O, LL Cool J and more. However, there is another James Brown song that appears in a number of rap tracks, and that is his 1974 single ‘Funky President (People It’s Bad)’.

The ’70s funk track from Brown features in multiple hip-hop hits, NWA’s ‘Fuck Tha Police’, A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Oh My God’ and more. However, the first track to ever utilise the song was Eric B and Rakim’s 1986 song ‘Eric B Is President.’

The single also sampled ‘Over Like a Fat Rat’ by Fonda Rae, ‘Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved’ by James Brown, ‘The Champ’ by The Mohawks and ‘Long Red’ by Mountain. However, the backbeat of the instrumental was ‘Funk President.’

In a 1987 NME interview, Eric B explained how he made the beat, unveiling, “I picked up Fonda Rae’s ‘Over Like A Fat Rat’ and took the bassline and matched it to the ‘Funky President’ beat. Rakim heard the mix and he was rollin’ on the floor laughin’. I said ‘What’s wrong with you, man, this is a serious tune’. Rakim thought I was crazy but I can hear when a beat is gonna stick.”

‘Funky President’ was released as a single for James Brown’s 39th studio album, Reality. The drums and funky wah-pedal of the track made it particularly appealing to producers, and, akin to other funk and disco tracks, its breakdown was phenomenal. Made with the help of a studio band that included the legendary guitarist Joe Beck, the single was recorded at Sound Ideas Studio on West 46th Street and released by Interscope Records.

You can listen to ‘Eric B is President’ and ‘Funky President’ below.