Why Clyde Stubblefield's 'Funky Drummer' is the most important drum solo ever

Stubblefield's 20-second drum solo from James Brown's 1970 track "Funky Drummer" quickly gained popularity and its use spread unfettered into popular hits of the 1990s and beyond.
In this Sept. 4, 2015 photo, legendary drummer Clyde Stubblefield plays a set on the drums at Sosonic studio before a performance to raise money for a scholarship fund established in his name in Madison, Wis. Stubblefield, a drummer for James Brown who created one of the most widely sampled drum breaks ever, died Saturday, Feb. 18, 2017, at age 73. His wife, Jody Hannon, told The Associated Press that Stubblefield died of kidney failure at a Madison, Wis., hospital. (Amber Arnod/Wisconsin State Journal/The Associated Press)

Clyde Stubblefield, known primarily as James Brown's drummer, died Saturday, Feb. 18, at the age of 73 from kidney failure. The response from musicians everywhere to the passing of the "Funky Drummer" was immediate and widespread.

While he was known in his prime for his drumming on classic late-1960s and early '70s James Brown material such as "Cold Sweat" and the Sex Machine LP, Stubblefield's drumming found a new lease on life through sampling in the late '80s and early '90s. An isolated 20-second drum solo — often called a break in hip-hop circles — from James Brown's 1970 track "Funky Drummer" (at 5:19 in the video below), quickly gained popularity and its use spread unfettered into popular hits of the '90s and beyond.

According to Rolling Stone, the "Funky Drummer" break that Stubblefield composed has been sampled on over 1,000 songs. On some of these tracks, Stubblefield's drumming has been sped up, slowed down or modified in other ways by producers, but despite this, they are all still unmistakably underpinned by the "Funky Drummer" beat.

Here are five popular songs that have used the "Funky Drummer" break created by Stubblefield.

Public Enemy, 'Rebel Without a Pause'

Public Enemy (and its famed production team the Bomb Squad) was one of the first groups to use the "Funky Drummer" break. Its underpinning use on on their arresting breakthrough single can be heard from the 12-second mark onwards.

George Michael, 'Freedom 90'

This is perhaps one of the biggest pop singles to use Stubblefield's "Funky Drummer" break. It appears throughout this hit by the late pop singer and starts at the 45-second mark in the song's video.

LL Cool J, 'Mama Said Knock You Out' 

This was one of the biggest hit songs of  LL Cool J's career and the title track of the album that helped him to engineer a comeback after a period of being deemed irrelevant by hip-hop fans. Stubblefield's "Funky Drummer" break, sampled here by legendary hip-hop producer Marley Marl from the 10-second mark onwards, was a crucial component in making LL's career turnaround possible.

Madonna, 'Justify my Love'

Produced by Lenny  Kravitz, Madonna's "Justify my Love" liberally uses Stubblefield's drum solo throughout the entire song to give the Material Girl one of her signature hit songs. It should be noted that Kravitz actually utilized the Public Enemy song "Security of the First World" which sampled the "Funky Drummer" break.

Run DMC, 'Run's House'

The members of Run DMC were hip-hop's first global superstars and they turned to the "Funky Drummer" sample (appearing from the eight-second mark onwards) to be the foundation for the first single from their third album Tougher Than Leather

— Del Cowie, q digital staff