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'Funky Drummer' behind hip-hop classics dead

2 min

New York (AFP)

Clyde Stubblefield, one of funk's defining drummers whose solo in a James Brown song became a standard sample for hip-hop but earned him little money, died Saturday. He was 73.

Stubblefield's death from kidney failure was confirmed by Joey B. Banks, a fellow drummer who played with him in his home of Madison, Wisconsin.

The self-taught Stubblefield in 1965 joined funk legend James Brown's band and became best known for the 1970 track "Funky Drummer," in which Stubblefield breaks out a solo at the singer's urging.

The solo, danceable while projecting utter confidence, years later would became one of the most frequent samples in music history as rappers built off its beat.

Some of the classic rap tracks to sample his solo include Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," N.W.A.'s "Fuck tha Police" and LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out."

It was not only hip-hop. His solo was sampled in George Michael's hit "Freedom! '90" and in "Baby Love Child" by Japanese pop group Pizzicato Five.

But artists were not required to compensate for samples until a landmark 2005 court decision. Even then, revenue would go to the estate of the famously high-handed Brown, who alone is credited as the songwriter.

"I never got a 'thanks,' I never got a 'hello, how're you doing?' or anything from any of the rap artists," Stubblefield said in a 2009 documentary on sampling, "Copyright Criminals."

Stubblefield's finances were long uncertain. He played a weekly show at the High Noon Saloon in Madison, the university town where he moved in 1971 after leaving Brown's band.

Prince, a professed admirer, quietly paid some $80,000 in medical bills for Stubblefield's bladder cancer treatment, a donation the drummer revealed after Prince's death last year.

Stubblefield grew up in Chattanooga, Tennessee where he taught himself to play drums but said he never saw himself as a trend-setter.

"What influenced me mainly was sounds. Train tracks. Washing machines," he told Madison's weekly newspaper Isthmus.

"I just put patterns against natural sounds, and that's what I do today," he said in 2011.

Questlove, one of the most influential drummers in hip-hop, on Saturday paid tribute to Stubblefield on Instagram, writing: "The spirit of the greatest grace-note left-hand snare drummer will live on through all of us."

Stubblefield's drums feature on some of Brown's most recognizable songs such as "Say It Loud -- I'm Black and Proud" and "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine."

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