AskDefine | Define funk

Dictionary Definition



1 a state of nervous depression; "he was in a funk" [syn: blue funk]
2 United States biochemist (born in Poland) who showed that several diseases were caused by dietary deficiencies and who coined the term `vitamin' for the chemicals involved (1884-1967) [syn: Casimir Funk] v : draw back, as with fear or pain; "she flinched when they showed the slaughtering of the calf" [syn: flinch, squinch, cringe, shrink, wince, recoil, quail]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Funk




  1. A genre of popular music associated with the 1970s and typified by prominent bass guitar and horn section.
  2. mental depression
  3. A state of fear or panic, especially cowardly
  4. Foul or unpleasant smell, especially body odour. Examples of 18th Century usage cited in Universal English Dictionary, 1896.

Derived terms


A genre of popular music
mental depression
A state of fear or panic
Foul or unpleasant smell

Extensive Definition

Funk is an American musical style that originated in the mid- to late-1960s when African American musicians blended soul music, soul jazz and R&B into a rhythmic, danceable new form of music. Funk de-emphasizes melody and harmony, and brings a strong rhythmic groove of electric bass and drums to the foreground. Unlike R&B and soul songs, which had many chord changes, funk songs are often based on an extended vamp on a single chord.
Like much of African inspired music, funk typically consists of a complex groove with rhythm instruments such as electric guitar, electric bass, Hammond organ, and drums playing interlocking rhythms. Funk bands also usually have a horn section of several saxophones, trumpets, and in some cases, a trombone, which plays rhythmic "hits".
Influential African American funk performers include James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Curtis Mayfield, The Meters, The Funk Brothers, Bootsy Collins, and Prince. Notable 1970s funk bands included Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, The Commodores, and Kool & the Gang though many of these most famous bands in the genre also played disco and soul extensively. Funk music was a major influence on the development of 1970s disco music and funk samples are used in most styles of house music and hip hop music, and it's also the main influence of Go-Go. Funk even left its mark on New Wave, and its pulse was evident in post punk as well.


Funk creates an intense groove by using strong bass guitar riffs and bass lines. Funk was built on Motown recordings, which put bassists such as James Jamerson to the forefront. Like Motown recordings, funk songs used bass lines as the centerpiece of songs. Notable funk bassists include Bootsy Collins, Bernard Edwards, George Porter, Jr., Louis Johnson and Larry Graham of Sly & the Family Stone. Graham is generally credited with inventing the percussive "slap bass technique." Slap bass' mixture of thumb-slapped low notes and finger "popped" high notes allowed the bass to have a drum-like rhythmic role, which became a distinctive element of funk. Some of the best known and most skillful soloists in funk have jazz backgrounds. Trombonist Fred Wesley and saxophonist Maceo Parker are among the most notable musicians in the funk music genre, with both of them working with James Brown, George Clinton and Prince. Sometimes 1970s funk bands are divided to "hardcore funk" and "sophisticated funk", former concept referring to earthy sound in a vein of James Brown or Funkadelic while "sophisticated funk" refers to artists such as Earth, Wind & Fire or Brothers Johnson who use softer sounds and fill their albums with soul ballads.
Funk utilized the same extended chords found in bebop jazz, such as minor chords with added sevenths and elevenths or dominant seventh chords with altered ninths. However, unlike bebop jazz, with its dizzying and complex rapid-fire chord changes, funk virtually abandoned chord changes, creating static single chord vamps with little harmonic movement, but with a complex and driving rhythmic feel.
The chords used in funk songs typically imply a dorian or mixolydian mode as opposed to the major or natural minor tonalities of most popular music. Melodic content was derived by mixing these modes with the blues scale. In the 1970s, jazz music drew upon funk to create a new subgenre of jazz-funk, which can be heard in 1970s recordings by Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock.
In funk bands, guitarists typically play in a percussive style, often using the wah-wah sound effect and muting the notes in their riffs to create a percussive sound. Guitarist Ernie Isley of The Isley Brothers and Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic were influenced by Jimi Hendrix's improvised solos. Eddie Hazel, who worked with George Clinton, is one of the most notable guitar soloists in funk. Ernie Isley was tutored at an early age by Jimi Hendrix himself, when he was a part of The Isley Brothers backing band and lived in the attic temporarily at the Isleys' household. Jimmy Nolen and Phelps Collins are famous funk rhythm guitarists who both worked with James Brown.


Origin of funk

The word "funk", once defined in dictionaries as body odor or the smell of sexual intercourse, commonly was regarded as coarse or indecent. African-American musicians originally applied "funk" to music with a slow, mellow groove, then later with a hard-driving, insistent rhythm because of the word's association with sexual intercourse. This early form of the music set the pattern for later musicians.
The music was slow, sexy, loose, riff-oriented and danceable. Funky typically described these qualities. In jam sessions, musicians would encourage one another to "get down" by telling one another, "Now, put some stank ("stink"/funk) on it!" At least as early as 1907, jazz songs carried titles such as Buddy Bolden's "Funky Butt." As late as the 1950s and early 1960s, when "funk" and "funky" were used increasingly in the context of soul music, the terms still were considered indelicate and inappropriate for use in polite company.
The distinctive characteristics of African-American musical expression are rooted in West African musical traditions, and find their earliest expression in spirituals, work chants/songs, praise shouts, gospel and blues. In more contemporary music, gospel, blues and blues extensions and jazz often flow together seamlessly. Funky music is an amalgam of soul music, soul jazz and R&B.

James Brown and funk as a genre

By mid-1960s, James Brown had developed his signature groove that emphasized the downbeat – with heavy emphasis "on the one" (the first beat of every measure) – to etch his distinctive sound, rather than the backbeat that was familiar to many R&B and soul musicians. Brown often cued his band with the command "On the one!," changing the percussion emphasis/accent from the one-two-three-four backbeat of traditional soul music to the one-two-three-four downbeat – but with an even-note syncopated guitar rhythm (on quarter notes two and four) featuring a hard-driving, repetitive brassy swing. This one-three beat launched the shift in Brown's signature funk music style, starting with his 1964 hit single, "Out of Sight" and his 1965 hit, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag."
Brown's innovations pushed the funk music style further to the forefront with releases such as "Cold Sweat" (1967), "Mother Popcorn" (1969) and "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine" (1970), discarding even the twelve bar blues featured in his earlier music. Instead, Brown's music was overlaid with "catchy, anthemic vocals" based on "extensive vamps" in which he also used his voice as "a percussive instrument with frequent rhythmic grunts and with rhythm-section patterns ... [resembling] West African polyrhythms." Throughout his career, Brown's frenzied vocals, frequently punctuated with screams and grunts, channeled the "ecstatic ambiance of the black church" in a secular context.
In a 1990 interview, Brown offered his reason for switching the rhythm of his music: "I changed from the upbeat to the downbeat ... Simple as that, really." According to Maceo Parker, Brown's former saxophonist, playing on the downbeat was at first hard for him and took some getting used to. Reflecting back to his early days with Brown's band, Parker reported that he had difficulty playing "on the one" during solo performances, since he was used to hearing and playing with the accent on the second beat.
Other musical groups picked up on the riffs, rhythms, and vocal style developed by James Brown and his band, and the style began to grow. Dyke & the Blazers based in Phoenix, Arizona, released "Funky Broadway" in 1967, perhaps the first record of the soul/rock n' roll era to have "funky" in the title. Meanwhile, on the West Coast, Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band were releasing funk tracks beginning with their first album in 1967, culminating in their classic single "Express Yourself" in 1970.
The Meters defined funk in New Orleans, starting with their Top Ten R&B hits "Sophisticated Cissy" and "Cissy Strut" in 1969. Another group who would define funk in the decade to come were The Isley Brothers, whose funky 1969 #1 R&B hit, "It's Your Thing", signaled a breakthrough in African-American music, bridging the gaps of the rock of Jimi Hendrix and the upbeat soul of Sly & the Family Stone and Mother's Finest.

1970s and P-Funk

In the 1970s, a new group of musicians further developed the "funk rock" approach innovated by George Clinton, with his main bands Parliament and, later, Funkadelic. Together, they produced a new kind of funk sound heavily influenced by jazz and psychedelic rock. The two groups had members in common and often are referred to singly as "Parliament-Funkadelic." The breakout popularity of Parliament-Funkadelic gave rise to the term "P-Funk," which referred to the music by George Clinton's bands, and defined a new subgenre.
"P-funk" also came to mean something in its quintessence, of superior quality, or sui generis, as in the lyrics from "P-Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)" a hit single from Parliament's album "Mothership Connection":
The 1970s was probably the era of highest mainstream visibility for funk music. Other prominent funk bands of the period included Stevie Wonder, The Brothers Johnson, Earth, Wind & Fire, Bootsy's Rubber Band, The Meters, Tower of Power, Ohio Players, The Commodores, War, Kool & the Gang, Confunkshun, Slave, Cameo, the Bar-Kays, Zapp, and many more. George Clinton also played a masterminding role in Bootsy's Rubber Band and several other bands he put together, including Parlet, the Horny Horns, and the Brides of Funkenstein, all part of the P-Funk conglomerate.
Already, in late 1960s, many jazz musicians — among them Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock (with his Headhunters band), Grover Washington, Jr., and Cannonball Adderley, Les McCann and Eddie Harris — had begun to combine jazz and funk. Sometimes this approach is called "jazz-funk". Additionally, in the late 1960s work of Miles Davis (with girlfriend/wife Betty Davis) and Tony Williams helped to create Jazz fusion and influenced funk.
Funk music was exported to Africa in the late 1960s, and melded with African singing and rhythms to form Afrobeat. Fela Kuti was a Nigerian musician who is credited with creating the music and terming it "Afrobeat".
In the early 1970’s, when funk was becoming more mainstreamed, artists like Parliament Funkadelic, the Isley Brothers, Sly and the Family Stone, Ohio Players, Confunkshun, among others, were successful and getting radio play but according to Billboard Magazine, only Sly & the Family Stone had singles which made it to #1. In 1970 ‘Thank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Agin’ hit # 1 as did ‘Family Affair’ in 1971 affording Sly and Funk crossover success and greater recognition unlike some of their equally talented but moderately popular peers before the onslaught of Disco around the middle of that decade which remained hugely popular thru the early 80's.
Disco music owed a great deal to funk. Many early disco songs and performers came directly from funk-oriented backgrounds. Some disco music hits, for example "Le Freak" by Chic, included riffs or rhythms very similar to funk music.

1980s and stripped-down funk

In the 1980s, many of the core elements that formed the foundation of the P-Funk formula began to be usurped by electronic machines and synthesizers. Horn sections of saxophones and trumpets were replaced by synth keyboards, and the horns that remained were given simplified lines, and few horn solos. The classic keyboards of funk, like the Hammond B3 organ and the Fender Rhodes piano began to be replaced by the new digital synthesizers such as the Yamaha DX7. Electronic drum machines began to replace the "funky drummers" of the past, and the slap and pop style of bass playing were often replaced by synth keyboard bass lines. As well, the lyrics of funk songs began to change from suggestive double entendres to more graphic and sexually explicit content.
Rick James was the first funk musician of the 1980s to assume the funk mantle dominated by P-Funk in the 1970s. His 1981 album Street Songs with the singles "Give It To Me Baby" and "Super Freak" resulted in James becoming a bit of a rock star, and paved the way for the future direction of explicitness in funk.
Prince used a stripped-down instrumentation similar to Rick James, and went on to have as much of an impact on the sound of funk as any one artist since James Brown. Prince combined eroticism, technology, an increasing musical complexity, and an outrageous image and stage show to ultimately create a musical world as ambitious and imaginative as P-Funk or The Beatles. The Time, originally conceived as an opening act for Prince and based on his "Minneapolis sound", hybrid mixture of funk, rock, pop, R&B & new wave. They went on to define their own style of stripped-down funk based on tight musicianship and sexual themes.
Bands that began during the 1970s P-Funk era incorporated some of the uninhibited sexuality of Prince and state-of-the-art technological developments to continue to craft funk hits. Cameo, Zapp, The Gap Band, The Bar-Kays, and The Dazz Band all found their biggest hits in the 80s, but by the latter half of the 80s, funk had lost its commercial impact.
Afrika Bambaataa, influenced by Kraftwerk, created "Electro Funk", a minimalist machine-driven style of funk with his single "Planet Rock" in 1982. Also known simply as Electro, this style of funk was driven by synthesizers and the electronic rhythm of the TR-808 drum machine. The single "Renegades of Funk" followed in 1983.

Recent developments

While funk was all but driven from the radio by slick commercial R&B and New Jack Swing, its influence continued to spread. Rock bands began adding elements of Funk to their sound, creating new combinations of "funk rock" and funk metal. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Living Colour, Jane's Addiction, Prince, Primus, Fishbone, Faith No More, Incubus and Rage Against the Machine spread the approach and styles garnered from funk pioneers to new audiences in the mid-to-late 1980s and the 1990s. These bands later inspired the underground mid-1990s funkcore movement and current funk-inspired artists like Outkast, The Black Eyed Peas, and Van Hunt.
In the 1990s, artists like Me'shell Ndegeocello and the (predominantly UK-based) Acid jazz movement including artists and bands such The Brand New Heavies, Incognito, Galliano, Omar and Jamiroquai carried on with strong elements of funk. However, they never came close to reaching the commercial success of funk in its heyday, with the exception of Jamiroquai whose album Travelling without Moving sold about 11.5 million units worldwide. Meanwhile in Australia and New Zealand, bands playing the pub circuit, such as Supergroove, Skunkhour and The Truth, preserved a more instrumental form of funk.
Since the middle of the 80s hip hop artists regularly sample old funk tunes. James Brown is said to be the most sampled artist in the history of hip hop. while P-Funk is the second most sampled artist; samples of old Parliament and Funkadelic songs formed the basis of West Coast G Funk.
Original beats that feature funk-styled bass or rhythm guitar riffs are also not uncommon. Dr. Dre (considered the progenitor of the G-Funk genre) has freely acknowledged to being heavily influenced by George Clinton's psychedelic funk: "Back in the 70s that's all people were doing: getting high, wearing Afros, bell-bottoms and listening to Parliament-Funkadelic. That's why I called my album The Chronic and based my music and the concepts like I did: because his shit was a big influence on my music. Very big". Digital Underground was a large contributor to the rebirth of funk in the 1990s by educating their listeners with knowledge about the history of funk and its artists. George Clinton branded Digital Underground as "Sons of the P", as their second full length release is also titled. DU's first release, Sex Packets, was full of funk samples, with the most widely known "The Humpty Dance" sampling Parliament's "Let's Play House". A very strong funk album of DU's was their 1996 release Future Rhythm. Much of contemporary club dance music, drum and bass in particular has heavily sampled funk drum breaks.
Funk is a major element of certain artists identified with the Jam band scene of the late 1990s and 2000s. Phish began playing funkier jams in their sets around 1996, and 1998's The Story of the Ghost was heavily influenced by funk. Medeski Martin & Wood, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Galactic, Soulive, and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe all drawing heavily from the funk tradition.
Since the mid 1990s the nu-funk scene, centered around the Deep Funk collectors scene, is producing new material influenced by the sounds of rare funk 45's. Labels include Desco, Soul Fire, Daptone, Timmion, Neapolitan, Kay-Dee, and Tramp. Bands include Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, The Soul Destroyers, The Grits, Chris Joss, Speedometer, The Poets of Rhythm, The Neapolitans, Quantic Soul Orchestra, The New Mastersounds and Lefties Soul Connection. These labels often release on 45 rpm records. Although specializing in music for rare funk DJ's, there has been some crossover into the mainstream music industry, such as Sharon Jones' 2005 appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
In the early 2000s, some punk funk bands such as Out Hud perform in the indie music scene. Prince, with his recent albums has given a rebirth to the funk sound with songs like "The Everlasting Now", "Musicology" and "Black Sweat".
Funk has also been incorporated into modern Urban Pop & R&B music by many female singers such as Beyoncé Knowles with her 2003 hit Crazy In Love, Jennifer Lopez in 2005 with Get Right which samples James Brown's Soul Power '74 horn sound, and also Amerie with her song 1 Thing.

Funk rock

Funk rock (also written as funk-rock or funk/rock) fuses funk and rock elements. Its earliest incarnation was heard in the late '60s through the mid-'70's by musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Gary Wright, David Bowie, as well as Mother's Finest, Faith No More, and The Doors with Soul Kitchen, released on their self-titled debut album.


Funk rock is a fusion of funk and rock. Many instruments may be incorporated into the music, but the overall sound is defined by a definitive bass or drum beat and electric guitars. The bass and drum rhythms are influenced by funk music but with more intensity, while the guitar can be funk-or-rock-influenced, usually with distortion.


Jimi Hendrix was the first well-known recording artist to combine the rhythms and riffs of early funk to his psychedelic rock sound. Perhaps the earliest example is his song "Little Miss Lover" (1967). His live album Band of Gypsys features funky riffs and rhythms throughout (especially the song "Power of Soul") and his unfinished album also included a couple of funk-rock songs such as "Freedom", "Izabella", "Straight Ahead", and "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)", which many consider to have the funkiest opening riff of its era.
Other pioneers of funk-rock evolved in the 1970s in the music of the British rock-band Trapeze, The Rolling Stones ( Miss You & Hot Stuff ), Led Zeppelin (The Crunge) & singer David Bowie with his hit song "Fame". The Mark III & IV lineups of Deep Purple (with Glenn Hughes of Trapeze, David Coverdale of Whitesnake and Tommy Bolin of The James Gang) featured mature elements of funk in such songs as "Sail Away (Tomorrow)" and "Coronarias Redig", enough of which was believed to prompt the exit of guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. American artists Frank Zappa and Gary Wright (My Love is Alive, good example of early Synth-funk as well), along with bands like Graham Central Station, Rufus, Mother's Finest, Funkadelic & the Isley Brothers (The Heat Is On & 3 + 3 albums ) all experimented with the blending of Funk & Rock rhythms.
The Big Boys, Xavion(An Afro-American group whose Asylum/Mirage LP in '84 pre-dated Living Colour) & Rick James along with New Wave mainstays Blondie & the Talking Heads created their own sound mix of Punk Funk in the early 1980s. One famous funk rock song of the period was Another One Bites the Dust by British Rock icons Queen.
The genre's representatives from the late 1980s to present day include the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane's Addiction, Fishbone, Primus, Living Colour, Spin Doctors, as well as Prince & spinoffs The Time & one hit wonders Mazarati, who all have created, expanded and defined the Funk Rock style.
In the early 1990s, several bands combined funky rhythms with Heavy Metal guitar sounds, resulting in "Funk metal", where the emphasis is in using much Heavier distorted guitar sounds in the mix. Funk Rock employs more of a lighter (crunch) distorted Guitar sound, and the musical emphasis tends to be more Beat driven with prominent Bass lines, more rhythmic in the R&B sense.



Funkcore is a fusion of hardcore punk and funk created in the 1980s. Hard, loud and fast guitars are featured, but unlike in most rock music, it does not overpower the bass, which is heavy and driving. Drums are often funk-influenced, but with intense hardcore-styled pounding. Synthesizers or horn sections sometimes make an appearance, although they are not integral. Examples of funkcore bands are Jungle Fever, Adequate Seven, and Big Boys.


Punk-funk (or funk-punk) is a mix of punk or post-punk songs with funk elements, very similar to dance-punk. Some times, the punk influence is replaced by an alternative rock influence. The first appearance of this subgenre was in 1979, when Gang Of Four released their debut album, Entertainment!. In the 1980s, bands such as Talking Heads, Blondie, Loose Ends, E.S.G, Rick James, and The Clash made punk-funk become more famous. The style was revitalized by "The New New York Underground Scene", such as The Rapture, Radio 4, Liars, !!!, Out Hud and LCD Soundsystem starting to mix their usual punk-funk with house, dub and hip-hop.

Funk metal

Funk metal (sometimes typeset differently such as funk-metal) is a fusion genre of music which emerged in the 1980s. It typically incorporates elements of funk and heavy metal. It features hard-driving heavy metal guitar riffs, the pounding bass rhythms characteristic of funk, and sometimes hip hop-style rhymes into an alternative rock approach to songwriting. Faith No More, Living Colour, Rage Against the Machine, and 24-7 Spyz are such bands, as is Infectious Grooves or Suicidal Tendencies (Robert Trujillo's bass work)



funk in Tosk Albanian: Funk (Musik)
funk in Bulgarian: Фънк музика
funk in Catalan: Funk
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funk in German: Funk (Musik)
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funk in Esperanto: Funko
funk in French: Funk
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funk in Galician: Funk
funk in Korean: 펑키
funk in Croatian: Funk
funk in Indonesian: Funk
funk in Italian: Funk
funk in Hebrew: פאנק (Funk)
funk in Dutch: Funk
funk in Japanese: ファンク
funk in Norwegian: Funk
funk in Polish: Funk
funk in Portuguese: Funk
funk in Romanian: Muzică funk
funk in Russian: Фанк
funk in Simple English: Funk
funk in Slovak: Funk
funk in Serbian: Фанк
funk in Finnish: Funk
funk in Swedish: Funk
funk in Thai: ฟังก์
funk in Turkish: Funk
funk in Ukrainian: Фанк

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Milquetoast, abject fear, affright, alarm, awe, baby, back out, big baby, blench, blink, blue funk, boggle, change color, chicken, chicken liver, chicken out, consternation, coward, cowardice, craven, cringe, curdle the blood, dastard, desert under fire, dismay, disquiet, draw back, dread, falter, fear, flinch, fraid-cat, fraidy-cat, freeze, fright, frighten, funk out, funker, get cold feet, grow pale, horrification, horripilate, horror, invertebrate, jellyfish, lily liver, lose courage, make one tremble, milksop, mouse, pale, panic, panic fear, phobia, poltroon, quail, quitter, raise apprehensions, recoil, reek, scare, scaredy-cat, scuttle, shake, shrink, sissy, skedaddle, spook, stagger, stampede, startle, stench, stink, take alarm, take fright, terror, turn color, turn pale, unholy dread, unman, unnerve, unstring, weak sister, weakling, white feather, white liver, wince
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