Electro-funk is a fusion genre of electronic music and early hip hop directly influenced by the use of the Roland TR-808, drum machines, and funk. Records in the genre typically feature drum machines and heavy electronic sounds, sometimes vocals present are delivered in a deadpan manner, often through electronic distortion such as vocoding and talkboxing. This is the main distinction between electro-funk and previously prominent genres such as disco, in which the electronic sound was only part of the instrumentation. Also, electro-funk palpably deviates from its predecessor boogie for being less vocal-oriented and more focused on electronic beats produced by drum machines.
SOUND AND CONTENT
Aside from the distinctive rhythm pattern, Electro-funk is often distinguished by an emphasis on synthesizers, vocoders, and dry, syncopated/”funky” drum sounds (as opposed to the monotonous, low-pitch bass drum of house and techno). In contrast to typical hip-hop approach of mining funky beats and warm basslines from old vinyl and emphasizing a rap vocal, the Electro-funk vibe is more about producing new, cold, heavily synthetic-sounding beats and minimal basslines, with chanted vocals, extended instrumental passages, and minor-key lead synth themes.
A style that began as an early form of hip-hop, Electro-funk has grown to encompass anything that uses the classic, electronic, syncopated beat found on tracks like “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa or “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, or as popularized by Herbie Hancock’s “RockIt”. Electro is also applied retroactively to some of the music of Kraftwerk, particularly “Numbers” and “Home Computer”—forward-looking, danceable electronic tracks which were highly regarded in early hip-hop culture.
From its inception, one of the defining characteristics of the electro-funk sound was the use of drum machines, particularly the Roland TR-808, as the rhythmic basis of the track. As the genre evolved, computers and sampling replaced drum machines in electronic music, and are now used by the majority of electro-funk producers.
Classic (1980s) electro-funk drum patterns tend to be electronic emulations of breakbeats (occasionally a four to the floor pattern is used as well), with a syncopated kick drum, and usually a snare or clap accenting the backbeat. The difference between electro-funk drumbeats and breakbeats (or breaks) is that electro-funk tends to be more mechanical, while breakbeats tend to have more of a human-like feel, like that of a live drummer. The definition however is somewhat ambiguous in nature due to the various uses of the term.
The TR-808’s unique percussion sounds like handclaps, open and closed high-hat, clave and cowbell became integral to the electro-funk sound.
Other electro-funk instrumentation was generally electronic, favoring analog synthesis, programmed bass lines, sequenced or arpeggiated synthetic riffs, and atonal sound effects all created with synthesizers. Heavy use of effects such as reverbs, delays, chorus or phasers along with eerie synthetic ensemble strings or pad sounds emphasized the science fiction or futuristic themes of classic (1980s) electro-funk, represented in the lyrics and/or music. Electro-funk hip hop group Warp 9’s 1983 single, Light Years Away, produced and written by Lotti Golden and Richard Scher, exemplifies the Sci-Fi, afrofuturist aspect of electro-funk, reflected in both the lyrics and instrumentation. The imagery of its lyrical refrain space is the place for the human race pays homage to Sun Ra’s 1974 film, while its synth lines and sound effects are informed by sci-fi, computer games, and cartoons,”born of a science-fiction revival.”
Most electro-funk is instrumental, but a common element is vocals processed through a vocoder. Additionally, speech synthesis may be used to create robotic or mechanical lyrical content, as in the iconic Planet Rock and the automatous chant in the chorus of Nunk by Warp 9. Although primarily instrumental, early electro-funk utilized rap. Male rap dominated the genre, however female rappers have been an integral part of the electro-funk tradition, whether featured in a group as in Warp 9 or as solo performers like Roxanne Shante.
The first Electro-funk music was more DJ driven and featured excessive scratching and vocal coding. Often short phrases would be repeated throughout the track and scratched in. As lyrics became more prevalent, Electro-funk relied more on a lot on call and response lyricism.
Rapping in Electro-funk tends to be simple and straight forward. Electro-funk rappers often have light noncontroversial subject matter.
Electro-funk is a fusion genre of electronic music and early hip hop directly influenced by the use of the Roland TR-808, drum machines, and funk. Records in the genre typically feature drum machines and heavy electronic sounds, sometimes vocals present are delivered in a deadpan manner, often through electronic distortion such as vocoding and talkboxing. This is the main distinction between electro and previously prominent genres such as disco, in which the electronic sound was only part of the instrumentation. Also, electro palpably deviates from its predecessor boogie for being less vocal-oriented and more focused on electronic beats produced by drum machines.
Miami bass (booty music or booty bass) is a subgenre of hip hop music that became popular in the 1980s and 1990s. Its roots are directly linked to the electro-funk sound of the early 1980s.
Sound and Content Summary
Summary of Common Elements of Electro-funk Music
- Fat low ends and heavy syncopated bass.
- BPM – Usually around 100 to 140
- Looped drums and samples
- Electronic Percussions
- Percussion that uses 32nd notes or similar fast percussion
- Hissy Cymbals
- Wide range of electronic percussion that can be inserted in and out of the track
- Scratching – Scratched hooks or sometimes other parts of the beats.
- Sampling – Samples of electronic music, soul, and funk music.
- Centers around partying, love, booty shaking, hooking-up, sex, having a lot of bass in the music, or other random topics.
Following the decline of disco music in the late 1970s, various funk artists began experimenting with talk boxes and the use of heavier, more distinctive beats. Boogie played a role during the formative years of electro-funk. Electro-funk eventually emerged as a fusion of different styles, including funk, boogie combined with German and Japanese technopop, in addition to influences from the futurism of Alvin Toffler, martial arts films, and video game music.
The genre’s immediate forebearers included Kraftwerk, Yellow Magic Orchestra (YMO), and Cat Stevens.
1982 was a watershed year for electro-funk. Bronx based producer Afrika Bambaataa released the seminal track “Planet Rock”, which contained elements of Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express” and “Numbers” combined with the use of distinctive TR-808 beats. “Planet Rock” is widely regarded as a turning point in the electro genre. Another groundbreaking record released that year, Nunk by Warp 9 utilized “imagery drawn from computer games and hip hop slanguage.” Additional, Electro-funk hip hop releases in 1982 include songs by: Planet Patrol, Warp 9, Man Parrish, George Clinton (Computer Games), Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Tyrone Brunson, The Jonzun Crew and Whodini.
The Roland TR-808 drum machine hit the market in 1980, defining early electro-funk with its immediately recognizable sound. Staccato, percussive drumbeats tended to dominate electro-funk, almost exclusively provided by the TR-808. As an inexpensive way of producing a drum sound, the TR-808 caught on quickly with the producers of early electro-funk because of the ability of its bass drum to generate extreme low-frequencies. This aspect of the Roland TR-808 was especially appealing to producers who would test drive their tracks in nightclubs (like NYC’s Funhouse), where the bass drum sound was essential for a record’s success.
Other electro-funk instrumentation was generally electronic, favoring analog synthesis, programmed bass lines, sequenced or arpeggiated synthetic riffs, and atonal sound effects all created with synthesizers. Heavy use of effects such as reverbs, delays, chorus or phasers along with eerie synthetic ensemble strings or pad sounds emphasized the science fiction or futuristic themes of classic (1980s) electro, represented in the lyrics and/or music. Electro hip hop group Warp 9’s 1983 single, Light Years Away, produced and written by Lotti Golden and Richard Scher, exemplifies the Sci-Fi, afrofuturist aspect of electro-funk, reflected in both the lyrics and instrumentation. The imagery of its lyrical refrain space is the place for the human race pays homage to Sun Ra’s 1974 film, while its synth lines and sound effects are informed by sci-fi, computer games, and cartoons,”born of a science-fiction revival.”
In 1983, Hashim created the influential electro-funk tune “Al-Naafiysh (The Soul)” which became Cutting Record’s first release in November 1983. At the time Hashim was influenced by Man Parrish’s “Hip Hop, Be Bop”, Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science” and Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock”. “Al-Nafyish” was later included in Playgroup’s compilation album Kings of Electro (2007), alongside other electro classics such as Sakamoto’s “Riot in Lagos”. Also in 1983, Herbie Hancock, in collaboration with Grand Mixer D.ST, released the hit single “Rockit”.
Bambaataa and groups like Planet Patrol, Jonzun Crew, Mantronix, Newcleus, Warp 9 and Juan Atkins’ Detroit-based group Cybotron went on to influence the genres of Detroit techno, ghettotech, breakbeat, drum and bass and electroclash. Early producers in the electro genre (notably Arthur Baker, John Robie and Shep Pettibone) later featured prominently in the Latin Freestyle (or simply “Freestyle”) movement, along with Lotti Golden and Richard Scher (the producer/writers of Warp 9) fusing electro, funk, and hip hop with elements of Latin music. Detroit techno DJ Eddie Fowlkes shaped a style called electro-soul, which was characterized by a predominant bass line and a chopped up electro breakbeat contrasted with soulful male vocals. Kurtis Mantronik’s electro-soul productions for Joyce Sims presaged new jack swing’s combination of hip hop and soul elements.
Electro-funk was the direct precursor to gangsta rap. This multifaceted and complex period emerged in the early 1980s and was developed on the streets of Los Angeles by adolescent black males. Expanding from mobile disk jockey crews, electro-funk hop artists produced a musical soundscape and cultivated a cultural landscape that drew from both electro-funk and hip hop, demonstrating both how intramusical components are linked to extramusical factors and how Afrofuturist concepts (re)envision (sur)realities. Electro-funk sounds off on other/outer ways of reconsidering and reinvigorating planet rock.
Decline and Legacy of Electro-funk
By the late 1980s, the genre evolved into what is known today as new school hip hop. The release of Run DMC’s It’s Like That (1983) marked a stylistic shift, focusing down on the beats in a stark, metal minimalism. Rock samples replaced synthesizers that had figured so prominently in electro-funk, and rap styles and techniques evolved in tandem, anchoring rap to the changing hip hop culture. Many of the producers of Electro-funk moved on to house music, techno, or different electronic genres.
By the 90s, the term Electro-funk was not being used to describe any hip hop music. However, Electro-funk’s spinoff genres of Miami Bass, G-Funk, and Hip House remained active subgenres in Hip Hop. During the 90s Miami Bass scored several hits but never sustained mainstream popularity. G-Funk which was a combination of slowed down Electro-Funk with Gangsta Rap reached mainstream popularity. It has had a major influence on the Dirty South Rap of the 2000s and in the Trap Music that is still dominant today. Also, Electro-Funk was a basis of the freestyle genre (initially “Latin hip-hop”) with its sung vocals.
NOTABLE ARTISTS, DJS, PRODUCERS, ALBUMS, AND SONGS
Some of the key Electro-hop DJs/producers include
- Afrika Bambaataa
- DJ Yella
- Larry Smith
- Malcolm McLaren
Some of the key Electro-funk rap acts
- Egyptian Lover
- Uncle Jamm’s Army
- West Coast Crew
- World Class Wreckin Cru
Classic/Popular Electro-hop Albums
- Grandmaster Flash – The Message (1982)
- Malcolm McLaren – Duck Rock (1983)
- Whodini – Escape (1984)
- Mantronix – Mantronix: The Album (1985)
- World Class Wreckin’ Cru – World Class (1985)
- Afrika Bambaataa – Planet Rock: The Album (1986)
- World Class Wreckin’ Cru – Rapped in Romance (1986)
- Mantronix – Music Madness (1986)
- Mantronix – In Full Effect (1988)
- Mantronix – This Should Move Ya (1990)
Some Classic Electro-hop Songs
- Afrika Bombaataa – Planet Rock (1982)
- Warp 9 – Nunk (1982)
- Grandmaster Flash – The Message (1982)
- Grandmaster Flash – White Lines (1982)
- Cybotron – Clear (1983)
- Whodini – Friends (1984)
- Egyptian Lover – Egypt, Egypt (1984)
- Whodini – The Freaks Come Out At Night (1984)
- Whodini – Be Yourself (1987)
Discogs. Electro Music Description. https://www.discogs.com/style/electro