MORE ABOUT ME AND THE SITE
DISCLAIMER: I started this site (and wrote the below text) when I was about 20 years old. I no longer live in Berkeley, and I am no longer 20 (though I am still white). I have since gone on to work at Ubiquity Records (where I produced a couple drum break albums and mix CDs), and even to interview one of the founding members of the Skull Snaps. So a lot of the text below isn't really relevant or current or what have you... But anyway, here it is for posterity...
What is funky? For me, it's a nice drumbreak, an old-school sample, or a number of similar things. What is NOT funky? Theme From Shaft... in MIDI!
I am a 21-year-old white guy living in Berkeley, CA, and I'm just really interested in funk, soul, rare drumbreaks, and hip-hop production. I started collecting funky music not too long ago, when I started college at UC Davis. Before that, I didn't really know too much about sampling. I naively thought that rappers used expensive drum machines to make all those beats, and I was clued in after awhile when I would hear the same beat in various songs.
After reading more about it, and learning more about samplers and how they worked, the first thing I bought specifically to hear a sample source was a James Brown CD with "Funky Drummer" on it. I had read all about how it was the most sampled drumbreak in history, and how amazing it was... I just wanted to hear what all the fuss was about. I didn't even know what the "Funky Drummer" beat sounded like, I just wanted to hear it. I put the CD in my player and skipped to that track. It sounded like a nice little funky song, but not something I would really have been into yet at the time. It was about 9 minutes long, and I listened and waited, wondering what surprises awaited me. My hopes weren't too high, honestly. "How great can a drum beat be?" I wondered. In a few minutes time, I found out. Clyde Stubblefield taught me the new meaning of life. From them on, all other drum beats would compare to that one, and they wouldn't do much in the way of comparing, either. "How did he do that?" I wondered. "Are those multiple tracks? That can't be one drummer..." I listened to that beat for the next couple months, constantly, in awe, wondering if there were other beats like it out there. Thus began my obsession with the funky drumbreak, and my journey into (very) novice beat-mining.
Soon after hearing "Funky Drummer" (and "Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose", which was on the same CD) , I set out, with what feeble means I had, to try and find other songs like it. I asked around at bullshit places like Tower Records, and the salespeople often referred me to "funky" CDs by R&B artists who used drum machines and all fake instruments: in short, UN-funky music that did NOT compare. It was at this time that I luckily discovered Tower of Power, and the Blue Note grooves we're all so familiar with. I was checking out shit I had seen in sample source lists on the Pharcyde album, the US3 album, etc, and I soon had almost every Lou Donaldson album I could find. Moving on from there, I checked out Grant Green, Jimmy Smith, and Donald Byrd, still weeding my way through the Blue Note catalog.
Then, I found a small record shop in Davis, CA that let you listen to all the CDs you wanted before buying them. It was at this shop that I discovered the Ubiquity & Luv 'N' Haight compilations, all chock full of amazing stuff I had never heard before. It was literally a completely new type of music, and it was amazing. On the Ubiquity side, I was hearing something called "acid-jazz": work by artists like DJ Greyboy and The Sharpshooters, people who combined samples with live improvisation. On the Luv 'N' Haight side, I was hearing something called "soul-funk" or "soul-jazz", whatever you wanna' label it. It was a very fun time for me, because, even though I have been a musician all my life, this was the first time I had found a new type of music that really interested me a lot, and it was exciting to hear these songs that no one I knew had ever heard of before. I soon started spending all my spare cash (and a lot of my NOT spare cash) on these CDs, and my tastes in music began to veer sharply astray from those of my long-time friends and musical collaborators. I was exploring new territory, and it was something I could kind of claim as my own, at least in my small circle of acquaintances.
I was starting to experiment a lot more with sampling on my computer at home with a great new program I found on a new thing called the "internet". This program, Cool Edit, could do amazing things that made sample editing and combining so easy! I was finally able to start producing music similar to the kind I'd heard on rap albums since I was just a kid. Armed with "Funky Drummer"—a beat I used more times than is legally permissable in 49 states—and my growing collection of Blue Note and Luv 'N' Haight CDs, I was starting to make some fun, interesting hip-hop-style music...music that I had always tried to emulate with my keyboard, but with very little success.
Slowly but surely, my collection grew, all CD-reissues and compilations, and I was finding out a lot more about what to buy, and what NOT to buy. I discovered that this special kind of funky music existed mostly between the late '60s and the early '70s. Anything earlier than that tended toward either the standard jazz style or the bluesy soul style. Anything later than that tended toward the—gasp—disco style, with drum machines or over-produced, big drums and much simpler beats and songs.
I started learning more of the lingo and artists I liked to help me narrow down my search: words like "fusion" and "crossover jazz" often adorned the jackets of CDs I ended up liking. I began to recognize more and more backup musicians I liked: Idris Muhammad (A.K.A. Leo Morris), Bernard Purdie, Mike Clark, Harvey Mason... And, the more of this music I listened to, the more I liked it. At first, I remember buying CDs and liking a couple tracks on them. Now I would go back and listen to the whole CD again, and find that every track was funky in some way. Things were great...well, sort of.
I was flunking out of college. I had bought every CD of interest I could find and afford in that record shop in Davis, and living in Davis was a total bummer. I was completely disinterested in school and life in Davis, so I packed up my shit and moved back to the Bay Area, where I got a better paying job at a law firm, and discovered something wonderful on the internet: www.dustygroove.com. These guys had pages and pages of this rare, funky music for sale, and affordably priced. I started out buying the Ultimate Breaks & Beats series, and when it arrived at my door, all 23 albums' worth, I was in heaven. There in front of me, were SO MANY beats that had eluded me for so long: "Synthetic Substitution", "Ashley's Roachclip", "Impeach the President"... to name just a few. These were beats I had always read about and even knew about from reading sample sources, but I could never find them at that little record shop or at Tower Records... Now I had them, and I can't even describe the feeling of hearing them for the first time. It's a feeling that is so wonderful, you can't ever re-capture it again. Even now, I remember that it was a life-changing experience, but I can't put it into words to do it justice. I owned these songs with these drum beats in them! I got to actually hear these songs that so few other people had ever heard! I began to hear what types of songs these famous drumbreaks came from, and they weren't all good, or even funky. Many of the songs sucked, I thought, and I couldn't understand how the hip-hop producers had found these obscure beats in the first place. Nevertheless, I had this treasure chest of the best beats on Earth, and I was happy.
The bad thing about it all was not being able to share it with anyone. No one realized how far I had come, and no one cared about how exciting it was to hear—and own—these beats. No one understood what I meant when I said "sampling", and no one could relate to liking the drum beats so much. I was alone with my new music. I had discovered all this music on my own, despite my attempts to seek help in finding more of it. I had discovered the Luv 'N' Haight series myself, I had discovered Ultimate Breaks & Beats myself, and I soon began to find other things like the Skull Snaps album, Bill Withers albums, and many others. I had discovered this whole subgenre of music on my own, and now that I had gotten there, I had nothing to do but enjoy it all myself, make music with it, and just bump it loud and have fun knowing all the sample sources. It was fun to hear hip-hop or R&B songs on the radio and be able to say, "I have the song with that drum beat on it!" Of course, the people I said that to would just say, "Oh." "Let them try to go find that drum beat" I thought to myself, but I was happy anyway.
So, this brings us to today. My collection is larger than ever, I have infinitely more resources to find the music I'm looking for, new friends to share the experience with, and a lot more knowledge on how to use the music to create my own. I wanted to make the most famous drum beats somehow accessible to the public, so that they could hear them and appreciate them and learn more about the roots of the rap music they listen to without question every day. Thus, the Phat Drum Loops page was born. I initially put up "It's A New Day" by the Skull Snaps, "Synthetic Substitution" by Melvin Bliss, "Funky Drummer" by James and Clyde, "When the Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin: only the most-famous, most-sampled drumbreaks I had. Now, the Phat Drum Loops page has grown to almost 300 files of all types, famous and obscure. I am finally in a place to give back.
I now have at least some information to offer people who are just starting out, and I have the desire to help people to find out more about this secret music that they unknowingly hear every day! I can attempt to offer the world a centralized beat-mining/drum break information exchange we can all contribute to and maintain. I also want to provide people with the means to match up drum loops with rap songs and obscure hip-hop, because those albums often do not include sample sources, and it's important to me that the original artists get the overdue props they deserve.
How many rappers have sampled "It's A New Day"? And yet how many people do you think have even heard of "It's A New Day"? If you played it for them, they'd probably think that the Skull Snaps stole it from the Pharcyde or something! But seriously, I think that the people should know about these unsung heroes of the urban music scene, and I'm going to do everything I can to help groups like the Skull Snaps get all the recognition they deserve. After all, little, obscure songs like that have literally shaped a genre of music—created a genre of music even, and that is important to know. Even I, though hardly an expert in such things, know literally nothing about the Skull Snaps, and I think that that's a shame. I've heard their music, and it has affected me; I've used their beats to make new creations of my own; I've listened to their songs over and over and they have become a part of me; yet I couldn't tell you a single member's name or a single thing about their history.
Another, much smaller, purpose of the Phat Drum Loops pages is to indirectly try to break down the very real and very obtrusive racial barriers that exist in this hip-hop subculture. Rap isn't just for black people, though it often claims to be. The lyrics may speak of a lifestyle and to a culture I will never know, but the music is universal; and it must not be labeled as black-people's music and confined to the stereotypes related thereto, when it has so much to offer a diverse world of humans who not only listen to the music, but hear it as well.
I hope that these words don't offend anyone, but I'm really not worried about that very much, because I feel very strongly about this subject. I am not trying to downplay or invalidate black people's influence on or claim to this music genre in any way. That would be ludicrous. What I am trying to say, though, is that the hip-hop community at large should embrace all its supporters and visionaries regardless of color, rather than segregating or isolating itself and shunning them. We can all learn a lot from each other if we give each other the chance, and that's what I am all about: non-profit, non-greedy, non-separatist, and non-sequitur.
This music was made for everyone who wants to accept it into their lives and really let it enrich them. Let's make sure we don't cut-off anyone prematurely just because of something as superficial as color.
Speech done. That's that. Thanks for reading. Now let's get back to the free music! And let's really open our ears and our hearts to it!