Clyde Stubblefield, the drummer whose work in a 1970 session with James Brown provided the backbeat for an astonishing number of iconic hip-hop songs, died Saturday at the age of 73, Rolling Stone reports. Stubblefield, who also toured with Otis Redding, was part of Brown’s band from 1965 to 1971, playing on songs like “Say it Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud,” “Cold Sweat,” and “Mother Popcorn.” But he’s best known for accidentally changing the course of hip-hop in 1970—before the genre even existed—with a short drum break on a James Brown song called “Funky Drummer.”
You can hear the break at 5:22, but you’ve definitely heard it before—it’s one of the most-sampled snippets of music ever recorded. Whosampled.com lists 1,364 songs that use Stubblefield’s work, including landmark works like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” N.W.A.’s “Fuck Tha Police,” and LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.” It’s also the beat on George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90,” Ed Sheeran’s “Shirtsleeves,” and the theme song from The Powerpuff Girls.
But despite providing the backbeat to an entire genre, Stubblefield never got much public acclaim or any money at all from the long, strange afterlife of his work on “Funky Drummer,” as he explained to SF Weekly in a 2012 interview:
All the drum patterns I played with Brown was my own, he never told me how to play or what to play. I just played my own patterns, and the hip-hoppers and whatever, the people that used the material probably paid him, maybe. But we got nothing. I got none of it. … I think that was disrespectful. And not even mentioning my name—“Clyde on the drums, or playing the drums,” or whatever. “These are his drum patterns.” It got mentioned nowhere.
But musicians knew who the credit belonged to. In 2000, when Stubblefield was battling bladder cancer with no health insurance, Prince—a fan—personally paid $90,000 to cover his bills. Here he is at the height of his powers, demonstrating just a little of what he could do: