If you love hip-hop then chances are you also dig funk, even if you don’t know it yet. The two genres have been intertwined from the birth of rap and will forever continue to be so going forward.
Originating in the 1960s, funk music is an amalgamation of elements of soul, jazz, and R&B. Funk was born out of the desire for a more relaxed and looser version of dance music, which the genre derived through rhythmic bass lines and melodies played over repetitive, danceable percussion. The best funk bands that emerged during the ’60s would go on to influence just about every popular band you can think of today.
As a sample-based art form, hip-hop in particular was heavily influenced by the breaks and grooves of early funk pioneers like James Brown and The JBs and Parliament Funkadelic, whose music was looped to form the foundation of the early rap music played by pioneers like Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash. Sampling remains a huge part of rap to this day, and a whole sub-genre of funk has sprouted up to pay homage to the rap-funk connection, crafting groove- and breakbeat-heavy sounds perfectly tailored for hip-hop fans.
With that in mind, here’s our list of the best funk bands that hip-hop heads should listen to.
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Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band
Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band are a mysterious steel pan outfit hailing from Hamburg, Germany who have amassed a cult following around the globe by covering songs that are iconic and known by all and making them their own. They first burst onto most people’s radar in 2016 with a stellar cover of 50 Cent’s “PIMP” that featured neck-snapping drums and transformed Mr. Porter’s iconic melody into an island affair that soundtracks summer parties to this day. With a slew of classic 7”s and two critically acclaimed full length albums, BRSB set a high bar for themselves, one they pushed even higher with their latest offering., Expansions, which features original material and covers of hip-hop luminaries like J-Dilla, east coast rap greats Jay-Z, Nas, and more.
Related Reads: Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band – Expansions Album Review
You’re bound to notice a unifying factor in many of the acts features in this list – Melbourne. Spearheaded by acts on the College of Knowledge record label, Melbourne has quietly became the epicenter for a particular brand of breakbeat-centric funk for hip-hop heads. Case in point – Karate Boogaloo, a Melbourne-based quartet who take funk from the past and mix it with hip-hop from today. KB have released a slew of hip-hop style singles and albums since 2016, including a series of three fantastic mixtapes that cover and reinterpret songs that were used as sample material to create some of hip-hop’s most iconic beats. While the music is consistently groovy and headnodic, part of the fun of listening to KB’s music is trying to identify the samples they cover. Highly recommended for hip-hop nerds and fans of groove-heavy funk alike.
Related Reads: Karate Boogaloo – KB’s Mixtape Vol. 3 Album Review
El Michels Affair
With their debut album Sounding Out The City, El Michels Affair captured the attention of listeners in 2006 with soul-drenched instrumentals, funky bass lines and a jazzy live urgency. Led by the vision of bandleader Leon Michels, the lo-fi, warm recording aesthetic of Sounding Out The City led to a live show backing Raekwon and to later shows with several other members of the Wu-Tang Clan. The Wu-Tang shows would prove to be a foundational stepping stone for El Michels Affair’s second and third LPs, Enter the 37th Chamber and Return To The 37th Chamber, instrumental tribute albums that covered iconic Wu-Tang beats and their source material. While the band’s stature grew, so did the industry’s interest as the group caught the eye of, and was sampled by, a host of hip-hop artists, from Ghostface Killah and J Dilla to J. Cole and Travis Scott.
Related Reads: El Michels Affair – Yeti Season Album Review
Formed at the end of 2017, Surprise Chef have grown into a progressive funk band unlike anything else emerging from within the fertile, creative, and supportive Melbourne music scene. With a diverse range of musical influences, Surprise Chef draw from different sonic inspirations to weave a unique, raw sound that’s still recognizably their own. Each of the tracks on their two excellent albums, All News Is Good News and Daylight Savings, pulsate like a blood rush to the head, yet show the perfect amount of restraint to leave you bobbing your head, taking you on a cinematic soul journey that’s the perfect blend of retro-hip-hop and soul, albeit with a psychedelic twist. Their distinctly crafted soundscapes propel fine groove-based instrumental music that dips its toes into synthesized ambience while letting drums and bass lead the way, with a gentle nod and wink in the direction of 70’s inspired jazz-funk.
Menahan Street Band
Menahan Street Band (MSB) has been at the epicenter of New York’s fertile and flourishing music scene for nearly a decade. They have performed shows on stages all around the world, released three critically acclaimed albums, and most notably, backed the late soul singer Charles Bradley. They’ve also carved out a unique funk niche by mixing a musical gumbo that’s part Curtis Mayfield, part Mulatu Astatke, and part Ennio Morricone. Their groove-heavy sound has been sampled by the likes of Jay-Z, Black Star, Kid Cudi, and many more.
If you’re a hip-hop head, then you need to check out the Diasonics. This instrumental funk band from Moscow was only formed in 2019 and they’ve already garnered a cult following by releasing an impressive array of their own singles and other various projects on well known funk labels like Record Kicks. The band’s music, dubbed “hassar funk,” is a lively mix of funky soul, psych, eastern melodies and hip-hop. Their debut album Origin of Forms is stuffed with sample-based grooves that blend funk basslines, groovy guitar riffs and psychedelic keys that transport you back to the late 60s – early 70s.
Related Reads: The Diasonics – Origin of Forms Album Review
Between the burgeoning cinematic soul scene and old school funk/soul fusion, Melbourne-based The Pro-Teens are one of the best funk bands to listen to if you’re a hip-hop head. With band members taking on pseudonyms like ‘Dead Honest’ Dean Amazing” and “Libby Clique-Baite,” they craft incredibly fun and unbridled funk music that’s firmly tongue in cheek. On their debut album, I Flip My Life Every Time I Fly, the band slyly marries the soul/funk roots of sample culture with the principles of boom-bap hip hop. Inspired by the cinematic soul of Marc Moulin, the colourful comic stylings of MF DOOM and Kool Keith and the dark exotic flavor of Gravediggaz, the band incorporate Galt MacDermot’s funky beats, Richard Evans’ whip-crack tempo and bop on their phantasmagorical journey, crafting a patchwork of vivid instrumental textures and moods straight out of a movie. For MF DOOM fans, The Pro-Teens recently dropped a 45-inch covering some choice cuts from the masked villain himself.
Related Reads: The Pro-Teens – I Flip My Life Every Time I Fly Album Review