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Clyde Stubblefield, Most Sampled Drummer in Hip-Hop, Dead at 73

"The spirit of the greatest grace note left hand snare drummer will live on thru all of us," Questlove wrote in tribute.

by Alex Robert Ross
18 February 2017, 11:10pm

Clyde Stubblefield, the creator of the most sampled beat in hip-hop history and long-time drummer for the James Brown Band, has died at the age of 73. Rolling Stone reports that Stubblefield died Saturday and that the cause of death was kidney failure.

Born in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1943, Stubblefield played professionally as a teenager before working with Eddie Kirkland and Otis Redding in the early 1960s. His career took off in 1965 when he joined John "Jabo" Starks as one of a handful of drummers in the James Brown Band. Brown quickly settled on Starks and Stubblefield as the band's percussive backbone and the two would go on to lay down the beats in many of the Godfather of Soul's most memorable tracks.

One track in particular, however, has cemented Stubblefield's legacy. The 1970 single "Funky Drummer," with its syncopated break, went on to become the most sampled track in hip-hop, serving as the beat for Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," N.W.A's "Fuck tha Police," De la Soul's "The Magic Number" and Run-D.M.C.'s "Run's House." On top of the beat's near ever-presence in hip-hop, the "Funky Drummer" beat also found its way onto the Powerpuff Girls theme and Kenny G's "G-Bop." According to WhoSampled.com, it's been lifted into over 1000 tracks.

Despite "Funky Drummer"'s ubiquity, Stubblefield never saw much in the way of compensation. Early beatmakers rarely gave credit or paid for the sample, and, when royalties were paid, they most often went to Brown. "All my life I've been wondering about my money," he told the New York Times in 2011.

Last year, he revealed that Prince had paid $80,000 worth of medical bills that Stubblefield accumulated after being diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2001. Prince's charity, Love 4 One Another, told the Wisconsin State Journal at the time that Stubblefield was one of his "drumming idols." Despite that high praise, Prince and Stubblefield never worked together or even met throughout their careers. He told Billboard last year that he still didn't "understand why" the late singer had made the anonymous donation.

"The Funky Funkiest Drummer Of All Time," The Roots drummer Questlove wrote in an Instagram post this afternoon. "Clyde Stubblefield thank you for everything you've taught me. The spirit of the greatest grace note left hand snare drummer will live on thru all of us. #RIP."

Lead photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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