Album Reviews

James Brown – Funky People’s Greatest Breakbeats

(UM3) UK release date: 13 February 2006


James Brown - Funky People's Greatest Breakbeats The James Brown-owned People label holds such a pride of place in my record collection that Ikea have yet to build a strong enough shelf to hold the vinyl. This new release collects the undisputable highs from this cult ’70s funk imprint.

Three volumes of the Best Of Funky People have been circulating for a while, and they are well worth checking out. This compilation selects the choicest cuts, providing us with a great sampler for the label. While Brown barely features, his stamp of authority is felt across these 16 tracks from many of his friends and collaborators. The roll call is predictably a who’s who of funk featuring The JBs, Lyn Collins, Marva Whitney, Fred Wesley and Bobby Bird.

If you’re already funkier than a mosquito’s tweeter, you’ll probably know most of these tracks by reputation already. If not, then the breakbeats are sure to be familiar from classic hip hop of the 80s and 90s. It’s a smorgasbord of vintage samples – if the quality of the music doesn’t grab you then this album provides endless ‘name that tune’ style fun.

Fred Wesley’s Same Beat is one of those tracks sampled by the likes of Ice T, for example. Despite the infectious break, however, the most interesting thing is that Wesley himself samples Martin Luther King. The political edge to this music also makes itself felt with the tellingly titled You Can Have Your Watergate But Give Me Some Bucks And I’ll Be Straight.

There some great soul sister action courtesy of Myra Barnes’ Message From The Soul Sisters, an underheard track that surely ranks alongside Aretha Franklin‘s Respect for classic girl powered funk.

A few years ago I had the pleasure of catching Fred Wesley and The JBs live at the Jazz Café. Besides having the funkiest speaking voice in history (it can have Barry White‘s in a fight any day), the master of the horny horn features with The JBs on seven tracks here. And each one is a belter.

Bobby Bird’s funk anthem I Know You Got Soul is best played very loudly as it’s a better pick me up than any cup of espresso. Maceo And The Macks‘ Soul Power ’74 is also on show and still feels like a fresh and exciting listen after all this time. In short, this will have you toe tapping and humming funky riffs from here to doomsday.

Arguably there isn’t much of a place for a compilation made out of an already existing series of compilations, but this serves as a superb taster to this much revered label. Hopefully you’ll enjoy this enough to track down albums from these artists, such as Fred Wesley’s superb Breakin’ Bread.

If you like your funk this is as damn essential as it gets. And with a vinyl edition also in the offing it looks like those Ikea people had better sort out my shelving problems sharpish.


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James Brown – Funky People’s Greatest Breakbeats