A funk and hip-hop legend you might not know
Written by Pete Banjo on May 26, 2014
These days at KPSU we get a fair amount of people interested in the musical backstories of songs or even genres they love – from indie rock kids delving back past Sonic Youth to proto-punk and garage rock of the 60’s to EDM kids discovering the creative power of artists like Kraftwerk and Brian Eno, both hip-hop heads and others often find themselves rediscovering the soul and funk greats of the 60’s and 70’s.
I think most of us know just how influential and infinitely sampled names like James Brown and George Clinton’s Parliament Funkadelic are. We’ve probably heard of the O’Jays, Earth Wind & Fire, Sly & The Family Stone, Curtis Mayfield, etc. We might even be tuned into names like Afro-Beat legend Fela Kuti. Those names are pretty big and get plenty of airplay. But I’m taking a bit of time (let’s be honest, I’m procrastinating studying) to tell you about one of the most-sampled names in hip-hop – and one of the most influential and prolific names in soul and funk – that you don’t often hear much about: The Meters.
The Meters got serious as a band in 1965, formed in New Orleans. They were the house band for Allen Toussaint, and later worked backing names like Dr. John, Robert Palmer, and even Paul McCartney. But on their own, they were releasing albums that were hugely influential in the burgeoning American Funk sound, but not quite topping the carts. Key to their sound was a sparse and minimal instrumentation and that driving “second-line” style of drumming taken from the street sounds of New Orleans jazz.
But then hip-hop happened, and those Meters albums that never quite found mainstream success were given new life: those sparse and funky instrumental tracks seemed perfectly designed for hip-hop’s sampling and reinvention of hooks and grooves. Here’s some artists who’ve sampled The Meters:
A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, 9th Wonder, J Dilla, Gang Starr, NWA, Public Enemy, Ice Cube, Digable Planets, Big Daddy Kane, Black Milk, Aaliyah, Timbaland, Cypress Hill, MC Lyte, LL Cool J, Naughty By Nature … and dozens more
If you’re curious, here’s a more comprehensive list (5 pages) of hip-hop tracks that have sampled The Meters from the fantastic folks at whosampled.com
Here’s one of their most famous tracks:
And one of their more obscure tracks:
Here’s a vintage 1976 Rolling Stone article about them, which starts with the sentence: “The Meters may well be the finest performing American band.”
If you want to discover some lesser-known funk and soul greats that are the backbone of so much of hip-hop, here’s a good place to start; featuring names like The Soul Searchers, Lafayette Afro Rock Band, Joe Tex, Incredible Bongo Band, Skull Snaps, The Honey Drippers, and more…
– Pete Banjo, KPSU Production Director and music history nerd