As the song quote above illustrates, the word "funk" first appeared somewhere in the 1920s or so, meaning "the smell of sexual intercourse". In music, the word was used to describe songs with insistent, syncopated rhythms that was highly danceable, though in that case, it was derived from the R&B musicians in night clubs who would perform for so long and so intensely that the venue would smell of their perspiration.
While Little Richard is credited as the first man to introduce funk rhythms into rock 'n roll in The '50s, funk music was for all intents and purposes codified by James Brown, who in The '60s developed a signature style relying on grooves that emphasised the downbeat (the first beat of every measure) and extensive vamps and improvisations with hits such as "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag", "Cold Sweat" and "Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine". Funk quickly evolved throughout the decade and became popular through artists such as Jimi Hendrix (the inventor of funk-rock), Sly and the Family Stone, The Isley Brothers and The Meters, but the genre reached its peak popularity in The '70s, thanks to George Clinton and his Parliament-Funkadelic collective (whose own subgenre fused psychedelic rock and funk, nicknamed "P-Funk"), Sly and the Family Stone, James Brown, the Isleys, Earth, Wind & Fire, and others. Jazz-funk also appeared thanks to Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, and various Soul musicians dabbled heavily in funk, such as Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, The Temptations, The O'Jays, Stevie Wonder and Wilson Pickett.
Funk started to flounder in the late Seventies as disco overtook it in popularity. Disco was massively influenced and quite similar to funk, but while funk had a "rhythm über alles" approach (real funksters wouldn't think twice about jamming over a single chord if it was funky enough), disco placed a much bigger emphasis on melodies. Disco also had much more conventional, hedonistic lyrics, and took a more flamboyant, campy approach to production. Aside from the typical funk lineup of guitar-bass-drums-keyboards-horn section, string sections were included, and the overall sound was much more poppy, with way simplified beats and grooves. Funk fans started a backlash against the genre similar to the one rock fans experienced, claiming it was soulless and overindulgent, an opinion memorably summarised by Funkadelic on their Uncle Jam Wants You album, which claimed to "rescue dance music from the blahs".
As disco died an ugly death at the start of The '80s, funk evolved in a new direction as a reaction to the excess of disco and the increasing difficulty of keeping together large bands like in The '70s. The new sound was stripped-down, less syncopated and more reliant on electronics, with synthesisers and drum machines overtaking the previous hallmarks of funk such as "funky drummers", slap bass and Hammond organ/Rhodes piano. The first musician to take advantage of this style (nicknamed "punk-funk", not to be confused with actual post-punk bands influenced by funk such as Gang of Four and Talking Heads) was Rick James, who scored hits in 1981 with "Give It to Me Baby" and "Super Freak", but Prince, with his backing band The Revolution and his associates (The Time, Vanity and Apollonia 6, Sheila E., Wendy and Lisa, Jill Jones, Mazarati, The Family, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis and so on) were the most successful throughout The '80s, thanks to his effective combination of eroticism, skillful use of technology, catchy riffs and fusion of various genres, including funk, pop, rock/hard rock/heavy metal and New Wave, with the resulting style being nicknamed "the Minneapolis Sound" (due to the fact that most practitioners were from Minnesota). Others followed Prince's lead to varying degrees of success, such as Cameo, Zapp, the Gap Band and the Dazz Band, while other subgenres appeared in the period, such as Afrika Bambaataa and electro-funk/electro. Funk proved to be a large influence on hip-hop in the decade as well, with samples from funk songs being repeatedly used in hip-hop and even house music.
While pure funk pretty much disappeared after The '80s thanks to hip-hop, resurgent R&B and its offshoot New Jack Swing, The '90s saw a boom in Funk Rock and Funk Metal bands, such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against the Machine, Living Colour, Jane's Addiction, Primus, Faith No More and Infectious Grooves. Another subgenre of hip-hop called G-funk (Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Tha Dogg Pound), which was based on copying and updating the old "P-Funk" sound, also became popular in the early nineties, but pretty much wore out its welcome and died by 1996.
In Brazil, there's the subgenre funk carioca, which is actually closer to electro and hip-hop than actual funk. It's divided in songs about sex, and the "probidão", glamourizing the criminal lifestyle. It also provided us with this meme, showing just how far the apple has fallen from the tree.
It should be noted that while far from common, there are still (new) bands that play pure funk music. A pair of good examples would be T-Bird and the Breaks, and The Apples.
Important funk bands and artists:
- Ashton, Gardner & Dyke
- Average White Band (a bunch of white guys playing funk, as the name indicates)
- Bootsy Collins
- The Brothers Johnson
- James Brown
- Can (both white and German and generaly considered a krautrock band, but funky as all get out while they had Japanese busker Damo Suzuki as their frontman)
- George Clinton (with Parliament-Funkadelic and solo)
- Commodores (Lionel Richie's band before he went MOR)
- Con Funk Shun
- Earth, Wind & Fire (so-called "sophisticated funk", as opposed to the "hardcore funk" of Brown and Clinton)
- The Fatback Band
- Mother's Finest
- The Gap Band
- The Goodies (the majority of the music Bill recorded for the TV series)
- Isaac Hayes (when he's not doing smooth Soul ballads, he's doing this)
- The Isley Brothers
- The Jackson Five
- Michael Jackson (on his early albums, anyways)
- Rick James
- Fela Kuti (Afrobeat creator)
- Kool And The Gang
- Curtis Mayfield (post-Impressions)
- Maceo Parker (saxophonist who started out in James Brown's band in The '60s, then played with Clinton in The '70s and Prince since The Oughts and currently serves as a major exponent of jazz-funk)
- The Meters
- The Ohio Players
- Prince and The Revolution, plus the whole Minneapolis sound
- Sly and the Family Stone (whose bassist Larry Graham invented slap bass)
- Stevie Wonder ("Superstition" is largely responsible for the popularity of the Clavinet in funk music)
- Zapp (robot funksters famous for Roger Troutman's mastery of the talk box, also a major influence on electro and later G-funk)
- One of many genres tackled by Frank Zappa, particularly on Over-Nite Sensation and Roxy & Elsewhere.