Funk music has to have a backbeat on 2 and 4 right? Well, not always—especially if you are a pioneering, trend setting, “they broke the mold” type of artist such as James Brown or Prince.

‘Super Bad’

James Brown—Jabo Starks, drums

‘Sexy MF’

Prince—Michael Bland, drums

The backbeat is the life of a song smacking down on beats 2 and 4. It has incredible power and influence over a groove. But over the years there have been a few “milestone” performances by drummers who decided to redirect the power of the backbeat. These recordings are perfect examples of thinking outside the box resulting in timeless grooves that are integral to the songs they are connected with. For the month of March, we will take a look at songs without a 2 and 4 backbeat, and analyze impact on the song.


The groove on “Super Bad” is played by one of the most sampled drummers of all time, John “Jabo” Starks. Influenced by the gospel call-and-response between the preacher and the congregation, this groove is about infectious as it gets. Accenting the horn part, the snare drum strikes on beat 1, the & of 2, and the 4. The most clever part of this groove is the nifty opening of the hi-hat on the & of 1 and the 3, which creates an underlying 2 and 4 feel (Ex. 1).

Ex. 1

Prince, another unique and influential artist, had no problem paying homage to the Godfather of Soul with a similar groove on his equally funky “Sexy MF,” with Michal Bland laying it down on drums with a few syncopated additions in the kick pattern (Ex. 2). On beat 4, Bland occasionally replaces the kick with a snare.

Ex. 2

These grooves are important to be familiar with as a working drummer, and they’re super fun to play!

Stewart Jean is Program Chair for Drums at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA.