‘Redbone’, funkadelics and popular ‘90s hip-hop samples
When Donald Glover crept onto the R&B scene with “Awaken, My Love!” in December 2016, he was known merely as a rap artist for people who weren’t into rap. He was nerdy, loveable crybaby Troy on “Community,” and his own TV project “Atlanta” premiered months prior to critical acclaim. “Awaken” was Glover’s highest debut on the Billboard Top 200, but the single that preceded its release a few weeks before, “Redbone,” barely made a ripple.
Both the track and album steadied themselves on positive reception and a steady fanbase that expected the Childish Gambino alias to churn out his characteristically playful rap — its sultry, vintage R&B bubble wrap didn’t fit the formula for modern trap and electro-pop success. Beyond a phenomenal performance of “Redbone” on “The Tonight Show,” the album received little to no promotion on Glover’s behalf. “Awaken, My Love!” was not a project destined for commercial success.
Fast forward nine months later, and “Redbone” peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Top 100. Following months of Glover’s team’s painstaking push for the song to play on urban contemporary radio, a steady stream of offbeat memes and its unforgettable framing to Jordan Peele’s smash hit horror debut “Get Out,” Redbone had finally gotten the attention it strived for. Harkening back to the funkadelics movement of the ‘70s, the song explores the sound of sensual soul, rife with activism, futurism, humor and romance. A narrative of infidelity and paranoia, the song builds its foundation on a spooky, gooey play of synths, bass, glockenspiel and electric keyboard. Producer Ludwig Goransson received widespread attention following a Genius video depicting his process for curating the sound.
Nestled deep into the sonic layers of “Redbone” is ‘70s funkadelics staple “I’d Rather be With You” by Bootsy’s Rubber Band. Lead by Bootsy Collins, the song was released in 1976 to moderate commercial success. The OG song rides on a groovy, ambient wave of low-pitched electric bass with scattered jazz offbeats and accents. Bootsy Collins carries the song with the same rhythm as a slinky falling down the stairs, sporadic but circling to the same form throughout its progression.
The lyrics find Collins undeniably smitten with his muse, crooning “I’d rather with be with you” over and over again throughout the chorus. “I wanna hold your hand / Oh, if I can just be your man / I wanna be your friend / Not now and then, but until the end,” he sings in the second verse with fatalistic undertones and deep, warbly vocals. The song presents itself a pure foil to Glover’s rendition of it, an ode to love and romance that mimics the sentiments of “until death do us part.”
This very theme is in fact prevalent amongst most other samples of the song. Though not a smash success in the hey-day of funk, “I’d Rather Be With You” is a tune revisited over and over again across R&B and hip hop. Sampled in over 50 songs, a newfound interest for it was sparked in the ‘90s. Artists from 2Pac to N.W.A to Adina Howard revisited the song’s sentiments and sound in their own respective work throughout the entire decade.
From Beyoncé crooning “I’d rather be with you ‘cause I love the way / You scream my name,” to Fat Joe rapping “I’d rather touch you, yeah / Said I’d rather bust at you,” the idea of loyalty and compassion to one particular love interest reigns prevalent throughout. However, paired with its undeniably catchy and sexy groove, the song in its future renditions never revisited the sentimentality of merely wanting to hold someone’s hand, opting for a sexual energy that easily radiated off the tune.
This space and time in music provided the perfect opportunity for a prolonged funk fascination. After the popularity of Collins and George Clinton’s psychedelic funk music collective Parliament-Funkadelic both began to wane, the art of the sample rose in the hip-hop/R&B scene with heavy P-Funk influences. Remnants of the sound never evaded listeners as a result. By 1993, the collective took this opportunity to reconstitute a P-Funk All Stars with the rerelease of their 1984 album Urban Dancefloor Guerillas under the name Hydraulic Funk alongside the release a hip hop influenced album Dope Dogs. The following year, they toured for the first time in 11 years. The bonds between the artists of the collective slowly and gradually reformed enough for them to tour once more with the original members and release another album in 1996. The following year, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the largest band to ever achieve this recognition.
This isn’t to say that “I’d Rather Be With You” carried this legacy on it’s back; the overall influence and sound of the funkadelics left an indelible mark on music and especially hip hop in general. Some Funkadelic songs have even reached higher feats in hip-hop clout, George Clinton’s “Atomic Dog” being among the most sampled with over 180 iterations. But what makes Collins’s song so memorable and important to the art and role of sampling is how representative it is of the funkadelic genre and impact.
Despite psychedelic funk losing its popularity decades ago, its legacy and impact on modern music are honored through samples that borrow their very sounds and themes to make the old new. “I’d Rather be With You” embodies just that with its eager sense of togetherness and love and irresistible sound that never dulls — hallmarks to Glover’s “Awaken, My Love!” and the hip hop and R&B genres at large.
Donald Glover states it clearly himself: "And for me, it was kind of a similar feeling; I remember my dad playing blues music with such a joy and passion and happiness, so it (“Awaken, My Love!”) kind of evoked a lot of music from my childhood." Blues and funk radiate an a fuzzy, retro energy that almost feels nostalgic to the casual, young listener. These old, familiar tunes find this modern branding in the art of the sample that pays homage to the past by explicitly amplifying its impact on the present.