The name Kenton Nix would be lost to the mists of time, had it not been for two classic singles, released within months of each other in the year 1981. The songs that I’m talking about were very influential upon their releases; so much so that there were rap records that came out shortly thereafter that borrowed the classic grooves, and other songs throughout the years that followed that would sample them. Nix’s claim to fame is that he was the original producer on both of the songs.
The first of these was released in the spring of 1981, and powered its way up to the R&B top 10. It would prove to be the only chart single this artist ever had. But it was so strong, and the bass line has proven to be so iconic, its influence would be felt decades later. That song is “Heartbeat.”
I wrote about the song last year in this post, and described it this way:
The song started simply enough: a beat that sounded somewhat like a heart beating, followed by electronic clap sounds. But when the beat dropped and that amazing, classic bass line kicked in—it was on.
There was a radio edit of the song, but most people I know jammed the Larry Levan dance mix, which is what I have posted. That groove is so strong, so powerful, it has to be consumed that way. Well, it doesn’t really, but you got ten minutes? Take a listen and see my point.
“Heartbeat” has been sampled 67 times, according to the site whosampled.com, and among those samples was the Treacherous Three’s rap song, “Feel The Heartbeat.” I remember putting my money down to buy this one, though it isn’t as good as the original source.
The most famous sample of “Heartbeat” is perhaps Ini Kamoze’s “Here Comes The Hotstepper” from 1994, though rap heads will also remember De La Soul’s Native Tongues remix of their song “Buddy” as pretty memorable as well. The dance group Seduction also covered “Heartbeat in 1990, but the original is better than this version as well.
By the fall, after Gardner’s “Heartbeat” had run its course, Nix struck again producing Gwen McCrae’s “Funky Sensation.” Another great bassline, a classic chant (“can you feel it/can you feel it/my funky sensation”), and a simmering groove not too dissimilar to “Heartbeat” carried this groove to the top of the dance charts, as well as the top 25 of the R&B chart.
Just before 1981 ended, Afrika Bambaataa & the Jazzy 5 put together a rap version of “Funky Sensation” called “Jazzy Sensation.” It takes the more memorable parts of McCrae’s original, switches out the word funky for jazzy, and armed with a Shep Pettibone mix, carries on verbally for almost ten minutes. I guess in those days, records had to go on for a while—I don’t seem to remember minding the length too much.
“Funky Sensation” has been sampled 42 times according to whosampled.com, including many rap tunes by the likes of Father MC, Boogie Down Productions and DMX, to name a few. But to me, the original tops all of them, even that classic rap by the Jazzy 5.
Thanks for hanging around on your Friday for a little funky history, courtesy of the pen and production skills of one Kenton Nix. As always, thanks for reading and listening, and I hope you enjoy your Friday!