A Brief History of Ohio Funk & Soul

“The state of Ohio is located in the American Midwest – about a 5 hour drive from Chicago, IL. Most people from outside of the state probably just imagined large swaths of farmland when reading that last sentence, but if you’re willing to take the time, there’s more than meets the eye to Ohio. Fun facts include: a state obsessed with American football (you thought you liked football? Now meet a Buckeyes fan), home to one of the largest universities in the U.S. (Ohio State), and also this one guy you may have heard of – Lebron James – just so happens to be from there.”

“When you dig a little deeper, you can also find a long-running musical history embedded in the state’s cultural make-up. Cleveland, Ohio is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and recently, Dayton, Ohio became home to the Funk Music Hall of Fame.”

Blending neo-soul with rnb and a hint of his Ghanian heritage, Ohio raised singer Nanabcool learned from the American soul great but not all of these were from his Mid-West neighbours in in Detroit. In this brief history he charts the soul and funk history of his home state with some key players who rival America’s most famous.

“Today, I’ll focus on the soul and funk sounds that Ohio natives have brought to music. The groups I’ve chosen have a few things in common, and are famed for introducing original sounds that have been sampled and recycled for the betterment of music from the 90s to today. When people think of West Coast hip-hop or G-Funk, they have to understand that geniuses like Dr. Dre spent time sampling these legends.”

Nanabcool makes his London debut on 31st October at NT’s.

Where does your love for Ohio Funk & Soul stem from?

Growing up in Ohio I would always look for musical inspiration, and it so happens that some of the greats of Music who I already loved happen to be from Ohio!

What marks out an Ohio F&S record, compared to the rest of the genre?

To be honest, I dont know i feel like the sound comes from Ohio or atleast the midwest. You can just feel it, its more than just one state I just wanted to highlight the people that came from a place similar to me.

What Ohio F&S record has left the biggest impression on you as an artist, and why?

I cant narrow it down to one, even the songs that I chose at the bottom I wish I could choose more lol. I picked these songs specifically because I know that they will all sound familiar, weather you’ve heard someone sample it or heard the full song in a movie etc. I picked the music so that people can realize the influence this specific area has had on music as a whole.

Nanabcool’s brief history of Ohio Funk & Soul in five tracks

Isley Brothers

To be honest with you, I’m literally at a loss for words when trying to describe the Isley brothers. Man! These are the guys that started everything. I like to dub them “the originators”. This band of brothers made records that have been covered by so many megastar artists, you may not have even realized that you were hearing covers of Isley Brothers originals the whole time. From the Beatles’ “Twist and Shout”, to the Jackson 5’s “It’s Your Thing”, and countless more hip-hop samples, here are the original inspirations:

I chose their song ‘That Lady’ and this video to not only highlight the brothers’ hit, but to also show their live performance.

Zapp & Roger

Emerging from Dayton, Ohio, Zapp & Roger is one of the most influential funk groups of all time. Their electric, futuristic sound can still be felt in music today. Artists such as hip-hop star T-Pain, famous for popularizing auto-tune effects in his songs, were inspired by Zapp & Roger’s initial use of creative auto-tune and the vocoder sound. Aside from bringing us all mainstream stylistic auto-tune, one of the standout things about this band was their ability to perform! Their live performances with the talk box are a must-see.

I chose the song Computer Love cause to my knowledge its the first heavily autotuned/vocoder use of vocals in a hit. With the way music sounds today you can credit  Zapp and Roger.

Ohio Players

I’m genuinely moved by the Ohio Players – by their name, their artwork, and of course: their psychedelic sound. Their music feels free. Big harmonies backing frontman Leroy “Sugarfoot” Bonner’s unique and supple vocals as he maneuvers through the lyrics with natural ease:

One of the classic skate-rink songs, I chose this song because I feel like people will hear the familiarity in other songs that sampled it.

Bootsy Collins

Coming to prominence playing bass alongside James Brown this Cincinnati native, added his flavor to the genre with smooth talking on top of a his bass playing. When I hear his music it feels like the soundtrack to the legendary blaxploitation films of the 70s you can hear his influence from greats like Rick James to Slick Rick.

I chose ‘I’d Rather be With You’, because I feel this is Booty Collins’ most recognizable song, but it also ecompasses everything that I described, it just has the feeling a beautiful mix of funk and soul.


As a dancer the rhythms lakeside provides on fantastic voyage is perfect for breakers and poppers worldwide. Their contribution to funk and soul is special because you can hear the integration of hiphop in their sound.

I chose ‘Lakeside’, because as a bboy Fantasic Voyage is one of the go to songs when it comes to battling, sessioning and is just always a good start when you’re trying to get loose.

Nanabcool makes his London debut on 31st October at NT’s, supported by our own Zipporah and Peachy

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