Tag Archives: James Brown

“Music 4 the Nxt 1, Black History Month Edition: “Self Destruction” by the Stop the Violence Movement

“Self Destruction” is one of the greatest collaborative songs in Hip Hop history. KRS-ONE, lead rapper of Boogie Down Productions, and one of the greatest philosophers of Hip Hop, formed an organization called “The Stop the Violence Movement” in 1987 in response to a concert homicide. What hit even closer to home was the death of BDP’s own DJ Scott LaRock, founding member of the group and a known peace maker in the community. “Self Destruction” was released in early Hip Hop’s golden era in the year of 1989 and featured a who’s who of M.C’s including M.C Lyte, Stetsasonic, Just Ice, Heavy D, Public Enemy, and Kool Moe Dee. It was so successful at capturing the anti violence, Black unity sentiments of the rap community at the time that a similar project entitled, “We’re all in the Same Gang” was put together shortly after this song was released. For those of us who were there at the time “Self Destruction” is one of the ultimate reminders of the fresh, youthful, common sense activism of the golden age of Hip Hop.

The song begins with a sample from one of the primary intellectual fathers of Hip Hop, Malcom X, saying “All of the speakers tonight agree that America has a very serious problem.” Then the beat comes in, riding a large sample from another one of Hip Hop’s fathers, James Brown, taken from Fred Wesley and The J.B’s Nixon era funk classic, “You Can Have Watergate, But Gimmie Some Bucks And I’ll be Straight.” The main bass line from “Watergate” is sampled along with the laid back funk guitar chords of the J.B’s song. This is laid over a hard, slightly shuffling Hip Hop beat. Underneath the beat are powerful 808 drum kicks that play a pattern every other bar, leaving space for the heavy thump to be absorbed. A crashing horn sample is inserted every two bars right on the “One”, highlighting James Brown’s favorite beat. At the end of the cycle snare drums play 8th notes that bring you right back to the top of the arrangement, while the whole group chants, “Self Destruction/ya headed for Self Destruction.” KRS ONE begins his verse with a stripped down drum beat featuring a siren like horn sample. He speaks in the video from a lecture at the Schomburg Museum of Black History in Harlem, New York. KRS’s verse says, “Well/todays’ topic/self destruction/it really ain’t the rap audience/that’s buggin/it’s one or two sucka’s/ignorant brothers/trying to rob and steal from one another.” KRS makes it clear that the Hip Hop community was banding together to address the violence in the Hip Hop community, which was itself a microcosm of the dog eat dog violence in the Black community as a whole, stating “We got ourselves together/so that you could unite/and fight/for whats right.” KRS brings it home with, “The way we live is positve/we don’t kill our relatives.” M.C Delight of Stetsasonic makes it clear that Black on Black violence should be limited going into the 21st Century, saying “M.C Delight here to state the bottom line/all the Black on Black violence/was WAY before our time.”

The O.G rhyme master Kool Moe Dee raps next, delivering one of the most compelling of all the rhymes he ever delivered in his illustrious career, not just for his usual pollysallbic internal rhyming, but for the succintness of his message. He paints a scenario where a man got stabbed while his wife cried “cause he died/a trifling death.” The Moe Dee delivers one of his greatest lines, “Back in the ’60s/our brothers and sisters/were hanged/how can you gang bang?/I never ever ran/from the Ku Klux Klan/and I shouldn’t have to run/from a Blackman!/cause that’s!….” After which the group chants the chorus again. It always amused me how Moe Dee maintained his black superhero persona, slowly bobbing his head with his Geordi LaForge shades on while everybody else rocked to the beat! A sample of Gil Scott Heron counting down to “The Bottle” en espanol leads in to M.C Lyte’s famous “Funky fresh/dressed to impress/ready to party/money in ya pocket/dying to move ya body”. She goes on to describe how parties get turnt out in the hood, as brothers enter the club with drugs, knives and guns. She says “There’s only one disco/dont close one more/you aint gaurding the door/so what you got a gun for?”

Wise and Daddy O of Stetsasonic come up next, delivering a tag team rap in a jail house set over a sample of Donald Byrd’s “Falling Like Dominoes.” They use their verse to lay out the prison repercussions of stealing and tearing down the community. Next up is BDP member D-Nice, who warns that if we don’t get it together, “The rap race will be lost without a trace.” He paraphrases the Black Panther Party saying, “To teach to each/is what rap intended”, then laying down a prescient warning about what would happen to rap if the community did keep it, “but society/wants to invade/so do not walk this path/that they laid, its”. Mrs. Melodie of BDP follows next with encouragement, after which Doug E Fresh raps backed by a drum beat and his own distinctive beat box mouth percussion. Doug E insists, “It dosent make you a big man/and/to wanna go and diss your brotherman.””

Hardcore rapper Just Ice comes next, talking about his own criminal past and saying firmly, “You don’t have to be soft to be for peace.” The late great Heavy D follows Just Ice’s biting flow with his smooth New Jack delivery, saying clearly, “Heavy’s at the door/so there’ll be no/bumrushing!” After which the beat is enhanced by a sample from “Pass the Peas”, which had been immortalized by Eric B & Rakim’s “I Aint No Joke.” Heavy makes a very poignant statement for Black people when he says, “I don’t understand the difficulty, people/love your brother/treat him as equal.” He also addresses racist stereotypes head on, saying, “They call us animals/uhm uhh/I don’t agree with them/I prove ’em wrong/but right is what/you’re proving ’em.” Fruitkwan of Stetsasonic comes on smooth in black gloves rapping about how the penetentiary is the most likely end for those who don’t heed the songs message. This makes way for the masters of political rap, Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy, and Chuck delivers one of the most fiery activist orations of his career, “Yes we URGE to merge/we live for love of our people!”, as Flavor Flav provides his agitated interjections. You can hear a snippet of Jesse Jackson’s “Brothers and Sisters”, just as it was used on P.E’s breakout hit, “Rebel without a Pause”, as Clyde Stubblefield’s classic beat from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” also gives you “Rebel” deja vu. Chuck says it’s our job to “Build and collect ourselves with intellect”, as he raps from a radio DJ control booth reminiscent of the one in the movie, “The Warriors”, while Flavor hits dance steps outside. Chuck ends the song with a firm summantion, “To revolve/to evolve/with self respect/cause/WE GOT TO KEEP OURSELVES IN CHECK/or else it’s….”

“Self Destruction” was so strong and so potent in it’s time it formed my perception of what Hip Hop was. 7 years after Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s classic “The Message”, the next wave of M.C’s had transformed rap into a Malcom X quoting, James Brown powered explosion of Black creativity. This era of Hip Hop would essentially die out in 1992 with Dr. Dre’s nihilistic classic, “The Chronic.” But the steps these M.C’s took in their time to use whatever influence they had to steer the community in the right direction will never be forgotten by me and many others who groove to this song. While its now an obvious truth that good music cant stop or overturn the larger economic forces that Black people or any other group face, it’s also admirable for anybody who has a public voice to use it to promote the perpetuation and saftey of human life. Ice Cube would make the ultra pragmatic observation, “Self Destruction don’t pay the f!@#$ng rent” within the next year, but he also would become almost a strict message rapper in the years after this song. Though this song did not end violence, just as “We are the World” did not end poverty, it stands tall as a group of young Black men and women taking the responsibility to use their platforms to talk about something of benefit to the community. Which is something that must never be forgotten or diminished.

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Music 4 the Nxt 1 Black History Month Edition III: “Bra” by Cymande

One outstanding aspect of the musical climate of the late ’60s and early ’70s was the flowering in popularity of Black musical groups from parts of the Diaspora outside of the U.S.A. This trend was exemplified by acts and groups such as Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and the Wailers, Manu Dibango, The Beginning of the End, Mandrill, T-Connection, Fela Kuti, Osibisa, Hugh Masekela, and today’s subject, the Caribbean funk group Cymande. These groups, through their expansive African based rhythms and the incorporation of other grooves cultivated by Africans estranged from Africa, both paid tribute to deep African roots as well as exemplified the new flavors that had picked up in the numerous ports of call along the Transatlantic slave trade. Today’s song from Cymande, their classic “Bra”, is a song that has stood the test of time as a unique example of Caribbean Funk.

“Bra” is a song that derives it’s unique rhythmic effect from contrasting rhythmic feels. While the tempo is brisk, Steve Scipio played a bass line that pulled back on the time, while the horns long sustained notes create another feeling on top of that. You’re grabbed from the first notes of the intro, as Scipio plays a firm note on the first beat and another beat on the upbeat of beat 2. He’s only playing TWO notes in the fist bar of the pattern, but the feel and placement of them is enough to create a baseline the listener won’t soon forget. Immediately after the bass hits hard on the first beat, guitarist Patrick Patterson plays a sweet toned guitar slide followed by some fluttering trills, in a style very similar to the Curtis Mayfield guitar ballad style. The horn section then comes in on the upbeats, playing a very sharp, staccato arpeggio, walking up the notes of a major chord, then holding the top note of the chord for a whole two bars, before working their way down and sustaining another note. All of this is laid on top of Sam Kelly’s drums, which are playing a variation of Clyde Stubblefield’s stop and start drum groove made famous on James Brown’s “Cold Sweat”, with the rhythmic gaps/rests lining up with Scipio’s bass line. Working in concert with that are the conga drums of Pablo Gonsales. The result is a dipping, bouncing Caribbean funk groove with all the jerkiness of Island music, yet the pronounced “One” of mainland funk, with a sweet coating of melodic horns on top.

When the vocal comes in, the horns stop playing to give the vocals center stage. Joey Dee sings a tale of African redemption with a slight West Indian accent, with heavy reverb on his mic. “Time Has been lost for trying/we have been left outside/looking at passions dying/Emotions grow strong on time.” After which, the famous sing a long chorus is introduced, “But its all right/we can still go on.” Underneath the chorus the rhythm begins to get more active, as Scipio expands his bass line with class Jamerson/Rainey/Jemmont rhythmic business as Patterson also becomes more aggressive in his rhythm guitar strumming. The horn riff returns and on top of it all the percussionists start to spice up the groove with small rhythmic instruments, with the tambourine rattling like a snake for an instant. After the chorus the vital rhythmic bed continues on for a saxophone solo, under which the rhythm players introduce more variations. Midway through the song, the song breaks down to just bass playing along with percussion. The bassline on the break is an incredibly funky variation on the main rhythm, with the drums playing kick drums on all four beats and the percussionist teasing out melodic rhythms. The groove slowly builds up layer by layer until we get back to the top of the song for one last repetition of the main verse until the song comes to a close on a hard stomped out, “But its ALL RIGHT!”

“Bra” is a song that for a time I thought only my Dad and family knew, and I thought the group was African for the longest. Then in the ’90s Spike Lee used their songs on several movies of his that I enjoyed very much, including “Crooklyn” and “The 25th Hour.” I remember the first time I heard it on one of his films, excitedly showing it to my Dad and asking him what the name of that song was, because I’d heard it all my life but never knew anything about the group. It was later I found out Spike Lee’s connection to them made sense, because being a pan-Carribean group, with New York City’s strong Carribean influence, their music was very popular during the early day’s of Hip Hop, and “Bra” and their other fantastic hit, “The Message”, were considered early Hip Hop breakbeats that had even occasionally been sampled. Both songs are excellent examples of Post Civil Rights and Black Power era ’70s solidarity music, done by a group of Rastafarian funksters in England who’s origins spanned the Carribean. Their music as a whole very uniquely pulled together the Caribbean rhythms and Rastafarian ideology of Reggae with the hard edged vibe of American funk. Also there is much confusion over the title of this song, but “Bra” is simply the old school way of spelling a word that has been popular among Black people again in recent years, the shorthand “Bruh” for the word, “Brother.” This word is not only popular among American blacks (and now everybody else as well) but is also almost an official term of address in other Black countries, such as the great South African Hugh Masekela’s nickname, “Bra Hugh.” Also in Liberia where my mother is from it was a term of endearment, followed by the given name, for males you were close to. So the title of the song is in itself an example of the unique unifying ability of Cymande as a musical group that mustn’t be forgotten!

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Filed under Black Issues, FUNK, Liberia/Africa, Music for the Next ONE, Music Matters, Rearview 20/20 Hindsight (aka "History"), Social Timing

riquespeaks Inaguration Day Music Special

Friday January 20th, 2017 marks the Inaguration of the 45th President of the United States. It is clear from the divisive, childish, rude campaign he ran, and the den of thieves he has appointed to his cabinet that he is coming in with very clear plans to undo many positive things that have taken place in this country over the last 50 years. For me personally, this is one of the most dramatic political events of my life, following the election of Barack Obama, and the drama over George W Bush’s election in 2000. But this new Administration poses a greater threat to what I hold dear in both style and content than that of GWB. Times like this demand that I go back into what brought me here to understand whats going on and how to go forward, and that is the social and political information distilled in some of my favorite music! So I’d like to take this opportunity to share some music with you today that will be uplifting, informative, insightful, and useful on the first day of the Trump “Error.”

“Party for Your Right to Fight” by Public Enemy

Public Enemy is one of my favorite musical groups and their music and the lyrics of Chuck D have been a guiding force for most of my life. “Party for Your Right to Fight” is a lesser played track from their classic second album, “It takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.” The title inverts The Beastie Boys classic rebel without a cause anthem, “Fight For Your Right to Party” into a rousing call to arms, with the “Party” in the title being synonymous to political action, especially that of the Black Panther Party. In a unique production move for P.E, Chuck and Flavor rap the whole song together, with one voice slightly delayed behind the other, in a break from their usual style of Chuck raps and Flavor interjections. The song itself minces no words, attacking the U.S Government’s COINTELPRO operations during the 1960s. It also features a great sample from prime period George Clinton, saying, “Aint nothing but a party ya’ll, lets get it on!”

James Brown Economic Plans




The Godfather of Soul James Brown always used his musical voice and powerful standing in the Black International community as a platform to speak on various issues of wide concern. Although he was reputed to be a conservative, the economic philosophy he espouses on these songs is far from the “Trickle down greed and pain” that has been Republican economic philosophy since Ronald Reagens time. “Take Some, Leave Some” for example espouses a communal, humanistic economic philosophy over a brutally crawling funk groove. JB says, “Ive never been the type of cat that has to have it all.” “You Cant Take It With You” from 1976’s “Get Up Offa That Thang” LP is a companion piece, a furiously funky B-Boy/Locking groove where JB disavows money as the full measure of a persons life because at the end of the day, theres no such thing as a rich dead person! The classic breakbeat “Funky President” is a commentary on the Presidency of Gerald Ford and the tough economic times the country was facing in the mid ’70s. Here JB unveils an economic plan of self sufficiency for Black America, inspired by Marcus Garvey, Booker T Washington, and the Honorable Elijah Muhammed, “Lets get together/get some land/raise our food like the man/save our money/like the mob/put up a factory OWN the job.” “The Whole World Needs Liberation” from the “Get on the Good Foot” LP is a track built off the earlier Bootsy Collins fired “Brother Rapp” that focuses on a topic of Third World liberation, which on the economic side is still one unfolding today. JB states strongly, “It’s neither Black or White/it’s what’s right/its neither White or Black/It’s a fact/the whole world needs Liberation.”

“We the People” by The Staple Singers

The Staple Singers used the guitar playing of “Pops”, and the wonderful voices of Mavis, Cleotha and Yvonne to provide a soulful companion in sound to the Civil Rights movement. When the tide turned to Black power, pride and identity, The Staples actually hit their peak from a popular standpoint, as their rootsy, gutsy sound was very much in league with the heart of the Black community at that time. “We The People” is a funky national anthem for the community at that time, and it’s message is very pertinent in the age of Trump. Although we have a very despicable man taking office today, it is “We the People” who “have to make the world go round.” Meaning this can not only be Donald Trumps America, the people must remain engaged and vigorous in checking his hand!

“B Movie” by Gil Scott Heron

This song is still hands down the best summation of the types of forces in American life that got us to the point a Donald J Trump could get elected, for my money. It’s that because of the cutting, insightful brilliance and experiences of Gil Scott Heron, and its also that because it was inspired by the election of a somewhat similar figure, Ronald Reagen, 36 years ago. In this epically funky poem and song Heron traces America’s enthusiasm for Ronald Reagen to the celluloid images of white masculinity and manifest destiny sold to the American public by actors such as John Wayne. Ronald Reagen himself became the stand in for John Wayne because Wayne was “no longer avaliable for the part.” Replace the Saturday matinee with television reality shows and you get an analysis of how the American forms of media speak to the dark side of American ideals and produce figures like both President Reagen and Trump. And it also makes you wonder if Americans could ever resist a half credible celebrity being sold as a political savior?

“International Thief Thief” by Fela Kuti

Fela Kuti is the artist I think of the most during the Trump error. When George W Bush won the election in 2000, a local Nigerian commentator in the Bay Area, Tunde Okorodudu, laughingly commented on a local Black news show, “So you people want to make America a BUSH huh?” Meaning in the African sense, backward, less developed and potentially chaotic. Some of the things a vote for Trump represents, ethnic strife, less world engagement, less immigration, less civil and political freedom, are exactly the type of strongman politics many people in the world have been running away from. And here we have a winning plurality in America running TOWARDS them. The voice of Fela Kuti wailing out against his own government in Nigeria and the way it had been ill set up and miseducated by the colonial powers in Britain loom large in this environment. And we must remember that the Nigeria Fela was railing against was a nation swimming in oil cash, doled out very selectively among an elite and split along ethnic lines of tribe. Fela was a tireless critic of every segment of the Nigerian society that needed change, and he always tied it back to their history of colonialism and getting away from African values. This song attacks the “International Telephone and Trust Company” which with African humor, Fela calls “International Thief Thief”. “Thief Thief” is what African people yell in neighborhood settings as a call for the community to apprehend a fleeing criminal and bring them to community justice. In this way, Fela brings the high and mighty governmental and business leaders down to an understandable level of common thieves operating on a mass scale. This is the way Trump’s cabinet seems to be shaping up, a consortium of rich buisness leaders being put into positions they can profit from.

“This is My Country” by The Impressions

Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions song end this playlist on a positive note. Curtis actually caught some flack from this song from some in the Black militant community at the time it was released. They thought it was jingoism, but in reality Curtis song is a strong, soulful declaration that he and other Black people would not cede this nation to the Bull Conners, Governor Faubeses, George Wallaces and Storm Thurmonds of the country. The reason? “We struggled 300 years or more!” This song then is a soulful rallying cry for Black people, women, immigrants, disabled people, LGBT, poor people, middle class workers, Native Americans, Muslims, and any other group that faces hatred in the Trump years. This country does not belong solely to people like Donald Trump and his “mad as hell” voters but to everybody who lives here and contributes!

This list could go on and on but I will stop here for now. I hope I’ve give you some thoughtful grooves on this Inaguration Day. Sociopolitcal music will be a strong presence on this blog in the next four years, both through classics such as these as well as highlighting newer grooves to come that will take on the ironies of the Trump error. It will be wild ride for sure, but one thing I do know is that Donald Trump is NOT God (or Godly), meaning even he will have to bow before a committed majority of freedom loving Americans.

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Filed under A little Hip in your HOP, All That Jazz, FUNK, Merry Go Round Music, Music Matters, Politrix, Social Timing

Miss Sharon Jones

Sharon Jones passed last night, adding to the incredible litany of artists and important people we’ve lost in 2016. Miss Jones death is in its own way, is just as significant to me as those of Natalie Cole, Maurice White, and the many other incredible artists we’ve lost this past year. Along with the funky New York band, The Dap Kings, Miss Jones brought incredible down home soul and funk to the world in the early 21st Century. That is a true accomplishment in a time of such disposable sounds and music.

Sharon is an artist who had to wait many years for her big break in the music industry. She hailed from the same city as the Godfather of Soul himself, August “G.A.”. She worked regular jobs for years to have money to send back home to her family. Finally she hooked up with the Dap Kings and along with them made music that perfectly captured the classic soul sounds of the ’60s and ’70s.

Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings have been very important to my own musical enjoyment and growth over the past ten years or so. As a musician I had the same goals that The Dap Kings did, which was to produce music with the spirit and sound of the classic funk and soul era. I also had a thing for working with older artists and vocalists, but me and my music buddies never hit on a soul vocalist as incredible as Miss Sharon Jones. Together they did something that was almost unthinkable, finding a strong audience for classic soul sounds in the present day.

I’ve mentioned Miss Jones and The Dap Kings music several times on this blog as an example of why the Internet is the home of good music today. Miss Jones music should truthfully have been a mainstay of classic soul stations and R&B stations in general. She has the type of music you could play for a soul fan that would immediately set them to trying to remember when they heard it back in the day. And I’m sure you’d have a hard time convincing them it wasn’t some old 45 they used to dance to in the living room. With Miss Jones energetic, Tina Turner/James Brown type performance style and the bands dapper, sharp suited musical precision, they were one of the premier touring bands in the world. But without the radio exposure and big hits, they mostly played either small theater type shows by themselves, or opened for bigger bands. Exposure on the Adult Contemporary formats could have given them the bigger profile that they deserved. Together they had a sound that would have been music to any Soul fan or lover of good music’s ears.

Yet, the musical story of Sharon and the Dap Kings is not a sad one at all. It’s also proof of what the new world of the Internet, and the old staple of a vigorous live show can do for an artist in the 21st Century. It’s almost a prototypical modern music story. Without major radio play, without the saturation of televised videos, Sharon and the Dap Kings were able to become one of the most popular live acts in the country, they were able to play television shows such as Conan, Jimmy Fallon, and Ellen. They were able to share stages with Prince. They got write ups in major magazines and newspapers. They were a highly visible “underground” music act, one who’s reputation was unimpeachable when it came to the question of musical quality. All of this came from a sure, certain musical ethic, a family style organizational structure, careful Internet marketing and the creation of brand loyalty through quality performance, and a dynamic lead singer finally getting her opportunity beyond all shallow notions in Ms. Sharon Jones. Even though their music spoke to the best of the ’60s and ’70s, their success could only truly happen today.

I’m greatly saddened by Sharon’s passing because I felt she had so much more to give. She was a relatively young proponent of classic soul and funk in a time when so much classic soul and funk has already left us. But truth be told, she gave so very much when she was here. And she left us a body of work that shows it’s still possible to dig deep into the soul to bring forth music in the digital age. Her success has been one of the best musical events of my lifetime and I hope many other talents will take her example as a call to never give up, and also to bring that old school soul in concert with the younger generations!

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James Brown’s Greatest Opening Lines : A James Brown Day Celebration

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May 3 of this year marks what would be the Godfather of Soul, James Brown’s 83rd birthday. Of course Mr. Brown is a big hero of this blog and my musical activities and outlook in general. This year I want to take a different approach to remembering him and his music. I want to talk about a small idiosyncrasy of his legendary performing style, his love of spoken introductions. James Brown records were all about getting you into the groove as quickly as possible, and his recording style reflected his unique position as singer/bandleader. It really was Brown’s interest in, feel for, and direction of his backing music which took him places very few singer/performers ever go, into the realm of total musical influence, without spending much time on an instrument. He also pioneered a loose, laid back production style that would find life in things like Hip Hop skits. James Brown productions often feature a little “rap”, hip, stylized expressions. Browns penchant for band directions however, was a big part of his performing, band leading, and recording/production style, and it’s also a feature that’s been mocked by great comedians such as Eddie Murphy. It’s in that spirit that I serve up this list of James Brown’s greatest song introductions

17. “Hit It”/”Doin it to Death”: getting straight down to business, JB’s “Hit It” on the Fred Wesley and the JB’s 1973 classic “Doin it to Death” is one of his most straight up, immediate intro’s. The groove the JB’s had cookin was hot, and JB didn’t need to waste a lot of time setting the groove up, the band was already “Doin it to death”, just like the workers in the factory where Fred Wesley once worked that inspired the song title.

16. “Owwwwww”/Ain’t That a Groove”: the scream of ecstasy, passion and pain, “ow!” Is of course one of JB’s favorite exclamations and he opened a bunch if songs with it. This particular “Ow” is super stylized though, as befitting the groovy, swinging soul jazz tune to follow.

15. “Pick up on This!”/”I’m a Greedy Man”: JB means serious business here as he barks out his commands. This is a “pay attention to papa” type opener. Salt n Pepa would pick up on it for their Hip Hop classic, “Push It” about fifteen years later.

14. “One, Two, Three, Make it Funky!”/”Make it Funky”: This one follows one of James Brown and Bobby Byrds most celebrated intro bits, with Mr. Byrd telling Brown, “What you go’ play now? And Brown replying, “Bobby, I don’t know, but WHATSENEVER I play….it’s got…to be…FUNKY!” JB’s count off perfectly sets up the slow, heavy, grinding funk with a light swing of this early Funk classic.

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13. “Owwwwww!”/I Got Ants in my Pants”: Another song, another “Ow”, but this time delivered with more in your face gusto.

12. “One, Two, Three, Take your Time!”/”I Refuse to Lose”: As most JB fans are probably aware, most of his song openers are verbal variations of him counting off the groove. What’s interesting is thinking about the relationship between his count offs, the excessive, strict, blue collar rehearsals he put his bands through, and the relationship between his count offs and the grooves the band are able to fall into and stick to with absolute conviction. “I Refuse to Lose” is a lesser known Funk classic from 1976’s comeback record “Get Up Offa That Thing.” The song is anchored by a tense, super funky Jimmy Nolen guitar part. James count off is brisk, and perfectly sets up the uptempo groove to follow. I’d guess his instructions to “Take your time” were based in any tendency he noticed during rehearsals to rush the groove and make an uptempo groove even faster, again, James Brown music locks it in the pocket!

11. “One, Two, One, Two, Three”/”Let Yourself Go”: “Let Yourself Go” was one of the important songs as James Brown made his transition over from a personal brand of Soul and R&B into Funk. It’s laid back, phat groove, accented with Afro-Latin percussion, would pave the way for his show stopping, “There was a Time.” JB’s count off really fits right with what was,a new kind of groove, slow and funky.

10. “One, Two, And she Go!!!!”/”Funky Drummer”: “Funky Drummer” is one of those tunes that’s all about the band, basically an instrumental with some funky talk from JB that would allow it to sneak on the radio under JB’s name. Of course it’s also a showcase for one of the most influential drumbeats of all time, the contributions of Clyde Stubblefield the tune is named after. Brown’s count off is directed at setting up an easy, swinging groove, much more laid back than the other funk hits of this era, such as “I Got the Feeling”, or “Mother Popcorn.” I must admit though, I’m not 100% sure he actually said “and she go” as that opening phrase, but Ima roll with that until something better comes along.

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9.”One, Two, Three, Hit It!”/”Super Bad”: this is one JB’s most violent, aggressive count offs, for one his most tension filled, funkiest hits. “Super Bad” is one of the high points of Bootsy And Catfish Collins brief time in the James Brown band. The rhythm section is basically just a taut trio of Bootsy, his brother Catfish, and long time James Brown drummer John “Jab’O” Starks playing a drumbeat he says he got from beats for tap dancers. The beat is also accented by the percussion of long time JB percussionist Johnny Griggs, and the horns play sharp, stabbing literal jabs. The track is like Muhammed Ali, floating like a butterfly, stinging like a bee.

8.”Ready!?”/”Get on Up, Get Into it! Get Involved” & “The Funky Side of Town”: every now and then JB would ask the band if they were “ready” probably after 8 hours of rehearsals, checking to see if they still had a pulse. In this case, the “Ready” in “Get Up” has political resonance, and the “Ready” in “Funky Side of Town” is a call to have a funky good time.

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7.”Whoooooah!”/”I Feel Good”: Of all JB’s wordless vocalizing intros, the holler that inaugurated “I Feel Good” is tops in my book. Of course “I Feel Good” is one of his best known, best songs, a catchy, peppy number with a groove formulated during the James Brown bands transition into Funk, grooving but still related enough to the pop music scene as to be twist fodder for the public at large. And the hook is one of JB’s uncomplicated best. But it’s all kicked off by a legendary scream that became good material for samplers of the future.

6. “One, Two, Get Down!”/”The Boss”: “The Boss” is one of the iciest funk grooves in the James Brown songbook, concocted for the 1973 gangster movie “Black Caesar.” The proper aggressive tone is set right at the top by J.B’s count off, with the “Get Down” taking on all kind of meanings; band instruction, cheerleading, and warning!

5. “Fellas I wanna get into it man, you know…”/”Sex Machine”: “Sex Machine” is one of J.B’s most important records a taut, sexy new funk groove for the dawn of the 1970s, anchored by the active bass imagination of Bootsy Collins, his brother Catfish’s space saving rhythm licks, and Jab’O’s cool, ice water veined funk pulse. Call and response between J.B and his right hand man, the great Bobby Byrd, is at an all time high on this song, and the interplay between their voices would be a key aspect of their records during this period. But J.B starts the song with a cool, hanging out type intro, leading to his famous, “can I count it off!?!?!”

James Brown on drums with  an early version of The Famous Flames

James Brown on drums with an early version of The Famous Flames

4. “One, Two, One, Two, Three, UH!”/”Hot Pants”: Brown counts off a nasty tempo, punctuated by one of his famous band punches. The intro is a setting for “Hot Pants” slow, funky, ice cream melting in the summer time groove, anchored by the simple, ghetto bass throb of Fred Thomas and the insistent, chattering, lisping splank a lang of guitarist Hearlon “Cheese” Martin. This era of J.B might represent his and Fred Wesley’s greatest achievements as bandleader/arrangers, taking a band that was essentially raw, and making some of the best known hits of J.B’s career, going in a less dense direction than the Collins brothers/Cincinnati and they replaced. And it all starts with JB’s mellow but funky count off.

3. “One, Two, One, Two, Three, Four”/”Cold Sweat”: and off into history. “Cold Sweat”, after hundreds of years of African in America funkiness, is widely regard as the beginning of modern funk history, with it’s pistoning funk machine drumbeat from Clyde Stubblefield, Bernard Odums super deep bass tone playing an Afro-Latin line, a super funky two guitar arrangement, one guitar playing a funky single note line and the other scratching away in percussive strokes, a unique tonality from the key of Dorian, popularized on Miles Davis “Kind of Blue”, and another thing borrowed from “Kind of Blue”, the actual famous horn riff/chord to “So What”, played by the horn section as interjection/response to J.B’s lyrics. And it all starts with the sultry tempo set at the top by Brown.

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2. “Que Pasa People, Que Pasa, Hit Me!”/”Get on the Good Foot”: J.B opened up 1972’s peppy dance hit with a bit of Trans American slang, Proto-rapped in a chant cadence that perfectly took up one bar. This is one of James Brown Ebonics most controversial lines, with some people hearing it as “Can’t pass the peas.” But I go with “Que Pasa”, if you listen to the song all the way, Brown goes into some Spanish later on the fade out. James Brown toured the world many times over, and in the early ’70s he was particular interested in third world liberation. He has a song on the same album called, “The Whole World Needs Liberation.” He also opened up a club called “The Third World” in Georgia during this time period. James was fascinated at this time by the international impact he and other black figures like Muhammed Ali were having, it was almost as if through the struggle for rights here in the U.S, black figures were joining the global pantheon of Liberators, as maybe the best examples of them, in the belly of the biggest superpower the world had yet seen. If u check J.B’s stage performances you’ll find him speaking a few words of the language of whatever nation he happened to be Doin his thang in!

1. “UH! With your BAD self!”/”Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”: The top JB introduction is this funky soul brother street slang that led off the 1968 anthem. James opening “Uh” sets the stage for a funky drum beat, the count off is rock hard, with him using the black slang “Bad” as a term of encouragement and praise. The beat to follow is be rock hard, and James Brown’s legacy was cemented as musical and social icon of his time!

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*we all know the late great Prince Rogers Nelson was one of the biggest students, inheritors, and expanders of the James Brown legacy, and his musical associate Sheila E was responsible for one of the freshest James Brown count offs in history on her Prince penned and played classic “Love Bizarre”, “A, B, A, B, C, D!”

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#SummerofJB I: J.B’s antitdote to ’70s Malaise

President Jimmy Carter gave a speech in 1979, which many felt doomed his Presidency, which has popularly been known as the “malaise speech” ever since, which is interesting because he never mentioned the word “malaise” once in the speech. The speech was based on a book called “The Culture of Narcissism : American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations” by Christopher Lasch. The book theorized that phenomenon such as Americans apetite for things such as oral sex proved that Americans had been babied during the ’50s and ’60s, and really, for the whole 20th century, leading to a people now incapable of making the types of sacrafices that made the country great. Carter translated this into a speech about how America had lost the can do, optimistic spirit it used in World War II and its aftermath to become the most powerful industrial nation the world had yet seen. I think this speech in particular is one reason my parents and other people I grew up around always said President Carter was too honest for politics. All of this was done in an effort to get Americans to consume less oil, as it was becoming clear America’s dependence on OPEC oil combined with the Muslim countries new fundamentalism would spell the end of the United States ability to dictate to other countries. This speech was seen as one of the primary reasons Carter got thumped by Ronald Wilson Reagen in the 1980 election, or at least, the attitude contained within. Carter was asking the United States to do something it was not ready to do, to limit itself in order to remain self sufficient and powerful. The counter message coming from Ronald Reagen was that this was fundamentally un American. Accepting limits in American life, mainly the power to consume, would be like surrendering to Germany and Japan in 1941. Reagen brought a Cowboy optimism that was the exact opposite of President Carter in style, and truthfully, more in line with the American spirit.

The Godfather of Soul James Brown, ever hip to cultural currents, gave his “Malaise Speech” four years before President Carter gave his, in 1974. Inflation and gas supply were still a problem then, but added on top of that, one of the biggest crisis of leadership America has yet faced, the Watergate scandal, had replaced Richard Nixon, who J.B endorsed in 1972, with Gerald Ford, who the Godfather found to be a total drag, as did the rest of the country. The difference between J.B’s indictment of American malaise and President Carter’s is that the Godfather laced his with one of his phattest grooves, one that has stood the test of time in funk and hip hop.

The ’70s are largely seen today as a decade of breezy fun, disco, cocaine, free sex, good rock, funk and soul music, and a kind of continutation or day party for the party that started in the late ’60s. It was that, but it also was a decade where American political consensus had been rocked by the protests of Civil Rights, Womens Rights, Black Power, Immigrant and Indian Rights, and finally Gay Rights. At the same time there was little consensus at home, the end of Colonialism and the Third World Revolution raised the prices on commodoties. America was very much an old dad trying to deal with the younger generations. Gas prices and prices on all kinds of products went up.

Amazingly, the Godfather of Soul James Brown, was toward the end of one of the best periods of his career in 1974. The Funk that had been introduced with “Cold Sweat” in 1967 and been supercharged by Bootsy and Phelps Collins in 1970 had become fully mature by 1974. J.B had an incredible run of early ’70s hits, including “Get on the Good Foot”, “Hot Pants”, “Sex Machine”, “Soul Power”, “Get up, Get Into It, Get Involved”, “King Heroin”, “Super Bad”, and many others.

But even with that amazing string of hits, there were problems. For one, J.B’s 1968 Black pride anthem “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”, seemed to doom him on the pop charts, as he did not crack the top ten of those charts until 1986’s “Living in America”, even while dropping generation defining funk songs that hit #1 R&B. Mr. Brown’s son, Teddy, died in a car crash, and the mom & pop record label he dominated, King Records in Cincinati, got bought out by a German company, Polygram. Yes, Mr. Brown was in the situation many American workers were, going from working for Americans to working for a large multinational conglomerate, and he came to feel they didn’t understand him or his music. Also, there were tax problems. And to top it off, he was taking hits in the black community for endorsing a man they viewed as their clear enemy, Richard M Nixion, in 1972.

Brown, a Gold Glove boxer in his youth, would never in his life go down without swinging though. 1973-74 feature some of his biggest and best known hits, from Fred Wesley and The J.B’s family reunion classic “Doin It to Death”, to “Papa Don’t Take No Mess”, to “The Payback.” But on “Funky President” he addresses the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

The “Funky President” of the song is President Gerald Ford, a transitional figure who is mainly known in pop culture for falling off airplanes, which was potrayed by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live. Brown mentioned that he thought Ford was a good man, but every time he spoke people seemed to get depressed. Ford would only serve out the end of Nixons term before losing to Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in 1976.

Brown’s “Funky President” deals with what a drag the country was becoming, but it proposes super heavy funk as a motivator and togetherness as the antidote. The track itself is funky, but different for James Brown, when you listen to the funk of “Superbad” or “Get on the Good Foot” or “Soul Power.” Maybe the reason for this is because Brown uses studio musicians instead of his J.B’s on the track. The sound of the track is also different, being recorded at Sound Ideas studio in New York City. James Brown was known for recording in various places whenever the mood hit him rather than holing up in one studio as many other great acts do. The sound on “Funky President” is clean and well seperated, and I want to go out on a limb and say I think it utilizes heavy overdubbing as well, which was not the general wasoy Brown recorded. Brown preffered to get everybody in the room together and cut the song from top to bottom live with minimal fixing of mistakes. It’s almost as if the political plea of “Funky President” demanded a clean, apple pie All American funk sound so the message wouldn’t be lost.

The band was made up of well known studio musicians such as David Sanborn, Joe Farrell, Joe Beck, and Gordon Edwards. Very interestingly, Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis is also on the track, which is interesting because he was James Browns arranger during the early period of J.B’s funk in the late ’60s and hadn’t worked with Mr. Brown for some timewhen “Funky President” was recorded. The drummer, who must be noted, is Allan Schwarzberg, a white Jewish guy, and not one of J.B’s regular drummers. That’s signifigant because “Funky President”‘s drum pattern is one of the most sampled in hip hop, and it didn’t even come from one of Brown’s regular drummers, like Jabo Starks, Clyde Stubblefield, or Melvin Parker. Conga Player Johnny Griggs is the only player from J.B’s regular band listed.

The music itself is unique for J.B’s heavy funk period. It’s very clear, clean, in control, yet heavy. It seems tailor made for doing the classic ’70s dances. The sound is also very studio centric as opposed to Brown’s famous live sound. The song begins with a super heavy, phat drumbeat from Allan Schwarzberg. The drum beat starts with a snare drum fill that would be a favorite of hip hop samplers such as the Legendary Marley Marl. The drum part is really just a super funky 8th note pattern, very well recorded and prominent in the mix. The combo of the drums, the wah wah guitar, and J.B saying “Funky”, is the jelly the hip hop samplers would go crazy over in the ’80s, but we must remember, the original hip hop D.J’s , Kool Herc, Afrika Baambaata and Grandmaster Flash were playing this joint when it came out as well. The bass line is very simple and funky, leaving space for the drums, the incessant and almost sequence like guitar riff, and a very involved horn chart that serves as J.B’s back up singers. The song also has very funky breaks that allow Brown to really emote.

J.B describes the litany of problems facing America in the 1970s He says the “Stock Market is going up, the jobs going down.” That phenomenon the Godfather mentioned is one that affects America even today. Basically, whats good for the capitalist class who run business and own stock, is not always good for working folks. “Productivity”, which could mean cutting jobs, increasing hours, cutting benefits, etc, is good for a company’s stock, but usually not the working man. That can be seen in the recovery from the 2008 “Great Recession”, as the stock market has rebounded fully while jobs have not.

J.B speaks of taxes going up. Browns tax problems have been well documented, and the saddest thing about them is he thought the political work he’d done would save him from the I.R.S, but generally it didn’t. Brown uses blues like lyrics to describe how tight things were, saying “I changed from a glass/now I drink from a paper cup, getting bad.”

But this is no blues. This song is a funky song of motivation. At the heart of the song lies James Brown’s advice for Black America in particular, and it’s one he consistently advocated and practiced in his own life. The Godfather tells us:

“Lets get together, get some land/Raise our food like the man/Save our money like the mob/Put up the factory on the job.”

The Godfathers economic plan is one that had been espoused by Booker T Washington, Marcus Garvey and The Honorable Elijah Muhammed for years. In the America of 1974, with rising commodity prices, gas shortages and coming off the Vietnam War, James Brown advocated self sufficiency for Black people in particular. Just four years after this song in 1978, the Civil Rights Movement would come to an official historical en with the Bakke decision. J.B, being a man with his ear to the street as well as experiencing the pinch in his own life, knew the outlook was bleak for both America and Black people in particular. The program he advocated in particular would have been a great boon to the black community going through the 1970s into the 1980s, with Republican Governments hell bent on rolling back Civil Rights gains as well as a country with a lessened ability to dictate terms to foreign countries.

But Brown went for that ass in delivering this message. Strangely, right after this political rap, J.B goes back to talking about sex. He talks about praising the Lord, and then says “Get sexy, sexy, get funky and dance.” Love me baby, Love me nice/Don’t make it once/but can you make it twice/I like it.” Then he goes right from that to his encouragement, telling people to “Turn on their funk motors.” Its almost as if the religious faith and the sex are the things Brown is proposing as the spiritual and physical fuel people need to get up offa that thang and face the challenges of the times. He ends this verse with encouragement, telling folks “Hey , give yourself a chance to come through/tell yourself I can do what you can do.”

The phat, well recorded Allan Schwarzberg James Brown drumbeat would go on to become a staple in Hip Hop. In the early ’80s the Sugarhill house band would actually recreate the beat with live musicians for people like Spoonie Gee to rap over. In the sample heavy late ’80s, Marley Marl would sample other drums and use them to play the pattern Schwarzberg played on classic cuts such as “Eric B. is President.” J.B would go on to have other hits, but 1974 would be his last year as a consistent hitmaker, with “Funky President” getting all the way up to #4 on the R&B charts. He’d have other monsters like “Bodyheat” and “Get Up Offa That Thang” a few years later, but “Funky President” stands tall in the Brown ouvere for it’s funky beat laid down with studio musicians and the funky political stump speech that got people out of their malaise rather than bathed them in it, with the true “Funky President”, James Brown himself accomplishing something Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagen could not!

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#SummerOfJ.B: A Funky Introduction.

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The debut on August 1, 2014 of the James Brown biopic “Get On Up” starring Chadwick Boseman, Jill Scott, and Viola Davis, allows hard core James Brown fans like myself a chance to reassess his legacy. When the Godfather passed in 2006, there was a suitable outpouring of emotion represented by his tributes at the Apollo Theater and at James Brown Auditorium in Augusta, Georgia. Yet, Brown had survived Otis Redding, Miles Davis, Elvis Presley, John Coltrane, Marvin Gaye, Little Willie John, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, and many other artists of his generation who were essential in providing a musical soundtrack for the social changes that took place in the latter half of the 20th Century. Because of his longevity and the massive reach of his impact, Mr. Brown became someone one could almost take for granted.

The true appreciation of Mr. Brown for me began early, but still somewhat later than it should have. As an ’80s baby, I grew up with The Godfathers descendants such as Prince, and Michael Jackson. The large funk bands were generally seen as on the decline, excepting Cameo, The Gap Band, and survivors like Kool & The Gang and The (Lionel Ritchie less) Commodores. Groups like New Edition had the youth audience. New soul flavors were coming over from the United Kingdom. My parents were huge James Brown fans but they were also musical progressives. In the home I was hearing a lot of Grover Washington Jr, Miles Davis, Sade, Luther Vandross, Whitney Houston, George Benson, recent late ’70s Commodores, Herbie Hancock electric funk, Steps Ahead, and a whole lot of Reggae. My older brothers and sisters were playing Prince and Hip Hop, plus great ’80s singles like “Hangin On a String” by Loose Ends. On lazy Saturdays or Sundays Dad would break out the reel to reel machine and play Coltrane, Herbie Mann, Stan Getz, old Miles Davis, Eddie Harris, Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington, Sonny Rollins, Louis Armstrong, Diz and Bird, and many programs he D.J’ed for VOA’s “Sound of Jazz” program.

Somehow in all of this, I only saw and heard fleeting glimpses of James Brown. Of course, J.B was very busy at this time, recording “Unity” with Afrika Baambaata, having one of his biggest pop hits ever in “Living in America”, touring all around the world, and eventually, getting into trouble. But somehow, in Oakland, California, a city that had been finally taken over politically by its black majority, and which had always been a key stop on the James Brown Express, I didn’t actually hear too much J.B in my earliest years.

All of this seemed to change around 1987, 1988, which is right when Hip Hop reasserted James Brown’s influence on both their music and the culture. The early Hip Hop D.J’s in New York used all manner of James Brown tunes to rock their parties. What sometimes gets lost is, many of these James Brown songs were contemporaneous to the early hip hop parties. For instance, in 1974 when the first Hip Hop parties were held, James Brown had singles such as “The Payback”, “Doin it to Death”, and “Funky President.” He also rocked the concert in Zaire (now the Congo) that went along with the Muhammed Ali, George Foreman title fight known as “The Rumble in the Jungle”, of which this year is the 40th anniversary. James pop profile dimminished each year after that, but he still had thunderous hits like 1976’s “Get Up Offa That Thang” (which provided the horn blasts for Boogie Down Production’s classic “South Bronx”). He was a fixture on the R&B charts even in the late ’70s, as viewings of ’70s episodes of Soul Train will attest to. Records like “The Spank”, “For Goodness Sakes Take a Look at Those Cakes”, “Eyesight”, “A Man Understands”, “Bodyheat” and “Give Me Some Skin”. These records captured the essence of the J.B groove in the high point of the great funk bands such as EWF, Parliament-Funkadelic, The Commodores, Kool & The Gang, The Isley Brothers, Sly & The Family Stone, Graham Central Station, and many other funky artists in that funky decade. A glance at Soul Train episodes post 1975 will show you how whether a song went to the top of the charts or not, James Brown funk always did what it was designed to do, get people up!

Of course, around 1988-1989 Mr. Brown came into my attention for the troubles he was having with the law at that time. I’d seen him earlier do his cape routine on the special, “Motown Goes Back to the Apollo.” It was kind of hard to seperate James Brown, his impact, and how his music still related to the modern thing, when he was placed alongside his peers and rock and roll legends such as Little Richard, Lloyd Price, and the Four Tops. All of these artists were great, influnetial artists, but their music and social impacts were not about to reignite like Mr. Brown’s was, in the late ’80s.

I remember watching Entertainment Tonight with my mom and seeing Mr. Brown going to jail and her talking about “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”, and James Browns concert in Monrovia, Liberia, and how she loved his hair. My dad talked about James Brown and the J.B’s and his favorite songs, like “You Can Have Watergate (But Gimmie Some Bucks and I’ll be straight), and “There Was a Time” with it’s “Groove Maker”, and “Doin it to Death”, and J.B’s career as an organist on Smash records.

Then, my real immersion into hip hop began. Earlier Hip Hop in the ’80s had used drum machines to contstruct spare, original beats, inspired by older funk and rock, but not directly sampling the recordings. By the late ’80s it seemed the world was a constant barrage of raw, James Brown beats. On every side of hip hop I liked, JB was there, from Eric B and Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul” and “I Aint No Joke”, to Salt & Pepa hollering “Pick up on this”, from Kool Moe Dee’s “I Go to Work”, to The 45 King’s “900 Number.”

My primary two influnces in hip hop, disparate as they were, both trafficed in James Brown. Public Enemy and M.C Hammer covered different sides of the man’s music and legacy. Public Enemy sampled bits and pieces of many recordings to create their own new funk. Chuck D and Flavor Flav traded off vocals in the manner of James Brown and Bobby Byrd. Their music focused on street conditions and black empowerment, just as Mr. Brown did on “Dont Be a Dropout”, “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing”, “Mind Power”, “Get Up, Get Into it, Get Involved”, “Soul Power”, “Funky President”, “Reality”, and many other songs. The controversy they generated at times in their career could call to mind the social currency James Brown had, the way he was black listed after “Say it Loud” for instance.

M.C Hammer, my Oakland hometown hero, represented another side of James Brown legacy. While Public Enemy were consumate performers as well, Hammer actually was a dancing machine, with a large band, back up dancers, and the theatrical presentation that Mr. Brown and other soul era performers bought. He also was largely successfull and admired for his business acumen, as Mr. Brown was in his day, when he was known for owning 4 radio stations and a Lear Jet. Hammer built on and expanded on the R&B influenced side of Hip Hop performing, represented over the years by Afrika Baambaata, Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Whodini, and Kool Moe Dee. This style has pretty much always lost out in hip hop to the spare RUN DMC style of M.C’s walking back and forth across the stage, which some people feel is more pure and reflective of Hip Hop’s New York City park origins. But there are always people like Hammer who bring the R&B glitter and excitement to their performances as well. Hammer though, was the best and the most compelling.

Hammer also represented the other side of James Browns social concern. If Public Enemy was pegged as the radical side, Hammer represented the side that was about stopping the violence in the urban neighborhoods, getting an education, going to work, owning businesses, and building. Of course, in a post Civil Rights, post Black Power world, Hammer, who was from the city of the Black Panthers, had a millitant side too, but that is not what people saw. Hammers insistence on not cursing because he was a role model for kids was also from the James Brown book. Together, Public Enemy and Hammer represented all those sides of J.B.

But Browns impact was not limited to them. Somehow, as a little kid in the ’80s I didn’t know Michael Jackson and Prince were descendants of J.B as well, maybe the TOP two. M.J maybe took James Browns performance based ethic to it’s highest height, and Prince expanded on his role as a musical innovator of funk, by also incorporating the innovations of Brown’s contemporaries, like Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, Little Richard, The Rolling Stones, P-Funk, Al Green, and many others. But M.J and Prince were able to inhabit a whole other rarified air for black pop stars, delivering music that was authentic and yet widely popular at the same time. But somehow, it would take much later for me to understand the high tech, futuristic funky pop of The Thriller and His Royal Badness as fruits from the James Brown root.

Arsenio Hall’s show was key in exposing me to James Browns performances. I remember pestering my Dad about Brown, and pops breaking out the vinyl to “Live At the Apollo Vol 2” and “Doin it to Death”. He laughed as he recounted stories of Richard Nixon and Watergate. And he told me about a huge audience in Monrovia, Liberia singing along to “Hey, Hey, I Feel all Right.”

My appreciation for Mr. Brown would grow throughout the ’90s, as I purchased CD compilations and eventually vinyl albums. A James Brown concert was even my first concert ever, at the Paramount Theater in Oakland, California, with my parents and my best friends, Jesse and Frank. The appreciation of Mr. Brown has been something I’ve bonded with over many people, and his determination, drive, attention to appearance, independence, pride and many other aspects of the man continue to inspire me to this day.

This series will cover various aspects of James Brown’s music and career in anticipation of the August 1 release of the “Get on Up” movie. It will continue to run for the duration of the summer, which will take us into around October on the West Coast. James Brown’s funk music is very direct and does not take much thought to get into. But James Brown’s life, career, impact, and the specific messages he put out there are very rich subjects that point to a very unique viewpoint on America, Black people in America, and the world. James Brown was a poor sharecropers son who grew up in a Whorehouse and was a Juevenile Delinquent, who rose from that to become one of the most impactful, classiest entertainers of all time. As such, he had a unique message to share. And he was never one of those singers who felt they should “just sing.” Brown was unique because although his show definitely provided escapism, through its funky grooves, slick outfits and large dynamics, it was an escapism of, or through IMMERSION. James Brown, in that fine Black tradition, immersed you in reality, and sometimes troubles, to get you to go past and transcend them. Or as he would say, “Get Up offa that thang, and dance till you feel better!” As Chadwick Boseman brings him to life across the celluloid screen, now is as fine a time as ever to look at a portion of what Mr. Brown did and how he did it.

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