CDs by James
at the Apollo /
Messing with the Blues /
20 All-time Greatest Hits /
Star Time /
50th Anniversary Collection /
Foundations of Funk
The PayBack /
It Live and Loud /
Hot Pants /
* * *
James Brown Philosophizing on
Commentary by Mtume ya Salaam & Kalamu ya Salaam
I’m going to try
something a little different in this post. Instead of
doing a normal write-up, I’m going to attempt to
transcribe the lyrics (if we can accurately refer to
what James and Co. are doing here as ‘lyrics’) to the
uncut version of James Brown’s “Escape-ism.” Why? As I
was surfing the net looking for information on this
release, I kept coming across people writing about
James’ “nonsensical rambling” and “random gibberish” and
“undecipherable accent” and so on. One reviewer even
said (to paraphrase), “You can’t understand much of what
James says on this record, but then, it doesn’t really
I beg to differ.
Throughout not just “Escape-ism,” but much of James’
Seventies-era period, James was dropping some serious
philosophical knowledge right along with those serious
funk bombs of his. Plus, the back-and-forth between
James and the band was often deeply comical. Listening
to them, you get a feel (albeit a somewhat sanitized
feel) for what a bunch of Southern-born, music-playing
cats sound like when they’re just hanging out. True, J.B.
and his band members can be difficult to understand. The
thing to keep in mind is, there’s nothing unique about
the way James talks. There are lots of black men in the
South who sound just like him – it’s just that they
happen to be auto mechanics or bus drivers or
construction workers, as opposed to one of the most
often-recorded and truly funky men who ever set two feet
on the planet Earth.
So for all of our overseas readers (who might have
trouble understanding James’ broken English) and for all
of our non-Southern readers (who might have a mental
block against really listening to what a backwoods
Georgia cat has to say) and for everyone else (who might
be able to understand James but aren’t as music-obsessed
as we here at BoL are), here goes nothing….
J.B.: That’s what’s
happening, man. It’s just like, we’ll rap.
Engineer: We’re rolling.
J.B.: Looka here. Man, I sure ‘nough feel
good. I know the jocks [radio disc jockeys]
feel good too. ‘Cause we sure coming through
with our thing. See, these other cats [are]
afraid to get down like this. And, you know,
you know, we’re going to say… [stuttering]
…we’re going to do our thing, man! You
understand. I mean, you heard of Night
Train. The Funky Walk. Man, they got a thing
called ‘The Funky Train.’ [James his naming
Unknown band member: Called what?
J.B.: The Funky Train! … I gotta kick this
thing off. Can I kick it off?
Band: Yeah! Yeah, do it.
J.B.: One, two, three, four! … Huh! … Hey!
Huh! … Ain’t it good to you. Is it good to
you? Is it good to you? Look here! … You
know when you forget that grits is…when you
forget that grits is groceries and that eggs
is poultry, you lose your thing. Now, you
can lose your thing out there wandering
around. … I was, I was talking to a cat the
other night. He said what everybody’s
looking for is, what everybody’s looking for
today, they’re looking for ‘escape-ism.’
[James almost seems
to be talking about himself. The quote about forgetting
that “grits is groceries and eggs is poultry” basically
means forgetting where you come from or getting so
involved in whatever you’re involved in that you forget
the obvious truths in life. Also, throughout this ‘rap,’
you’ll hear references to drugs and alcohol. The basic
theme of the record is about how you have to stay real
and true and not try to get into ‘escape-ism.’
Several times, James says ‘I ain’t got no dust.’ On the
one hand, it’s just part of a little rap routine that
he’s doing with the band. On the other hand, especially
given his later problems with angel dust and the police,
you have to wonder if James wasn’t clowning around a
little close to home, so to speak. He even ends the
record by repeating the ‘I ain’t got no dust’ line then
saying he’s going to go because “there’s a whole lot of
cars with lights running around,” meaning, the police
are coming. He’s joking, of course. But….]
J.B.: Huh! … Huh! … Ain’t
it good to you? You know what? I love to get
down, Jack. And when I get down, you
understand, I don’t have to go into no funny
bag, saying [in a proper tone of voice], “I
con’t do this.” You know what I mean. I say
what I want. “I can’t.” You understand.
That’s the way I feel. … You know, I believe
I’ll get down right about here.
Bobby Byrd: Go ‘head on!
J.B.: Byrd, if I get down—. You know, Bird
[stuttering], Bird got a outta sight tune
coming up. We gotta record Byrd right here,
you know. So we trying to get our thing out
[of] the way before Byrd get into it.
[Apparently, Bobby Byrd was supposed to be
recording a new song but James was still
holding down the studio.] Byrd, can we get
down before we…? Is it alright?
J.B.: Byrd, do you think it’s gonna be a
hit, Byrd? Because—.
Byrd: Oh, yes! It’s gonna be a hit.
J.B.: Is it? You think it’s gonna be a hit?
Byrd: It’s a smash.
J.B.: I, I know it’s a smash. I know it’s a
smash ‘cause you’re in the bag, man. You’re
just saying where it’s at, you know. It’s
gotta be a hit. … You ready, Byrd?
Byrd: Yeah, let’s do it.
J.B.: Get down! [Drum break and the band
switches to a new groove.] Huh! Ain’t it
good to you? Ain’t it good to you? Ain’t it
good to you?
Unknown: Yeah, I know what’s good too about
J.B.: [Laughs.] Huh! Looka here. What you
Fred Wesley: Man, you know we better take it
on the lam! [Meaning, run away or escape.]
J.B.: You better watch your man! … I don’t
think they heard. What you said, Fred?
Fred: I said, we better take it on the lam
J.B.: Huh. You better watch your man! …
Byrd! Come over here, brother. Let me tell
you something. You think we’re talking to
Byrd: Hush that fuss!
J.B.: Huh! I ain’t got no dust. … I don’t
have to take it on the lam. … Take—.
Unknown: You better watch that man!
Unknown: You better watch that man!
J.B.: Watch him? Yeah, alright. You’re
right. Yeah. Yeah, coming from some funny
places. What you say, bro?
Unknown: What’s happening, Brown?!
J.B.: Huh! Trying to get down. … Well, you
know. Looka here. We can’t help it.
Unknown: That’s right. Right on!
J.B.: Ain’t no alcohol. Man, I don’t dig it.
What you say, uh, Jasaan?
Jasaan Sanford: Say, don’t be so mean!
J.B.: You know I’m clean, now.
Unknown: And on the scene.
J.B.: ‘Scuse me, cat, while I rap! Looka
here. Now, what you saying, um…? I’m walking
all over this place, man, ‘cause we’re
having a good time.
Unknown: Well, go on and do it!
J.B.: Cheese sure is funky. Cheese, you’re
trying to please, huh?
Cheese Martin: Yeah.
Unknown: Go on talk to ‘em, brother! … Go
on, rap! … Testify! … Do it! … Hey, man.
Unknown: Pinck just gave you the wink.
J.B.: [Laughs.] Pinck gave me the wink?
J.B.: Hey, Pinck!
J.B.: Is you got [do you have] your horn in
J.B.: I got what I want you to do. You know
that thing you do on “Super Bad?”
J.B.: It sure would fit right now.
Pinck: Think so?
J.B.: Take it and make it funky. I’m gonna
call you down ‘cause I ain’t gonna let you
blow our thing, you understand.
Pinck: [Laughing.} Right on.
J.B.: ‘Cause the man is…. Like, like, right
about now. Come on! …
[St. Clair Pinckney solos.]
J.B.: Wait a minute, Pinck! Pinck! Pinck!
Wait a minute, Pinck! Hanh?
Unknown: Look at Pinck going.
J.B.: Hey, Pinck. Wait a minute, Pinck.
Pinck. Wait a minute, Pinck. Pinck.
Pinck: Alright, brother.
J.B.: I think Pinck’s doing his do, though.
He’s doing his do! He’s doing his do! He’s
doing his do!
Unknown: That sure is smelly! … He’s doing
J.B.: He’s doing his do. He’s doing his do.
Band: Doing his do!
J.B.: He’s doing his do.
Band: Just doing his do!
J.B.: He’s doing his do.
Band: Just doing his do!
J.B.: He’s doing his do.
Band: Just doing it too.
J.B.: He’s doing his do.
Band: Just doing it too.
J.B.: You know, another thing about us all.
What I really dig about, you know. Everybody
here, you know, like we’re from down home.
[Meaning, the South.] We’re together. I
don’t know about Jasaan though. I think
Jasaan’s from down here, but he don’t want
to tell it. Know what I’m saying? He says,
“I’m from ‘Ohius.’” That ain’t, ain’t no
such place name as ‘Ohius.’ I know where
‘Ohio’ is. “Hey, where you from?” “I’m from
‘Ohius.’” You understand. Naa.
[Unintelligible.] “I’m from ‘Ohius.’” …
Where’re you from, Jab?
Jabo Starks: Mobile.
J.B.: You’re from Mobile?
J.B.: Ol’ Mobile Jab. … Yeah, that’s right.
‘Cause I used to see Jab when we went
through…Bobby…when you used to play with
Bobby. Yep. Yeah. I know we always go to the
Mobile Hyatt and he says he always gets a
different room but I know Jab’d go home!
Yeah, he’s from Mobile.
[Jabo Starks was Bobby Bland’s drummer before he joined
James Brown’s band.]
J.B.: Where’re you from, Albert?
J.B.: What part, man? Georgia’s got a big—.
Albert: Macon, Georgia.
J.B.: Macon. Don’t say it so low, bro. You
make me think you don’t want the people to
hear you or something. … Fred, where’re you
Fred Wesley: L.A.!
Band: Uh oh! Uh oh! [Laughter.]
Unknown: Ask him where he started from!
Fred: Lower Alabama!
J.B.: What you say?
Fred: Lower Alabama.
J.B.: Lower Alabama? Alright. … Yeah,
alright. Alright, alright. Remind me about
‘Lost’ Angeles. … Where’re you from, uh. You
know I keep forgetting this cat’s name? What
your name is, man?
Jimmy Parker: Jimmy.
J.B.: Aw yeah. I knew it all the time.
Where’re you from, Jimmy?
Jimmy: I’m from N.C.
Unknown: The what?
Jimmy: I’m from N.C.
J.B.: From where?
Jimmy: N.C. N.C.
Jimmy: North Carolina. Rocky Mountains.
J.B.: You better be careful, man. ‘Cause
they don’t know what you’re talking about
when you say ‘N.C.’ You can go to jail about
that. North Carolina, you mean? Watch that
‘N.C.’ ‘Cause they got a…they got a thing
called ‘the N.C. abuse,’ you understand. …
Um, Pinck. You might as well tell ‘em where
you’re from one more time.
Pinck: Yeah, I’m from Georgia too. Yeah.
J.B.: What part [are] you from?
Pinck: Your hometown, bro.
J.B.: No, you ain’t from my hometown, man! I
stay on the other side of town. I’m on the
other side of the tracks, man.
Pinck: Other side of the tracks?
J.B.: Yeah! I’m from, um, uh, The Terrace.
Where you from?
Pinck: From The Terrace?
Pinck: [Laughing.] Well, you know you got
J.B.: See you was eating a little higher on
the hog than me. [‘Eating higher on the hog’
means living better. Poor people ate pig’s
feet and chitlins…cuts of meat that come
from ‘low on the hog.’]
Pinck: You got it. ‘Cause I’m from
J.B.: We got a lot of cats, them well-to-do
cats like Pinck, that come from the other
side of town. Right, Henry? Oh, Henry, stand
up there in the booth. … Where you from, uh,
um, Fred? I mean, Thomas.
[James is calling Fred Thomas by his last name so as not
to confuse him with Fred Wesley.]
Fred Thomas: Washington, Georgia.
J.B.: Washington, Georgia? That’s on the
other side of, um, um, Thomson.
Pinck: That’s right. That’s right.
J.B.: Between Thomson and Sparks. Right at
Albertsons. Oh, I know where you’re from.
Down the road a piece from Toccoa! [Loud
laughter from the band.]
[What’s going on here is J.B. is showing off his
knowledge of backwoods Georgia. He’s also making fun of
both Thomas and himself for being country boys. In other
words, if you’re from a small town between two towns
that no one outside of Georgia has ever heard of, you’re
a real backwoods country boy. And if you can names where
any of these places are, then you’re a real backwoods
country boy too.]
J.B.: But, now, we ain’t gonna let [leave]
the other people out. I mean, we love
[naming Southern states] Mississippi,
Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, you understand,
North Carolina, South Carolina, uh, um,
Virginia. Where you say you from, ‘Ohius’?
Yeah, we like [naming cities in the state of
Ohio] Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland, all
them places. What about you, Cheese?
Cheese Martin: La Grange, North Carolina.
Cheese: La Grange, North Carolina.
J.B: La Grange?! … What? What’d you say?
Cheese: La Grange.
J.B: Now, we got a La Grange, Georgia. La
Grange, huh? Don’t ‘lay’ so deep in your
‘grange,’ brother. Yeah. … Grange? That’s
what the…yeah, that’s what the…that’s what
the horses do. They—. No, no, no. That’s
right. I was thinking about grazing in the
grass. But, uh. Y’all don’t—. No, no, no.
Only horses graze in the grass. Right?
[James is making a marijuana reference.]
Unknown: They want you to get down just a
J.B: Get down!
[James Brown solos again.]
J.B.: … Is it good to you? … Ha! …
Unknown: What kind of train you said you
know all that from?
J.B.: The Nasty Train! … You know, I used to
be sanctified and holy. Yeah. Any kind of
way you look at me you could always see my
leg. [James is saying he always had holes in
his pants.] … Yeah, you know, sanctified—.
No, really. Now, no, you’re not really so
sanctified I always said to that cat. The
cat said, “No, I’m not really sanctified.” I
said, “Well, you’re holy,” you understand.
‘Cause, you know, the pants. You understand?
Had some extra places in them. But we always
covered them up with newspaper and things.
Yeah. … Fred! What you said?
J.B.: What’d you say just now though?
Fred: What you mean, partner?
J.B.: Take it on the lam?
Fred: Get outta here!
J.B.: Well, look here. Got a black horn.
That’s a funny thing. How…? Well, black is,
uh. Let me see what black is over there. Let
me see what black is.
[Fred Wesley solos.]
Unknown: Yeah, do it, Fred! Do it, do it, do
[Fred continues soloing.]
J.B.: Wait a minute, Fred! Wait a minute,
wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute!
Give Fred a big round of applause! … You
know I noticed when I was playing my solo,
Jab didn’t play that hard behind me. Let me
see now. One, two, three, four, five, six,
seven. You know we got all seven of y’all on
this tune, don’t you? That’s a strong score.
Y’all better be careful now. We don’t want
no more of that mess out [of] y’all. …
Fred—. Uh, Pinckney, you play your solo.
[St. Clair Pinckney solos.]
J.B.: Wait a minute. Now, Fred. What you
said? … You know, when we first started
playing this thing, what did you say just
Fred: We better take it on the lam!
J.B.: You better watch your man! … What
about it, Byrd?
Byrd: I think we better hush this fuss.
J.B.: What you say, brother?
Byrd: We better hush this fuss!
J.B.: [Incredulously.] I ain’t got no dust.
I ain’t got no dust. I mean, I ain’t got no
dust, man. … Say man, like, I see a whole
lot of cars coming down with a lot of lights
running around. Now, I don’t know what y’all
gonna do. You can end it or do what you want
to. But man, like, I’m gone! I’ll see y’all…
James Brown – Vocals, Organ
Fred Wesley – Trombone
St. Clair Pinckney – Tenor Saxophone
Jimmy Parker – Alto Saxophone
Jerone ‘Jasaan’ Sanford - Trumpet
Hearlon ‘Cheese’ Martin – Electric Guitar
Fred Thomas – Electric Bass
John ‘Jabo’ Starks – Drums
Two strange but true facts about “Escape-ism.” #1, they
may sound tighter than gnat ass, but this was partially
a new band. When James asks everyone where they’re from
and forgets Jimmy Parker’s name, it’s not shtick. Only a
few weeks earlier, the Collins brothers (Bootsy - bass
and Phelps - guitar) had walked out on James to join the
P-Funk collective. Parker, Sanford and Thomas were all
new. #2, despite being nothing more than talking over
a groove, “Escape-ism” (in a greatly edited form)
actually hit the Billboard charts. In May of1971,
“Escape-ism (Part 1)” peaked at #35 on Billboard’s Pop
chart and at #6 on the R&B chart. Unbelievable.
Both the shortened hit version and the 19-minute full
take of “Escape-ism” are available on the CD reissue of
the 1971 James Brown album
—Mtume ya Salaam
* * * *
Hit Me Two Times
Mtume, I know you don’t do drugs but sometimes I wonder
about you. Who in the world besides you would even think
about transcribing “Escape-ism”? Especially just for the
hell of it. I mean how am I supposed to respond to this?
Well, here goes nothing. There is so much gold in them
Brown mountains, you could go up there with a teaspoon
and come back with a nugget worth a fortune.
I was thinking of pointing to stuff from the Payback
album but then I said no, do something at least ten
minutes long and I went to Hell. Literally. The 1974
Hell is another one of JB’s masterpieces. I chose
the modified shuffle of the almighty get down “Papa
Don’t Take No Mess.” This cut features James Brown on
piano ably abetted by John "Jabo" Starks on drums.
Musically, the drum licks on “Papa Don’t” rival the
funky drummer. This may not sound like an easy song to
play but this is extreme groove-a-lating. Listen to the
upbeats of the bass drum on the bottom with the stick on
the sock cymbal keeping time while the snare licks are
syncopated like popcorn popping. You need at least a PhD
in phunk to mess with this.
Politically, JB is singing the praise of black
fatherhood. Oh how we need men to step up and be papas
not taking no mess. Think of this as a funky song for
—Kalamu ya Salaam
* * * *
Mtume, the real
work you have done in transcribing this “talking over a
groove” must be applauded. For work creates value and
shows the temper of the man. Like James, you have a
worker’s impulse. His was from a working class
background—a man of the people. That fact should not be
overlooked. I slept uneasily on your commentary,
however, and woke this morning thinking of your
assertion James is “dropping some serious philosophical
knowledge.” One must ask, Can Southern Negroes, a
“backwoods Georgia cat,” do “serious” philosophy in a
“broken English.” Language is always serious when there
are communicants, people digging each other. And it’s
obvious these cats are digging each other, even though
James is the authoritarian maestro. One may also note
JB's passing critique of language use as well as his
critical play on language and his poetic uses of language.
So there is a lot of sophisticated things going on in a
Midway you provide
some context for this “nonsensical rambling” and “random
gibberish.” It’s indeed a typical scene of Negro’s
“jiving,” like what occurs on the corner with Richard’s
Wild Irish Rose or Colt 45 or in a joint around a table
over a fifth of Jim Beam. James is holding court. He’s
improvising on the key word “escape.” He begins with,
“when you forget that grits is groceries and that eggs
is poultry, you lose your thing. Now, you can lose your
thing out there wandering around.” It’s a queer
ungrammatical statement about the realities of life.
He’s speaking about responsibility; the necessity of
“taking care business,” of staying focused, of balancing
aspects of one’s life, of working in unison with
others—family, friends, lovers, one’s people, or members
of one’s band, even when you’re from across the tracks
on the “other side of town.”
In some sense this
talk is autobiographical (the personal becoming
political), which is emphasized by JB’s asking the
question, “Where’re you from.” Here’s a bit of folk
wisdom popping up here: “Don’t put on airs”—acting
(talking) like you Mr. Charlie, when you ain’t. That is,
don’t pretend you’re something that you’re not. Up North
and out West, there was considerable mockery of “country
niggers” (those from the South)—you can take the nigger
out the country but you can’t take the country out the
nigger.” For JB, that country the Deep South is a good
thing; it is to be savored. Something one should be
proud of. There’s gold (value) in them backwoods, in
those back-of-town residences. One resource is the
church and the manner of worship—the sanctified and the
holiness churches (where rhythm and the Beat and the
neo-African were emphasized). These were objects of
middle-class (neo-European, monocultural) mockery.
So, Mtume, your
impulse is on key. What we love about James is that he
was no phony, never became phony. At some point he
realized that he could not escape his history, his lack
of formal education, his illiteracy. None of that, in
any case, determined intelligence or insight or musical
creativity about the “truths” about the joys of life
itself. James exploited to the hilt that which he did
know, that which was handed down—the music (the
spirituals, the rags, the blues, the jazz); the passion,
the humor, the satire; the commitment to hard work. He
embraced and expanded on that which was real and native
in his people. And for that we love him, even when at
times he was comical and an embarrassment. All that
which others could not forgive we could and did, and
kept on listening to his music and going to his
performances. If you wish to call that “serious
philosophical knowledge,” then we jamming.
He ends his
improvisation on “escape-ism” with a bit of sage advice,
“You better watch the man.” And with the man coming with
his flashing lights funking up a workingman’s pleasures,
James makes his own escape. . . “man, like, I’m gone!
I’ll see y’all.”—Rudy
posted 8 April 2007
* * *
James Brown Interview 1978
Brown talks about the difficulties of his early life. He
only went to school through 7th grade but he says the
lack of education also ensured that he would learn about
life through experience. "I know the whole thing and I'm
glad I know it," he says. "I have a 7th grade education
formally but a doctor's degree in the street. I know
what it's about."
Before his musical success, he says, he worked at a lot
of hard, low-paying jobs, such as shining shoes and
picking cotton. But at the time interview, he owned
three radio stations and was producing his own
syndicated television show. Brown startles Scott by
announcing it is his 45th birthday, rising from his
chair and launching into a series of dance moves that
included dropping to his knees and popping back up to
his feet. Scott asks how Brown can keep doing that kind
of thing at his age.
* * *
James Joseph Brown,
Jr. (May 3, 1933 – December 25, 2006) was an American
singer and entertainer. Eventually referred to as "The
Godfather of Soul", Brown started singing in church
groups and worked his way up. He has been recognized as
one of the most influential figures in the 20th century
popular music and was renowned for his vocals and
feverish dancing. He was also called "the hardest
working man in show business" As a prolific singer,
songwriter, dancer and bandleader, Brown was a pivotal
force in the music industry. He left his mark on
numerous artists. Brown's music also left its mark on
the rhythms of African popular music, such as afrobeat,
jùjú and mbalax, and provided a template for go-go
* * * *
James Brown—Soul Brother Number One 1 /
James Brown—Soul Brother Number One 2
James Brown—Soul Brother Number One 3 /
James Brown—Soul Brother Number One 4
Words: Chairman Mao
Originally published in Scratch, March/April 2007.
In the early hours
of Christmas Day 2006 James Brown, weak from pneumonia
and suffering congestive heart failure, turned to his
long-time friend and manager Charles Bobbit and said
simply, “I’m going to leave here tonight.” After making
his peace with the Creator, the Godfather of Soul lay
back in his Atlanta hospital bed one final time, passing
on to a better place not of this earth.
Music fans of the
world mourned the passing of a legend. James Brown, it
had seemed to many of us, was bigger than life, someone
that no hardship, obstacle, or setback—be it growing up
in the Jim Crow South, incarceration, band mutinies, or
changing popular musical tastes—could hold back. We of
the hip-hop generation, of course, felt a great kinship
with James for having helped him overcome the latter.
During the better part of the late ’70s and early ’80s
when Black radio turned its collective back on JB,
essentially writing off Soul Brother #1 as Soul Brother
# Done, South Bronx selectors kept his heaviest beats in
rotation—one break and two copies at a time—and
commemorated his birthday with annual Zulu Nation
throwdowns. By the mid-’80s, when producer Marley Marl
discovered the powers of digital sampling (and soon
after the super-powers of sampling James Brown and his
productions) the Godfather was once again back and, to
quote a line from his own “Coldblooded,” hipper than
hip. He was hip-hop.
Rap cats took great
pride in taking credit for the restoration of his career
(lest we forget Daddy-O’s oft-quoted lyric from
Stetsasonic’s “Talkin’ All That Jazz”—“Tell the truth
James Brown was old/ ’Til Eric and Ra came out with ‘I
[Know You] Got Soul’”). But the truth of the matter was
it was James who’d blessed us by laying down the true
blueprint of hip-hop (sorry, Kris; sorry, ’Hov) with the
pioneering rhythm method of his funk recordings of the
late ’60s and early ’70s. On ground-breaking
groove-centric workouts and extended jams like “Soul
Power,” “Funky Drummer,” “Escape-Ism,” “Make It Funky,”
“Mind Power,” “Papa Don’t Take No Mess,” the almighty
“Give It Up or Turnit a Loose,” and countless others,
traditional song structure was handed its walking
papers, replaced by funk-drenched vamps repeated to the
edge of panic before temporary relief arrived in the
form of a bridge every now and then.
This was rhythm for
rhythm’s sake, a celebration of beats so bad (meaning
good) that the self-dubbed Minister of New New (two
times!) Super Heavy Funk could even cease singing, drop
entire songs of spoken jewels, or have his prodigious
band-members shout out their hometowns and still keep
the party live. This was the future—the basis of not
just hip-hop, but every other genre of modern club or
dance music now in existence. James himself knew it; it
just took the rest of us a while to catch up to him.
No such uncertainty
existed on Thursday, December 28th, 2006 when blocks
upon blocks of James Brown fans withstood several hours
waiting on line in the winter chill to see our musical
guiding light grace the stage of Harlem USA’s Apollo
Theater one last time, and say goodbye and thank you. We
represented different generations; from old timers who’d
seen the Godfather perform frequently over the years; to
young children—there at the behest of their parents –
for whom hearing “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud”
sung in unison by a crowd of strangers the same
complexion as theirs induced an epiphany that was
priceless to witness. Our common bond was undeniable:
the soundtrack to our lives would be entirely
unimaginable without James Brown.
The King is dead; long
live the King. James Brown Forever. R.I.P.—EgoTripLand
Godfather Lives Through: Hip-Hop’s Top 25 James Brown
* * * * *
Salvage the Bones
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—
* * *
Say it Loud: Poems about James Brown
Edited by Michael Oatman and Mary Weems
Preface by Lamont
This anthology is a
tribute in poems to James Brown and includes work by
over 30 poets including Amiri Baraka, Emotion Brown,
Katie Daley, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Kelly A. Harris, Tony
Medina, Ayodele Nzinga, Michael Oatman, Michelle Rankins,
Patricia Smith, Lamont B. Steptoe, George Wallace and
"On May 3, 1933,
James Joseph Brown was born in Barnwell, South Carolina
in the heart of Jim Crow America. On December 25, 2006,
JB, the hardest working man in show business passed on.
These poems celebrate, memorialize and speak to the
legacy of the Godfather of Soul. They share
their memories from childhood to adulthood of the man
who was influenced by such musical giants as Little
Richard, but who laid the physical and musical steps for
artists such as Michael Jackson and many current Rap and
Hip Hop musicians today."—Adah Ward-Randolph
* * *
(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
6 February 2012