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Yet, once Isaac sang the songs raunchy (by ’71 standards) first line, “Who's the black

private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks? (SHAFT!) Ya damn right!” the fun was over.



Shaft: Isaac Hayes' Revolutionary Soundtrack

By Michael A. Gonzales


Behind every great music critic is an indulgent parent. You know, that long suffering parental unit who didn’t scream when you temporarily changed your forename to Vicious or Elton (as I did in the fifth grade), didn’t curse you out when you blasted reruns of The Partridge Family and treated them as though they were real relatives — nor did they have a heart attack when you wore your grandma’s wig while pretending to be the Beatles.

In any case, it was my codependent mom who kept me supplied with enough pop life-stimulants to get hooked on spinning black vinyl forever. From bingeing on glossy fan magazines (Tiger Beat, Right On!) to overdosing on a prized 7” of Queen’s painfully beautiful “Somebody to Love” and blaring the latest orchestrated Gamble & Huff production, Mom made sure her baby boy had his fix.

Still, no matter how many blunts have been passed over the years, I’ll never forget that fall day in 1971 when I was eight years old and my black wax supplier brought me my first album: Isaac Hayes’s majestic soundtrack for Shaft.

Even though I had not seen the movie, the lyrical storyteller in Hayes brilliant single brought the character to life for me. At the time, I had no idea Isaac was a bad mother who had helped build the sonic brick house of Stax Records in the Sixties. Along with his then-writing partner David Porter, the duo composed some 200 songs under the name the Soul Children. Reeling off a string of hits for Stax luminaries like Sam & Dave ("Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Comin'"), Carla Thomas ("B-A-B-Y") and Johnnie Taylor ("I Got to Love Somebody's Baby," "I Had a Dream"), these boys had the Midas touch for gutbucket soul.

Indeed, my introduction to the musical magic of Isaac Hayes was the hypnotic hi-hat intro and the watery wah-wah guitar of the title track “Theme from Shaft.” A funky overture that baptized the nation with the nectar of muddy waters of Memphis, the song was played on a zillion radio stations, hitting #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. Still, no matter how many times the track was pumped over the airwaves, I wasn’t content until it was spinning on my own clunky stereo.

Though it might be hard to believe today, in the post-civil rights era of 1971, there were no black super heroes seen on screen. But once that badass black private dick swung through the tenement windows of urban American pop culture, we too had a champion to call our own. Before the blaxploitation days of swaggering sisters and mumbling macks, the boys in the ’hood had to be content with pretending to be either Bond or Batman (I don’t even want to think about the amount of times I was forced to KA-POW! my little brother for refusing to play Robin).

Shaft was directed by former Life magazine photographer Gordon Parks, whose gritty pictorials of rowdy Harlem street gangs and roguish Chicago detectives proved he had the right eye to convey the hard rock dynamics of the titular character. As the Negro link between John Cassavetes and Martin Scorsese, the masterful Parks used the romantic decay of Seventies New York City as the perfect character, and not merely a backdrop.

Hearing Haye’s ultra-cool “Theme from Shaft” as actor Richard Roundtree strutted past the B-movie marquees in Times Square or the tense “Walk From Regio’s” as he strolled through Greenwich Village was enough to make this Manhattan-centric uptown boy drool with Big Apple delight.

After Quincy Jones, who had constructed jazzy scores for a handful of Sidney Lumet films (his exciting music from The Anderson Tapes was a favorite), Isaac was only the second black man to compose a major Hollywood soundtrack.

“Having never written a score before, I was a little nervous that I would mess up,” he admitted in a 1995 interview. Yet, in a record-breaking four days, holed-up in a MGM recording studio with studio rats the Bar-Kays and the Memphis Strings & Horns, brother Hayes created a funky template that later inspired the soulful musings of Curtis Mayfield (Super Fly), Marvin Gaye (Trouble Man), James Brown (Black Caesar) and Willie Hutch (The Mack). After Shaft, black film soundtracks would never be the same.

Still, not everyone was as thrilled by symphonic soul and bawdy lyrics as I was — least of all my third grade teacher, Miss Wilson. Attending a proper Negro private academy called the Modern School, we were expected to be perfect ladies and gentleman at all times. Needless to say, this was easier for some than others.

Though the Modern School was in the heart of the ’hood, it was the kind of classy joint where the teachers played Mozart during lunch. I had once been forced to prance on stage at the Audubon Ballroom (the same spot where Malcolm X was slain) in black ballet slippers and colorful balloons tied to wrists while the Fifth Dimensions wailed “Up, Up and Away.” Forget about Martin Luther King’s dream — this was his acid trip.

Every Friday afternoon our class was encouraged to bring their own music to school to play for the other students. Of course, I couldn’t wait to share the wicked Shaft soundtrack with the class. Regally sitting at a paper cluttered desk, Miss Wilson instructed me to walk over to the antiquated stereo — I think the needle was made of wood — and put on the disc.

Yet, once Isaac sang the songs raunchy (by ’71 standards) first line, “Who's the black private dick that's a sex machine to all the chicks? (SHAFT!) Ya damn right!” the fun was over. Clad in a quaint print dress and an ill-fitting wig, light-skinned Miss Wilson leapt from her paper-cluttered desk and sprinted across the carpeted floor like Wilma Rudolph. “What kind of music is this supposed to be?” she screamed, accidentally scratching the needle across the wax. Cringing as Miss Wilson ruined my record, I was stunned by her blushing reaction.

Carelessly shoving the damaged record back into its sleeve, Miss Wilson curtly dropped the album cover on my desk. Having regained her buppie composure, she hovered for a moment before screeching through clinched teeth. “Please, don’t bring anything like this to class ever again.”

The following year, at the 1972 Academy Awards, Isaac Hayes’ revolutionary soundtrack won an Oscar for Best Score.

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michael a. gonzales--Harlem native -- has written cover stories for Essence, Giant, Latina, XXL and Stop Smiling. A former writer-at-large for Vibe magazine, Gonzales has also been a staff writer for The Source, columnist for New York Press and a frequent contributor to the New York Daily News, the New York Post and NY Metro. He has also contributed articles to Spin, the Village Voice, Ego Trip, Trace and Entertainment Weekly.

Gonzales co-wrote the book Bring the Noise: A Guide to Rap Music and Hip-Hop Culture (Random House, 1991).

Praised by writer/director Nelson George as “evidencing the mastery of detail required of a subject that is all about mastery of detail,” the book was a groundbreaking text in hip-hop literature.


Currently Michael A. Gonzales writes a regular music column called “On the Corner” for  and has written liner-notes for reissue collections including The Hip-Hop Box Set, the O’Jays, the Gap Band, the Crusaders and Al Green. Having written for MTV and BET, he also served as a consultant to the Experience Music Project’s (Seattle) inaugural Hip-Hop/Rap exhibit. He also contributed the essay “From Rockin’ the House to Planet Rock” to their catalogue Crossroads (2000).

In addition, Gonzales’ essays have appeared in Best Sex Writing 2005 edited by Violet Blue (Cleis Press), Beats, Rhymes & Life edited by Kenji Jasper (Harlem Moon, 2007) and Best Sex Writing 2006 edited Felice Neaman and Frederique Delacoste (Cleis Press). A 1999 Code magazine feature on Prince was reprinted the following year in the landmark music criticism collection Rock and Roll is Here to Stay edited by William McKeen (W.W. Norton & Company, 2000). “My Father Named Me Prince” appeared alongside pop culture pieces by Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion and Lester Bangs.

Gonzales has published fiction in Brown Sugar 2: A Collection of Erotic Black Fiction edited by Carol Taylor (Simon & Shuster, 2001), Bronx Biannual 2 edited by Miles Marshall Lewis (Akashic Books, 2007), Uptown magazine, Brown Sugar 3: When Opposites Attract edited by Carol Taylor (Simon & Shuster, 2003) and the upcoming superheroes collection Darker Mask edited by Gary Phillips and Christopher Chambers (Tor, 2008).

Gonzales’ short stories have also been published in France and England. Like Gypsy Rose Lee, Norman Mailer and Spike Lee before him, he lives in Brooklyn. 

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Generation Soul: Can Dru Hill Revive The Vocal Group?

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02_My_Story,_My_Song.mp3 (24503 KB)

(Kalamu reading "My Story, My Song"

Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

Audio: My Story, My Song (Featuring blues guitarist Walter Wolfman Washington)

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Greenback Planet: How the Dollar Conquered

the World and Threatened Civilization as We Know It

By H. W. Brands

In Greenback Planet, acclaimed historian H. W. Brands charts the dollar's astonishing rise to become the world's principal currency. Telling the story with the verve of a novelist, he recounts key episodes in U.S. monetary history, from the Civil War debate over fiat money (greenbacks) to the recent worldwide financial crisis. Brands explores the dollar's changing relations to gold and silver and to other currencies and cogently explains how America's economic might made the dollar the fundamental standard of value in world finance. He vividly describes the 1869 Black Friday attempt to corner the gold market, banker J. P. Morgan's bailout of the U.S. treasury, the creation of the Federal Reserve, and President Franklin Roosevelt's handling of the bank panic of 1933. Brands shows how lessons learned (and not learned) in the Great Depression have influenced subsequent U.S. monetary policy, and how the dollar's dominance helped transform economies in countries ranging from Germany and Japan after World War II to Russia and China today. He concludes with a sobering dissection of the 2008 world financial debacle, which exposed the power--and the enormous risks--of the dollar's worldwide reign.  The Economy

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 25 October 2007 




Home  Music  Musicians  Special Topics  Hip Hop   Film Review    Short Stories  Interviews   Mau Mau Aesthetics

Related files: Why Chesiel Matters  Barry Michael Cooper  Shaft: Isaac Hayes' Revolutionary Soundtrack  Why Greg Tate Matters  / An Interview with Michael A Gonzales 

Such Sweet Thunder  / Boogie Down Inferno / Slow Down Heart / Soundtracks of Quincy Jones  / White Boy MusicReturn Of The Ankh by Erykah Badu