James Brown Philosophizing on Escapeism

James Brown Philosophizing on Escapeism


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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”



CDs by James Brown

Live at the Apollo  /  Messing with the Blues / 20 All-time Greatest Hits Star Time  / 50th Anniversary Collection / Foundations of Funk

The PayBack  /  Say It Live and Loud  / Hot Pants  /  Hell

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James Brown Philosophizing on Escapeism

Music Commentary by Mtume ya Salaam & Kalamu ya Salaam

–from Breath of Life


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 matter anyway.”

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. [Meaning, talk.] Engineer: We’re rolling. J.B.: Fellas! Band: Yeah? 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 dances, presumably.] 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? Byrd: Yeah. 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 that. J.B.: [Laughs.] Huh! Looka here. What you said, Fred? 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 out here. J.B.: Huh. You better watch your man! … Byrd! Come over here, brother. Let me tell you something. You think we’re talking to loud? 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! J.B.: Huh? 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.

[James Brown solos.]

Unknown: Go on talk to ‘em, brother! … Go on, rap! … Testify! … Do it! … Hey, man. J.B.: Hanh? Unknown: Pinck just gave you the wink. J.B.: [Laughs.] Pinck gave me the wink? Unknown: Yeah! J.B.: Hey, Pinck! Pinck: Hanh? J.B.: Is you got [do you have] your horn in your mouth? Pinck: Yeah. J.B.: I got what I want you to do. You know that thing you do on “Super Bad?” Pinck: Yep. 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 his do! 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? Jabo: Yeah. 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? Albert: Georgia. J.B.: What part, man? Georgia’s got a big—. What? 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 from? 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. J.B.: 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? J.B.: Yeah. Pinck: [Laughing.] Well, you know you got it. 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 [unintelligible]. 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. J.B.: What?! 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? [Laughter.]

[James is making a marijuana reference.]


Unknown: They want you to get down just a little. 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? Fred: Yeah. 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 it!

[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 now? 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…

The players: 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 Hot Pants. —Mtume ya Salaam


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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 album 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 our fathers! —Kalamu ya Salaam

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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 “broken tongue.”

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

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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. Matrix 

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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 music. Wikipedia

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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

The Shining 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.—


Godfather Lives Through: Hip-Hop’s Top 25 James Brown Sampled Records

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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.—


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Say it Loud: Poems about James Brown

Edited by Michael Oatman and Mary Weems

Preface by Lamont B. Steptoe

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 Mary Weems.

“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

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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

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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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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update 6 February 2012




Home   Music and Musicians  Tributes Obituaries Remembrances

Related files:   James Brown Philosophizing    James Brown Messing with the Blues  Long Live the Kings of Black Entertainment   The Man Who Named A People (Glen Ford)   

Duet for The Godfather (Wordslanger)  Climbing Malcolm’s Ladder   Say it Loud: Poems about James Brown

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