Growing up, I loved to hate James Brown.
Those were the good ol’ days.
See, back then, my father was a James Brown fanatic for all the right reasons. The dark-skinned entertainer was so cool, charismatic, commanding and inspirational to his generation – you know, the olden days.
To my fresh, new Hip-Hop generation, he was tremendously inspirational as well – for different reasons. During that time in the 80’s, it seemed like every single rapper on Earth sampled The Godfather of Soul and it gave way to some of the greatest rap songs during the illustrious Golden Era of Hip-Hop. Like most progressive people of the time, I indulged in the sounds and my home was a full homogenization of my music as well as my Dad’s.
This lead to the jokes. My Dad would repeatedly refer to James Brown as the “Godfather of Soul and Hip-Hop.
Pops heard the sounds coming out of my Sanyo boombox and he knew James Brown was a part of that glorious urban movement, albeit an unwilling Godfather in some ways. Much of my disdain for Mr. Brown was rooted in his beef with Hip-Hop at the time. I recall James talking bad about my s**t, that which I loved! Even Public Enemy’s Chuck D had a subliminal lyric that seemed to call James Brown “an addict fiendin’ for static.”
Looking back, I don’t know if Chuck D was actually dissing James Brown in “Don’t Believe The Hype.” Nevertheless, I penned by own little, fun diss raps for “The Hardest Working Man In Show Business” and my Dad, because I was going to defend Hip-Hop to the end. But, I was never quite clear on why James Brown had “static” with Hip-Hop so I talked to Bow-Legged Lou of Full Force. Full Force, the hit-making team, produced one of The Godfather’s biggest albums I’m Real , which yielded the massive song “Static.”
Of Mr. Brown and Hip-Hop’s relationship, Bow-Legged Lou kept it real. There was static:
“Yes. he sure did have issues with Hip-Hop,” Lou told me frankly. “In the beginning, he was getting sampled left and right like crazy – his music and his vocals. He was pissed from the beginning. His screams, his yells, his drum loops, his music portions. When we worked with him in 87-88, that was when it was in the height of a lot of his music being sampled with no money going back to Mr. Brown. It was unauthorized thievery.” [Click here to read Bow-Legged Lou’s entire explanation.]
I don’t know that my Dad considered it outright theft, because he loved Hip-Hop too. He paid for my brother and my first demo tape and the three of us had matching Adidas jackets. But he wouldn’t let up over the James Brown issue and I really didn’t have a defense other than Hip-Hop was winning and James Brown was just outright hating.
Fast forward to the present time.
James Brown is dead and I’m staring at the Apollo Theater, which has a pair of thick, long lines coming out of it. The lines are so long that they extend up to a rumored 15 blocks from the theater’s 125th Street location. Never in my life have I witnessed such respect for an entertainer. There’s another mass of people on the streets singing James Brown’s hit songs and his not-so-familiar tunes. All colors, all creeds and all ages are in the streets dancing, reflecting, remembering a man so special to all of us.
The commerce on the block was serious. There are people selling everything from “I was there” certificates to t-shirts to the bootlegger’s mixtapes. I bet James was in heaven shaking his head at that. Or maybe not.
James Brown, like my Dad, had no true qualms with Hip-Hop. Like Hip-Hop, he wanted his props, his recognition and, most of all, his money from all those samples. And, truth is, he was right. In his passing, Hip-Hop has given him all that he asked for, down to an amicable legal resolution. In the streets of Harlem, I saw a number of rap artists from upstarts on up to the creator Kool Herc paying their respects. Artist upon artist has given our Soul King his just due (in the physical, the musical and in written statements) as a one of the most – if not the most – influential source of inspiration we have seen.
James Brown embodied the swagger of Hip-Hop, the attitude, the rebellious and outspoken voice of Hip-Hop. He was the soul of Hip-Hop…before it existed in the South Bronx.
Nowadays, I – with my bad self – can fully love, appreciate and pay homage to James Brown’s music and overall contribution to history without any rappers involved. Let me amend that, I can rock out to Mr. James Brown!
As for my father, he was right too.
James Brown truly is Godfather of Soul and Hip-Hop.
“Static – don’t start none won’t be none.”
No more static, no more static…
R.I.P. TO THE GODFATHER!