The Death of Black Soul

Play this before or while you read this. Trust me.


Isaac Hayes was deep. Musically  deep. Rich in both composition, arrangement, and social relevance. Many times in these situations we are forced to find some way to connect a loss of this magnitude to our lifestyle and our constituents. With Isaac Hayes there is no reach; there is no winding road to connection.  His music supplied the fuel for some of Hip-Hop’s many classic beats.  That Stax-supplied, Memphis-bred soul.  The soul that survived the crash that killed Otis Redding.  The soul that took Burt Bacharach to the mud.  Black Soul.


We try to separate race from many things in this era of political correctness.  We strive in the interest of objectivity to eliminate race from classification.  But there is no other way to describe the music of Isaac Hayes. Black Soul.  Mirroring the struggle of Black people, Hayes’ compositions were rarely quick hitting pop records.  Isaac Hayes, who interestingly replaced the chains of the slave with the gold rope chains, was certainly no slave to convention. 

His compositions went as long as twenty minutes, grabbing the listener and forcing them down into musical melancholy.  Towering organs, melodic strings, and orchestral arrangements, long before Barry White altered mood and took you on an emotional journey.  He told a story without words, but by mastering mood and emotion and pitch, drawing you into the Black experience.


Isaac Hayes’ most notable moment came as a result of his narrative ability.  In an era of buffoonery, and at a time when Hollywood decided to bank its fortune on the black dollar, Isaac Hayes was given the responsibility of crafting the musical landscape of the movie Shaft.  Shaft differed from the other “blaxploitation” movies of the era in that it had a real budget, and the lead character a non charlatan.  John Shaft was strong, masculine, uncompromising. 

A private eye with an edge and one of the few non-emasculated examples of that era. Directed by the immortal Gordon Parks (also a first for a major motion picture), Shaft needed a backdrop amenable to conveying that Black masculinity to audiences unfamiliar with that on film. Isaac Hayes brought that original Black superhero music. Subsequently, he won an Academy Award for Best Original Song , the first non-acting Black Academy Award given out.


Hayes’ role as musical tour guide through the realm of Black Soul gave the world a front row seat into our collective expression.  Bold and ambitious, he took innocuous songs and “darkened” them. A prime example of this process involved Dionne Warwick’s classic rendition of “Walk on By”. A musical pop landmark in its own right, Hayes totally obliterated the original mood and made it hauntingly compelling by opening with booming organs and airing it out with string instruments before  settling into the groove that would go on to power Biggie’s warning. Two songs that are entirely the same word for word, yet the power of Hayes makes his version an emotional experience.


It is this talent of Isaac Hayes among all of his prodigious ability that makes this loss such a tragedy. The ability to talk without words.  The power to control emotion and to draw in people of all backgrounds to an understanding of pain.  We will miss Isaac Hayes.  Because before Stevie and Marvin, Isaac was socially conscious. Before Barry White brought love unlimited, Hayes was orchestrating.  Before Hip-Hop was sampling and repurposing ideas from all over, Isaac Hayes was colorizing Burt Bacharach. 


Sometimes when you are first, you don’t reap the rewards.  I imagine the great, great, great grandkids of the Wright brothers are down in the Carolinas angry with the price of plane tickets like the rest of us. Other times you are revered.  Other times your legacy is cemented and the world is a different place because you chose to go left.  Isaac Hayes went left; to the Black Hand side.  And his indelible mark on Black Soul and the landscape of music itself will live on. You Daaaamn Right.

Below are just two examples of the difference between Isaac Hayes and pop standards.  Same songs word for word. But listen to the stark contrast.  R.I.P. Please learn our music. We are losing soul faster than we can replace it. Peace




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