In the long and winding road of Black America to civil rights and social equality, hip-hop has been an ardent supporter. Echoing the despair of African Americans in the shifting urban culture of the United States in the early 70s, hip-hop protested fervently for the association of Black civil rights to criminality, poverty, unemployment, sexism, drugs and street violence. Through the expression of passionate political speech, opposition and controversy, hip-hop became a massive culture that overwhelmed the American society.
But it was so much more than that. Hip-hop was a process; an ongoing process that had started long before it actually infused the American culture. And a very important element of this process was James Brown.
The ‘Godfather of Soul’ influenced hip-hop in so many ways. Emerging in the music industry in the mid-50s, Brown enthralled the Black masses with his signature releases ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag’ and ‘I Got You (I Feel Good)’, both released in 1965 and ranked Top 10 Pop and #1 R&B hits. In 1968, Brown released ‘Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud’ which actually became a Black anthem and in 1970, ‘Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine’ that reached #2 in the R&B hits.
Brown’s rhythmic novelties influenced greatly many popular music styles, such as funk, R&B, disco, rock & roll and rap, making him the most sampled artist in the history of hip-hop. ‘The Payback’, released in 1974 was used by Silk in ‘Happy Days’, by En Vogue in ‘Hold On’ and ‘My Lovin (Never Gonna Get It)’, by Total’s in ‘Can’t You See’ and by LL Cool J in ‘Jack the Ripper’; ‘Pass the Peas’ released in 1974, was used by Heavy D and the Boyz’s in ‘The Overweight Lover’, by De La Soul in ‘Pass the Plugs’ and by Eric B and Rakim in ‘I Ain’t No Joke’. Public Enemy, Puff Duddy, Kool Moe Dee, Ice T, Big Daddy Kane, Run D.M.C. and many other multi-million rappers have used Brown’s smash hits as their background music, while his dynamic rhythms have inspired break beats and funk drumming. Brown’s legacy is also immense in regards to emceeing because his unique call-and-response style, with his unique vocals have inspired and educated many talented MCs in the following years.
However, more than his full-fledged releases, Brown captured the mood of Black America with his live performances. Dancing vigorously under the white glare of the concert lights, adorned in his silk costumes, and looking glorious in his elaborate hairstyle, Brown’s concerts were an alluring experience. Being the first to introduce the Mashed Potato dance style into funk music, Brown enriched his steps with leaps, splits and slides, adding back-vocal singers to perform dance motives. The visual excellence was completed with tuxedoes for all male performers.
For many contemporary rappers, there are no words to describe the huge influence of James Brown on their art. If it wasn’t for him, for his unparalleled passion on stage, his unmatched vocals, his social activity, his constant influence on Black people through the radio at times when Black people were considered second-class citizens, hip-hop wouldn’t stand where it stands today. It would have had the skills, the culture and the philosophy to progress, but the soul was inspired by the ‘Godfather of Soul’, Mr. James Joseph Brown; without the slightest doubt.