On the first day of this month marked the official eight month point where my friend Henrique and I formed this blog. It was also the same day as the Chadwick Boseman vehicle ‘Get On Up’,the long awaited biopic on James Brown was released in theaters nationwide. So this is my own 50th post on this blog. To celebrate,I am going to be focusing in on another important tribute…to a tribute as it were: Public Enemy frontman Chuck D’s posthumous 2007 musical dedication to The Hardest Working Man In Show Business!
On Christmas Day of 2006,what was traditionally a day for giving became a sad day when someone was taken from us. That was the day The Godfather,James Brown, died. On many levels? That was a sad day for me,and JB’s passing seemed prophetic. The days of getting up,getting into it and getting involved seemed over-replaced by this cold apathy. Way I looked at it? Things had nowhere to go but up. For the last decade of his life? It concerned me greatly that James Brown’s was beginning to earn the historical presidents of being yet another celebrity train wreck. What I horrid legacy to happen to this man who’d accomplished so much in his life,and positively influenced so many. Of course we also had Chuck D,whose very reason for starting Public Enemy had to do with James Brown’s music and aestetic influence. I could think of no one else better suited to musically pay tribute to The Hardest Working Man In Show Business that Chuck D. And in the year after JB’s passing? That little pipe dream circulating in my mind shortly after the event actually came true.
The album starts out with an intro that illustrates James Brown as forever being the Godfather the entire soul/funk/hip-hop spectrum before launching into an this explosively funky tract of songs in “Soul Power”,”Make It Funky”,”Get Up,Get Into It,Get Involved” and “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud”. Chuck raps in JB’s rhythmic style,accompanied by the James-soundalike vocalist Kyle Jason and the Banned. “Its A Man’s Man’s World” is a sleeker,somewhat more full Latin type take than James originally gave it with the Crew Grrl Order giving a female perspective on the current outlook of black femininity to support the lyrics. “King Heroin” is presented here first with the psychedelic jazz aspect of the original played up a bit more while “Talking Loud,Saying Nothing” expands on the original by making a blatant (and to my ears first in music at the time) condemnation on the George W. Bush-era military industrial political complex.
“Thank Mama For The Soul Sisters” breaks up Lynn Collins’ “It Takes To” with vocalist Ronnique Hawkins by expanding on it with classic hip-hop effects that stand somewhere between the original and its famous sampling by Rob Base in 1988. “Super Band” continues on the themes explored earlier in the album while “Funky President” again takes on George W.,this time more directly on his sociopolitical character in regard to foreign policy. The final song on the album is probably the most telling. Its a narration of “King Herion” by a girl named Autumn Asante,who according to the intro to the narration was thrown out of school for this supposed “racist recitation” after her uncle died of AIDS from heroin abuse. Hearing this coming from a young child,speaking with enormous authority,is moving almost beyond a response. Especially with her very witty and mature improvisation in saying of heroin it will “make a man forsake his own country and flag,not that there’s anything wrong with that”.
Hearing this album eight years after the fact,it really shines a vital spotlight on the societal abnormalities of America in the early aughts. Musically this album basically stays true to the flavor of JB’s originals,adding turntabling and light sampling for a synergy of James’ original vision,and how it impacted his creative descendants. And how James Brown’s sociopolitical vision,as expressed through his music and words,were more vital to this nations healing in the transition from the Bush to Obama national climates than perhaps had been thought. Since the time of this album? I have noticed a great deal more activism and outcry against social policies. More of an expression for justice and goodwill. Chuck D projects the aura of James Brown’s creative spirit here as something to be matyrized,but not pedestalized. Something to be embraced,yet not worshiped. James once said for us to “listen to the case”. But even Chuck D would likely tell you,from what he learned out of JB’s influence is that where one goes from there is up to them.