JAMES BROWN / “Like It Is, Like It Was (part 2)”

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4 Responses to “JAMES BROWN / “Like It Is, Like It Was (part 2)””

Rudy Says:
December 31st, 2006 at 4:38 am

Thanks for the straight up blues pieces by James Brown. Maybe JB should have done more of that. I always thought Bobby Rush was a James Brown with the blues but of course with much more honest country humor. JB was a man filled with enormous contradictions (demons) as well as creative talent and imagination. In a sense I preferred the proto-political James Brown. There was much of the 60s and 70s that he did not digest well. He just did not have the education and intellect to do so. Though he popularized a few Black Power/Black Arts ideas, he also bastardized them for they really did not sink very deep. He turned ideas into popular slogans for the dull masses. And to a degree he became an embarrassment in more ways than one. It’s true, as Kalamu says, he could not be fully digested by the respectable status quo. Overall, Kalamu’s comments are insightful and add greatly to tales about JB. I, however, would like to take issue with his analogy: "I mean . . . rap is just 21st century blues." That is the second time I’ve read this week his analogy of blues and rap. He made it more forcefully in the commentary “HOWLIN’ WOLF, MUDDY WATERS, & BO DIDDLEY.” I generally agree with Kalamu’s views, especially when it comes to music, but . . . Analogies in general are problematical. The blues and rap analogy really stretches the truth of things. Yes, you can find some "similarities" between the two but to say one is the other does violence to the blues and to blues artists. It is like saying a limb is a root; a son or a cousin is the parent. The major difference between the blues and rap is that the blues have a moral/ethical center that cannot be approached by rap lyrics. It is much more grounded in the community, among the people, despite the criticisms of church and other respectable folks. Rap cannot make such claims. Rap possesses minstrelsy, an appeal outside of the community that blues never strove for. Again thanks for the blues pieces by JB. They were new and refreshing. — Rudy


     the problem is us, not the form  

the real problem is the state of our people not the form of expression. why you think i mentioned the lack of national black media? i believe you are right that "analogies in general are problematical" but the limitations of any analogy does not make the analogy wrong. the blues is a major foundational element of all contemporary black music. period. rap is a blues manifestation, especially given it’s rootedness in the masses, it’s folk poetry of language (those dazzling displays of verbal acrobatics are unmatched in anything else happening in music today, it’s a way with words and with the sound of words that is astounding, if you can hear it). as for the moral/ethical center that’s a whole other discussion that requires us to ask whose/what morals, whose/what ethics. there is no easy answer. the commercialization of rap is both the attraction of it for today’s youth and the destruction of it in terms of what you, Rudy, identify as "minstrelsy." the blues musicians you revere and hold up as examples are the top of the line, we both know there were more than two jokers in the blues deck, there were a bunch of minstrels in the blues, it’s just when we reference, we reference by the best, and if we choose the best of rap, we won’t be talking about the minstrels. thanks for your comments. and, oh yeah, one more thing, i prefer the blues-based/funk-based jb, which is to say, i prefer all of pre-eighties jb, because afterwards he became just the sort of minstrel that you characterize and chastise rappers about. we may not want to see it, but who refers to jb’s post "living in america" as great recordings?


stan reese-mcclain Says:
January 1st, 2007 at 8:53 am

James Brown was my hero. Thru his music, messages, and GOD given talent, he greatly influenced my life. I remember as kids, my friends and I would spend hours together trying to imitate James Brown’s singing and dance steps. At one time, we even wore the “Revolution of the Mind” hairstyle.
Now GOD has James Brown in Heaven. You know James Brown is putting on his show.
I have all of his music except one: “World.” It was released on 45rpm in the early 70’s.
We love amd miss you James Brown.

joe gumbo Says:
January 1st, 2007 at 11:14 pm

Thanks so much for this.
A week of reading all these white music sites ‘honoring’ JB without a lick of context was making my head hurt. All of them so angry at hiphop (and by extension, us) that they claim with a straight face that rap musicians benefited from Brown, but not the other way around. Rest well, Godfather.
Happy 2007 Breath of Life!

Ken Says:
January 4th, 2007 at 8:50 pm

Kalamu–to use the parlance of the younger heads, “really feelin'” your last comment (“the problem is us, not the form”).

Hard to grasp all that James Brown has meant to music–rhythmically, stylistically. I think what moves me about him is that he is/was unapologetically himself. Everything from the tight suits, perms and dancing to the lyrics (how many of us yearned in our bones to hear something like “Say It Loud…”? How many of us would have had the courage to say it ourselves?) was his own self. How much of our culture, ourselves can we, as individuals or collectively “keep”–not have it co-opted or made light of by the mainstream? James Brown could not be imitated(except when filtered through his progeny, Michael Jackson, Usher, Chris Brown, et al), was just too damn much to be absorbed into the mainstream, as alluded to by others here.

The t.v. commentaries and accolades were indeed mystifying. As if, in death, these folks were trying to defuse J.B. of his race, his roots, his culture his very essence–something they couldn’t do in life, “Blues Brothers” and “Rocky” movies be damned.

As an aside, I thought that the exchange on The Roots a couple weeks back was some of the most thought-provoking stuff I’ve read on this site.
The single “Don’t Feel Right” is a sterling example of what Kalamu referred to “astounding” in hip-hop. But this notion–how what we do gets co-opted, watered down, twisted up–you all have touched on it before–Mtume’s insights on the record business have been so informative, if disillusioning to us not in-the-know. But The Roots single, it brings to mind–have y’all considered a section on Kool & The Gang? Next to J.B., one of the most heavily-sampled artists in hip-hop’s history. And what perplexes me–what happens that a group goes from writing what turn out to be bedrocks of the hip-hop canon–“Jungle Boogie,” “Hollywood Swingin'” and the hypnotic “Summer Madness,” end up at “Celebration” and “Joanna”??? I’m guessin’ $$$ is the easy answer but there’s got to be something else at work here–something gradual and sneaky and scary.

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