RAP JOURNEY #25 – FROM JAMES BROWN TO CEE-LO

King Heroin” came on the shuffle today and I felt a distinct stirring in my soul that I was sure I’d felt before.

James Brown – King Heroin

Of course Madlib, Dilla, and Knxwledge in their compulsive soul music chopping have processed the original through their respective beatmaking apparatus, but that’s way too easy an explanation and true of almost any James Brown song ever recorded.  BJ the Chicago Kid pulled off a much more listen-worthy reinterpretation last year, but if that was it I would have remembered at least because of its recency if not its quality.

BJ the Chicago Kid – Real Love Never Dies

Levert has a boring-ass tribute song called “Tribue Song” that uses the same loop BJ does, is full of embarassing mispronunciations (“Art Blakely”, “Paul Roberson”, “Betsy Smith”), and fails to shout out James Brown in a song about paying tribute to black entertainers of the past, but that is obviously not what I had in mind as I took in the Godfather of Soul’s recitation of some midtown NY deli worker’s addiction poem.  What I was looking for wasn’t a direct sample, reference, or interpolation, but more a spiritual successor, some other somber spoken word piece over a mournful 6/8 groove.  FInally it dawned on me.

Cee-Lo – Sometimes

I’m not claiming that Cee-Lo was trying to evoke “King Heroin” here, I’m sure he’s heard it and maybe there was some subconscious influence but I think both he and James Brown are just working in the same timeless tradition of talking over music found on pulpits, back porches, strip club stages, and campfires since time immemorial that has only recently been given the designation “rap”.  They just both happened upon the a remarkably similar and very effective stylistic vehicle for kicking some major knowledge.  It’s a good thing “Sometimes” never got popular or it could have gotten all Blurred Lines“-ey in Cee-Lo’s world.

It should be noted that both “King Heroin” and “Sometimes” are much better experienced in the contexts of the albums they’re on (even though “King Heroin” was originally conceived as a single and was only later placed on a full-length), on their own I must admit their power is a bit diminished.  On …Is The Soul Machine, “Sometimes” it is sandwiched between two of Cee-Lo’s best solo works, and the tragedy of “King Heroin” is all the more potent when you’re just coming off the high of the opening (and title) track of There It IsAdmittedly, jolting into the the rude awakening of “I’m a Greedy Man” afterward feels a bit clumsy at first but if you don’t like sharp juxtapositions of emotional torment and light-hearted innuendo, what are you doing reading a rap blog?

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