Mixtape Riot Menu


The Original Street Prophet

posted by

(comments are closed)

The Impressions: I’m So Proud
Taken from the album The Never Ending Impressions on Paramount (1964)

Curtis Mayfield: Underground
Taken from the album Roots on Curtom (1971)

Curtis Mayfield: Billy Jack
Taken from the album There’re No Place Like America Today on Curtom (1975)

Forget Nas. N-A-S are the letters that spell Curtis… well, they don’t really, but–shit. That doesn’t make sense. Dammit. Umm…

Way before the QB, the C.M. was dropping street science as the every day agenda. Over the signature seventies wah and hand drum grooves, and punctuated often by dulcet string arrangements, Curtis Mayfield’s inimitable falsetto was the unrelenting, insistent voice of Black-Power-Era urban America. The voice of the Impressions. The sound of Superfly. The bespectacled archangel of the ghetto. Mayfield impressed his music and his message as deeply as any soul artist I can think of. Marvin and Stevie included.

The thing is, aside from Superfly, most folks haven’t heard his best stuff. With a career that spanned more than twenty years, and well over a dozen albums to his name, his most provocative and evocative work has largely remained undiscovered. Curtis. Roots. There’s No Place Like America Today. Back to the World. From his earliest work with the Impressions through–dare I say–his last recordings in the Eighties, the man went head-to-head with The Man, politicians, the dire situations in the streets, while somehow maintaining the aura of neither of a rouble-rouser nor a cynic, but the sage uncle. A friend. A lover (listening to a few of his ballads could make Machiavelli’s heart flutter). An infinitely wise man, never pedantic, always reassuring that better things were to come. He struck the perfect balance of conscience, moralist, reporter and optimist.

O-Dub over at Soul-Sides threw up a very worthy post a few weeks back. And I’m sure other Curtis blogs have made their way around. Truth is, the Mayfield catalogue is so rich, it deserves full exploration, from beginning to end. These tracks are the just something to get your mouth watering. If you have the time and a few extra bucks to drop, the feast is yet to come. You won’t be disappointed.

A quick look at the tracks: “I’m So Proud” is a good example of Mayfield’s (and Jerry Butler’s) strong balladeering skills from his time with the Impressions. The Never Ending Impressions is a fantastic album that scores up there with People Get Ready as one of my early favorites.

“Underground” is taken from what is perhaps Curtis’ best album (excluding Superfly?). As a whole, it’s funk/soul whirlwind that jumps all over place with its content, rhythmic complexities and overall urgency. From the stomper “Get Down” to the melancholic “Now She’s Gone”, Roots is a masterpiece for real.

There’s No Place Like America Today is one of those albums that seemingly comes out of nowhere and goes so deep you can’t shake it. It helps too, that I discovered this album after I had erroneously concluded that I had heard all of C.M.’s great work. “Blue Monday People” is on here as well in addition to some suprisingly moving Jesus songs. But “Billy Jack”…. just, Billy Jack. While it bears similarities, I prefer this track to a song like “Freddie’s Dead”, though it is certainly more simple compositionally and lyrically. Perhaps because of that, it knocked my socks off when I first heard it. And when those horns drop a little ways in–just look out. WARNING: IF YOU ARE MAKING OUT WITH A GIRL WHEN THIS SONG IS PLAYING, DIRTY THINGS MAY HAPPEN. BEWARE THE HORNS.