Black Music:The Beat Goes On

The unexpected death of Michael Jackson and the attendant outpouring of grief disrupted our tribute to Black History Month. We are resuming the salute with James Brown and Prince and will conclude with a salute to Hip Hop.

James Brown: Reinventing American Popular Music
James Brown, known as “The Godfather of Soul, is recognized as one of the most influential figures in 20th century popular music. Brown was a pivotal force in the music industry. He left his mark on numerous artists and his music left its mark on the rhythms of American pop music and provided a template for the most important genre of dance music- Soul and Funk music.
By mid-1960s, James Brown had developed his signature groove that emphasized the downbeat – with heavy emphasis on the first beat of every measure to etch his distinctive sound, rather than the backbeat that typified African American music. Two of Brown’s signature tunes Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag and I Got You (I Feel Good), both from 1965, were his first Top 10 pop hits, as well as major #1 R&B hits, with each remaining the top-selling singles in black venues for over a month. Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag is widely considered the first recording to showcase what later became Brown’s signature musical style, and marks the beginning of the development of the musical genre of funk. In 2004, Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag was ranked number 72 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.
The Minneapolis Sound
Minneapolis is just one of the major urban hubs identified with a particular R&B sound. In the ’60s and ’70s, Philadelphia, Chicago and Detroit all had their own distinctive brands of northern soul.  Ohio had a number of cities that  were known for having a lot  funk bands in the ’70s — the Ohio Players, Lakeside, the Dazz Band (originally known as Kinsman Dazz), Bootsy Collins and Slave were among the many who pushed funk to its limits. The Minneapolis sound of the ’80s, however, was unique- it was quite different from the sophisticated soul of Philly and Chi-Town or the “down-home” funk of Dayton, Cleveland and Cincinnati. The Minneapolis sound of the ’80s wasn’t pure R&B; it was a hybrid mixture of funk, rock and pop, and it was a sound that made Prince both a funk/urban star and a rock/pop star.

The person who invented the Minneapolis Sound was Prince. He was the innovative leader of a scene that, in the ’80s, also gave us the Time, Morris Day, Vanity 6, Apollonia 6, Ta Mara & the Seen, Sheila E. and Jesse Johnson’s Revue as well as lesser known Minneapolis residents like the Family and Mazarati. All of these artists were heavily influenced by Prince’s work, and Prince’s followers- like Prince himself- were not R&B purists. They had funk appeal, but they also had rock, pop and new wave appeal. Consequently, the Minneapolis sound attracted very integrated audiences. Parliament/ Funkadelic and Gap Band fans attended concerts by Prince and his disciples; so did fans of Blondie, the Police and Duran Duran.

The Minneapolis sound dominated the ’80s, launched into the American Pop and R&B scene by Prince in the late ’70s. The singer/composer started building a national following in 1978, when Warner Bros. Records released his debut album, For You, and he had a hit with the bouncy “Soft and Wet”. In 1979, Warner released Prince’s self-titled sophomore album, which contained the hits “Why You Wanna Treat Me So Bad?” and “I Wanna Be Your Lover”. For You and Prince were enjoyable soul-pop albums, but they offered little evidence of the visionary, wildly ambitious work that was just around the corner (although Prince’s second album does contain the funk-rock jewel “Bambi,” which addresses the subject of lesbianism). In 1980, however, Prince took off with his third album, Dirty Mind. Both musically and lyrically, Dirty Mind was a major step forward for Prince and the Minneapolis sound. Without abandoning funk and soul, Prince became a lot more rock-minded. The fact that Dirty Mind was able to win over rock and new wave audiences without alienating the R&B base Prince had acquired with his first two albums is certainly impressive. And he acquired even more followers with equally risk-taking albums like 1981’s Controversy, 1982’s 1999 and 1994’s Purple Rain.
Janet Jackson was one of the many  beneficiaries of the Minneapolis sound. Jam and Lewis were introduced to Janet Jackson and produced her breakthrough album Control in 1986, for which the duo won a Grammy Award. Beginning with her third studio album Control (1986), Jackson began a long-term collaboration with record producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis  who incorporated much of the Minneapolis Sound in her music. Their collaboration on her next album, 1989’s Rhythm Nation 1814, was even more successful.


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