10/24/16 Mixtape

Black Sheep A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing 25th Anniversary Mixtape

Mixed by DJ Chris Read for Wax Poetics & WhoSampled



“Run for the hills…and hide your hoes,” because this month sees the 25th anniversary of A Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing. It was on October 22nd, 1991, that Black Sheep ‘the low lifes of the Native Tongue family tree’ released their debut album, featuring classic singles “The Choice Is Yours,” “Flavor of The Month,” and “Strobelight Honey.”

To mark the anniversary, our homie Chris Read has put together another dope mix full of album tracks, alternate versions, and original sample material from the likes of Jefferson Airplane, Boogie Down Productions, Kurtis Blow, and The S.O.S. Band.

Listen up and enjoy!

Artwork by Leon Nockolds

Track list:

1. Black Sheep – ‘Gimme the Finga’ (Instrumental)
2. Chris Read – Theme #3 (Scratchapella)
3. Paul Butterfield – ‘I Don’t Wanna Go’ (sampled in ‘Butt… In the Meantime’)
4. Black Sheep – ‘Butt… In the Meantime’
5. Black Sheep – ‘Butt… In the Meantime (Nostrans Ave Rastafarian Mix)’
6. Boogie Down Productions – ‘The Bridge Is Over’ (sampled in ‘Butt… In the Meantime’)
7. Mouth & McNeal – ‘A.B.C’ (sampled in ‘La Menage’)
8. The Guess Who – ‘Three More Days’ (sampled in ‘La Menage’)
9. Black Sheep feat Q Tip – ‘La Menage’
10. Doug E Fresh feat Slick Rick – ‘La Di Da Di’ [Extract] (sampled in ‘La Menage’)
11. Jimmy Mc Griff – ‘Blue Juice’ (sampled in ‘Pass The 40’)
12. Black Sheep feat Chi Ali, Moc-Fu, Chris Lighty & Dave Gossett – ‘Pass the 40′
13. Isaac Hayes – ‘Joy’ [Loop] (sampled in ‘Pass the 40’)
14. Jefferson Airplane – ‘Today’ (sampled in ‘Similak Child’)
15. Three Dog Night – ‘I Can Hear You Calling’ [Loop] (sampled in ‘Similak Child’)
16. Black Sheep – ‘Similak Child’
17. Ramsey Lewis – ‘Les Fleur’ (sampled in ‘Similak Child’)
18. Michel Colombier – ‘Porquoi Pas?’ (sampled in ‘Have U.N.E Pull?’)
19. Black Sheep – ‘Have U.N.E Pull’
20. Black Sheep – ‘Have U.N.E Pull (Remix)’
21. The Shades of Brown – ‘The Soil I Tilled For You’ [Loop] (sampled in Have U.N.E Pull’)
22. Fuzzy Haskins – ‘Love’s Now Is Forever’ [Loop] (sampled in ‘To Whom It May Concern’)
23. Gary Bartz – ‘Celestial Blues’ (sampled in ‘To Whom It May Concern’)
24. Doug E Fresh feat Slick Rick – ‘La Di Da Di’ [Extract] (sampled in ‘To Whom It May Concern’)
25. Black Sheep – ‘To Whom It May Concern’
26. Bubble Gum Machine – ‘I Wonder’ (sampled in ‘Flavor of the Month’)
27. Black Sheep – ‘Flavor of the Month’
28. Brother Jack McDuff – ‘Hunk O’ Funk’ [Loop] (sampled in ‘Hoes We Knows’)
29. Black Sheep – ‘Hoes We Knows’
30. Sweet Linda Divine – ‘I’ll Say It Again’ (sampled in ‘The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)’)
31. McCoy Tyner – ‘Impressions’ (sampled in ‘The Choice is Yours (Revisited)’)
32. Black Sheep – ‘The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)’
33. Black Sheep – ‘The Choice Is Yours’
34. The New Birth – ‘Keep on Doin’ It’ [Loop] (sampled in ‘The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)’)
35. Iron Butterfly – ‘Her Favorite Style’ (sampled in ‘The Choice is Yours’)
36. Rare Earth – ‘(I Know) I’m Losing You’ (sampled in ‘Try Counting Sheep’)
37. Black Sheep – ‘Try Counting Sheep’
38. The Honey Drippers – ‘Impeach the President’ (sampled in ‘Try Counting Sheep (Caveman Funky Organ Remix)’)
39. Black Sheep – ‘Try Counting Sheep (Caveman Funky Organ Remix)’
40. The Johnny Almond Music Machine – ‘Solar Level’ (sampled in ‘Try Counting Sheep (Caveman Funky Organ Remix)’)
41. Millie Jackson – ‘Phuck U Symphony’ (samped in ‘For Doz That Slept’)
42. Young & Company – ‘I Like (What You’re Doing to Me)’ (sampled in ‘Strobelite Honey’)
43. Kurtis Blow – ‘Do The Do’ [Loop] (sampled in ‘Strobelite Honey’)
44. The S.O.S Band – ‘Take Your Time (Do It Right’)’ (sampled in ‘Strobelite Honey’)
45. Black Sheep – ‘Strobelite Honey’
46. Ramsey Lewis – ‘The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo)’ [Loop] (sampled in Strobelite Honey ‘(No We Didn’t Mix)’) 
47. Black Sheep – ‘Strobelite Honey (No We Didn’t Mix)’
48. Black Sheep – ‘U Mean I’m Not’ [Extract]

10/21/16 Articles

Marshall Chess cultivated a stimulating studio at Chess Records


Marshall Chess

Marshall Chess literally grew up in the music biz. He was five years old when his father Leonard and uncle Phil Czyz (the anglicization of their name came after their immigration to the U.S. from Poland in 1928) purchased a portion of Aristocrat Records, which ultimately became the iconoclastic, independent blues and R&B label Chess Records. When Marshall turned thirteen in 1955, vocal group the Flamingos played his bar mitzvah, which was attended by the likes of Atlantic Records head Ahmet Ertegun and legendary platter spinner Alan Freed. As a teen, Chess spent most of his hours at the family-run label and recording studio, located at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago, toiling in the basement pressing plant, loading boxes of Muddy Waters singles onto trucks, and, he says, scouting the streets to procure hookers for payola-friendly DJs.


Originally published as “Head Shop” in Wax Poetics Issue 21, 2007


In his twenties, he launched his own label, Cadet Concept, a division of Chess Records that released groundbreaking—and at the time, so avant-garde that critics deemed them unacceptable—work by established artists like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, alongside albums from left-of-center talent like the Rotary Connection, John Klemmer, the Status Quo, and more.  In 1969, after Chess Records was sold to General Recorded Tape for $6.5 million, and after his father’s death a few months later, Marshall Chess became the founding president of Rolling Stones Records, where, for eight years, he oversaw production of such albums as Sticky Fingers, Goats Head Soup, and Exile on Main Street. Today, he works as the C.O.O. of Arc Music Group, a music publishing company based in Manhattan.

How did Charles Stepney wind up at Chess?

Here’s the key element: back in those days, in order to copyright a song in Washington, you had to have a lead sheet made. I was in charge of the A&R department, and I had to find different people to write lead sheets, which meant I’d give ’em a tape or an acetate of a song, and they’d knock it out and send it to Washington. We were paying fifteen or twenty bucks a sheet, and someone told me about this guy Charles Stepney.

We had a little cafeteria on the eighth floor, and during the course of his first year here, I ran into Charles up there. We were having a cup of coffee, and he had this four-inch-thick manuscript with him. He said it was a symphony he’d written. I asked, “Have you heard it?” He said, “How could I? I hear parts of it in my head, and on the piano.” I said to myself, “No, shit,” because I had some ideas for Cadet Concept. I told him, “I want to work with you, man.” I had this idea for an instrumental group, Rotary Connection. A buddy of mine, an advertising whiz kid, had come up with the name while we were smoking reefer one night. I wanted to use Minnie Riperton, who used to be the receptionist at Chess. She was in a vocal group called the Gems, and we used her on an Angela Davis record. I really liked that high C note of hers. So Charles said, “Yeah, I’ll work with you.”

So that’s how the first Rotary Connection album got started?

From the very beginning, Chess was a great place for creativity. The blues stuff was cut mostly during the daytime, and, at night, we’d record jazz guys like Roland Kirk and Ahmad Jamal, who would come to the studio to lay down a session for $200 apiece after playing a gig downtown. I had a key to the studio, and two or three nights a week, Charles and I would come in and work on our stuff.

Between he and I, we evolved the basic sound of the group, and we picked the songs. Our string players at Chess were these Jewish Russian guys from the Chicago Symphony. Finally, Charles was gonna get to hear his string arrangements for the first time in his life—I’ll never forget his white shirttails sticking out, and the sweat pouring out all over his face. If the album had been on Atlantic, it would’ve been a million-seller on the soul market. As it was, we only sold 100,000 copies, because [Cadet Concept] was looked at as a White record company.

On the first Rotary Connection LP, we used a sitar, and I got Charles into using feedback. I played theremin—I’d first heard it on my first LSD trip, when a guy played “Good Vibrations,” which just blew me away, so I ended up renting one for the session. At the first Rotary Connection show, I had this big Marshall amp onstage, so I could play theremin with feedback. I was so scared about going onstage that I’d taken Benzedrines and I was making all these distorted faces. My mother was out in the audience, and she started laughing so hard that she peed in her pants.

What was the technology at Chess in those days?

We cut the first Rotary on four-track. Electric Mud was cut on four-track. We’d bounce tracks, which means we’d take two of four tracks and make it into one. This was before compressors. All we had were a few universal limiters and one graphic equalizer. When I learned how to produce, it wasn’t about what you could do after the sessions. It was what you could capture at that moment. The whole element of producing was to get the band to lock into a groove. That alchemy, the magic of playing all together at once, doesn’t exist now.

So Muddy Waters’s electric blues album came next?

Yeah. Muddy’s career was flat, and he wasn’t getting royalties. Plus, I wanted to introduce him to the whole psychedelic audience, which was booming. Muddy trusted me; he called me his little White grandson, so we had a real relationship. Muddy didn’t love Electric Mud, but he did the sessions like an actor would play a role. He gave it his heart and soul. Electric Mud took off like a rocket ship, and it sold 100,000 copies the first week. Then a horrible article in Rolling Stone stopped airplay, calling it the worst album ever made.

You and Stepney also collaborated on Howlin’ Wolf’s psych album [This Is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album], which is totally brilliant.

[laughs] Wolf never liked it. He did it, though. It still went back to the beginning, which was that we were doing this to make money. You know, I made a terrible mistake on that album by putting a negative on the cover [the white album jacket is boldly emblazoned with the words, “This is Howlin’ Wolf’s new album. He doesn’t like it. He didn’t like his electric guitar at first either.”].

Obviously, those records were created a few decades too soon.

Number one, the name of the label was Cadet Concept. The Muddy and Wolf albums were conceptual albums—they were produced almost like movies. Muddy did a second album, After the Rain, before the trouble started. Would he have done that if he didn’t like the first record? Years later, he decided to go along with the critics and talk bad about it.

Those critics were rough. Those people never saw Muddy Waters with a sock in his crotch to make his dick look big, or watched Howlin’ Wolf drink a fifth of whisky before he performed. Early electric blues music was party music for Black people. Only in the ’60s, when albums were invented, did the majority of White audiences start listening. Muddy Waters at Newport was one of the first blues albums where we saw that the market was changing. I finally got satisfaction forty years later, when Chuck D sent me an anonymous email about Electric Mud. I still get fan mail—that’s what’s shocking. I’m finally vindicated.

How did Stepney interact with Wolf and Muddy and sessions players like Phil Upchurch and Louis Satterfield? Was there a conflict between Stepney’s classical training and their raw talent?

Deep in his head, there might’ve been some conflict. But his thing was that it had to be musical. Whether or not it was funky was irrelevant. Mostly, I remember him being stressed out about the big sessions with strings and horns and everything. I remember one Dells session that was very complex.

Also, you can’t forget Gene Barge [coproducer of This Is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album and Electric Mud]. Gene was a crucial element to so many sessions. He brought in the musician part—when Charles wrote some notes, Gene got the musicians to play it that way. He was a great horn player, a schoolteacher from Norfolk, Virginia, who my uncle found one on of his road trips. He cut a single, “Country,” which was a semi-hit for us, and he moved to Chicago and became one of our house arrangers.

Daddy G was very involved with me and Charles on five or six albums. We did one of the first jazz fusion albums together, John Klemmer’s Blowin’ Gold. We formed a fabulous rhythm section—Pete Cosey and Phil Upchurch on guitars, Morris Jennings on drums, and Louis Satterfield on bass and trombone. They were way ahead of their time, the most avant-garde, hip rhythm section around. They wanted to call themselves the Electric Niggers, but my father said no way.

Both Charles and Gene were real musicians, not rock-and-rollers who don’t know how to read or understand chords. Both of those guys were really into music, and the structure of music.

Of you, Stepney, and Barge, who brought the psychedelic influence to Cadet Concept?

It was me. That was my thing; I was totally part of that generation. We’d get LSD from the Sandoz Laboratory in Switzerland. It was legal then, and it was all over the place. Then you had [chemist] Owsley [Stanley] and the purple haze. Nowadays, it’s just disco biscuits, but it was wild in those days…

When I went to Woodstock, I drove all the way there, from Chicago. There’s a rumor that Rotary Connection was supposed to be on the bill but their manager refused to play, but I don’t think that was true. Those were amazing times. I took acid at the Fillmore West while the Grateful Dead were playing—I think the whole room was on acid! Psychedelics were a major revolution in America, then it all got stifled out.

Gene and Charles, I don’t think either of those guys took a psychedelic. They may have smoked reefer, but no acid. That wasn’t a Black thing—it scared them.

And what were Leonard and Phil’s impressions of all of this?

They thought I was crazy. They’d say, “Why you smoking that shit?” My uncle used to say, “You used to dress so sharp. Now you’re wearing these fucking blue jeans.” Then when these records sold 100,000 copies, they said, “Hey, motherfucker!” My father was immensely proud that those records sold. Did they get involved in the productions? Not one iota. Did they listen to a Cadet Concept record all the way through? Not once. Did they like that it was successful? Yeah.

They loved the Rotary Connection and Electric Mud—it was business, and it was growing. But that generation didn’t go home, put records on, and smoke a joint.

And remember, at that time, Chess wasn’t a blues company anymore. We were a jazz label, an amazing gospel label, and we had the best Black comedy out there. My dad was spending two-thirds of every day involved with his radio and TV plans. Decades ahead of BET, he sold Chess because he wanted to use Black culture to expand into other media.

As I was leaving Chess, I helped Charles make his first production contract with the people who bought the company, and he went on to do the other Rotary Connection albums and other great stuff. I was supposed to get a million dollars [from the label sale], and I was gonna expand Cadet Concept. But my dad died before I got the money, and so I went to work with the Stones.

At that point, what did you envision for Stepney’s future?

In my entire career, he was the number-one genius that I found. We had so many ideas together—we were trying to establish a library of African culture. He was a class act, and a great arranger, and if Chess hadn’t been sold, we would’ve really expanded our vision together. If he’d lived, he’d be considered on the level of, say, Quincy Jones, no doubt about it. He was a true budding genius—even at the end, he and I were talking about doing film scores together, which was another one of our dreams. We were very close at Chess, and then I left. You have to follow your path—my world crumbled when my dad died, and then I went with the Stones. Charles’s path went to the grave, which really shocked me. .

Roots of British electronica defined on 4-disc compilation Close to the Noise Floor



In May of 1983, a column written by journalist Dave Henderson appeared in the U.K. rock newspaper Sounds. “Henderson,” the intro announced, “bored with the clap-trap rat pack, takes a journey around the world and unearths all manner of difficult music.” There followed an alphabetized list of 100+ artists, ‘zines and record labels (some of whom were more accurately cassette labels) who might, in retrospect, be classified as “minimal synth,” “industrial,” “noise,” “techno,” “dark wave,” “ambient,” or “electro-pop,” each with a breezy, typically tangential or abtruse summation of their sound and/or philosophy (both, in those heady times, often being of equal significance). Ranging from established scenesters Cabaret Voltaire, Nurse With Wound, and Einstürzende Neubauten to forefathers like Philip Glass and John Cage, to up-and-comers Laibach and Merzbow, to other utterly obscure blips on the cultural radar, the list is a fascinating glimpse into a rarely explored underbelly of modern music where pop and the experimental freely mingled.

In May of 2016, a four-CD set was released by U.K. label Cherry Red that took Henderson’s column as a starting point to delve into the birth of electronic music in the British Isles, the formative years of the late ’70s and early ’80s when disaffected youths discovered that, even easier than acquiring a guitar and amplifier, learning three chords and starting a punk band, you could sit in your bedroom with a keyboard and a drum machine and record angular angst straight to a TDK C-60. As an overview of an incredibly influential scene, one that ultimately gave rise to British electronica as we know it today, this compilation, titled Close to the Noise Floor, is essential. But even taken simply as an entertaining listen, the scope of sound covered over the extensive set is fantastic. Alternately funky, atonal, aggressive and ambient (sometimes within a single song), but always with a strong underpinning of the drum machines and synths that today have aged unexpectedly gracefully into tones usually described as “vintage,” “classic,” and entirely en vogue, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine these songs as sources for Kanye West samples or a Grimes bass line.

In addition to landmark proto-electronica like the Human League’s first single, “Being Boiled,” pop non-hits like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s “Almost” and ethereal instrumentals like Blancmange’s “Holiday Camp” share space with the ambient noise of Alien Brains “Menial Disorder,” cosmic proto-techno (British Electric Foundation’s dubbed out “Optimum Chant“) and almost unclassifiable but terrific one-offs like Thomas Leer’s “Tight as a Drum.”

The four discs of music bookend (literally) 48-pages of detailed tracknotes by the compiler Richard Anderson, label scans and an introductory essay by the venerable instigator, Henderson himself.

Wax Poetics is happy to give our readers the chance to win a copy of this collection, courtesy of Cherry Red. To enter the contest, send an email with the subject “NOISE FLOOR” to contest[at]waxpoetics{dot}com. Please include your name and mailing address.

If you’d prefer to guarantee a spot in your collection for this excellent overview of U.K. electronica, copies are available from Cherry Red and the usual suspects.

10/18/16 Videos

The Pendletons drop lead single/video “Gotta Get Out” featuring Jimetta Rose & I-CED



E Da Boss (of Myron & E) and Bay Area producer Trailer Limon have been slowly and steadily releasing music as the Pendletons, with some choice boogie-funk and modern soul tracks making the rounds of San Francisco’s Sweater Funk and L.A.’s Funkmosphere parties.

Purveyor of fine modern funk Voltaire Records will release the Pendletons’ first EP, Gotta Get Out on November 18.

Premiering above is the lead single, “Gotta Get Out,” which features Jimetta Rose and I-CED.

The upcoming EP highlights the hardships of life and love in modern society, via the smooth and bass heavy grooves of the Pendletons production squad. The struggle is real out there, especially for artists trying to survive and follow their passions, and “Gotta Get Out” eschews those sentiments completely with a full cast of guest vocalists including Jimetta Rose and I-Ced. “Learning How To Love You” is an ode to the inter-dynamics of a relationship, and having to think through and adjust behavior to suit the needs of your partner. “Never Know” starts out the B-Side…a harrowing tale of how life choices, twists and pitfalls can radically change those around you, even the most gifted and guarded of people. The most beat-scene of the bunch, “Purple Moon” inter-splices COPS-esque dialogue with slamming 808 bass and cruising synth lines making for a certified hypnotic head-nodder. The digital and cassette release of the “Gotta Get Out” EP features added bonus tracks with guests Felili, K-Maxx and additional remixes by Mat/matix and RELISH (aka Hotthobo).

10/13/16 Contests/News

Quantic tours, releases new single on 7-inch



Already halfway into his North American tour, Quantic is supporting his new album, 1000 Watts., a tropical, reggae-roots record that features rock-steady rhythms from  legendary Jamaican drummer Santa Davis (Bob Marley and the Aggravators).

Check the remaining dates below.

On November 25, Quantic drops the 7-inch and digital single “Shuffle Them Shoes feat. Hollie Cook”:

Hollie Cook’s silken vocals weave through a soundtrack layered with sultry horn hooks and atmospheric bass, the self-styled “tropical pop” singer bringing the charisma and charm that have made her one of the biggest crossover reggae artists of our times. The digital package features three new remixes from Terror Danjah & P Jam, Wrongtom and Jago & Ghost Writerz, while the 7-inch boasts a further DJ bonus in the shape of a vinyl-only, exclusive dub of album track “All I Do Is Think About You.”


We’re giving away a copy to one lucky winner. Just email us at contest[at]waxpoetics{d0t}com with the subject QUANTIC ROOTS 7. Please include your name and mailing address within the email text.

1000 Watts Tour Dates:

October 13 – Nectar Lounge, Seattle WA
October 14 – Sugar NightClub, Victoria BC
October 15 – Imperial Vancouver, Vancouver BC
October 18 – The Music Box, San Diego CA
October 19 – El Rey, Los Angeles CA
October 20 – MEZZANINE, San Francisco CA
October 21 – Empire Control Room & Garage, Austin TX
October 22 – Ophelia’s, Denver CO

10/05/16 Articles

Curtis Mayfield’s tragic accident couldn’t stop his artistry


Curtis Mayfield

In 1990, Curtis Mayfield was paralyzed onstage at a concert in Brooklyn. Though he could no longer play guitar—let alone move his body below the neck—he refused to give up, recording his final album, New World Order, in a wheelchair.

The following excerpt is from Traveling Soul, the first comprehensive biography of Mayfield, written by his son Todd and Wax Poetics contributor Travis Atria. The book was released October 1, 2016—the twentieth anniversary of Mayfield’s final album.



After years of adjusting to life as a quadriplegic, Dad set his mind on making a new album. “I always said I would not be singing till my sixties or seventies, not unless I really wanted to,” he told the press. “Now I feel like I want to.”

To make the album, he worked with other musicians and producers who sent tracks and sat at his bedside discussing what he wanted to add to their ideas. The first song he worked on this way was “Back to Living Again,” written with gospel singer Rosemary Woods. “It’s not about dying,” Dad said. “It’s about living again . . . I always need a good challenge to push me or dare me.”

Here was something more than a good challenge, though. For one thing, he couldn’t use a tape recorder to save his ideas, making the creative process exasperating. “I have ideas,” he said, “but if you can’t jot them down or get them to music they fade like dreams.” He also missed his guitar dearly. “For expression and harmony, my guitar was like another brother to me,” he said. “I mourn my guitar to this day. I used to sleep with my guitar. I’d write five songs a night—a day. When I couldn’t find answers, I would write songs. When I was heartbroken, I would write songs. It was my own way of teaching myself.”

His problems were just beginning, though. He had difficulty speaking loudly as a result of the paralysis, and singing was nearly impossible. He found a way around this too, singing while lying down at a slant or sometimes flat on his back, using gravity to help his diaphragm and lungs work. He could only sing a few lines at a time, which the producers spliced together to form a complete take.

Dad didn’t write any of the songs on the album by himself—a first in his entire career. Rather, he relied on producers. He contributed lyrics, verses, hooks, and other snippets, but he needed them to form the ideas into songs.

A production team called Organized Noize came to assist. The trio of Sleepy Brown, Rico Wade, and Ray Murray was famous for working with Atlanta hip-hop superstars OutKast and had just produced “Waterfalls,” a number-one hit for TLC. They helped produce some of the best music my father had made in more than a decade. For a time, they also leased the Curtom Atlanta studio in the house on Austin Road before building their own facility. “Curtis worked so long and hard on that project,” Brown said. “Sometimes he was in obvious pain, but he just worked through it. He was always asking us to criticize the work, so we could make it better.”

Roger Troutman of the 1980s funk band Zapp also helped. Troutman brought a recording console and hard drive to the house, ran some speakers into my father’s room, and put a microphone in front of him. Dad cut two tracks from bed, including a remake of his classic, “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue.”

The loss of both voice and guitar—the two things that defined Curtis Mayfield—left him frustrated and depressed. “[I can’t sing] in the manner as you once knew me,” he said. “I’m strongest lying down. I don’t have a diaphragm anymore, so when I sit up I lose my voice. I have no strength, no volume, no falsetto range, and I tire very fast. I’m sorry to say that my style of playing is probably gone forever—the tuning—I can’t play it and there’s no one to teach it.” But he felt proud of the album. “It took all of my know how,” he said, “and we got it done.”

Then, my father’s long time bass player Lucky Scott died. Dad had known Lucky since he toddled around in diapers. After the Impressions’ road band died in a tragic car accident in 1968, Lucky became a fixture in Dad’s life—as a musical director, bass player, creative companion, and friend. He died of a blood clot to his lungs, a sudden and unexpected end.

Despite that hard blow, when New World Order came out on October 1, 1996, it strengthened my father. He proved to himself that he could still create and take care of his family. “My particular thing is how, within my limits, to still find ways to earn a decent living, just prove to myself that I’m doing the best that I can do,” he said.

How many fifty-four-year-old quadriplegics are putting albums out? You just have to deal with what you got and try to sustain yourself as best you can and look to the things that you can do, so that’s how I’m looking at things. I’m devoting what time I have to my children. I’m trying to get the rest of them out of here to college. I’ve got a very strong woman. You never know who’s going to take that stand and say, “Hey, I’ll do it.” Nobody wants to do it, but she’s been around all these years.

Like most albums during the last twenty years of his career, New World Order is uneven—and like most of the work during that period, it contains flashes of brilliance. The title track and superb cuts like “Ms. Martha” and “Back to Living Again” show just how sharp my father’s creative mind was, even if his body no longer cooperated in the songwriting process. He also remade one of the most underrated songs from the Impressions catalogue, “The Girl I Find,” and he cut a first-rate ballad with “No One Knows About a Good Thing (You Don’t Have to Cry).” The album’s crowning moment is “Here But I’m Gone,” a haunting, hypnotic song that is as good musically, lyrically, and melodically as anything he’d ever done.

New World Order put him in the context of mid-’90s R&B and hip-hop, which suited him better than any style since pre-disco days. Dad said,

Fusing elements of hip-hop on this CD was not so much a concession to the times, as much as it was a connection to the times. We all have to grow. You have to stay true to yourself while recognizing and acknowledging what’s going on now. Fortunately we had a lot of the young people who always admired my work so they could put music together that was of the Nineties and all I needed to do was just lay my signature down. They’re all great producers and have great ideas but they were all very kind and always left the parts for Curtis.

The album went to number twenty-four R&B, his best showing in nearly twenty years. It brought a rare moment of happiness to a man who hadn’t experienced many in recent memory, and the renewed focus made him feel vital again. Interview requests came pouring in, as did two Grammy nominations. The Soul Train Music Awards honored him with the Heritage Award. He was back in the game.

Though he’d never record again, his music still lives. Hip-hop and R&B stars still sample him, eager to connect to his branch on music’s evolutionary tree. That branch gets stronger with time, putting forth countless flowers—from Erykah Badu to Kanye West, Jay Z, Eminem, Ludacris, Rick Ross, Drake, and dozens more.

Sadly, the problems he sang about still live too. Poverty rates for most minorities in America remain more than double that of whites, the U.S. Supreme Court has hampered the legislative gains of the movement, and racial violence remains an ever-present danger for those who are darker than blue. From the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Florida teenager, in 2012, to an instance of police brutality that ignited riots in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, to the recent slayings of Terrence Crutcher and Keith L. Scott—and far too many others—America’s problem with race continues to rear its ugly head. A new generation must now deal with the same old issues, ask the same old questions, and fight to find new answers.

Though he isn’t here, my father is still part of that fight. His music speaks as powerfully to the times we live in as it did to his own. His songs remain vital, uncompromising, and true. His message endures—a message he refused to abandon even in the darkest of times. If he were alive today, he’d urge us to keep on pushing, to never give up, to get ready for something better. He wouldn’t be able to help himself.

After all, as the man himself once sang:
Pardon me, brother,
I know we’ve come a long, long way
But let us not be so self satisfied
For tomorrow can be an even brighter day.


Traveling Soul: Curtis Mayfield