DeepSoul, Sampled Edition: James Brown - "The Payback"

The Godfather of Soul is also one of the most sampled artists in music, and this 1973 funk workout shows why.
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What would a column featuring heavily sampled artists be without the Godfather of Soul, James Brown?  The singer's unique vocal tics along with his band's scratchy guitar riffs, thumping bass, and distinctive drum patterns have all graced countless soul, rap, and hip hop tracks.  Since some music historians credit Brown for practically inventing modern dance music, his continuing presence in innumerable tracks is no surprise.  His over seven-minute opus "The Payback" remains a sampling staple, its tough sound lending a funky edge to various artists.

The Payback album started life as a would-be soundtrack to a blaxploitation film.  Brown had already recorded the soundtrack to Black Caesar and was tapped to contribute to its sequel, 1973's Hell Up in Harlem.  "The Payback" would be the centerpiece to the score; inexplicably, the film's producers rejected Brown's material.  Thus Brown elected to release the songs as a double LP, also entitled The Payback.  The producers' loss was Brown's gain, as the album hit number one on the R&B charts and 34 on the Billboard 200.  The landmark title track topped the R&B singles charts, peaking at number 26 on the Hot 100.  Featuring his stellar lineup--Fred Wesley, Maceo Parker, St. Clair Pinckney, Jimmy Nolen and Jabo Starks--The Payback earned Brown some of the best reviews of his career and cemented his place as (among many other titles) the Minister of the New Super-Heavy Funk.  

Brown wrote "The Payback" during a tumultuous time: his backbreaking concert schedule contributed to ongoing health problems, some recent releases failed to crack the Top Ten, and his son lost his life in a tragic car accident in June 1973.  Trombonist/bandleader Wesley had already composed the scratchy instrumental track with the rest of the band; Brown contributed the lyrics.  Presumably Brown poured his anger and despair into the tough, confrontational words, spinning a tale of revenge from the perspective of an outlaw.

That shuffling beat, heavily rhythmic guitar riff, blaring horns, and pounding bass have been sampled multiple times.  The essentially one-chord groove certainly provides a perfectly funky and danceable backbone for any song.  However, Brown's incredible vocals should never be overlooked.  Not surprisingly, Brown viewed Hell Up in Harlem before penning the lyrics, which tell the story of the main character.  Half rapping, half singing, Brown stands his ground: You had me down, and that's a fact / And now you punk, you gotta get ready / For the big payback," he grunts.  So many great lines exist that predate any so'called "gangsta rapper": "Don't do me no darn favor / I don't know karate, but I know ka-razor," he brags.  Brown's trademark screams and interjections appear, but here they possess a more menacing tone.  In all, "The Payback" is a bravado performance that restored Brown to the charts and his exalted place in music history. 

Some notable examples of tracks sampling "The Payback" include the following:

En Vogue - "Hold On" (1990)

Ice Cube - "Jackin' for Beats" (1990)

En Vogue - "(My Lovin') You're Never Gonna Get it" (1992) 

LL Cool J - "Straight from Queens" (1993)

MC Lyte - "Ruffneck" (1993)