Beat Drop: Curtis Mayfield.

Before there was…

… there was…

Like previous Beat Drop subject Isaac Hayes (and unlike all other Beat Drop subjects), Curtis Mayfield has not produced any hip hop records — at least not directly. However, he has produced, written, and performed (either with his heavenly voice or ability to play multiple instruments) many great songs that have been sampled by some of the best hip hop producers, some of whom we’ve highlighted in the past.

But, as impressive as (if not more so than) the sonically-amazing musical elements of Mayfield’s music was his way with words. Whether it was a love ballad, a depiction of life in the ghetto, or an anthemic nod toward the Civil Rights movement of the 1970s, Mayfield wrote lyrics with unmatched emotion.

Curtis Mayfield was a musical genius who was ahead of his time, and, sadly, who was taken well before time should’ve allowed for. Below are some of my favorite tracks from Mayfield’s catalog, along with several hip hop tracks that were built upon these classic recordings. Of course, what follows is not a complete list of Mayfield songs that have been sampled, but rather, a “sampling” of samples, if you will. (For a more comprehensive list, sans mp3s, The Breaks would be a better resource.)

Download: Curtis Mayfield – “Superfly”

… as sampled on…

Ahhh, how simpler times were in hip hop prior to 1991, when Biz Markie found out the hard way that you can’t simply take old music and make new music out of it. Of course, this precedent was nowhere to be found in 1989, so the Beasties, and producers The Dust Brothers, had free range on Paul’s Boutique, and they sure made the most of it. The opening guitar melody from the title track of Mayfield’s classic blaxploitation score lays the groundwork for this insane ode to egging, and is topped off with elements of Public Enemy, the theme from Jaws, and whichever reggae song contains the cautionary lyric, “I do not sniff the coke/ I only smoke the sensimilla” — words to live by, if I may say so myself.

Download: Curtis Mayfield – “Pusher Man”

… as sampled on…

Mayfield’s famous “I’m your pusherman” hook gets re-worked in rap songs released over a decade apart — if that doesn’t exemplify timelessness in music, then just wait until the next time it happens. Ice’s reinterpretation is more of a continuation of Mayfield’s, seeped in the same sentiment of the era that Superfly came from. Em, on the other hand, has new, updated drugs (mushrooms, acid), and, as was a recurring theme in his big-selling debut, he probably wouldn’t be too disappointed if he’s unable to find a buyer and is forced to resort to taking them himself.

Download: Curtis Mayfield – “Little Child Runnin’ Wild”

… as sampled on…

Black Is Back was the title of 9th Wonder’s The Black Album remix album… album. Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album — his infamous(ly illegal) remixing of Jay’s quasi-retirement LP over beats sampling The Beatles’ The White Album — was good for novelty purposes, as I honestly can’t recall listening to it more than once. I rocked with 9th’s, though, and, being the Mayfield fan that I am, I dug this remix the most… even though I’ve never successfully been able to nod my head to it the whole way through. Of course, as is the case with most remix albums, the producer is cheating quite a bit — I mean, who knows how much of Jay’s budget it would’ve cost to clear this sample? (Who am I kidding? Would a Jay-Z album even have a budget?)

Download: Curtis Mayfield – “Do Do Wap Is Strong In Here”

… as sampled on…

I can’t help but love this D-Block collabo, in large part because I love the song it samples. Swizz Beatz graduates from his Casio king status on this one, chopping up Mayfield’s original, making sure that the bluesy guitar sneaks in just in the nick of time in each bar (although the original song sort of does the job itself), and throwing the rising violins into the hook as well. Actually, the violins, coupled with Swizzy’s ad-libs, pretty much are the hook in this track, but it works so well that you can’t complain — in fact, a written hook probably would’ve lessened the impact of the beat if anything.

Download: Curtis Mayfield – “Man Oh Man/I Want To Go Back”

… as sampled on…

True, the original version of “Go Crazy” freaks the same Mayfield sample, but the original version does not include a Jay-Z verse… thus, you can probably guess which version I prefer. Don Cannon (CANNON! CANNON!) created a banger of blaring horns snatched from the song’s opening, but the original song itself is a calming, mellow track about falling in love overseas (though I wouldn’t bet against there being some hidden meaning underlying that).

Download: Curtis Mayfield – “The Makings Of You”

… as sampled** on…

Considering that No Said Date dropped on independent label Nature Sounds, one would assume that Masta Killa wasn’t forced into making a song for the ladies, and did so entirely on his own… twice, in fact (see “Love Spell”). Most of the time, the challenge is to not make the “for the ladies” song(s) detract from the overall flow of the album, but, on No Said Date, they not only fit in perfectly, but they were actually two of the better tracks on an overall-solid LP (in my opinion, at least).

** — “Queen” actually samples Gladys Knight & The Pips’ version of this song, but Mayfield’s version pre-dates Knight’s, and Mayfield actually produced Knight’s version.

Download: Curtis Mayfield – “Tripping Out”

… as sampled on…

What can be said here that wasn’t already said on AaronM’s Remix Tuesdays post for this Camp Lo track? Not a whole lot. Moving on…

Download: Curtis Mayfield – “Future Shock”

… as sampled on…

Talk about pimping since been pimping since been pimping since! This shit is a prime example of how music so inherently derogatory and degrading can be so infectious and likable. Pimp C Beat Drop coming soon eventually.

Download: Curtis Mayfield – “Move On Up”

… as sampled on…

Apologies for not wrapping up this post with more of a surprise — this is probably the most obvious of Mayfield sample jobs, so much so that ‘Ye kind of snitches on Just by inserting the original track into the music video (during the vintage-looking “One Moment Please” graphic at around 3:09). And, if you find yourself home during weekdays (hey, it’s the summer), you could probably hear Mayfield’s track, crudely dubbed over with generic female vocals, in a string of Aleve commercials starring random old people dancing — something tells me Curtis didn’t sign off on that prior to his death.

(Our next super-duper guest-heavy Beat Drop will focus on The RZA, and should be ready around late August/early September.)

Sphere: Related Content

There are 3 comments

Add yours
  1. the snow donkey

    my favorite Curtis track thats been sampled i would add would be “right on for the darkness”. It was used on the original version of rakim’s “don’t sweat the technique” and it’s at the very very end of Gangstarr’s “Take a Rest”.

    I’ve read some people place “Little Child Runnin Wild” as a sample used on “Flashing Lights” but for some reason i dont hear it….

Post a new comment