Soul Brother #1…The Hardest Working Man in Show Business…Mr. Please Please Please…The Godfather of Soul…Mr. Dynamite…Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk…The Original Disco Man…

The best that ever did it.

JB had already been one of my absolute favorites for almost twenty years by the time I started b-boying, at which time I developed a whole new appreciation for his music.

A few months ago, I interviewed musician/artist/filmaker/hip-hop impressario Michael Holman, and it didn't take long for the conversation to turn to James Brown...and specifically to the b-boy anthem "Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose (Live)":

"'Give It Up or Turn It Loose (Live)' is designed to let you ride on it. To let you dance. It’s like it cuts your work in half, you know? It’s like a galloping anthem. I like to associate it to the William Tell Overture because they’re both anthem-like. And they’re just like this galloping, charging, martial music..." (Michael Holman 8/16/06) Just so.

All I ask is that, as we begin to mythologize James Brown, we honor the fact that he never really fit our boxes, our categories, our stereotypes or even, honestly, our hopes. He never said exactly what we wanted him to say, he never became what we truly wanted him to become.

And I, for one, believe that that was exactly the way he wanted it. Yes, he was one of the strongest voices of his era for Black empowerment. And he also endorsed Richard Nixon in 1972. Yes, he almost single-handedly brought the sophistication of West African rhythm to popular music in the United States. And he also said this:

"It’s a funny thing about me and African music. I didn’t even know it existed. When I got the consciousness of Africa and decided to see what my roots were, I thought I’d find out where my thing came from. My roots may be imbedded in me and I don’t know it, but when I went to Africa I didn’t recognize anything that I had gotten from there." (James Brown, James Brown: The Godfather of Soul. p. 221)

For better or worse - and there was plenty of both - he was his own man. Bottom line.