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Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)

Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)


by James Brown


Musically James Brown was, simply put, an innovator. It was in James Brown's hands that funk was born. "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," recorded in 1965, is generally considered to be the genesis of funk, and Brown continues to lay down the funk with a heady bass and swagger in "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)," recorded three years later.

Right from the start of this track, Brown's band creates a polyrhythmic attack with every instrument. First it's the drums that come in (along with Brown's shout of "Unh!"), followed by the trumpet, then the bass, and finally, the guitar. In Brown's words, the musicians "give the drummer some," showcasing the percussive aspects of every instrument in his band. The guitar, bass, and horns are not playing a conventional melody here, rather they are playing short riffs of sound, stopping, then playing short riffs again. There is a hard whomp on the first and third beats rather than the typical two/four cadence.

Each part the musicians play is misleading in its simplicity. Sure, the individual parts are simple little riffs, but when these parts are combined into one sonic whole, things get a bit more complicated. It really is all in the timing, and Brown's band had an impeccable sense of rhythm. Every note is played precisely in time, yet nothing sounds overly calculated. This music has SOUL. This is no easy feat, but Brown's band makes it look easy here. The band employs an all-out polyrhythmic attack here that borrows heavily, if indirectly, from the polyrhythmic musical tradition of West Africa. It seems only fitting that this sound, derived from Africa, should be showcased in a song that calls on black Americans to take pride in their African roots.

Brown's delivery of the chorus and verse resembles that of a Baptist minister on a Sunday morning. It is almost as if he is talking. Though of course he is not simply talking; he's delivering his words with incredible soul and emotion and power. In the chorus, Brown borrows from his vernacular roots in blues and gospel music, using a call and response format. He starts the call with "say it loud," and the children reply, "I'm black and I'm proud." It's in the bridge that Brown really gets in the groove, letting his words and noises follow wherever his soul takes him. He lets out a screech here, an "ooh wee!" there, and countless other impulsive, improvised sounds. These noises may not mean anything, but at the same time, they say it all.

Yes, the man has SOUL.

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