James Brown: The Payback

I can’t recall the year, but if memory serves, it was the third bout between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe. Bowe won the first, Holyfield the second. I’m watching the introductions, filled with the usual pomp of the sport, when Bowe emerges from the curtains and walks out to James Brown’s The Payback. Whoa. I really didn’t have a rooting interest in either boxer, but I can remember thinking that had to be one of the coolest (and most appropriate) song selections for the situation.

The title says it all: a down and dirty vow of revenge and payback. Released on the LP by the same name in 1973, The Payback feels more like Brown is preaching than singing. He talk-sings in fragmented bits in between the rhythmic guitar strumming and funky bass. And he employs the call-and-response tactic, name-checking trombonist Fred Wesley for emphasis: “Hit ’em Fred, hit ’em!”

The lyrical freedom Brown gives himself in the song lends to its greatness: it’s not seven minutes of structured verse-chorus-verse boredom, but a tirade of one pissed-off dude. I’d hate to be the guy who inspired this anger.

The equally testy wah-wah guitar and daunting bassline make an obvious foundation for sampling, which EPMD did extensively, though the use of it by En Vogue and L.L. Cool J (mp3s below) probably gave it more commercial appeal.

James Brown | The Payback

As sampled by …

L.L. Cool J | The Boomin’ System
En Vogue | My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It)

UPDATE: Oliver at Soul Sides has started to share his thoughts – and music – of James Brown.

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