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James Mtume, musician sampled by Notorious B.I.G., dies

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James Mtume, a musician, songwriter and producer who performed in Miles Davis’ electrical band of the early and mid-Nineteen Seventies earlier than founding the eponymous R&B group whose 1983 hit “Juicy Fruit” turned some of the recognizable samples in hip-hop historical past, died Sunday. He was 76.

His loss of life was introduced by his household in a press release that didn’t specify a trigger or say the place he died.

Described within the artist’s phrases as “sophistifunk,” Mtume’s smooth but finely detailed music layered lush, jazz-inspired chord preparations over uncluttered post-disco grooves that would make gradual jams really feel like membership tracks and make membership tracks really feel like gradual jams. “Juicy Fruit,” with a stuttering drum-machine beat and a risqué lyric suggesting the pleasures of oral intercourse, spent eight weeks atop Billboard’s R&B chart (and led, Mtume mentioned, to a authorized inquiry from the Wrigley gum firm).

In 1994, the Infamous B.I.G. prominently sampled the music for his personal “Juicy,” which bought to No. 3 on Billboard’s rap tally and has been streamed greater than 1 billion instances on Spotify and YouTube.

Along with his longtime inventive accomplice Reggie Lucas, with whom he’d performed behind Davis, Mtume additionally wrote and produced elegant, romantic late-’70s soul hits for Phyllis Hyman (“You Know How to Love Me”) and Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway (“The Closer I Get to You”), amongst others. In 1981, the duo gained a Grammy for R&B music for writing Stephanie Mills’ “Never Knew Love Like This Before.”

On Instagram on Sunday, Mills known as Mtume “a tremendous music thoughts” and mentioned the chemistry she shared with him and Lucas (who died in 2018) “was second to none.” Hip-hop’s DJ Premier, who as soon as sampled Mtume’s rating for the 1986 movie “Native Son,” mentioned Mtume was an “icon” and thanked him on Twitter for his “unbelievable contributions to music.”

James Mtume.

James Mtume in 1973.

(Anthony Barboza / Getty Photos)

Mtume was born Jan. 3, 1946, in Philadelphia. His organic father was Jimmy Heath, the jazz saxophonist who died in 2020, although he was raised by James Forman, a pianist who performed in Charlie Parker’s band. When he was a child, well-known musicians resembling Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk would cease by the household’s home for dinner, as Mtume recalled in a 2014 interview with Crimson Bull Music Academy. “I by no means was hip sufficient to know simply how good a state of affairs that was, however what I did learn about jazz musicians have been they have been a unprecedented group,” he mentioned.

Mtume attended Pasadena Metropolis School on a swimming scholarship; whereas in California he bought concerned with the US Group, a Black empowerment group led by activist Maulana Karenga, who created Kwanzaa. (Mtume took his stage title from the Swahili phrase for “messenger” or “apostle.”) After faculty, he returned to the East Coast and started enjoying percussion professionally, first with McCoy Tyner and Freddie Hubbard, then with Davis, who wrote in his autobiography that with Mtume, his band “settled down right into a deep African factor.” Among the many Davis albums Mtume appeared on between 1971 and 1975 have been “On the Nook” and “Get Up With It,” densely funky outings that divided audiences on the time however are broadly admired right this moment.

Of Davis’ management type, Lucas told the Fader in 2005: “The band would construct as much as these large crescendos after which he’d throw up a hand signaling us to only cease — like an acid-rock James Brown. It was his model of ‘Hit me!’”

Mtume made equally adventurous data of his personal whereas working for Davis, together with the trippy “Alekbu-Lan: Land of the Blacks” in 1972.

A band performing onstage.

Mtume performs in 1985.

(David Corio / Redferns)

After their stint with Davis, Lucas and Mtume performed in Flack’s band earlier than branching out to write down and produce for different acts. The group Mtume, with Lucas on guitar and James Mtume and Tawatha Agee as lead singers, launched its major-label debut, “Kiss This World Goodbye,” in 1978; a follow-up, “In Search of the Rainbow Seekers,” got here out in 1980.

For “Juicy Fruit,” James Mtume mentioned he resisted an engineer’s recommendation to digitally streamline the beat he’d programmed on a then-novel LinnDrum machine. “When one thing’s precise, that’s a drag to me, particularly as a drummer,” he advised Questlove in a 2021 podcast interview. “I need it to lean slightly bit. So in the event you take heed to that beat, it’s barely off, on goal. It feels human.”

Biggie Smalls was simply one in all numerous rap and R&B acts to pattern “Juicy Fruit”; it’s additionally been utilized by Alicia Keys, Warren G, Keyshia Cole, Chris Brown, Jennifer Lopez, the Recreation, Religion Evans and Nas, who’s mentioned he initially needed to loop the beat from “Juicy Fruit” for “Life’s a Bitch,” from 1994’s “Illmatic,” earlier than going with a Hole Band pattern as a substitute. (Nas ultimately used “Juicy Fruit” for a remix of his music “One Mic.”)

The group Mtume scored two extra prime 10 hits on the R&B chart: 1984’s slinky “You, Me and He,” which itself was sampled by Aaliyah and Eve, and 1986’s “Breathless.” James Mtume went on to collaborate with Mary J. Blige, Okay-Ci & JoJo and R. Kelly and to work as music supervisor on TV’s “New York Undercover”; in 2003, Beyoncé and Luther Vandross recorded a rendition of “The Closer I Get to You” that gained a Grammy for R&B efficiency.

Mtume’s survivors embody his spouse, Kamili; his brother, Jeffrey Forman; two sons, 4 daughters and 6 grandchildren.

Within the Crimson Bull Music Academy interview, Mtume recalled that executives at his file label within the early ’80s have been skeptical about “Juicy Fruit’s” prospects as a result of they thought the music was too gradual.

“A lot to their shock,” he mentioned, “after the primary week they have been getting calls from each radio station across the nation.”