• Colin Porter

Tribute To James Mtume



James Mtume's passing on January 9 kind of went quietly. I listened to two interviews he did a few years ago with Charlemagne the God and Sway. I was reminded of his contribution to music and culture. He was one of the first celebrants of Kwanzaa, and his name Mtume was given to him by Maulana Karenga.


Most of us will remember the band that bore his name, Mtume's big hit Juicy Fruit, but he wrote for many, including Stephanie Mills Roberta Flack and played with Miles Davis. His father was jazz great Jimmy Heath, and his stepfather was another Jazz heavy, James Forman. He embraced Hip Hop when his music started being sampled -' It was all a dream, I used to read Word Up Magazine….' We all know that that beat launched Notorious B.I.G's career. I checked and learned that Juicy Fruit was sampled in 110 songs. (It's kinda like the 'Sleng Teng' of R&B to me).




Despite this, he wasn't happy about how much of his music was sampled (without him getting paid). He thought that artists should always strive to create new stuff. Stetsasonic responded with 'All That Jazz' as an "answer" to his comment. But overall, he embraced Hip Hop and was a part of the community. He said that he learned from Miles Davis to change your music constantly. Never stay in the same place.


He also said in the interview with Charlemagne stuck with me - 'The creative process has three components; intuition, intellect and technique.' He also gave another variation to that thought in the interview with Sway – the (creative) process starts with imitation but includes emulation and ends with innovation. Imitate, emulate, Innovate! That's a lesson that we as creatives should embrace, no matter what kind.


James Mtume was a musical genius, a philosopher, a Civil Rights champion and an incredible creative soul. Give thanks for the music and rest well with the ancestors James Mtume.

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