Fibreculture 15 (2009)

Steve Jones
University of Northumbria at Newcastle
James Brown’s ‘I’m Real’ (1988) contains numerous lyrics regaled from James Brown’s earlier hits (including ‘Make it Funky’ (1971)) and also James Brown vocal samples from ‘Get Up (I Feel Like Being a) Sex Machine’ (1970) and ‘Get on the Good Foot’ (1972). But why sample James Brown’s voice when the man himself was in the studio recording a vocal? What purpose could it serve, especially when he was already replicating moments from previous hits? This article investigates that chronologic duality. The central questions I pose here focus on what the choice to sample himself reveals about Brown’s status as a Soul legend, and whether the contemporaneous James could sincerely live up to the mythic status he establishes lyrically. Via a detailed investigation of the song ‘I’m Real’, I will probe Brown’s playful employment of his own past. His gambit, I will argue, may be read simultaneously as testament to his own glory, and as a signifier that the excesses of egotistic auto-projection were always more distant than they first appeared to be.
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