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This was originally an instrumental passage used in the 1972 movie Super Fly, but it ended up having a huge role in the film. It plays over a scene where the drug-dealing villain is betrayed and then killed. Mayfield added anti-drug lyrics to separate the song from the movie's romanticism of the ghetto drug scene.
Super Fly was part of a movie genré known as "Blaxploitation." When white people started leaving urban areas in the US for the suburbs, movie studios realized there was a large black audience near theaters, and began making films catering to them. Movies like Shaft and Foxy Brown were the result.
Mitsubishi used this in commercials for its 2000 Montero Sport.
Nelly sampled this on his 2004 song "Tilt Your Head Back." (thanks, Donovan Berry - El Dorado, AR)
Harry is Derek Smalls in Spinal Tap, Mark Shubb in The Folksmen, and Mr. Burns on The Simpsons
The "A Thousand Miles" singer on what she thinks of her song being used in White Chicks
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Long before Eminem, Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj created alternate personas, David Bowie, Bono, Joni Mitchell and even Hank Williams took on characters.