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Album: Super Fly SoundtrackReleased: 1972Charted:
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 at the end of the movie after the drug-dealing lead character Priest takes a stand against the white deputy commissioner, telling him, "You don't own me pig!"
"It was a glorious moment for our people as blacks," Mayfield told Q magazine. "Priest had a mind, he wanted to get out. For once, in spite of what he was doing, he got away. So there came 'Superfly' the song. He was trying to get over. We couldn't be so proud of him dealing coke or using coke, but at least the man had a mind and he wasn't just some ugly dead something in the streets after it was all over. He got out."
Mayfield, as a member of The Impressions, was a huge part of the '60s Civil Rights movement thanks to songs like "People Get Ready
" and "This Is My Country
." In the Super Fly
film, he saw an opportunity to examine city life, and how drug culture affects African Americans. After seeing the screenplay, he jumped into the project and was given complete creative freedom. He wrote the songs to suit the scenes, but he made sure they could stand on their own, telling the stories even without the visuals. "Superfly" works very well outside of the film, as the character Mayfield describes could relate to anyone trying to survive and thrive under difficult circumstances.
Mayfield was working on the songs for the movie while it was shooting, and would often visit the set, bringing in demos so the cast and crew could hear how they would integrate into the film. He even appears in the movie, performing the song "Pusherman
" in a bar scene.
This song popularized the word "fly," which means unusual and exceptional, particularly when it comes to fashion. "Super Fly" is thus even better, and very high praise. In the film, the main character Priest wears some super fly clothes and also supplies drugs that give that feeling.
"Fly" was especially big in the late '80s and early '90s: Will Smith asked about the "fly honies" on his show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
; the TV show Living Color
had a dance troupe called "The Fly Girls" (Jennifer Lopez was one of them); and Tone-Loc asked the question, "Why you so fly?" in "Funky Cold Medina
Super Fly was part of a movie genre 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. Mayfield did the music for the 1988 film I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, which is a send-up of the genre.
Unless Sidney Poitier was in the film, there was little chance of seeing a nuanced black character in a movie around this time. Super Fly's lead character appealed to Mayfield because he had a vivid backstory and was not just a stock drug dealer. In the song, Mayfield examines how he's really doing what we all are: trying to get over.
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)