I'm Real

Album: I'm Real (1988)
Charted: 31
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  • In 1986, rappers started sampling James Brown at an alarming rate, typically without clearing those samples. Eventually, he was compensated for these samples and hailed as the foundation of hip-hop, but in 1988 he was mad. Brown saw this as thievery, and entered the genre to lash out at it. Enlisting the production team Full Force, he came up with "I'm Real," where he blasts the rappers who are stealing not just his music, but also his dance moves and style.
  • Brown's vocal style was always very percussive, so rapping isn't far out of his purview. What's unusual here is the synthesized backing track, far outside of the organic funk that got him sampled so many times. Also, he never had to write many lyrics because his grooves filled up so much space. Here, he came up with three full verses, and they're rather clumsy.
  • The first hip-hop artist to sample James Brown to great success was Eric B. & Rakim, whose debut album Paid In Full was released in 1987. Brown calls them out in the line:

    Better take my voice off your record, till I'm paid in full

    Rakim gave this take on the track when he spoke with the New Musical Express in 1988:

    "That's not James Brown, that's just Full Force on his d--k. It was a live band, a live drummer and a horn section that kept that ni--er pumping. Beatbox? That's not James Brown. He doesn't know what's happening. He went to Full Force to make him modern. If he had more sense he would have come to us in the first place."
  • Brown enjoyed a career revival in 1985 when he appeared in the movie Rocky IV singing "Living In America," which gave him his first pop hit since 1976. He was still riding that wave with the I'm Real album, which was his last studio album to chart in America, where it reached #96. The song didn't make the Hot 100, but did go to #2 on the R&B chart.
  • Brown made a video for this song that opens with a skit, showing rappers at "Copycat Records" stealing his grooves, along with other wannabes doing poor imitations.
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