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PHOTO ESSAY

Blaxploitation Cinema

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Curtis Mayfield

Curtis Mayfield in an undated photograph. Courtesy AP Images.

The most easily identifiable music associated with Blaxploitation cinema is the landmark soundtrack for Shaft (1971). Composed by Isaac Hayes–who had originally expected to be cast in the lead role–the groovy score was so popular that it was mimicked relentlessly in the ensuing years. The soundtrack also included the songs "Do Your Thing" and the Oscar-winning "Theme from Shaft," both of which were Top Forty hits in their own right. As with Shaft, many of these film themes told the story of the protagonist in the vein of the folk ballad "Stagolee," which was about a pimp accused of murder. In keeping with the theme of black liberation, the soundtracks for these films emphasized the "black is beautiful" aesthetic, and further contributed to the popular African American soul music of the era. Curtis Mayfield's soundtrack for Super Fly (1972), for example, was one of the most successful albums of the decade. Other top artists of the time joined the trend, including Earth, Wind & Fire (Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song, 1971), Bobby Womack (Across 110th Street, 1972), and James Brown (Black Caesar, 1973). Indeed, while white-owned studios produced many of the movies, Motown Records often handled the soundtracks, including the music for The Mack (1973) and Foxy Brown (1974). Not surprisingly, the Blaxploitation era is directly linked to modern hip hop, and references to the look and sound of '70s crime dramas are ubiquitous in songs (and videos), with some obvious examples being Ice-T's "New Jack Hustler" (1991) and 50 Cent's "P.I.M.P." (2003).

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