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PHOTO ESSAY

In the Beginning: Hip Hop's Early Influences

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James Brown and his band.

Courtesy of Library of Congress.

Few performers or recording artists have had as profound an influence on so many different kinds of music as has James Brown. Born on 3 May 1933 in Barnwell, South Carolina, Brown would go on to alter the course of R&B, soul, funk, rock and roll, and eventually rap and hip hop. From his early gospel group, the Famous Flames, to his groundbreaking R&B masterwork Live At the Apollo (1963) Brown electrified listeners with the altar-call wailing of his vocals and the precise, driving, jazz-inflected rhythms of his music. The unabashed sexuality and rapturous spontaneity of his live performances won Brown the title Godfather of Soul, but his R&B and funk would inspire generations of hip hop artists as well, not the least of whom was the hip hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa, with whom Brown cut the smash-hit "Unity" in 1984. Brown's records have been sampled by hip hop artists on countless tracks.

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