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PHOTO ESSAY

In the Beginning: Hip Hop's Early Influences

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Isaac Hayes performing in Chicago.

Photograph by John H. White. Courtesy of the National Archives.

A towering figure in 1970s soul music and a forebear of modern hip hop and rap, Isaac Hayes was born in Covington, Tennessee, on 20 August 1942, but it was in Memphis that the multi-talented Hayes would establish his sound and style. His classic 1969 effort, the sumptuous, deep-grooving Hot Buttered Soul, made Hayes a star and forever cemented his image—smoothly shaved head, eyes forever hidden by sunglasses, covered in gold jewelry—in the minds of a generation of young African Americans, who would later adapt the Hayes look to what would come to be known as gangster rap. In 1971 Hayes cut the hit title track to the legendary blaxploitation flick Shaft, a song for which Hayes became the first African American to receive an Academy Award for a musical composition.

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