Southern Laced recently spoke with James Mtume, Grammy Award-winning Songwriter, Producer, Activist, radio personality and all around icon, about activism during the turbulent 60’s era movements, years performing with Miles Davis, and chart-topping R&B years as founder of the band Mtume. After he was featured on TVOne’s Unsung, a documentary series which takes a look at some of the top R&B and soul artists of the last several decades, Southern Laced was invited to a round table interview with him.
Here are the highlights:
After insisting he would never do an Unsung profile, Mtume changed his mind, and it was his son who ultimately convinced him. His son told him at 71 years old, if something happened to him tomorrow, his skills and knowledge would go down the drain. Mtume thought Unsung did an excellent job and covered the essential parts of his life.
Reggie Lucas, the famous guitar player that recently passed right before the airing, was one of Mr. Mtume’s good friends and production partner. Lucas produced the majority of Madonna’s 1983 self-titled debut album.
Mtume gained much from Lucus when he was in the studio, he said Lucus was much more ahead of him in terms of R&B and had more sense of melody. His work grew better being around him. They had real chemistry and creating music was always an agreeable process together. On a personal level, Reggie Lucus was a very sweet and kind man. After finding out about his passing, Mtume said he played songs and remembered their time together.
Mtume’s relationship with his mentor Miles Davis was a special one. They would talk five to six times a week. It was a father-son relationship; he was more than just a member of the band.
Mtume said he would like to be recognized and remembered for changing and expanding his dimensions. He started as a hand drummer and keyboard player, then became a writer, then a producer, he put his band together, followed by scoring in film and television. He noted that most singers don’t evolve like that.
In the past and present, Mtume has primarily worked with female singers, and the reason is simple: he is more attracted to the female voice. He thinks to be a successful songwriter and producer you have to know what voice you’re mostly attracted to you. The most critical role of a songwriter, according to Mtume, is the melody. Great singers work best when they have great material. He also said black performers had the most freedom in the early 70’s and one of the things he missed the most was popular young black bands. He suggested that there should be more, but record companies are not signing them, just like they are not signing black R&B male singers; whoever controls the image controls the definition.
Mtume doesn’t see Hip-Hop as a challenge because music is a constant. He felt there was not enough respect in the early days of rap because artists were sampling other people’s music and not paying them. However, a phenomenon is happening in rap now: artists like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole are starting to work with young jazz musicians, which he thinks is making a hell of an impact on the sound.
In regards to young creators now being able to use Netflix, Hulu, Spotify, and social media to promote their brands, Mtume said it’s a great thing. Before, his generation had to depend on music companies and radio.
His favorite cover, sample or rendition of “Juicy Fruit” is Keyshia Cole’s “Let It Go”. His favorite albums of all time include Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, and The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky.
Mtume said he might consider coming out to do a Mitume band reunion after he finished his current project with Tawatha Agee in 6 months.
This interview has been edited and condensed by Southern Laced. Contributor Santana represented Southern Laced in this interview.
Google+ : James Mtume
Official website: https://www.jamesmtumeonline.com/