Starting last night, Maceo Parker, one of the most celebrated and respected saxophonists of all time, returned to the Blue Note for four nights of shows, two shows per night. He’s found acclaim for his work with James Brown, Parliament Funkadelic and his award winning solo work, but his importance in hip-hop has gone somewhat understated. From the sheer power of his work being sampled to his incredible collaborations and being one of the first artists outside the genre to embrace having a “hip-hop mix” of their singles, Parker’s performances helped laid the foundation for some classic examples of what makes rap great. Here are our picks for five of his most memorable hip-hop moments.
De La Soul 1993
“I Be Blowin,” 1993
It’s not uncommon to hear spirited debates in hip-hop circles as to which of the first four De La Soul albums is the best, and when fans of their third album Buhloone Mindstate make their case by citing Maceo Parker’s involvement, it becomes a hard point to argue. While he’s credited for three appearances on the album, including “Patti Dooke” with Gang Starr’s Guru, his most visible presence is on the interlude “I Be Blowin.” At a time when the group’s sound and Prince Paul’s production was maturing in every sense of the word, it was a fitting and absolutely wonderful addition to an incredible album.
“Machine Gun Funk,” 1994
Even among other absolute rap classics, few artistic visions in hip-hop have been as flushed out and painstakingly realized as Notorious B.I.G.’s debut album Ready to Die. A flawless release, one of the record’s most memorable songs “Machine Gun Funk” was largely enhanced by the addition of sampling Parker’s collaboration with Fred Wesley and the Horny Horns’ “Up For the Down Stroke” punctuating the hook. Sadly, “was” has become the key word there as a December 2005 lawsuit from the Bridgeport Music, Inc., who own the song’s publishing, had the addition removed from the recording, stripping one of hip-hop’s greatest achievements of one of its most memorable moments.
See also: The Top Five Notorious B.I.G. Trademarks
“Heartz of Men,” 1996
It’s a testament to Parker’s greatness that his work was not only sampled two of the most revered artists in hip-hop history, but that use of it appeared on both of their most acclaimed albums. “Up for the Down Stroke” also appeared as the basis for 2Pac’s “Heartz of Men” from 1996’s All Eyez On Me. But, unless you heard Parker’s original, you would never guess both tracks stemmed from the same song. It’s also notable here that the song’s other sample comes from Prince who, while Parker’s joined him several times on stage over the past two decades, wasn’t able to properly collaborate with him until 1999’s Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic.
Busta Rhymes –
“Do the Bus a Bus” (Remix), 1999
One of Parker’s most celebrated works, “Soul of a Black Man” is best remembered as the James Brown-assisted show-stopping closing track of his 1974 album Us!!. With such soulful power in every second of the track’s recording, it’s not all that surprising to look at the album as a whole and realize it’s among the most sampled recordings in rap history. D.I.T.C. member Diamond D’s use of the track here for the remix of “Do the Bus a Bus” from the Violator compilation is a stunning example of how the original was so powerful, a skilled producer could take mere seconds of it and make it an infectious late-90s club jam.
Maceo and the Macks
“Soul Power ’74,” 1974
This song has been used and manipulated dozens of times, so it made sense to put the break here in full. The names of those who’ve tried their hand at sampling the record read like a who’s who of classic hip-hop as well as some of pop’s biggest names. From Spoonie Gee and Run-DMC to Redman and Chill Rob G to Jennifer Lopez and Gorillaz, the resonance “Soul Power ’74” has found in so many forms across generations of listeners shows the true immortal power of Parker’s genius, and hints at how his work will continue to move listeners for generations to come.
Maceo Parker plays tonight, tomorrow and Thursday at Blue Note.