“Society is the thermostat. It sets the temperature. Artists are thermometers. We reflect what the temperature is.” This is among the many potent quotes that emerged from So Booking Cool‘s interview with Grammy award-winning musician, songwriter, activist, and radio personality, James Mtume. His timeless hit song, “Juicy Fruit” (the heavily sampled cut for numerous artists including the late Notorious B.I.G.’s smash hit “Juicy“) is celebrating its 35th anniversary. Not bad at all for a song that almost did not get released. The Philadelphia-bred icon has not yet penned his autobiography, but a starting point for telling his story will be covered in his upcoming episode of the docuseries, Unsung to air this coming Sunday.
The Philadelphia-bred composer had early exposure to jazz music with his father performing the genre. Mtume created a list of the three musicians he desired to work with and ultimately was recruited by one of them, Miles Davis, who would become a cherished mentor. It was Davis who encouraged Mtume, who became the first black Middle Atlantic AAU champion in the backstroke before taking the music world by storm, to explore different sounds. “When you finish a musical genre, put it away,” the 71-year-old advises younger and aspiring artists. “Once you cross a musical bridge, burn it, so that you don’t have to go backwards.”
Listen to the full interview to learn more about Mtume’s thoughts on the music industry, the artists that impress him today, how seeing Elijah Mohammed and Malcolm X speak when he was 14-years-old changed his life, the parallels between the social movements during the 60’s and present time, the proudest moment of his illustrious career, and more!