Jazzie B, 51, is a British DJ, producer and entrepreneur, and the prime mover behind Soul II Soul, the Grammy award-winning sound system. James Brown (1933-2006) was a singer and bandleader known as the Godfather of Soul, and one of the first people to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
I first met Mr Brown—I always think of him as Mr, not James—just after he’d been released from prison in 1991. He took a shine to me: we toured together and I produced his 79th album, “Universal James”, in 1993. Producing him was incredible. He always knew what he wanted; sessions with him would be finished within three takes. There really wasn’t that much that I needed to do. In fact, we probably spent more time in the studio talking and having a laugh. He’d tease me about my unconventional clothes—he was meticulous about his appearance, his nails were always manicured, his hair pressed and neat—but I wasn’t exactly the type to wear a suit and tie.
In turn, I asked him millions of questions—about the industry, about his past. He would hint about his past, but he never divulged much concrete information about, for example, his role in quelling the Boston race riots. What he did clearly show me, though, was how the industry worked and how important it is to maintain one’s independence. He showed me how to play the game. He was signed to a major label, Polydor, but he also ran his own independent labels, such as People and King Records. He had the best of both worlds, and he reassured me as I took steps in the same direction. Virgin Records signed Soul II Soul, but when negotiating my contract, I got it so that I could also run my own independent label, Funki Dred. This meant I could go to America and get into the Top 10 and still be part of the underground dance scene back in London. Now, I’m no James Brown, but my career’s lasted a long time—25 years. A lot of that’s down to Mr Brown teaching me the importance of maintaining my independence.