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genius of the week

curtis mayfield

Born in Chicago, Illinois, where he attended Roosevelt High School, Mayfield came to prominence as lead singer and songwriter for The Impressions, then went on to a successful solo career. Perhaps most notably, Mayfield was among the first of a new wave of mainstream African-American R&B performing artists and composers who injected social commentary into their work. This "message music" became extremely popular during the period of political ferment and social upheaval of the 1960s and '70s.

The commercial and critical peak of his solo career came with his 1972 album Superfly, the soundtrack to the blaxploitation film of the same name, and one of the most influential albums in history. Mayfield's lyrics included hard-hitting commentary on the state of affairs in black, urban ghettos at the time, previously unheard of in blaxploitation films. Bob Donat (1972), wrote in Rolling Stone that while the film's message "was diluted by schizoid cross purposes" because it "glamorizes machismo-cocaine consciousness... the anti-drug message on [Mayfield's soundtrack] is far stronger and more definite than in the film." Along with Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Stevie Wonder's Innervisions, this album ushered in a new socially conscious, funky style of popular soul music.

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