The Impact of Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly

Super Fly remains one of the most critically praised, politically and socially aware, and financially successful soundtrack albums...

This week in 1972, Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly soundtrack, his third solo outing, widely considered his magnum opus, hit the top of the US album chart, where it would remain for four weeks. One of the few soundtracks in film history to out-gross the film it accompanied, Super Fly spawned two million-selling top ten singles, was certified gold within 3 months of release, garnered a Grammy nomination, features in the greatest albums of all time for both VH1 and Rolling Stone, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and has been preserved by the Library of Congress for cultural, historic or aesthetic significance.

Written in the basement apartment that Mayfield occupied whilst undergoing a trial separation from his wife and children, and recorded in just three days, Super Fly remains one of the most critically praised, politically and socially aware, and financially successful soundtrack albums ever made. Its impact was, and remains, indisputable and far-reaching, inspiring peers such as Bobby Womack, James Brown and Willie Hutch, while the list of artists sampling tracks from the album reads like a who’s who of hip hop and R&B: the Beastie Boys, Notorious B.I.G., Nelly, Alicia Keys, Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg; Eminem; Chance the Rapper; Ice-T.

“Super Fly perfectly encapsulates the post-Civil Rights/early Black Power feel of black America struggling to survive the social and political consequences of the nation’s conservative backlash. Black America faced an uncertain world in the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the election of President Nixon. Politicians were promising to restore “law and order” after years of urban rebellions frightened white folks who had long fled to the suburbs. Steady divestment from black communities, along with increasing levels of violent policing, right at the moment where black people were supposedly free to enjoy the rights of American citizenship, put black neighborhoods at economic depression levels. The drug trade offered the best sense of escape. No one, as Mayfield pointed out, was exempt from the temptation. He had intimate knowledge of this world. Mayfield was a son of Chicago, having been raised in the notorious Cabrini-Green housing projects. The lyrics were as much his personal reflection on ghetto life as they were based on the characters of the film.”

— Mychal Smith, Pitchfork

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