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EntertainmentJames Mtume, Whose ‘Juicy Fruit’ Became a Hip-Hop Beat,...

James Mtume, Whose ‘Juicy Fruit’ Became a Hip-Hop Beat, Dies at 76

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Between production jobs, Mr. Mtume and Mr. Lucas recorded with their core musicians as the group Mtume, which featured the singer Tawatha Agee. Mr. Mtume described the group’s first albums as “sophistifunk,” using plush harmonies and elaborate orchestrations.

But one day, Mr. Mtume recalled, he realized that “I was playing something that sounded just like something else I had done. I got up and I walked away, and I disbanded the band, and I decided not to do any more productions.”

He put together a second lineup of Mtume, without Mr. Lucas, and turned to a style he described as “neo-minimalism,” using just a handful of instruments and fewer effects. The new Mtume lineup recorded “Juicy Fruit.” At first, Mtume’s record label, Epic, dismissed the song as too slow for daytime radio, but it became a No. 1 R&B hit.

The title song of Mtume’s 1984 album, “You, Me and He” — a confession of polyamory — reached No. 2 on Billboard’s R&B chart. On the group’s final album, “Theater of the Mind,” released in 1986, Mtume turned to sociopolitical commentary in songs like “Deep Freeze (Rap-a-Song) (Part 1).” That same year, Mr. Mtume wrote the score for the film “Native Son” and produced a solo album for Ms. Agee.

In a radio interview in 1988, during a freewheeling era of hip-hop when samples were widely used without payment or credit, Mr. Mtume denounced hip-hop’s reliance on sampling, calling it “Memorex music” and complaining that the originators were ignored. The hip-hop group Stetsasonic responded with “Talkin’ All That Jazz,” which argued, “Rap brings back old R&B/And if we would not, people could’ve forgot.”

Eventually, sampling — by then licensed and credited — would keep Mr. Mtume’s music on the radio. “Juicy Fruit” has been sampled by Alicia Keys, Warren G, Jennifer Lopez, Keyshia Cole, Faith Evans and dozens of others, and many of Mr. Mtume’s other songs and productions have made their way onto new tracks.



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