Black Music Month: Curtis Mayfield - Super Fly

"There's something kinda funny how The Man take your money, he's shrewd as he can be in such a way you'll never see, it's a terrible thing inside when your natural high has died, the weaker turn to dope and put all aside their hope"

Super Fly is an album completely written, composed and performed by Curtis Mayfield. The album is the soundtrack to the movie of the same name and tells the same story. The thing is, the album told the story better than the movie and sold more in the first month than the movie did while in theaters. In fact it became a signature album for Mayfield and a perfect depiction of story telling through music while the film was discarded.

The story of Super Fly tells the story of Prince, also known as Super Fly. He's a drug dealer that wishes to retire after one last large deal. However, the police want their cut and are killing his associates, the mob expects him to keep dealing for them and his best friend is secretly betraying him. Through all of this Super Fly manages to come out on top. The interesting thing about the film is that outside of the main actors and actresses the film used actual pimps and drug dealers for the film, with some being released from prison the day before.

It's easy to notice that the heavy pimp influence around the film influenced Mayfield's music choice for the album. The album features a much more laid back vibe compared to other music coming out at the time. It also contrast the high action of the film. Mayfield chooses live instruments and slow tempo tracks to sing over. His singing is also unique in the sense that it is presented almost as if he's rapping. Short sentence, then pause, short sentence that rhymes and repeat. The slow pace and smooth instrumentals create more than a chill album. Instead an almost trance like album that we're presented with.

The album opens with "Little Child Runnin' Wild." It's a song that explains that the bad kid may not exactly be bad. The song starts with "Little child running wild, watch a while, you see he never smiles, broken home, father gone, mama tired, so he's all alone, kind of sad kind of mad." The kid isn't exactly bad but there's no one around for him so he's mad and alone. He's acting out hoping for the attention that he can't get anywhere else. Mayfield goes on to point out how the politicians who often criticize black people in the city don't even live there, so how can they judge or even understand? The song ends with the child in the song considering stealing from his mother for drugs but he loves her too much. The reasoning behind his drug use is simple "Don't care what nobody say I got to take the pain away, it's getting worser day by day, and all my life has been this way, can't reason with the pusher man, finance is all that he understands." This leads into the next track.

"Pusherman," explains why drug dealers are so loved. When a person has been neglected, the dealer can fill all kinds of roles. The dealer can give you drugs to replace love from your parents, drugs to ease the physical pain as a doctor would, he's a friend when you're low, but in reality he's just a dealer. Then the song transitions to explain why the drug dealer thinks he's loved so much. He thinks it's his status that makes him so respected, the cars, the clothes and women. Mayfield goes on to point out how the addict is really no different than the user. "Silent life of crime, a man of odd circumstance, a victim of ghetto demands, feed me money for style and I'll let you trip for a while, insecure from the past," paint a picture of a dealer who feels the same way as the little child running wild from the last track. Instead of buying drugs to escape the stress he sells drugs to go shopping.

"Freddie's Dead," is a song about a drug dealer from the movie. Freddie was a big time drug dealer as well but ended up dead because nobody in the drug game is to be trusted. However, there's a much deeper and more sinister meaning behind the song that goes over looked. Freddy is a representation of black culture dying because it's being exploited. Super Fly was a blaxploitation movie, but that doesn't mean Mayfield wasn't hesitant about the genre. "Everybody's misused him, ripped him off and abused him, another junkie playing pushing dope for the man," is the first sign of this. Super Fly was released in 1972 more than a decade before Reagan began bringing crack to black neighborhoods with military planes. Long before the end of the Black Panthers due to drug addiction. One thing that was going strong was blaxploitation films backed by white companies that often disposed of actors after the release. When Mayfield says pushing dope for the man he doesn't mean selling drugs for the man. Dope is black culture, the cool thing, and the man in this case is Hollywood. Mayfield is warning that if we keep selling black culture it'll be dead soon that's why he wants us to remember that Freddie's dead. Another clue that this is a metaphor for exploiting black people is "why can't we, brothers, protect one another, no one's serious and it makes me furious, don't be misled, just think of Fred." Fred is a cautionary tale, he sold out in the movie expecting protection, but all he got was death. Mayfield is warning that if black people sell for money expecting financial protection, our culture will die.

"Eddie You Should Know Better," is a track about another character from the movie. Eddie is Prince's best friend and partner in crime but kept growing greedier. He ended up alienating all of his friends and loved ones through his actions. He then tried to have Prince killed for wanting out of the drug game. Only for Prince to figure it out in time and have Eddie killed instead. The track is a warning to would be drug dealers. Mayfield warns of the stress you'll put on your family with your actions as well as all the friends you'll lose. It also points out that if you do enough ruthless deeds nobody will trust you. You lose more than you gain selling drugs. The phrase Eddie should know better comes from the fact that he was raised to know what he was doing is wrong and he should feel bad for it, but he doesn't.

The tale of Eddie is followed by "No Thing On Me," also known as "The Cocaine Song." This song takes at look at the reason people turn to drugs. He starts by explaining that no matter we he goes the people are the same. It's only upbeat song on the album strangely enough. Mayfield states that "my life's a natural high, the man can't put no thing on me." He's high on life so there's no reason for him to turn to drugs. He goes on to explain this natural high doesn't come from wealth or success. It's something we're born with because we're all happy to be alive when young. Then he goes on to state "It's a terrible thing inside when your natural high has died, the weaker turn to dope and put all aside their hope." People grow tired of life and their natural high fades away. To replace that they get high hoping to bring that high back. But, it's not all people, just those who aren't strong enough to resist the temptation and that's what it is, temptation. "While your inner mind is pleased, your conscience is only teased, more and more you feed, until you grow another need, playing fantasy, you have no reality." The drugs may help you in the short term but you'll never get that natural high back and it's only temporary. It's just a fantasy world you live in when you're high only to come back down and realize you're stuck in the same place.

The album finishes up with the track "Super Fly." This tells the story of a drug dealer who wishes to get out of the game. Even after leaving he doesn't know what to do with his life. "Hard to understand what a hell of a man, this cat of the slum had a mind wasn't dumb, but a weakness was shown cause his hustle was wrong, his mind was his own but the man lived alone," people start judging him for his past decisions but can't understand why he was forced to make the choices that he did. He's also been in his own world selling drugs for so long that he doesn't know how the outside world really works. It's a sad tale of a man having a change of heart but not knowing what to do afterwards.

Curtis Mayfield touched on a lot of issues facing the black community and he managed to make a lot of people mad with the content. While Mayfield stated that selling drugs was pitiful, especially to another black person, he never said it was wrong. With the civil rights movement freshly over former leaders were looking for a target and they chose drugs. It's understandable that they would be upset that he didn't paint drug dealing as bad. Curtis chose not to do that. Instead he painted the dealers as a victim of circumstance, just as much as any other person. He stated it was pitiful but he did commend them on using their intelligence to survive. He also didn't paint drug addicts as scum or anything like that. He felt for them. Nobody is getting high just to get high, there's a reason. There's something they want to escape and they use drugs to do that.

Curtis didn't paint a picture of drugs destroying the black community. Instead he chose to display an emotional side of it. Jay Z once stated "The irony of selling drugs is sort of like you using it, guess it's two sides to what substance abuse is." Mayfield showed that irony. The dealers used drugs to escape poverty and they became addicted to the things they could buy with the money. They need to keep selling drugs to to feed that addiction. The drug user is using drugs to escape their problems. They become addicted to the high and need it to keep moving on. Curtis had no intentions of chastising the people for the actions they choose. I've said it a lot this month but when survival is the only goal, morals are gone and Curtis showed that. Instead of telling people why things need to change he appealed to emotion and showed the condition we're living in.

Feel free to follow along with our Black Music Month Series

You can hear Darrell on the CP Time and Powerbomb Jutsu podcasts. He also plays classic arcade games on The Cabinet
Black Music Month: Curtis Mayfield - Super Fly Black Music Month: Curtis Mayfield - Super Fly Reviewed by Darrell S. on Thursday, June 25, 2015 Rating: 5

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