WHEN an unknown Sydney hip-hop artist recorded a remix of James Brown’s I Feel Good early last year he never expected the song to make it out of the studio.
Brown, one of the most heavily sampled artists in music history, was notorious in the industry for protecting his recordings.
The late Godfather of Soul, who died at age 73 on Christmas Day, had never allowed a commercial sample or remix of I Feel Good, one of his signature tracks.
But after nine months of persistence and concessions by the independent hip-hop artist FiggKidd, also known as Lee Monro, Brown said yes.
This month, the FiggKidd single, appropriately titled Feel Good, will be released on the airwaves, featuring new vocals from the King of R’n’B.
“It is James Brown, you know how hard it is going to be,” Monro says of the initial approach. “But a no answer is always conditional and [Monro’s manager] Lui would go back to them and say ‘why?’ and we would make the changes. We changed the lyrics three or four times.”
Brown, who was sentenced to six years’ jail in 1988 for assault with intent to kill, drink-driving and other traffic offences, asked for references to drunken behaviour to be removed from the lyrics and typical rap lines deemed too rude such as “bumping and grinding” were changed to “singing and dancing”.
“He really rewrote a lot of it. The man’s a legend so what am I going to do, be proud and say, ‘Listen here, James Brown’? I had to be flexible,” Monro says.
Although he has been making hip-hop music for a decade, FiggKidd received mainstream attention only last year when he won best new talent at the Urban Music Awards.
Once the lyrics were approved Brown had one final condition: FiggKidd must also include remastered vocals for I Feel Good, recorded by Brown himself only last year.
“He was adamant about having his fresh vocals on the track,” Monro says.
Brown was due to sign off on the final remastered version on December 28, three days after he died from pneumonia in an Atlanta hospital.
“When I heard the news I was in shock,” Monro says.
“There were reports that the lawyers had put a freeze on his estate. I thought, where does that leave us?”
By the following day Brown’s wife had been locked out of the singer’s home and Brown’s lawyers and management were negotiating funeral arrangements and paternity tests.
Despite the chaos, Monro’s manager succeeded in having the final version signed off by Brown’s senior management.
“In a way they honoured it because it was something that had come out of his mouth, something he had wanted to happen,” he says.
But Monro still feels a sense of disbelief that his track includes one of the last vocal recordings by Brown.”Everyone wants to sample James Brown. For a small artist like me to get a track that has never been sampled legally for a recording is amazing.”
In a mark of respect to the late soul singer, Monro has held off releasing the single until the end of this month, three months after Brown’s death.
Brown’s management will receive royalties from sales of the single and, following the track’s Australian release, Monro’s management also plans to release the song in the United States and Europe.