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Percussionist James Mtume, Legendary Jazz and R&B Trailblazer, Dead at 76

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James Mtume, a legendary jazz musician and R&B artist whose hit 1983 single “Juicy Fruit” provided the
musical foundation for the Notorious B.I.G.'s 1994 rap classic “Juicy,” died Sunday at the age of 76.

No cause of death was given. Lisa Lucas, the daughter of Mtume’s deceased creative partner guitarist Reggie Lucas, was the first to share the news, which was confirmed by his publicist, Angelo Ellerbee.

"So much loss. So much grief. Rest in power to Uncle Mtume," she wrote on Twitter. "My late father’s partner in crime, the co-creator of the songs of my life (and about my birth!). He was essential part of the life of the man who made me, therefore me too. Gone now. He will be dearly, eternally missed."
The Philadelphia native, born James Heath, was a musical legacy. The son of jazz saxophonist Jimmy Heath, he was raised by his stepfather, James Forman, a jazz pianist. In college he adopted the Swahili word for messenger as his stage name.

The percussionist's career had exploded by the 1970s, thanks in part to his collaborations with jazz legends Miles Davis and McCoy Tyner. From 1971-1975 he manned the drums on electronic jazz classics like “On the Corner” and “Pangea.”

A renaissance man Mtume, along with his musical partner Lucas, produced songs and albums for Stephanie Mills, Phyllis Hyman, Lou Rawls and The Spinners in the early 80s.

Their collaboration led to a string of hits including Mills’ Grammy-winning “Never Knew Love Like This Before” in 1981 and Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway’s 1978 million-selling hit “The Closer I Get to You.”
In 1978 he started leading his eponymous New York-based group Mtume. The group struck gold on its third album release with 1983’s “Juicy Fruit.” The funk-fueled, bass-heavy track earned the No. 1 stop on the Billboard R&B chart and began a legacy that would transcend the artist.

When Notorious B.I.G. sampled the song in his 1994 hit "Juicy,” it served as a powerful platform to propel the artist into eventual rap superstardom over one of the most famous bass and drum samples in history.

According to reporting from NPR, Mtume was flattered by his work being used as the basis for the track.

"Oh, I dug it," remembered Mtume about "Juicy." "They actually wanted me to be in [the music video]. I was asked and I said, 'No, you ain't doing that man. What? You want me to jump around the corner in some high shoes and plaid pants?' They fell out laughing. 'It's your generation, you all do what you do.' "

His work would go on to be sampled by a multitude of other hip-hop artists. Snoop Dogg, Lil Kim and Common are just a few of the luminaries who have sampled Mtume.

In addition to his significant contributions to jazz, besides Davis and Tyner, he contributed to recordings from many of the arts greatest legends including Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie; Mtume co-produced Mary J. Blige’s 1997 hit album” Share My World.” He also served as a music supervisor for television’s “New York Undercover” and scored the 1986 film “Native Son.” An activist at heart, he also co-hosted a community talk series called “Open Line” on New York’s WBLS-FM for 18 years.

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