Craig T. Lee
Jan 9, 2022
Philadelphia-born percussionist James Mtume has reportedly passed away at the age of 75.
Confirmed by Lisa Lucas on Twitter, his niece wrote, “So much loss. So much grief. Rest in power to Uncle Mtume. My late father’s partner-in-crime[.] The co-creator of the songs of my life (and about my birth!). He was [an] essential part of the life of the man who made me, therefore me too. Gone now. He will be dearly, eternally missed.”
At the time of the report, there is no cause of death.
Mtume is most notable for his 1983 song, “Juicy Fruit,” which was sampled by The Notorious B.I.G. for his first official single, “Juicy” in 1994.
An all-around musician, Mtume had a knack for infusing consciousness into his music and delving creatively into the topics of politics, culture, and art.
“Music is a unique art form. I mean all art is special,” he said during his 2019 TedTalk. “But music is unique. It’s the only art form I know that can touch you, but you can’t touch it. What do I mean by that? I can touch a sculpture, I can touch a painting, I can touch a book of poetry. How do you touch a note? How do you touch sound? It runs through your body.”
Mtume, who was born James Forman in 1946, grew up in a musical environment with jazz musicians frequenting his parents’ house. He learned to play piano and percussion, despite having an athletic scholarship for swimming to Pasadena City College in 1966.
That same year, Mtume as Forman would join Hakim Jamal and Maulana Karenga’s US Organization, a Black empowerment group, and would receive his new name, Mtume, which means “messenger” in Swahili. Upon joining Davis’ band, he contributed greatly to albums such as On the Corner, Big Fun, Agharta, and Pangaea, and would appear on numerous projects with a variety of other legendary musicians, including Duke Ellington, Lonnie Liston Smith, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sonny Rollins, to name a few.
Mtume’s transition from jazz pioneer to R&B master enabled his own group, Mtume, to set himself apart from his peers. After teaming up with the late Reggie Lucas, the duo would curate their sound throughout the ‘80s, penning such hits as Stephanie Mills’ Grammy-winning “Never Knew Love Like This Before” and Roberta Flack’s “The Closer I Get to You.”
He is survived by his son Fa Mtume.
Underneath, you can see some reactions from the music-loving community.