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Perfect Music Moments in Black History: Isaac Hayes ‘Hung Up on My Baby’

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Isaac Hayes is a legend. This much is clear and evident. If you’re a fan of music, it’s impossible not to appreciate what Black Moses brought to the world as one of the leading musicians and creators behind Memphis, Tenn.’s Stax Records.

He called himself Black Moses for heaven’s sake and gave us the soundtrack to Shaft. He gave us “Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic” decades before Outkast crafted “Spottieottiedopalicious” or Southernplayalisticadillacmuzick. The man liked long words before the rest of us could appreciate them.

And let’s be very, very real about this. Without Isaac Hayes, and Stax Records, a significant portion of our favorite hip-hop records wouldn’t exist. From Jay-Z to Biggie to Beyoncé to Mary J. Blige to DJ Quik to Kanye West to Wu Tang to pretty much every artist we’re all fans of, Mr. Hot Buttered Soul is part of the fabric of the hip-hop generation’s youth and sample-heavy ethos.

Which brings us to “Hung Up on My Baby.” If you listen to this song for a mere 10 seconds (and are unaware of this song), consider your life changed. Spoiler alert: “Hung Up on My Baby” is the source material for one of the greatest hip-hop songs and one of the genre’s seminal odes to paranoia and post-traumatic stress disorder, Geto Boys’ classic “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.” While the Geto Boys song is great, Isaac Hayes’ original is possibly one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever composed.

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Crafted for the 1974 movie Three Tough Guys (though released on the Stax Records imprint Enterprise as Tough Guys), “Hung Up on My Baby” is 6 minutes and 17 seconds of pure perfection. Between the strings, guitars, bass line and keys, the only way to truly catch the vibe is with the diamond in the back, sunroof top, diggin’ the scene with a gangsta lean, as Curtis would say. Mayfield that is.

I still remember the first time I heard this song. I used to spend an inordinate amount of time digging through digital crates. I have several terabyte external hard drives full of rare albums that are impossible to find online anymore. Because Isaac Hayes was always a source of good music, I came across the Tough Guys soundtrack—this was well before Wikipedia told me every single sample, or The-Breaks.com existed, etc.—and downloaded the album.

For whatever reason, I never checked the liner notes for the Geto Boys song, so I had no idea of the original. Anyway, I listened to the album, which is full of plenty of sample-able material. The preceding song, “Joe Bell,” has a killer percussion section so I was getting into the groove, trying to figure out where I was going to chop samples up. The song came to an end and “Hung Up on My Baby” began.

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“Yo, that sounds nice. OH SHIT. BRUH. DOG. WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW. OMG. Wait, my goodness this is gorgeous. Wait, I feel different than I did 2 minutes ago. I feel like mine ears have heard the glory of the coming of the Lord. Are those tears coming from my eyes due to beautiful music?”

Yes. Yes it was. In 1974, Black Moses created one of the most perfect pieces of music in black music history. And I’ve been hung up on that baby ever since.

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