top of page
  • Writer's pictureEmma Norton

Move On Up - Curtis Mayfield

The anthem to kick off 2021. Let's be positive.

I have a longstanding love for the men of soul. Otis Redding, Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Al Green, Sam Cooke, Isaac Hayes, Bill Withers, and Curtis Mayfield. My top group, though I'd say my heaviest listening has been upon the first four. Being born beyond their era, I came to many of these artists through my love of film. Much like Academy Award winner Mr. Hayes for his theme to Shaft, I got to know Curtis Mayfield through his work on the Super Fly soundtrack. I love that album and have for years, obviously knowing the meaning of "Pusherman" and referring to it mildly without many serious connotations.

I took a night sometime in quarantine to dive a bit further into Curtis Mayfield's repertoire and his biography as an extension of my repetitive playing of Super Fly. It's wild to go back and listen to music from yesteryears to note the samples in modern music I grew up listening to. For example, I was listening to Mary J. Blige from a young age, and she sampled "Gimme Your Love" off of the soundtrack. Another interesting point I found in my research was that the album was (and is) widely regarded as an entire masterpiece. The lyrics were redactional in the glorification of the lifestyle represented glamorously in the film, without coming off as preaching purification or dismissive of the characters' humanities. Blaxploitation films often have a tonality of life that creates an anti-hero out of characters trying to straighten out their lives but feel stuck in a dangerous cycle. However, the fictional world they're in could be confusing to susceptible viewers, thus Mayfield's accuracy in his desire to bring another approach to the music. It reflected a candid look at the slice of life without adding to the perception of certain vices as being cool and as a viable option for the audience.

A well-known activist, Mr. Mayfield communicated empowerment through his music, and as mentioned, much of it would hold resonance today. He had a knack for incorporating justice driven undertones in his music. I chose "Move on Up" today from 1970 off of his debut album, Curtis. Circling back to sampling, it was repurposed by producer Just Blaze in "Touch The Sky" by Kanye West Ft. Lupe Fiasco. If you remember the music video directed by Chris Milk, whom I met in a venue hallway once and got a little nervous, I'll admit. Mr. West was playing an Evil Knievel sort of character, and it featured Nia Long, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Pamela Anderson. The horns and cadence of the original song were a match made in heaven with the visual imagery of this music video/short film. Curtis Mayfield was also sampled on "The Joy" on the Watch The Throne from Jay-Z and Kanye West. His music continually breathes life into new creativity and allows for the generations that follow him to draw inspiration. I feel like that attests to the value and pertinence of an artist.

Stay true to yourself, your dreams, goals, ambitions, whatever it is. I wanted to kick off 2021 with this piece because it is a motivating song, in lyrics and its horn-led orchestral booming coming through your speakers. Curtis Mayfield stood for positive change and action. Just move on up, to a greater day/ With just a little faith/ If you put your mind to it you can surely do it. He asserted his desire for equality through intelligently communicated creativity, and though like all others, he had trials and tribulations, he kept on pushing. Artistic integrity can be defined by turning your pain into art and making it not only your form of catharsis and a way to connect with others but taking a staunchly rooted stand in activism.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page