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  • Writer's pictureEmma Norton

Theme From SHAFT - Isaac Hayes

It was my 11th birthday. All I wanted to do was go see Shaft starring Samuel L. Jackson, and a cameo appearance from his real-life uncle and the original bad mother... Richard Roundtree.

A few pistol whips, and a whole lot of F bombs, featuring a young Christian Bale and Jeffrey Wright, by the way, with the early death of Mekhi Phifer setting off the whole storyline, we had the making of a masterpiece that affected my life moving forward. Certainly not my first inappropriate film at a young age, but also, an interesting choice for a birthday celebration. 

I love a good action movie and that era of 90s-2000s was my jam. Why? They still sometimes rev me up with this empowering nature, but some of the grotesque violence is a bit much for my sensitive soul... That has this rage streak(?) I loved the fighting for good and justice, by any means necessary commonality of films from that era. 

Anywho, our song for today is the classic, Academy Award-winning theme song to Shaft. Both the original version in 1971 and it's latter remake in 2000. Composed and performed by the late, great Isaac Hayes, whom my late, great cat was named after (and his brother named Oscar for the very award that was won,) well before he played the pivotal animated role of 'Chef' on South Park. 

Arguably one of the most recognizable and badass instrumental lead-ins to a song, starting with the hi-hat 16 beat ride pattern, gaining momentum with the overture building as the rest of the band chimes in.

The lyrics are kitschy, but controversial for their time. They do play into John Shaft's sex appeal as a well-dressed, badass detective cleaning up the streets like a king. The memorable one-liners were repeated plenty by my friend Robin and me over the years. I dedicate this one to him and his preferred line: "Shut yo mouth!"

"Theme From Shaft" was one of my first appreciated instrumental songs that took me down the road of exploring a number of songs sans the lyrics. At that age, I was playing the piano and the trumpet, so I'd like to say I appreciated it more because of that, but not really. It was more about learning the importance of a solid soundtrack to accompany your film. 

Shaft as a character is the epitome of cool because of what he stood for and Isaac Hayes' composition of the entire soundtrack through lyrics and orchestration added to the overall appeal. It is a prime example of music's impact and importance within film, and the latter pop-cultural interest that followed specifically with the "Theme From Shaft."

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