In between production jobs, Mr. Mtume and Mr. Lucas recorded with their lead musicians the Mtume Group, which included singer Tawatha Agee. Mr. Mtume called the band’s early albums “sophistifunk,” using sumptuous harmonies and elaborate orchestrations.
But one day, Mr. Mtume recalls, he realized that “I was playing something that looked like something else I had done. I got up and left, I dissolved the band and decided not to do any more productions.
He put together a second range from Mtume, without Mr. Lucas, and turned to a style he called “neo-minimalism,” using only a handful of instruments and fewer effects. The new Mtume line recorded “Juicy Fruit”. At first, Mtume’s label, Epic, dismissed the song as too slow for daytime radio, but it became a No. 1 R&B hit.
The title track from Mtume’s 1984 album, “You, Me and He” – a confession of polyamory – reached No. 2 on Billboard’s R&B chart. On the group’s last album, “Theater of the Mind”, released in 1986, Mtume turned to socio-political commentary in songs like “Deep Freeze (Rap-a-Song) (Part 1)”. In the same year, Mr. Mtume wrote the music for the film “Native Son” and produced a solo album for Ms. Agee.
In a radio interview in 1988, during the free-wheeling hip-hop era when samples were widely used without payment or credit, Mr. Mtume denounced hip-hop’s reliance on sampling, calling it “Memorex music” and complaining that the creators were being ignored. Hip-hop group Stetsasonic responded with “Talkin ‘All That Jazz,” which argued, “Rap brings back old R & B / And if we hadn’t, people might have forgotten.
Ultimately, the sampling – then licensed and credited – would keep Mr. Mtume’s music on the radio. “Juicy Fruit” has been sampled by Alicia Keys, Warren G, Jennifer Lopez, Keyshia Cole, Faith Evans and dozens of others, and many other songs and productions by Mr. Mtume have found their way onto new tracks.