Editor’s note: ERNIE PANNICOLI is one of the greatest storytellers of any generation. He is a world renowned photographer and Hip-Hop’s first and foremost image taker. ERNIE’s book titled ‘Who Shot Ya?‘ is required reading for anyone who loves Hip-Hop culture and the characters that have existed inside of it. ERNIE is one of Hip-Hop’s elder statesman and he’s someone that I listen to for advice and information. As a proper tribute to JAMES BROWN I thought that I would feature some of ERNIE’s thoughts because he was difinitely inspired by J.B.’s work.
Growing up in Brooklyn there was one thing you could count on in the late 60′s and early 70′s and that was every weekend, especially around the end of the month was a rent party. For those of you who are too young or too privileged to know what a rent party was it was simply a means to get up the rent. Usually for a couple of bucks and BYOB (bring your own bottle) the party would start around 11pm and last and last and last. It ended around dawn or earlier if there was a knife fight (usually over a woman who would leave with another man not involved in the fight) or folks were too drunk or tired to dance any longer. Most of the places, women and people are a blur to me now, but the one thing every rent party had to have was a DJ (no not a Grandmaster Flash, Grandwizzard Theodore or Grandmaster Caz, this was before Kool Herc showed us what a DJ was in Hip Hop style).
The rent party DJ’s were cats with a record player, two or three large, loud speakers and a ton of LP’s or 45′s (damn it, not the guns 45′s were small 45rpm records). And if they ever wanted you to come to another rent party in their apartment again they better have a lot of James Brown music and they better have his best known jams and they damn well better have his latest stuff. It was believed in Brooklyn at that time that James Brown did an album a month and that every album had 12 cuts and that at least 5 of the 12 were hits and at least 12 of the 12 were danceable. If you could not dance you also better get out the way or learn to dance or at least look cool trying to dance. And only the very elite, the top of the top would even try to copy any dance moves from the master himself James Brown.
This was long before MTV, BET or even music videos. Folks would go see James Brown live and in a week whatever new steps he would create would be known, copied and built upon from coast to coast. We felt sorry for people outside of Brooklyn and knew the only place that danced as good, fought as hard or had as much soul in the world was Brooklyn. We also knew that wherever James Brown was born, raised or lived his soul was from Brooklyn and the music he made was especially made for Brooklyn. I learned to make out, dance and fight in Brooklyn and the music that always seemed to be in my head was James Brown. Today Heaven just became a hipper more soulful place, right now it probably sounds like a rent party in Brooklyn. Those rent parties are why I put James Brown at the front of my book “Who Shot Ya?”