Photo via XL Recordings
Listening to Bobby Womack on Spotify while I was at work last Thursday afternoon took me back to the good old days. The year was 2005; I was fresh out of college; and as far as rap was concerned, if it wasn’t G-Unit, Diplomats, Roc-A-Fella, Ruff Ryders, Mobb Deep, or Clipse you weren’t relevant to me. Particularly 50 Cent & G-Unit was the most important. They had the most musical catalog because so much of my parent’s music shaped their beats. This was also when Kanye West was resurrecting the soulful feeling of ’70s singers like Irene Reid and The Masqueraders for his own debut, and producing beats for fellow Roc-A-Fella artists. It would be Bobby Womack’s voice though that cut through for me.
When “Woman’s Gotta Have It” came on, it slowed down my pace. I felt each click of the box cutter against the palm of my hand, then gravity seemed to collapse the boxes without me barely folding them. Bobby Womack was singing to the blue collar worker that day. Then I caught a flashback of 50 Cent saying, “I’m fucking with this” when he sampled Bobby Womack on “What If.” I was determined to hear Fif’s version as soon as I got home. There was also “Wait Until Tonight,” a more recent 50 Cent record that samples “If You Think You’re Lonely Now,” which I planned to queue up ASAP.
To hear that Bobby Womack died a day later frightened me. It also doesn’t help that a few weeks earlier I met Damon Albarn and Dave (Plug 1) from De La Soul at Governor’s Ball. Damon Albarn collaborated with Bobby Womack on Plastic Beach by Gorillaz (2010), and produced Womack’s XL Recordings LP, The Bravest Man in the Universe. I was closing the gap on my six degrees of separation from one of the greatest singers of all time. Mr. Womack’s passing opened my eyes. The obituary written by the NY Times did him justice. They described his reputation for scratchy vocals saying, “His sandpaper vocal style made him more popular in England, where audiences revere what they consider authentic traditional American music, than in the United States.” I knew after reading the article that I should look up which song of his was big during the rise of Northern Soul in the UK. By now playlists, and mixtapes like the recent 9th Wonder tribute are reminiscing on Bobby Womack’s legacy. Rest in power.