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Led by James Mtume and featuring the powerful lead vocals of Tawatha Agee, Mtume were a dynamic, chart-topping R&B band that recorded for major-label Epic from 1978 through 1986. As a top-level jazz percussionist and composer whose most prominent work was with Miles Davis from 1971-1975, James Mtume was frequently credited simply as Mtume. During that early part of the decade, the musician had also recorded mononymously as a leader, blurring the distinction between the individual and the band. Mtume the band continued the path James Mtume and guitarist/partner Reggie Lucas had taken when they departed from the jazz field and co-wrote "The Closer I Get to You," the sparkling Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway duet that topped Billboard's R&B chart in 1978. The first lineup was filled out by keyboardist Hubert Eaves III, bassist Basil Fearington, and drummer Howard King, though the band's founder and Agee were the lone original members after the second full-length. The most significant departures were Eaves, who moved on to D Train and other production work, and Lucas, whose greatest subsequent success came with producing the majority of Madonna's self-titled debut.
Kiss This World Goodbye (1978), In Search of the Rainbow Seekers (1980), Juicy Fruit (1983), You, Me and He (1984), and Theater of the Mind (1986), the five Mtume band albums, yielded 11 charting singles among expansive deep cuts. The biggest hits were "Give It on Up (If You Want To)" (number 26 R&B), "Juicy Fruit" (number one R&B), "You, Me and He" (number two R&B), and "Breathless" (number nine R&B). These A-sides traced the band's smooth evolution from uplifting, almost big-band funk -- within the same realm and class as Earth, Wind & Fire and the Brothers Johnson -- to lean, intimate machine soul. Mtume himself, who continued to work primarily behind the scenes for over a decade after the band's end, simply termed the output "sophisti-funk," a sound that also characterized his and Lucas' concurrent Grammy-winning songwriting and production work for the likes of Phyllis Hyman, Stephanie Mills, the Spinners, and Lou Rawls. Thanks in part to the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy" and dozens of other songs that have either sampled or referenced Mtume, the band's discography remains ripe for discovery by younger generations. ~ Andy Kellman
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