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Blaxploitation's greatest hits

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A little more than 20 years ago, Memphis soul crooner Isaac Hayes asked the musical question ”Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks?” If you answered ”Shaft,” then you’re right — damn right — and probably old enough to remember when ”Theme From Shaft” was a No. 1 record.

Shaft was just one of the street-savvy films that ushered in a new age of black cinema in the early ’70s, and helped inspire such hits of the current black film renaissance as New Jack City and Boyz N the Hood. Then as now, music played a large role in black films: A new album, Pimps, Players & Private Eyes, the brainchild of rapper/actor Ice-T and his manager, Jorge Hinojosa, brings together 10 of the genre’s best music tracks.

It’s easy to see how Ice-T would be interested in such a project. Like Isaac Hayes, who went on to star in a host of macho movie roles, the rapper has crossed over from music to films, starring in New Jack City and the less well-known Ricochet. ”Black cinema is coming back,” says Hinojosa, speaking on Ice-T’s behalf. ”A lot of the people who liked this stuff are now at an age where they’re making the films, they’re making the music. A lot of rappers have sampled these tracks.”

Putting together a collection of favorites wasn’t so simple. ”First I had to find all these out-of-print albums,” says Hinojosa, who spent his weekends digging through used-record stores until he’d collected about 60 albums. After listening to everything (”Some of them were just pathetic,” he says), he and Ice-T picked 10 songs from films ranging from Shaft to The Mack and Cleopatra Jones, including (of course) the ”Theme From Shaft” as well as Marvin Gaye’s ”Trouble Man,” Curtis Mayfield’s ”Pusherman,” from Superfly (on which Ice- T’s antidrug song ”I’m Your Pusher” is based), and tracks by the Four Tops, Bobby Womack, Millie Jackson, the Impressions, O.C. Smith, and Willie Hutch.

Then deals had to be struck with each of the recordings’ owners and publishers, but it wasn’t always easy. ”The masters had often been sold and re-sold,” says Hinojosa. ”Nine out of 10 (of the current owners) didn’t even know they owned these recordings. It was the same with the music publishing. It was a drag; it just took forever.”

Hinojosa’s only disappointment was that he couldn’t make a deal to use ”Down and Out in New York City,” a James Brown track from the 1973 film Black Caesar. Still, the finished collection is a vivid reminder that in pop the most memorable art is often made with the trendiest and most disposable tools.

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