Jimmy Castor’s death this week brought me back to the early days when hip hop first came to town. People breaking, popping and locking on street corners to that 808 sound, but also to old tunes that held great mystery to us kids. Later we would learn their names: “Apache,” “Dance to the Drummer’s Beat”, and “The Grunt” were among the perennials, as was — of course — “It’s Just Begun” with the Jimmy Castor Bunch (1972).

It’s an epic song, dropping you in media res. The groove seems like it was always there, and yet the refrain tells you that it’s just begun, again and again. Castor’s sax theme breaks it off and returns with variations throughout — I love how it swerves off into a long push at the end of each section, and how Castor mirrors it in his vocals “it just beguuuaaiinnn!” All the while the percussion builds through the song into that amazing cacophony at the end where it merges with Harry Jensen’s guitar to sound like something out the primordial mists.

Which was the intention — as opener to the album which carries its name, it introduces the notion of rhythm as an almost cthonic expression of our drives (informing that great, roughhousing lark “Troglodyte”, which follows it). The words appropriately describe man as “on the run” without knowing from what, “day or night/black or white”. And then comes that exhilarating bridge, build on that simple bass chord: “peace will come, the world will rest/once we have togetherness!” — it’s a rousing, empowering song with a political edge rooted in the troubled, disilliusioned decade in which originated.

Like any good dance tune, it moves you on a fundamental level, rocking you awake, not to sleep. A rightstarter at the beginnings of hip hop, promising a world to come.

The Rocksteady Crew in the movie Flashdance (1983).


  1. Hi Matthias, that was a great read, thanks!
    In these SOPA/PIPA times, this reminded me of the sampling fee hoohaas of twenty years ago. It seems to me that the record industry was staking their claim back then, and that sampling corresponds to file sharing in many ways. What do you think? I guess the greater public missed the boat, and didn’t stand up for hiphop when they/we should have. Maybe the consequences were too far off, and the freedom of information was still a fledgling thing. Would things have been different, if the record industry had not been allowed such leeway?

  2. The implementation of stricter sampling laws in the nineties were a huge blow to hip hop. You can clearly hear the change in the music in the late nineties, when original drum production and sparser use of samples, pared down the wonderful sound collages of the earlier part of the decade.

    In some ways necessity fostered new creativity, but to many — including myself — the music overall was the poorer for it. So yeah, I agree that hip hop played the dubious role of canary in the coal mine.

Comments are closed.