R&B legend Syl Johnson, an artist heavily sampled by Hip-Hop artists, has died at the age of 85. His name might not ring bells, but his music will.
Songs like Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” Wu-Tang Clan’s “Shame on a N***a,” Eric B. & Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul,” Kwamé’s “Ownlee Eue,” De La Soul’s “The Magic Number” EPMD’s, “It’s My Thing,” Boogie Down Production’s “Criminal Minded,” Kool G Rap & DJ Polo’s “Talk Like Sex,” RUN-DMC’s “Beats to the Rhyme,” Nas’ “Made You Look (Apache Remix),” and Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “The Joy,” starring the late Curtis Mayfield are jams that feature elements of his work, specifically the hit single “Different Strokes,” from his 1968 debut album Dresses Too Short.
In total, according to WhoSampled, more than 300 songs have sampled portions of that one song, making it one of the most important works in Hip-Hop culture.
His family confirmed his death in a statement that read in part, “Fiery, fierce, fighter, always standing for the pursuit of justice as it related to his music and sound … He will truly be missed by all who crossed his path. His catalog and legacy will be remembered as impeccable and a historical blueprint to all who experience it. To his fans around the world, he loved you all. A lover of music and a Chicago icon, Syl Johnson lived his life unapologetically.”
While many have used his work, it was not without cost to the culture.
In 2011, AllHiphop.com broke the news that Johnson sued rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West for the unauthorized use of portions of his song in their composition, “The Joy.” The lawsuit would eventually seek a settlement and the song was able to stand using the sample. Other artists sued by Johnson for using his work without proper permission are names like Michael Jackson and Cypress Hill.
The artist’s daughter is R&B singer Syleena Johnson. Here is a tribute she previously did to her father.
Since his death, she did not speak outside of the family’s statement. She did retweet a promotion for her father’s 2016 documentary Syl Johnson: anyway, the Wind Blows, an in-depth review of his career and life.
Johnson’s brother, Blues legend Jimmy Johnson, died a little over a week before him on January 31.
AllHipHop.com extends our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and fans during this time of bereavement.