October 22, 1984 12:00 PM

Afrika Bambaataa & James Brown

Soul music must be nature’s elixir of immortality: This conjunction of old and new funk certainly shows that the years have done little to wither 56-year-old James Brown. The Godfather of Soul more than holds his own with Afrika Bambaataa, the hip-hop king of the Bronx who provided the brightest moments in the movie Beat Street. The album takes the form of a lively call-and-response session, with Brown’s revivalist screams matched by Bambaataa’s Tarzan-at-the-Bronx-Zoo yodels, and the chorus in Unity Part 1 says it all: “Peace, unity, love and havin’ fun.” Mostly havin’ fun. The best cuts are Unity Part 3 and Unity Part 5, with Skip McDonald playing some chicken-scratch guitar as the foundation for the sort of funk groove that leads to pure Brownian movement. Bambaataa, who seems to have been tutored by eminent funkmeisters Bootsy Collins and George Clinton, melds well with Brown, especially on the a cappella Unity Part 6, and the LP blends upbeat party music with simplistically philosophical lyrics, e.g., “People need education/ In all the world nations.” The late John Lennon was able to fuse similar music with a similar message on such tracks as Give Peace a Chance and Happy Xmas (War Is Over). Of course Lennon restricted his lectures to 45s. Bambaataa and Brown might have followed suit, since Unity is basically one jam spread out over a whole LP—much too thinly at times. Taken in small doses, though, Unity holds together. (Tommy Boy)

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