King Heroin

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"King Heroin"
Single by James Brown
from the album There It Is
B-side "Theme From King Heroin"
Released March 1972 (1972-03)
Format 7" (stereo)
Recorded January 17 & 18, 1972, A&R Studios, New York, NY
Genre Soul
Length 3:56
Label Polydor
Producer(s) James Brown
James Brown charting singles chronology
"Talking Loud and Saying Nothing - Part I"
"King Heroin"
"There It Is Part 1

"King Heroin" is an anti-drug song by James Brown, David Matthews, Manny Rosen and Charles Bobbit. Brown recorded this poem set to music at a studio in New York with session musicians in January 1972 and released it as a single in March. It was his fifth single for Polydor Records and reached number six on the U.S. Hot Soul Singles chart and number forty on the Billboard Hot 100 in the spring.[1][2] The song was included on Brown's 1972 album There It Is.

The poem was originally written by Rosen, who worked at the Stage Delicatessen on Seventh Avenue in midtown Manhattan. It was written from the point of view of the drug, and explained in graphic detail by first-person narrative the effects heroin addiction has on people who use it, from fashion models neglecting their looks, to "the most virile of men losing their sex," to committing murder, to cold turkey withdrawal. Rosen's poem was then set to music by Brown, his arranger David Matthews, and Brown's manager Charles Bobbit. Brown added an intro to start off the piece, referring to heroin as "one of our most deadly killers in the country today"; and towards the end, he noted, "This is a revolution of the mind" – referring to the title of his 1971 live concert album recorded at the Apollo Theater in New York.

"King Heroin" was another of Brown's stabs of socially conscious music, along the lines of such previous efforts as "Don't Be a Drop-Out" and "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud." His narrative style on this song is also considered to be a forerunner of rap music.


  • James Brown - lead vocal

with studio band:

Chart positions[edit]

Chart (1972) Peak
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 40
U.S. Billboard R&B 6

Other versions and uses[edit]

The song was included in the 1991 box set Star Time and the 1996 compilation CD Make It Funky - The Big Payback: 1971–1975.

The song was covered by James Chance and The Contortions in 1981, Van Hunt in 2006, and The Scallions (featuring The Impossebulls) in 2007.[5]

Among the songs that sampled "King Heroin"[6] were Truth Hurts' 2010 recording "Smoke,"[7] J Dilla's 2010 release "Heroin Joint," Quetzal's 2009 record "I Need the Street (Pernety Blues)," D'Nell's 2005 record "Different Day," Deichkind's 2000 release "Slangdaddy."[8] and Home Brew's 2012 recording "Radio" and "Radio Outro."[9][10]

The German band Virus recorded an organ-heavy rock cover of the song on their album Thoughts (1971) and released an edited version of the song as a 7". [11]


  1. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2004). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004. Record Research. p. 85. 
  2. ^ White, Cliff (1991). "Discography". In Star Time (pp. 54–59) [CD booklet]. New York: PolyGram Records.
  3. ^ Leeds, Alan, and Harry Weinger (1991). "Star Time: Song by Song". In Star Time (pp. 46–53) [CD booklet]. New York: PolyGram Records.
  4. ^ Leeds, Alan M. (1996). Discography. In Make It Funky: The Big Payback 1971–1975 (pp. 16-19) [CD liner notes]. London: Polydor Records.
  5. ^ Video of Scallions cover on YouTube
  6. ^ "Search Results for "king heroin" | WhoSampled". Retrieved 2016-04-12. 
  7. ^ Truth Hurts's Smoke sample of James Brown's King Heroin (with a list of other songs that sampled it)
  8. ^ Truth Hurts's Smoke sample of James Brown's King Heroin (with a list of other songs that sampled it)
  9. ^ "Home Brew, by Home Brew". Home Brew. Retrieved 2016-04-12. 
  10. ^ "Home Brew's Radio - Discover the Sample Source". WhoSampled. Retrieved 2016-04-12. 
  11. ^ Discogs (Virus were a psychedelic band originating from Bielefeld in Northern Germany, their history is not well documented)

External links[edit]