The Payback (song)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
"The Payback – Part I"
Single by James Brown
from the album The Payback
B-side"The Payback – Part II"
ReleasedFebruary 1974 (1974-02)
  • August 4, 1973 (basic tracks)
  • September 1973 (brass and female vocal overdubs)
  • 3:30 (Part I)
  • 4:07 (Part II)
LabelPolydor (14223)
Producer(s)James Brown
James Brown charting singles chronology
"Stoned to the Bone – Part 1"
"The Payback – Part I"
"My Thang"

"The Payback" is a funk song by James Brown, the title track from his 1973 album of the same name. The song's lyrics, originally written by trombonist and bandleader Fred Wesley but heavily revised by Brown himself soon before it was recorded, concern the revenge he plans to take against a man who betrayed him. The song is notable for its sparse, open arrangement and its use of wah-wah guitar – a relative rarity in Brown's previous funk recordings. Released as a two-part single (featuring a radio announcer at the beginning of part one) in February 1974, it was the first in an unbroken succession of three singles by Brown to reach #1 on the R&B charts that year – the last chart-toppers of his career. It also peaked at number 26 on the Billboard Hot 100.[1][2] It was his second, and final, single to be certified gold by the RIAA.[3]


The song and the album of the same name were originally recorded by Brown as the accompanying soundtrack to the blaxploitation film Hell Up in Harlem (1973), but was rejected by the movie's producers as "the same old James Brown stuff."[4] An incensed Brown decided to release the album and let it stand on its own merits. The subsequent soundtrack was then recorded by Motown Records artist Edwin Starr. Later, Brown recorded "Rapp Payback (Where Iz Moses)", a reworking of "The Payback", in 1980.

James Brown's tour director, Alan Leeds, mentions the background to the song in his autobiography:

A young lady in Brown's camp was having an affair with Harold Melvin. JB had just caught wind of her broken loyalty before he was about to record 'Revenge,' a song Fred Wesley had sketched out for the opening scene in Hell Up In Harlem. James tossed Wesley's lyrics aside and began freestyling what quickly became The Payback.

— Alan Leeds, There Was a Time: James Brown, The Chitlin' Circuit, and Me. Page 225. Post Hill Press, 2020.

Commonly misheard lyrics[edit]

In the song, James Brown seems to say, "I don't know karate, but I know ka-razy." However, he is actually saying, "I don't know karate, but I know ka-razor." James Brown had taken the line from a comedy routine by Clay Tyson, who was the comedian of the James Brown Revue.[5] Originally, the phrase was the punchline to a story about someone asking Tyson if he knew karate, with the implication that Tyson did not need to know karate because he carried a straight razor.[6]


"The Payback" song has been sampled by many musical artists, including numerous hip hop and R&B producers. En Vogue recorded two different hits, "Hold On" and "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)", that were both based on loops from the song's rhythm track. LL Cool J sampled "The Payback" in his 1990 song "The Booming System". Guy used the enthusiastic whoops for Dog Me Out in 1991. Mary J. Blige sampled the song for her 1997 hit "Everything". Total and Brooklyn rapper The Notorious B.I.G. sampled the song's intro in their 1995 hit "Can't You See". Girl group, SWV used the sample in their song "On & On" featuring Erick Sermon on their second album New Beginning. Keith Sweat R&B group Silk, in the song "Happy Days" sampled "The Payback" from their 1992 debut album, Lose Control, which was produced by Sweat and featured on the track. Big Black released a loose cover of the song on their 1984 Racer-X EP. Massive Attack also sampled the song on their title track "Protection" from the 1995 album of the same name. Eboni Foster of Nuttin' Nyce sampled the song on the single, "Crazy for You" in 1998. Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar used elements of the sample on the hit single "King Kunta" from his 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly. Also sampled in Compton's Most Wanted's "Final Chapter" off of the album Straight Check'n Em. Chicago-born rapper/MC, Common also sampled the track in his song titled "Payback Is A Grandmother" which appears on the album Like Water For Chocolate.

Appearances in other media[edit]


Region Certification Certified units/sales
United States (RIAA)[8] Gold 1,000,000^

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.


  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. ^ Bloom, Steve. "Anything Left in Papa's Bag?" Down Beat September 1, 1980. Rpt. in The James Brown Reader: Fifty Years of Writing About the Godfather of Soul. Ed. Nelson George and Alan Leeds. New York: Plume, 2008. 160-170.
  4. ^ Smith, RJ. The One: The Life and Music of James Brown, 290. New York: Gotham Books, 2012.
  5. ^ Leeds, Alan (2020). There Was a Time: James Brown, The Chitlin' Circuit, and Me. Post Hill Press. p. 225. ISBN 978-1-64293-384-0.
  6. ^ "James Brown, Marva Whitney and Clay Tyson". Playboy After Dark. Season 1. Episode 17. 1968. 17 minutes in. Archived from the original on 2021-12-15.
  7. ^ Natalie Chaidez (writer); Frederick King Keller (director) (1995-05-11). "Catman Comes Back". New York Undercover. Season 1. Episode 26. FOX.
  8. ^ "American single certifications – James Brown – The Payback". Recording Industry Association of America. Retrieved May 12, 2022.

External links[edit]