"Sweetback's Theme" (1971)
Circa 1970, playwright, poet and radical raconteur Melvin Van Peebles was finishing work on his low-budget film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song. The filmmaker still needed a soundtrack and his assistant happened to be dating a young Chicago transplant to Los Angeles, Maurice White, whose band Earth, Wind & Fire was still shopping their demos. As Peebles told Wax Poetics, "they were all starving to death on Hollywood Boulevard" but he enlisted their help in concocting a set of greasy funk and jazz loops that Peebles himself warbled and screeched over. The album and movie unexpectedly became runaway successes and EWF became the first musical stars of the blaxploitation era, paving the way for Isaac Hayes's Shaft and Curtis Mayfield's Superfly.