Personnel: Tawatha Agee (vocals, percussion, background vocals); Gary Bartz (saxophone); Philip Field (keyboards, background vocals); David Frank, Bernie Worrell (keyboards).
Audio Mixer: James Dougherty.
Recording information: E.A.R.S. Recording Studio, New Jersey.
James Mtume's band Mtume hit its commercial and creative peak in 1983, when Juicy Fruit was released. The infectious, mildly risqué title song -- which contains the controversial lyrics "I'll be your lollipop/You can lick me everywhere" -- soared to number one on Billboard's R&B singles chart and ended up being sampled by quite a few hip-hoppers, including the late Notorious B.I.G. (who used the infectious gem on his 1994 hit "Juicy"). Some of the people who heard the "Juicy Fruit" single on the radio back in 1983 bought the single but not the album, which is a shame because the other tracks are also excellent. In fact, many of Mtume's hardcore fans agree that Juicy Fruit is the band's most essential album. This LP came at a time when funk was becoming increasingly technology-minded. Horn-driven funk bands were going out of style, and funksters were using a lot more keyboards and synthesizers. Juicy Fruit reflects that evolution; although not totally electronic, funk/urban pearls like "Hips" and "Ready for Your Love" are very keyboard-minded. Only one horn player is employed on this release: jazz saxophonist Gary Bartz, who did his share of R&B sessions in the late '70s and early '80s but eventually returned to being a full-time jazz improviser. Throughout Juicy Fruit, James Mtume takes a very hands-on approach -- in addition to producing the album and co-writing much of the material, he plays keyboards and provides some of the lead vocals (along with the expressive, big-voiced Tawatha Agee). Juicy Fruit isn't the only worthwhile album that James Mtume's band came out with in the '80s; as a rule, his '80s output was solid. But if you must limit yourself to one Mtume release, Juicy Fruit would be the best choice. ~ Alex Henderson