In The One, RJ Smith destroys the tortured artist narrative he sets up for James Brown simply by telling the truth about him. Here, for the first time in book form, are all the details that have made many a soul music scholar pause in horror. Every band member Brown traumatized, every member of his inner circle he threatened, and every woman he raped and brutally beat are there in excruciating detail. To even those without romantic notions about the private lives of great artists, the army of lives who Brown damaged is palpable; and The One isn’t as much a tale of a tortured soul man as much as a case study of a Dostoevskian sociopath.
Few of his crimes, however, devastate more than the relationship he had with Tammii Terrell. The details of him beating her in the head with the hammer five years before she died of a brain tumor are beyond triggering, as well as his unrepentance about it for decades until his death in 2006. James Brown should have done 20-25 years of hard time for what he did to her, and Terrell has been the ghost that has hung over soul fans and Brown Scholars’ worth their salt . Much has been written about the Godfather in easy, generic narratives: his genius, drug addiction, jail stay, and his stubborn macho that some people found endearing. Almost no one-outside of the outsider intellectual segments of the black community- has ever talked about this, or any of his other crimes the man’s committed toward a myriad of women.
Or held him to a standard of humanity about it when he was alive ( or, In the case of The One, dead). Smith tries to weave two narratives, one where he excuses away damage Brown did to every one he touched, the other where he talks about his political significance while ignoring his raging hatred for women, and anyone not as hard as him. The result is that his epic narrative reads like the tale of a man no one said no to, a man with a horrible childhood who used it as a golden ticket.
Oh, was he a musical genius? Yeah. One of kind. On par with only a few in civilization. You got me there. I cant slough off the music. I have plenty of it on my cell phone. The One, however, isn’t a musical review but an the appraisal of a life; and as much as Smith tries, he cannot make you forget that the man who made the music could make an atheist believe in the devil.