Roy Hammond, Soul Singer Who Birthed a Hip-Hop Heartbeat, Dies at 81

Roy Hammond, Soul Singer Who Birthed a Hip-Hop Heartbeat, Dies at 81

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Roy Hammond, a soul singer, songwriter and producer with an impressive catalog in the 1960s and ’70s who produced a song that became one of hip-hop’s foundational samples, died on Wednesday at his home in Allendale, S.C. He was 81.

His daughter Sabrina Hammond-Williams said the cause was liver cancer.

Mr. Hammond wrote and produced the Honey Drippers’ “Impeach the President,” a political funk barnstormer released in 1973 as the Watergate scandal unfolded around President Richard M. Nixon. It was resuscitated just over a decade later by the Queens hip-hop producer Marley Marl, who sampled its crisp drum intro for MC Shan’s “The Bridge.” Released in 1986, that track caused a tectonic shift in the sound of New York rap.

“That snare? Crack,” Marley Marl said in a phone interview. “Any song that used it, that was a hit.”

“Impeach the President” became one of sample-based hip-hop’s foundational breakbeats and was used hundreds of times. The renown of the song, though, tended to overshadow Mr. Hammond’s long, rich, soul music career, which predated that track and lasted decades beyond it.

Roy Charles Hammond was born on August 3, 1939, in Newington, Ga., to George and Annie Joy Hammond. His father worked on the railroad, and his mother was a homemaker. As a teenager he moved to New York, where his dream of becoming a professional boxer ended with a rough sparring session with the heavyweight Hurricane Jackson.

Mr. Hammond turned to music in the late 1950s, singing tenor in a short-lived doo-wop outfit, the Genies. By 1965, he had re-emerged as a solo performer, going by Roy C (often stylized as Roy “C”). His first hit, “Shotgun Wedding,” in 1965, was his biggest, with wry lyrics about the consequences of sexual liberty: “Your father’s got the gun/And there ain’t no place to run.”

He formed his own label, Alaga Records, in 1970 and released music on it for several years before signing with Mercury Records and recording three albums on that label: “Sex and Soul” (1973), “Something Nice” (1975) and “More Sex & More Soul” (1977).

Romantic mischief and infidelity was a favorite theme: His first album included the songs “I Found a Man in My Bed” and “I’m Gonna Love Somebody Else’s Woman (Somebody’s Lovin’ Mine).”

Mr. Hammond was also preoccupied with politics and history. In 1971, he recorded a Vietnam War protest song, “Open Letter to the President.” His album “Sex and Soul” featured “I Wasn’t There (But I Can Feel the Pain),” a song about slavery. The followup “More Sex and More Soul” featured “Great, Great Grandson of a Slave.”

After that album, Mr. Hammond met with the president of Mercury. “He was trying to tell me that they were not interested in that type of music,” he said of his political songs in an interview with the music magazine Wax Poetics in 2011. “They thought I would be much bigger if I didn’t put out those types of songs.”

Ms. Hammond-Williams said, “My father was outspoken, and the way he would speak out was through his music.”

For “Impeach the President,” Mr. Hammond recruited teenage musicians from Jamaica, Queens, who called themselves the Honey Drippers.

“I worked hard with the drummer because he wasn’t as good a drummer as I would have liked to have,” he told Wax Poetics. “I remember drilling him over and over in that basement in Jamaica, Queens.”

It worked: The drum pattern that kicks off the track is now an indelible part of hip-hop history.

When he brought “Impeach the President” to Mercury, however, the label “refused to do it,” Mr. Hammond told Vice last year. “I think they was afraid.”

Through not popular in its day, “Impeach the President” made it into the crates of early pioneer hip-hop D.J.s Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc. “Number one, that was a staple in the streets already — that’s why I started using it in sampling,” Marley Marl said. “Every time we would throw it on in the park, people would go crazy.”

After it was heard in MC Shan’s “The Bridge,” “Impeach the President” was included in the “Ultimate Breaks & Beats” series, cementing its place in hip-hop’s canon, and widely sampled from then on — in the Notorious B.I.G.’s “Unbelievable,” 2Pac’s “I Get Around,” LL Cool J’s “Around the Way Girl,” Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes” and countless other tracks.

While Mr. Hammond never experienced crossover success, he retained a significant following, especially among aficionados of Southern soul.

His music sounded like “garage soul,” said Joe McEwen, a former soul music journalist and radio D.J. and the senior vice president of A&R at Concord Music Group. “There was something a little rawer about the production of his records.”

Mr. Hammond married Eddie Bernice Carpenter in 1966, and she survives him. In addition to Ms. Hammond-Williams, his other survivors include three two other daughters, Glendina Hammond Martin and Deborah Hammond Creech; three brothers, Jack, Ernest and Willie B. Hammond; a sister, Lessie Mae Hammond Anderson; four grandsons; and four granddaughters.

In 1988, Hammond opened a pair of businesses in Allendale: a record store, Carolina Record Distributors, and a label, Three Gems, on which he released his own records for decades. Until the coronavirus pandemic, he was still performing concerts — “You’d see that Cadillac up and down the road, him and my mother,” Ms. Hammond-Williams said.

Mr. Hammond remained convinced of the value of music as a vehicle for political agitation. Last year, in his interview with Vice, he said he was considering recording a new version of “Impeach the President,” motivated by his frustration with President Trump. “There’s a man in the White House, he should be gone,” he sang in the interview. “There’s a man in the White House, he should be somewhere else.”

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