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Dig It: 'The Ultimate Isaac Hayes'

In the 1960s, a young, talented musician named Isaac Hayes hooked up with a fledgling record label in Memphis, Tenn., called Stax Records. There, Hayes formed a songwriting team with David Porter. The duo pumped out a number of hits for other artists before Hayes decided to go his own way.

Hayes launched his solo career in 1968; his first single, "Precious, Precious," became a hit. In 1969, he released Hot Buttered Soul, which featured four extended versions of hit tunes from such unlikely writers as Burt Bacharach and Glenn Campbell. The genre-busting album became a huge influence on popular music.

Hayes' soundtrack for Shaft -- a film that sparked the "blaxploitation" genre -- helped cement his place as a '70s soul icon. The soundtrack earned Hayes two Grammys and stayed on the charts for more than a year.

Decades later, Hayes found a television role that introduced him to a new generation of fans: He provides the voice for the Chef character in the irreverent animated series South Park.

Chef is known for his level-headed and sometimes scatological advice to kids at the school, where he is, naturally, the chef at the cafeteria. Chef also bursts out into soul-flavored songs with lyrics just this side of pornographic.

The show has sparked new interest in all things Isaac Hayes. An army of hip-hop artists is mining his body of work to use as samples for their work. And Hayes' seminal recordings with the legendary Stax label are now available on a newly released, comprehensive disc set called Ultimate Isaac Hayes: Can You Dig It? The collection includes previously unreleased material, as well as a bonus DVD featuring Hayes' South Park character, Chef, performing the raunchy funk tune "Chocolate Salty Balls."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Derek Rath
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