Dusting Off… 24-Carat Black’s Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth
What is it?
Released in 1973, Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth is the first and only studio album by a collective known as 24-Carat Black. The creative brain behind the operation was Dale Warren, nephew to Motown Records supremo Berry Gordy and a producer in his own right who worked for the Stax imprint in Detroit during the 1970s as a composer and arranger. Warren also worked extensively with Isaac Hayes, notably on his 1969 album Hot Buttered Soul.
In the early 1970s Warren met and became friends with a young funk band from Cincinnati going by the name of The Ditalians. Warren took them on, persuaded them to change their name to 24-Carat Black and began working with them on an idea he had for a concept album about the poverty being endured in many of America’s predominantly African-American neighbourhoods.
Composed, arranged and produced almost entirely by Warren, Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth is essentially the first concept album in the soul, funk and R&B genres at a time when the only other people making these kind of records were progressive rock bands like Pink Floyd. A kind of ‘soul opera’, the album features just eight tracks, a mixture of lush, orchestral soul ballads and Blaxploitation-era funk grooves that are split into synopses covering the various aspects of life in America’s poorest areas.
Why should I revisit?
Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth was so far ahead of its time that Warren struggled to find any kind of audience for the record and it soon disappeared without trace, selling hardly any copies on its initial release. The group disbanded shortly after the resulting tour with some of the members, including drummer Tyrone Steels, going on to form the funk band Shotgun.
Despite being a commercial failure, the record has, over time, steadily become a bit of a cult classic, particularly among hip-hop aficionados, and these days copies of the original vinyl pressing are highly sought-after, with a CD reissue eventually being released in 1995. In addition, many parts of the record have been sampled by a variety of hip-hop acts. Perhaps the most well-known example is on ‘Ghetto’ by Eric. B & Rakim, but other moments from the record have also been borrowed by acts including Digable Planets, Young Disciples, Dr. Dre, Naughty by Nature and Jay-Z.
Who will enjoy it?
If you’re a fan of soul music, funk or hip-hop we can’t recommend this album highly enough. It really is quite unique and has to rank as one of the most ambitious records of its era. More like the soundtrack to a movie or a musical that was never made, Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth is a proper magnum opus that pre-dates ideas like R. Kelly’s ‘Trapped In The Closet’ by more than 30 years and is infinitely less embarrassing. If there was ever a black equivalent to Dark Side of the Moon, this is it.