When T.I.’s “What You Know” came out in 2006, the track dominated the charts. It was pretty much inescapable that entire summer – hailed as an instant classic for its swaggering Southern lyrical style and its infectious, anthemic synth melody. The song was a classic in more ways than one, however. Can you believe that hook has been powering hits since 1968?
The producers of “What You Know,” DJ Toomp and Wonder, definitely did some crate digging to find that melody. The hook first appeared in The Impressions’ “Gone Away,” written by Curtis Mayfield, Donny Hathaway, and LeRoy Hutson, and released on the album This is My Country.
My guess is that we have Donny Hathaway to thank for it, because In 1970, Hathaway used the same hook in his cover of Ray Charles’ “I Believe To My Soul,” recorded for his debut album Everything is Everything. And here it gets the deep horn sound and rhythm that we hear echoed in “What You Know.”
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Donny Hathaway had befriended Roberta Flack while they were both students at Howard, which led to a series of legendary collaborations between the two before Hathaway’s tragic death in 1979. Early in their partnership, during the same period in which Hathaway recorded Everything is Everything, he also arranged Roberta Flack’s album Chapter Two. On that album, Flack covered the Impressions’ “Gone Away,” and when the song’s pace picks up about halfway through we hear the hook again.
Thirty-six years later, producers DJ Toomp and Wonder are shuffling through the stacks, listening to some old Roberta Flack…and a classic hook is reborn for a new era.
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This video contains short audio clips of “Gone Away” by Impressions, the Roberta Flack cover, and T.I.’s “What You Know.” However, no Donny Hathaway mention!