Given that samples of James Brown records constitute the very foundations of hip-hop, then in theory it wouldn't seem to be necessary to update the Godfather's sound one whit to help him score a hit record within the rap community. Yet 1992's Universal James is just that -- a slick, ultra-commercial update of the James Brown aesthetic, complete with pale hip-hop beats which themselves are merely watered-down imitations of Brown's own groundbreaking peak material. From the opening track "Can't Get Any Harder" onward, the songs strain for rap credibility; instead of allowing Brown to find his own groove, the production constricts him, tailoring the music to what were the moment's prevailing trends. As a consequence, Universal James sounded dated within moments of its release. Time has not been any kinder.
AllMusic Review by Jason Ankeny