Exclusive: Isaac Hayes Family Pushes Legacy Into the Future With 'Unvaulted' Project

Isaac Hayes
Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Photo of Isaac Hayes in the 1970s from the Michael Ochs Archives.

This week marks six years since the untimely passing of music legend Isaac Hayes, but it should also be noted as new beginning of sorts. His family has united to form the Isaac Hayes Enterprises in Atlanta, a project which honors his legacy.

Though his discography includes 22 studio albums, five film soundtracks and three live albums, Hayes was a prolific composer far beyond what the public got to hear in his lifetime. His son and company president Isaac Hayes III is deep in undertaking the passion project of changing that, beginning with digitizing hundreds of unreleased master recordings he had unvaulted from Tennessee.

“I was just in awe of the organization and the quality in which he kept things,” recalls Hayes III. “Even [family] photos that I didn’t have or my mom didn’t have that he had, it was kind of just dope. Images and sheet music, photographs, all these masters; there was just so much stuff that he really took pride in preserving and taking care of, some going back to the Sixties.”

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ISAAC HAYES III (Credit: Carlton Adams)

Among these recordings are albums and songs from Hayes and artists he produced for his record label Hot Buttered Soul, outtakes from work with late jazz trumpeter Donald Byrd and R&B singer Major Harris, and instrumentals ranging from rock, pop and country to disco, funk and electronic music. Not everything has weathered the test of time, but Hayes III has gone to painstaking lengths to restore the recordings that have been damaged. Several reels of analog tape, for example, had to be dehydrated and baked in an oven to rescue the precious, precious arrangements.

Isaac Hayes’ work has been widely sampled for decades and has contributed to the foundation of broad genres including hip-hop and dance music. This top tier access to his masters could have an impact that will be heard and felt widely in popular music in the future.

In fact, it has already sparked the brains of several leading producers in Atlanta who Hayes III recently assembled for a listening session, men who have collectively worked with the likes of BeyoncéJay Z, Kanye West, Mariah Carey and many other top artists.

More elite performers, producers and music supervisors will be invited to hear excerpts of the music at a private event in Atlanta during September’s BET Hip-Hop Awards weekend in Atlanta, and Hayes III is considering listening sessions in New York and Los Angeles. He is open to all serious inquiries to license music, yet plans to be very careful in determining what is right for the brand.

Hayes III says there is the potential to officially release some of this music as well as a tribute album. He plans to relaunch the Hot Buttered Soul label, which will also put out albums that Hayes produced for other artists and intended to release before the fall of Stax Records forced him into bankruptcy in 1976; there are jazz, soul, Caribbean and cover songs hidden in the HBS archive. But, as with every mission of the new Isaac Hayes Enterprises, it’s more important to embark on the right endeavors for the brand than to put out products quickly. Timelessness, after all, does not need to be rushed.

Hayes III, 39, is an accomplished producer in his own right who licenses a steady stream of music to TV and film projects; this year, he has had placements in several Bravo series as well as the films About Last Night and Think Like a Man 2.

His knowledge of the music business (including what he likes to call his “A&R ears”) and entertainment industry are the keys that makes this company different from how other music estates are being managed. His vision and passion is unusually strong for the family member of a late music legend, making him the ideal person to take on such an unprecedented mission.

“The bridge between current culture and my dad’s legacy and heritage that I have and the connection with him and his music is a definite advantage,” he says. “Musically, just being in the industry and the amount of relationships that I have -- I always say that I’m a relationship guy -- I’m excited because I know so many people. And even having met so many people that I know are relationships that my father had that I might be able to continue or build upon with respect to who he was as a person, it’s good.” He maintains close ties to organizations that closely supported and honored his father, including the Recording Academy and Hayes’ publisher BMI.

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“I think the job of any celebrity’s estate is to find their place in pop culture to continue the legacy, whatever that is,” he asserts. “Whatever essence of my father that some 17-year-old can find in his music is the job that I have to do. Someone who is that young is not going to necessarily know the music in the same way that my parents knew it or that I know it, but the essence is still there. You have to find that bridge.”

As part of a total reinvention of the brand, Hayes III is also reviewing merchandising ideas opportunities, citing a lack of black music culture in pop culture -- even with items as simple as a t-shirt. “You might see Tupac and Biggie on a shirt, but you don’t see Marvin Gaye, you don’t see Barry White, you don’t see Isaac Hayes.”

For more information on Isaac Hayes Unvaulted, stay tuned to the newly relaunched isaachayes.com or search #IsaacHayesUnvaulted on Twitter and Instagram.