Meaning of Jean Knight’s Mr. Big Stuff
Mr. Big Stuff is a classic R&B/soul track whose release dates back to March of 1971. It came out through the once-poppin’ Stax Records, as the title track to Jean Knight’s debut album.
The late Jean Knight (1943-2023) may be considered a one-hit wonder, even though she dropped a couple of singles besides Mr. Big Stuff which also managed to chart. But as for this particular song, it was a major success. For example, it peaked at number 2 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and its rival of that day, the Cash Box Top 100. This track also proved, according to Billboard, to be the number one Soul Single in the United States for the entirety of 1971. Accordingly, it was nominated for a Grammy the following year in the category of Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (which ended up being awarded to Aretha Franklin’s Bridge Over Troubled Water).
Besides that, Mr. Big Stuff achieved double-platinum RIAA certification as of 1996. And to reiterate, it is an American classic, i.e. being one of those tunes that anyone who has grown up in the United States is likely familiar with in some way, shape or form, if not the song itself than via it being sampled or used in commercials.
Facts about Mr. Big Stuff
Mr. Big Stuff was laid down in a studio in Jackson, Mississippi (with Jean being from nearby Louisiana), in 1970 at a venue known as Malaco Studios, at the same time as King Floyd’s Groove Me, which came out later that year. As such both songs had the same producer, Wardell Quezergue (1930-2011), besides sharing musical similarities. And it was the success of Groove Me which eventually led to Mr. Big Stuff being released.
This song holds the distinction of having been performed by Jean Knight on the very first season of Soul Train and more specifically on the date of 11 December 1971.
Mr. Big Stuff has been sampled a number of times by hip-hop and R&B artists, most notably on the late Heavy D’s debut single, which is also titled Mr. Big Stuff (1987).
Jean Knight managed to drop two other singles which made it onto the Billboard Hot 100. They were 1971’s You Think You’re Hot Stuff, i.e. the follow-up to Mr. Big Stuff, as well as 1985’s My Toot Toot. Her last studio album, which was her fifth, was 1999’s Queen, and she hadn’t released any new music since. But before all was said and done, she was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame (in 2007), and she continued to perform live apparently up until her passing.
The writers of this song are Carrol Washington (1932-2022), Ralph George Williams and Joseph Broussard.
The music industry has seemingly changed since times past. These days, the likes of flashy, well-paid playas tend to be celebrated by African-American musicians, male and female alike. But as Mr. Big Stuff illustrates, this wasn’t always so.
In this case, the subject is evidently someone who has developed the reputation of womanizing and breaking the hearts of his romantic victims. The reason he is referred to as “Mr. Big Stuff” is because, buttressed by his “fancy clothes” and “big fine car”, he has an enormous ego, one where dude is convinced that he’s even “higher than every star above”. And again, this is the type of character we commonly come across in a song these days, most often through hip-hop artists proudly depicting themselves as successful ladies’ men primarily due to their wealth and fame.
But as for Jean, she’s not falling for it. As presented, she would rather “give (her) love to a poor guy that has a love that’s true” rather than “be fooled” and subsequently played by Mr. Big Stuff. Or another way of viewing it is that Mr. Big Stuff is trying to hook up with Knight. And it isn’t even his inflated ego that’s repelling her. Instead, it’s Jean being the type of woman who isn’t gullible enough to give her heart to a playa, as history has proven that such individuals, including “Mr. Big Stuff”, aren’t sensitive to the emotions of their romantic interests.