Filed under: Cracker Rap,No Country For Old (Rap) Men,The 00's Files,Web Work
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Eminem‘s second major label album cemented him as a rap superstar. But does it still hold up in 2015?
Eminem‘s second major label album cemented him as a rap superstar. But does it still hold up in 2015?
If you’re nerdy enough to collect records and comics, then the Power Records catalog would be your holy grail. In my newest Cuepoint article, I’ve researched the label responsible for some classic childhood memories and some great samples for rap records.
Following on from last year’s interview with former Beatnut Al’ Tariq, I finally got a chance to speak with Psycho Les about the ups and downs of one of rap’s greatest groups. Turns out that Les’ history foes back even further than I thought, as he revealed he worked at Music Factory during high school and produced his first record in 1988…
Robbie: Do you feel like Al’ Tariq’s comments about his time with the Beatnuts were accurate?
Psycho Les: It was pretty much right. Me and Al’ Tariq never had a problem. The problem was between Juju and him, they didn’t really get along. When people don’t get along shit ain’t gonna happen.
He mentioned some subliminal stuff between him and Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul?
There was subliminal shit going on but it was more on Juju and Fashion’s part. That had nothing to do with me, I always stay away from any negative shit. I ain’t out to diss nobody.
What made you want to get involved in hip-hop?
Just being a kid from the streets. When I was coming up in mid ’80s the streets was the only place you could find hip-hop. You would go to the parks and we would have the cardboards, people breakdancing and the guy with his boom box playing tapes of Cold Crush and Spoonie Gee and Kool Moe Dee and all that shit. I was into everything of the culture, man – from breaking to graffiti, I did it all. I just fell in love with the music, just watching the DJ and all the power he had. I started messing with all the DJ’s that lived in my building. I would go to their apartments and watch them DJ. From there I developed the whole dream to have turntables and mixers and collecting records.
The Def IV Nice & Hard album was always something I went back to when it was released in 1988. As the fourth album released on the Rap-A-Lot label, this group of New York transplants, which consisted of two brothers – Vicious Lee and Jon B – beat maker and DJ Lonnie Mac and vocalist Prince E-Z-Cee (DJ Ready Red was apparently an early member before being recruited by the Ghetto Boys). Given that three quarters of the group were DJ’s, it’s no surprise that there is a lot going on musically, with many tracks delivering a layered, sophisticated sampling style, constant scratches and extra breaks thrown in all over the place to keep shit moving.
What with Brad Jordan releasing his biography, Diary of a Madman recently (which he discusses with ego trip’s Gabriel Alvarez here), it seemed like a good time to take another listen his first single, released on Lil’ Troy‘s Short Stop Records back when he was still calling himself DJ Akshun. The a-side would later be slightly reworked for the Grip It! On That Other Level album when Scarface became a Ghetto Boy, while ‘Put Another Head To rest’ was relegated to the crates of Houston locals and ebay borks until Lil’ Troy pissed off ‘Face by including the song on his Sittin’ Fat Down South CD and things degenerated from there.
Concluding my discussion with Tuff City Records founder Aaron Fuchs, he talks about working with The 45 King, Lakim Shabazz and the Flavor Unit, the ‘Crack It Up’ single, the Ultramagnetic compilations and the highlights of his discography.
Robbie: The 45 King had a big impact on the Tuff City discography. How did that relationship begin?
Aaron Fuchs: He was R&B driven, which I loved. Red Alert was a DJ of rare honesty, he played a record if he liked it. You didn’t have to pay him. He was partial to The 45 King so making records with The 45 King wasn’t rocket science. Where I made my contribution was my role in the creation of the Lakim Shabazz persona. Listening to hip-hop shows, so many dedications came from prison – people with Islamic names – so it was like, ‘Let’s get a rapper like this.’ So MC La Kim became Lakim Shabazz, with all due respect to his legitimate involvement with his Islamic faith. But we played it up.
How successful was Lakim Shabazz’s Pure Righteousness album?
I think that that was the first hip-hop album that ever came out without a hit single. At that time, the wall of a record store called Music Factory in Times Square was an international communications medium. I had first seen that wall’s responsibility for the transition of west coast hip-hop, from being years behind the east coast, to catching up. In ’84 they came to the New Music Seminar and they were just ripping records off that wall, and it caught them up with the east stylistically. I knew that was happening and that European tourists shopped there too, so I made the Lakim Shabazz album just so I could put him in a picture with a kufi and a dashiki. It broke the album internationally.
Aaron Fuchs‘ Tuff City label was the David to Def Jam‘s Goliath in the early 80’s. The label would go on to deliver important records from the Cold Crush Brothers, Spoonie Gee, The 45 King and Lakim Shabazz, to name but a few. Aaron talked extensively about how to keep your head above water in the record game and offered some interesting opinions about where hip-hop might have ended up if Harlem hadn’t gotten involved.
Robbie: What’s the longest that you’ve been in one location?
Aaron Fuchs: Five, six years. In New York City, no matter what business you’re in, you also have to be in the real estate business. It’s just chaotic keeping an office address for more than a few years at a time.
What are your proudest achievements as a record label so far?
I was very proud to be on the scene around ’82, when the electronic drum machines came on the scene. I described it as ‘a thousand flowers bloomed.’ You previously had all your DJ’s just looping or sampling beats from the same body of records, and when the electronic drum machines came in, all of a sudden it seemed like the unique sub rhythms of the DJ’s ethnic backgrounds – because hip-hop is a very Pan-Caribbean music-came to the forefront – it was wonderful to be working with Charlie Chase and Master OC, who were Puerto Rican; Pumpkin, who was Costa Rican;and Davey-D who was American black. It was really reflected in their different approaches to rhythms. What a wonderful time to be making music.
How had you met all these guys?
Hip-hop was incredibly small when I got into hip-hop, circa ’78. The communications medium for hip-hop was a 7 x 5 sheet of paper called The Phillip Edwards Report. He was the guy who had the bright idea to list all the stores in the metropolitan area and create a list of records that they were selling and distribute them around the boroughs. When I told Bambaataa, I wanted to sign an MC crew, I didn’t know he’d bring me the greatest of all-time, the Cold Crush Brothers. When I befriended Barry Michael Cooper, because we were both music critics for the Village Voice, I had no idea that he had cultivated a friendship with Spoonie Gee, who was the most influential of hip-hop artist of the old school era.
What can you tell me about your experiences as a music critic?
Criticism started because of Dylan and John Lennon. All of a sudden, lit. majors had something to write about with rock & roll. I always had a niche because I was one of the very few guys writing about black music, so while the review of the new Beatles or Dylan album was always taken, the review of the Wilson Pickett album or the Aretha Franklin album was always available.
Newest latest for the good people at Cuepoint is an in-depth look at the story behind Snap! and ‘The Power,’ covering Chill Rob G‘s response, how Penny Ford was recruited to add new vocals and an unfortunate incident involving Turbo B and some drag queens in Boston.
Ice-T’s Rhyme Syndicate was one of the more unusual extended rap crews, with a core membership that included everyone from old school veteran Donald D, ‘Caucasian Sensation’ Everlast, rapper/crooner dude Bronx Style Bob and acid casualty Divine Styler. According to the Syndicate Facebook page, which looks like it’s run by Donald D, the official role call is as follows:
Ice-T, Donald-D, Everlast, Afrika Islam, Darlene the Syndicate Queen, Bronx Style Bob, Divine Styler & the Scheme Team, Bilal Bashir, Low Profile (W.C. & Aladdin), Spinmasters (Hen-Gee & Evil-E), Hijack, Randy Mac, DJ Chilly Dee, MC Taste, Shaquel Shabazz, Nat the Cat, Domination, T.D.F., Mixmaster Quick, F.B.I. Crew, Lord Finesse, Nile Kings, Rhamel, Tre Kan, Bang-O, Toddy Tee, Monie Love, MC Trouble and Body Count.
Here’s a collection of my favorite Syndicate songs from that era, a reminder of when LA rappers were still trying to impress New York by rapping properly and when important issues such as how great it would be to have a sweet new Rolex watch were addressed with the seriousness they deserved. Sadly, despite having some great production from Aladdin and SLJ, Ice’s rapping had begun to fall into steep decline by the time he made Home Invasion, where he introduced some teenage chick rapper named Grip. I blame Body Count, obviously.
Red Bull Music Academy smashed it out the park with this one. There’s also a written feature over here.
Here’s something from my drafts folder that I forgot to post from a couple of years ago…
For many people, Twitter is nothing more than a self-indulgent stream of fuckybergs telling the world how many pieces of French toast they consumed at brunch. Last Monday, that all changed, after some struggle “comedian” lady finally got “sanger” Chris Brown to shut down his Twitter account following a heated exchange revolving around his previous treatment of Rihanna (of “Rihanna Plane” fame, natch). Turns out this Jenny Johnson character has been trolling C. Brown for years, and the main flaw in her argument had nothing to do with what happened to Rihanna’s face and everything to do with her misguided attempt to correct Chris’ spelling:
@chrisbrown: take them teeth out when u Sucking my dick HOE.
@JennyJohnsonHi5 It’s “HO” not “HOE” you ignorant fuck.
I found compelled to point out that there is in fact an “E” in “Hoe,” which resulted in an in-depth academic debate between myself, rapper/producer/author/drummer J-Zone and musical maestro/Ralph Lauren chandelier owner Just Blaze as to the correct spelling of the term according to old rap songs. While I was strongly in the “E” camp, J-Zone produced compelling evidence that it was only when used as a plural that the “E” was required, according to most Miami and mid western records (Geto Boys’ “Let A Ho Be A Ho”, Willie Dee‘s “Bald Head Hoes”). Not to be discouraged, I continued to produce examples of “hoe” in the singular, while Just Blaze played tennis umpire. It was a stalemate once we established that the East Coast favoured the “E” and the West dropped it, with the fact that Too $hort used to “Pimp The Ho” until 2011, when he suddenly adapted the “E.”
Unlike Cold Crush Brother‘s ‘Punk Rock Rap,’ this vaulted Cosmic Force entry into the ‘punk rap’ canon is redeemed by a lack of fake cockney accents, the always reliable vocoder and the fact that it interpolates Michael McDonalds’ ‘I Keep Forgetting‘ 13 years before Dr. Dre’s stepbrother Warren G enlisted Nate Dogg to give it that extra ‘G’ quality.
You know those times when groups are greater than the sum of their parts? Here are some examples of rappers and producers who, despite their talents, were less effective on their own.
CL Smooth without Pete Rock
Corey has always been technically strong but without Peter it was hard to care about what he was saying.
GURU without DJ Premier
Keithy EE and Premo had an unbeatable chemistry. The Jazzmatazz albums were a good idea on paper but hardly thrilling to listen to.
Jeru The Damaja without DJ Premier
The Sun Rises In The East was a pretty great album, and the follow-up wasn’t half bad either. Good luck naming a single thing Jeru did once he and Chris Martin stopped hanging out.
Almighty KG was meant to visit Wiz in Atlanta but never showed up. This was the result.
After transcribing my video interview with Tuff City founder Aaron Fuchs recently, I came across this intriguing quote:
Aaron Fuchs: The Bronx and Harlem were worlds apart cultural by the time the 70’s happened, because Harlem’s a community and The Bronx was burnt-out, but they were geographically very close to each other. You had hip-hop evolve like a weed, like top seed and bang! The Harlem record guys take over. You had Spoonie Gee, who was really an R&B guy who was rapping instead of singing. You had this truncating of what hip-hop was into the constraints of the Harlem record business. These couple of [Cold Crush Brothers] records actually reflect what hip-hop was before it was a record business. This crazy, formless, sprawling kind of music. You wonder sometimes would would have happened to hip-hop had The Bronx had not been so close to Harlem and was so quickly engulfed by the vastly deeper traditions of Harlem.
As a member of The Chosen Few, Trio Connection and Black By Demand, CJ Moore did his thing as a rapper in the 80’s while honing his skills as an engineer and mixer. Here are some examples of CJ in action on the mic and behind the boards.
Download – The CJ Moore Collection [Zippyshare Records and Tapes, 2015]
DJ Cash Money broke down the story behind this timeless piece of audio on Facebook yesterday.
DJ Cash Money: Wow my man Too Tuff just sent me this…I haven’t heard this in years…The Cash Money Echo Scratch on Lady B’s Show…..Talk about taking me back? I remember the day after this was on the radio..I would hear everyone blasting this out of their cars…”Jerome is the King”…JJJJJerome is the jigajigajiga King….Hahahahahaha….I have to show what i did that scratch on….Classic Times!!!!
I used this machine to do this scratch…I turned this sideways and put masking tape on the delay fader so i couldn’t go up on the volume….Those were the days when you had to really think on being creative…The technology wasn’t there yet..So hearing this will always have a special place in my heart because this was the beginning of me starting to get recognized for what i do today….This was late 80’s….
While I was staying in New Jersey mid 2013, I attempted to shoot some footage of the original Flavor Unit crew. As it happened, I only managed to get Chill Rob G on film, and after watching the video back I’ve decided that this plays better as a written piece. While some of the same stuff from our 2006 conversation is covered, Rob also went into a lot more detail on some topics, making it a worthwhile piece on it’s own. Not to mention that Ride The Rhythm still stands as one of the strongest and most original releases of 1989.
Robbie: You mentioned that you went through a few different names when you were younger?
Chill Rob G: When I first started I had an identity crisis, I had a bunch of different names. It was Jazzy B, it was Bobby G, it was Killer B – cos my name was Robert. I was down with a couple of different crews too. I was down with The World Rap Crew and I was down with the Dignified Almighty Magnificent MC’s – Those D.A.M. MC’s. When all of that fell apart I just kept rapping on my own. I used to practice with my man Michael Ali, be up at his house every single day, making tapes. When I said that on the record it was true!
Were these beats that he’d made?
He tried to make beats but they was [blows raspberry]. I would just rap over popular rap records. He would try to cut the break. He wasn’t really that good a DJ either – but that was my man back then. [laughs] We would make tapes and try to get it out to the drug dealers, cos they’d be out all night. They would play that music and people would get a chance to hear me rap.
If, by some tragic turn of fate, all rap released prior to the year 2000 was somehow obliterated from the face of the earth and you were given the opportunity to take twenty CD’s to pass the time while I wasted away in exile on some deserted island (stay with me here), then what would you take? I considered the options this afternoon and devised the following list of hip-hop platters to bring along.
Beat machine wonder kid Kurtis Mantronik had a nice little run over at Sleeping Bag Records, where he split his time between hard hitting electro hip-hop beats for T La Rock and Just-Ice and Freestyle/dance music for artists such as Joyce Simms. After three Mantronix albums with MC Tee on the mic, Tee decided to join the airforce and Kurtis recruited Bryce Luvah from Queens Brooklyn Connection to fill his shoes for the next two LP’s before moving onto to dance music for good. Shout out to Chep Nunez and Omar Santana on some of those razor blade edits.
Download: A Salute To Mantronik [Zippyshare Records and Tapes, 2015]
Despite being one of the greatest rappers to ever enter a recording studio, Rakim‘s four albums with Eric B. were pretty patchy, mainly due to the abundance of filler and sub par scratch showcases. This wasn’t such a big deal on Paid In Full, since every with vocals was amazing and 1987 rap LP’s usually consisted of a few strong singles and plenty of filler, but this formula really didn’t cut it by the time Follow The Leader dropped in ’88. I’m not sure if anyone noticed at the time though, because the first three tracks are so powerful that you’ve already been won over before you even get to the second side of the album, much like NWA’s Straight Outta Compton.
This one has been cooking up for long time now, but it’s finally out of the oven and ready to throw on your plate with a side of mash – the history of the Ultimate Breaks and Beats series told by the people who put them together and some of the DJ’s and producers they went on to influence:
Shout out to Shecky Green and the design team at Cuepoint for turning it into a multimedia masterpiece and whatnot.
Phill Most Chill came up drawing flyers for local crews before dropping his own independent record in 1988, moving into some production work and eventually landing a regular spot at Rap Sheet. From there he became a record dealer and collector, released over 100 mixtapes and eventually returned to the microphone in 2005, and has since released a number of new projects. I caught up with Soulman to talk records, journalism and more records…
Robbie: How did you first get exposed to hip-hop?
Phill Most Chill: I go back as a little kid, cos I grew up right outside of New York, like a half an hour away from the Bronx in Connecticut. I go back to before when hip-hop was even on record yet, it was just parties. I’d see all the classic crews from back in the days – the Furious Five, Cold Crush Brothers – all of ’em, they would rock at the community center or roller skating rink or high schools in my neighborhood. I started out as a fan but also I used to do flyers for some of the hip-hop pioneers back in those days. From there I went to making records myself – little, small indy records – and that led to the thing with Rap Sheet. During that time I also got into production and I went all out with collecting breaks and digging for records to the point where I would consider myself one of the leading people as far as digging in the crates. I used to also sell breaks and records to all the top producers in New York City. They used to have the Roosevelt Hotel record conventions. That came from me doing the ‘World of Beats’ column – at that point I felt I needed to really up my game and go all-out with the records. That led to me becoming a dealer as well, because a lot of the breaks people were looking for? I had ’em and I knew how to get ’em. Pretty much every great producer in the New York area back then? I sold records to. The only dude I didn’t see at the shows was Preemo.
Four of Jazzy Jay‘s Strong City groups released an album during the Uni Records distribution deal – Ice Cream Tee, Busy Bee, Don Baron and Nu Sounds. I vaguely remember owning the Mackin’ album at some stage but not really enjoying anything off it, and listening back now it’s clear that these guys were totally run-of-the-mill. Still, considering their modest talents they did well to have two videos shot, get Afrika Bambaataa to chant the hook, rent some colorful suits and still have enough left over to hire some hawt cheerleaders and video skeezers. ‘Condition Red’ is a slightly better track if you enjoy distorted phone crank callers, otherwise notable for being Skeff Anslem‘s first production credit.
This is a collection of King Sun winners from a couple of years ago, which is still as relevant as ever.