As promised, here’s the first part of the Eighties Edition. This period is a little trickier, as for much of it rap was still a ‘singles’ medium, so many artists never even got to release albums at all, which opens the playing field pretty wide. To keep it manageable, I’ve stuck to crews and soloists that put out at least one LP during their career and excluded b-sides that were tacked onto the CD versions of albums or second pressings (such as Jungle Brothers’ ‘The Promo’). I almost feel like doing a compilation of ‘Jive Records’ Most Disgraceful UK Remixes’ just to shame them, but nobody in their right mind would actually listen to that.
After last week’s Jadakiss impromptu grading as a rapper, I got to thinking about how other rappers might fare if I scored them using Kool Moe Dee‘s patented Rapper Report Card system. For the purposes of this test, I simply plucked a name out of mid-air and scored the first numbers that came to my mind. In situations like this, over-thinking it can lead to indecision, so I went with my immediate gut instincts. The results were quite a surprise. (more…)
While I was trolling Jadakiss apologists today for calling his new album Top Five Dead or Alive, lamenting his complete inability to ever make an official album with more than three good songs, a thought struck me – maybe you don’t actually need a certified classic album to be considered one of the best of all time. While Rakim, KRS-One, LL Cool J, Biggie and Kool G Rap all have revered LP’s under their belts, many of the best to ever rap into an amplified vocal device never actually delivered amazing albums.
For rappers from the early days, such as Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee and Grandmaster Caz, this can be attributed to the music being a singles medium during when they were recording. It wasn’t until the time of Radio, Raising Hell and Criminal Minded that long players outgrew the pattern of simply being a padded-out collection of singles and were capable of a focused concept. As rap got bigger and the costs of releasing a major label project skyrocketed by the end of the nineties, we saw the emergence of the ‘street album’ aka ‘mixtape,’ which allowed rappers stuck in a shitty deal to still keep their name buzzing as they flipped popular instrumentals and uncleared samples without fear of reprisal. (more…)
I did some work with DJ Pizzo this year over at Cuepoint, but previous to that I’d been a loyal customer of the main mail-order hip-hop stores, one of which was HipHopSite, which was founded by Pizzo and Warren Peace in 1996. He explained how the wild west that was the early internet allowed their new business to thrive and help introduce the world to a range of underground groups, as well as their involvement with classic remix projects such as The Grey Album and God’s Stepson. Ironically, the very same lawlessness that had helped the independent rap scene flourish during this period would ultimately become it’s very undoing.
Robbie: How did you get started as a rap fan?
DJ Pizzo: I got into hip-hop watching Yo! MTV Raps when I was a sixth grader. Then I found this college show, when I was in eighth grade, called Word Up. It was on KUNV at UNLV and this guy Warren Peace was the host. He was a freshman in college at the time and I was a kid in junior high, and he would be playing the b-side of the remix of the new Big Daddy Kane single that wasn’t out yet. It opened up a whole new [world] – because of the show, I was hearing all this music that was promo-only. Warren was judging some local talent show, so I went down there and met him. He told me I could come hang out at the show. I was the youngest person there, everybody else was in college, and I was always digging through his records and recording stuff to tape.
Around ’94/’95 I was posting on rec.music.hip-hop. I started trading tapes with kids over the internet, which was sending cassettes of unreleased music to each other through the mail before there was file sharing. There was a kid who had an advance of De La Soul‘s Stakes Is High album, and another kid who had the Wu-Tang Clan demo tape, and another kid who had the Gravediggaz demo tape. All of a sudden I had all this unreleased music that Warren didn’t have, so I started playing those tracks on his show. Then he had the idea, ‘What if we started a website where we can post this unreleased music?’ (more…)
Records are the bane of my existance, as they’re an absolute bitch to transport when you move, are highly susceptible to flood damage and take up far too much space around the house. The one thing they do have going for them, however, is the b-side.
The sad truth is that there are legions of unpaid interns working for ‘culture’ websites whose prime objective is to scour the lyrics of Drake/Kanye/Jay-Z for anything even vaguely resembling a subliminal diss. While a lot of late eighties rap could be relied on for rival MCs to straight-up call out the competition by name, there were times when politics and/or the possibility of series violence between crews and neighborhoods meant that these shots had to be a little more subtle.
The unfortunate side-effect of this development meant that over-zealous fans now had the opportunity to concoct intricate fantasy scenarios about lyrical beefs that never actually existed. I remember a friend of mine attempting to convince me that MF Doom and Ghostface were waging a serious campaign of subliminal warfare against each other on the grounds of who owned the right to model themselves after a comic strip identity. While the theory was obviously shot to shit when they later began working together, it goes to show that a conspiracy can be constructed about anything if you want to find it badly enough. (more…)
While we now consider the Trackmasters to be just Poke and ‘Red Hot Lover’ Tone, it originally included Alex Richberg and Frank Nitty in the early days. After cutting their teeth on Finesse and Synquis, Tone’s first solo album and working with Chubb Rock, the crew really put themselves on the map when they added three tracks to Kool G Rap‘s Live and Let Die album, resulting in ‘Ill Street Blues’ and the ‘On The Run’ remix making a lot of noise. From their, placements with LL Cool J, Nas and their new discovery Foxy Brown ensured that they were on the up-and-up, and before long they pumping out hits for Will Smith, Jay-Z and Jennifer Lopez.
Fun fact: Could it be that the Trackmasters use of the Beatnuts‘ ‘Watch Out Now‘ beat for J-Lo’s ‘Jenny On The Block‘ was a subtle payback for the ‘Nuts using the same loop as Red Hot Lover Tone has rapped over in 1992 on ‘Winderella‘ for 1994’s ‘Are You Ready‘? While they certainly weren’t above using some obvious disco loops on some of their later work, there’s no doubt that this duo have delivered some amazing records, as this collection demonstrates.
All of these clips are equal parts bizarre and amazing. The first features interviews with Schoolly-D and Mantronix while they were on tour in the UK, while overlaying ‘witty’ comments and alleged statistics about violence at rap shows in a manner which suggests that the producers of the segment were either taking the piss or genuinely concerned that hip-hop was going to corrupt the youf. Next up we have the always lovely Real Roxanne performing ‘Bang Zoom (Let’s Go)’ in front of a crowd of slightly confused children, before some of the braver kids are shoved onstage to ‘bust’ some moves of their own. Finally, we get to see the spikey-haired host declare that Full Fiorce is her favourite group during an episode of Music Box in 1986. Some fine work from the Beat of the Street You-Toob channel for bringing us these ‘special’ moments. (more…)
Queens-born producer Ayatollah has laced tracks for everyone from Tragedy to Screwball to Mos Def to Cormega. We caught-up last week to discuss his early days on the come-up, auditioning beat tapes at Rawkus Records and a random Happy Days connection. His latest project, Box Cutter Brothers 3, is out now with Drasar Monumental.
Robbie: What was your inspiration to make music?
Ayatollah: My older brother. When I was younger he used to take care of me, and he was a b-boy. He was like my super hero. He listened to a lot of hip-hop, breakdancing and things like that. I admired him, he had a major influence on me – the way he dressed, the music he listened to – I just thought he was really cool. He would wear the sheepskins and the suede Pumas and Kangols. At school I was always into art, so after going to junior high school I got into the whole graffiti thing. Graffiti had a big influence on me making music.
After the graffiti I got into the DJing. I started DJing from ’89. I bought turntables, I started collecting records [and] I started doing parties. I started battling other DJ’s, competition-wise. When I met Jam-Master Jay, rest in peace, was quite a major point in my life. Getting to ask him questions about DJing and Run-DMC – he actually took the time out to answer my questions. I met him at random in Queens, on 165th Street and Jamaica Avenue. It’s a huge shopping area for a lotta people on Queens. There came a point in my DJing career where I was like, ‘I don’t just want to play the records anymore, I wanna actually produce the records.’ (more…)
When I first went to high school, I remember I’d memorized the entire intro to Rhyme Pays and would recite it to pretty girls for reasons which now escape me. Let’s just say it was a simpler time. Ice-T‘s first four albums combined humor, slick talk and social commentary in a way which set him apart from the competition and allowed fans to overlook that fucked-up ponytail. Here’s a collection of remixes, b-sides and essential album cuts from everyone’s favorite Law & Order: SVU detective.
You Toober Umberto -Fab- Lampasona loves himself some test pressings, and this one is a doozy – a vaulted 1988 remix of Lord Shafiq’s debut single from the year before. We only get the first three and a half minutes, but it’s an interesting revision of the classic ‘Nautilus’ loop of the original regardless.
Rising up through the ranks from the ‘Son of Bambattaa’ to the DJ at The Roxy and launching the Zulu Beat radio show on WHBI, Afrika Islam went on to release the very fist cut and paste record, help found the Rhyme Syndicate and produce the majority of Ice-T’s first four albums after moving to LA in what has certainly been an action-packed career. He took a little time out to reminisce before he headed over to Ice’s house to watch the latest episode of SVU.
Robbie: How did you first get exposed to the culture?
Afrika Islam: I was a member of the Zulu King b-boys, under Afrika Bambaataa. That’s how I came into the culture, from the floor up. Being a member of the Zulu Kings I went out to battle other b-boy crews across the city, representing the Zulu Nation. From there, my second step was becoming a Zulu Nation DJ – the first line – which would have been myself and Jazzy Jay and Red Alert and DXT. I was under Afrika Bambaataa – we all were – but I was very close to Afrika Bambaataa. Then I got named ‘The Son of Bambaataa’ because I was always under him and his teachings and what was going on in the Zulu Nation at the same time in hip-hop. That’s my roots of hip-hop – I was there as a DJ.
There must have been a lot of competition to make it into that first line of Zulu DJs?
My technique I took from those that were creating the techniques – Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizard Theodore. That’s primarily where the technique we used came from, but being that I was with Afrika Bambaataa the main thing was learning all those records, because he was definitely the ‘Master of Records.’ Learning all those records was honestly what everything was about. Having all those records, the repertoire, most of these other DJs only had the ability to….even though they were technically incredible and the pioneers of what modern-day DJing is – Flash and Theodore – the repertoire of the records was the soundtrack to New York City. That was the soundtrack to hip-hop. (more…)
Eric ‘Vietnam’ Sadler was the Bomb Squad‘s secret weapon. It was his programming expertise that kept their ‘wall of noise’ production style in the pocket, assigned to translate Hank Shocklee and Chuck D‘s musical chaos into sharply welder tools of war. You can pick the tracks which have Eric’s heavy fingerprints in the way that the drums swing and the finely-woven loop changes, perhaps best demonstrated by his work on Ice Cube‘s first solo album.
‘Eric was, to me, the producer. Keith was the street guy who made sure the street was gonna love it and the beat was hot – the engineer. Hank was the guy who kinda put the stamp of approval, who did the final mixing, came in and listened and then was on to other things. I loved working with Eric Sadler. It was a great pleasure being in the studio with him, watching him make “Oval Office” and “Steppin’ To The A.M.”.’
Microphone King Donald D has had a long and varied career, spanning back to the park jam era, onto the downtown club scene, radio and then records, both as a member of The B-Boys and as a soloist with the Rhyme Syndicate. Now residing in Italy, Donald took some time out to detail some of his experiences during the formative days of the culture.
Robbie: How were you first introduced to hip-hop?
Donald D: Going to the parties, watching Kool Herc in the parks and Afrika Bambaataa in the parks. That was my first experience seeing these DJs out in the park.
You were living in the Bronx at the time?
Kool Herc used to play at a park called 129, which is not far from where I lived. Then I would go to Bronx River Center and watch Afrika Bambaataa throw down outside. All of this took place in the South Bronx, where it all started.
How old were you at that time?
You’re talking about junior high school when I was seeing these guys play. At the time we was going to a local place all the kids would call The Boy’s Club. We would go there basically to play basketball, swim. I had other friends who would become hip-hop legends and superstars, so you’re talking about at that time Easy AD, who became a member of the Cold Crush Brothers; you had Lil’ Rodney Cee and Jazzy Jeff who were part of the Funky Four; you had Master Rob and Waterbed Kev who became part of the Fantastic Five. There were a lot of these guys who were at the time unknown who became legends in hip-hop. We all would be playing basketball together as kids [chuckles]. (more…)
I was musing about the fact that EPMD had an amazing run of three four cutting-edge albums before they parted ways the first time, which is almost unprecedented. However, as Old Man Rap Twitter pointed out, there are a few other contenders:
Run-DMC – Set the pace on their first three LP’s, although Tougher Than Leather was merely playing keep up thanks to the delay and time hasn’t been kind to much of King of Rock.
Gang Starr – After a patchy start, Guru and DJ Premier delivered four outstanding LPs between Step Into The Arena and Moment of Truth, equally EPMD’s run but more content to lay in the cut rather than kicking down doors in the way that the brothers from Brenwood, LI did.
Ice Cube –AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, Kill At Will and Death Certificate made for an amazing solo run. The Predator was strong musically but it felt as if he lost his spark on the mic a little.
De La Soul – Tough to fault their opening three LP’s in terms of breaking new ground. Things got a little too earnest once Prince Paul left, however. (more…)
There’s nothing like pretending to rap like it’s 1985 (or better yet, 1977) well after the fact, or recruiting some veteran MC’s to kick some old styles. While some of these attempts have fallen flat (Ugly Duckling and People Under The Stairs being two examples that spring to mind), others have made an entire career out of it (J-5). So break out your Lee jeans, mockneck sweater and Puma suedes for this faux trip down memory lane. Special shout out to Dr. Butcher‘s old school style freestyle at the end of Kool G Rap and DJ Polo‘s ‘Jive Talk‘ and the first verse of The Arsonists’ ‘Rhyme Time Travel.’