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.’
Before mastering engineer Jay Burnett named himself Burzootie and got dusted in the studio with MCA for the Def Jam maroon label sure shot, ‘Drum Machine,’ he released an early version in 1982 on his own Jayco imprint. I assume that’s him rapping on this as well.
I always wondered why Detroit’s Awesome Dre had a song going at Kool Moe Dee on his highly enjoyable 1989 album, You Can’t Hold Me Back. Now that I’ve heard his second single, it makes a little more sense. It appears that Dre took it upon himself to fire shots at both LL Cool J and Moe Dee on separate songs. This mystery was finally solved when Werner interviewed Dre in 2009: (more…)
Hitman Howie Tee got his start as part of CD III, before laying down the demo version of ‘Roxanne Roxanne’ for UTFO and helping out Full Force with some material, before lending his talents to Whistle, Chubb Rock, Special Ed, the Real Roxanne and Little Shawn. Later in his career he branched out into reggae (Vicious, Patra) and created pop (Color Me Badd, Madonna, EMF). Here are some of his more memorable moments when he was in hardcore rap mode.
Forgive me if this is common knowledge, but I only just realized that the group Whistle, best known for their 1985 hit ‘(Nothing Serious) Just Buggin,’ released four albums on the Select label. Jazzy Jazz, Kool Doobie and DJ Silver Spinner were the original line-up, with Kraze and Terk joining in ’90 after Jazzy Jazz Doobie broke north. At this point they abandoned rapping altogether and got on some Boyz II Men type shit for their third album Always and Forever. By the time 1992 rolled around, the crew was riding the Bel Biv Devoe wave and broke out the mustard hooded t-shirts to join the New Jack Swing movement bfore they rode off into the sunset.
Hurby ‘Lug Bug’ Azor played a big part in exposing a different style of Queens rap to the world as his Idol Makers crew concentrated on dressing fly, club hopping and bagging the opposite sex, largely favoring story-telling over the classic brag and boast technique. Hurby’s appreciation of go-go beats, DMX shakers and classic breakbeats produced some dance floor classics before he broke through to the pop charts with Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Push It’ and into the movies via Kid ‘N Play‘s Houseparty franchise. After producing a couple of records for MC Shan‘s white reggae artist Snow in 1995, Hurby vanished from the music scene altogether. Here are what I consider to be his sixteen finest moments behind the boards.
Stumbled onto this piece of gold the other night thanks to TR Love – Angus Batey’s interview with Kool Keith and Ced-Gee for the liner notes of the Roadrunner edition of Critical Beatdown! Of particular interest was Ced’s breaking down his involvement with Criminal Minded:
Ced-Gee: Me and Scott [La Rock] grew up together. I knew Scott’s whole family. With BDP’s Criminal Minded, my input was more of showing Scott how to use the sampler. When the SP-12 came out, a lot of engineers just looped. But I would take sounds and chop ’em up – even if it wasn’t a full sound I’d make it sound full. I was the first person to chop samples on the SP-12. Soon everyone was doing it. [KRS-ONE] would bring the record, I would take it, chop it, rearrange it. I did the whole album, apart from four songs. I didn’t do ‘Criminal Minded,’ ‘South Bronx,’ ‘My 9mm’ and ‘Elementary,’ but I did the rest. But I got jerked on the credit. Scott kept telling me to stay on the back of the guy who ran the label. ‘I’m telling you,’ he said, ‘he’s sheisty’. I’m like, ‘Nah, he said he got me’. And when it came out, it didn’t say ‘Produced by Ced-Gee and Boogie Down’, it said ‘Produced by Boogie Down, special thanks to Ced-Gee’. Me and Scott didn’t fall out, but it cost me money.
There was a brilliant period in hip-hop and electro records where the engineers seemed determined to warp and distort the original track to near unrecognizable forms, splattering echo and gated snares on the walls of some long-forgotten underground cavern. Let’s call it the Spelunker Period. The labels often provided not so subtle clues about what we could expect, announcing ‘Zootie,’ ‘Stubb,’ ‘Burnt’ and ‘Psycho Dust’ versions of their vocal counterparts. The following are selection of abrasive, dusted drum machine and scratch experiences that demonstrate the beauty of that thing sometimes referred to as The Dope Noise.
Breakbeat Lou: Lenny I’d met at Saul’s Record Pool, back in the early 80’s. There was a feedback committee meeting that we had and everyone was talking about regular rap records and regular music. That wasn’t what he was really into, he was more or a less a ‘in the house’ kinda DJ. There was a comment about a particular record and I said, ‘Yeah, I know that record.’ He said, ‘How do you know that record? You don’t seem like you’re into that particular thing.’ I was already DJing regular stuff. I’ve been in the game a long time – a DJ since ’74, hardcore digger since ’78, producer since ’80. That’s where the connection with breakbeats came in between him and I. He was already involved in going to the jams, ‘cos Lenny used to hang out at Bronx River. First it was bootleg 12’s that were being released – we released ‘Big Beat’, before that was ‘Funky President’ and ‘Long Red’ on Sure Shot Records. We also released the guava ‘Apache’ copies, ‘Chinese Chicken,’ ‘Impeach The President,’ the [Magic Disco Machine’s] ‘Scratchin” one sided 12’, the ‘Rocket In The Pocket.’ (more…)
For a jam-packed four year stretch, The Sugar Hill Band was the most powerful force in recorded rap, providing the beats for The Furious Five, Funky 4+1, Treacherous Three, Crash Crew, Spoonie Gee, The Sequence and more. With it’s core membership consisting of guitarist Skip McDonald, bassist Doug Wimbish, drummer Keith LeBlanc, percussionist Ed ‘Duke Bootee’ Fletcher and arranger Clifton ‘Jiggs’ Chase, the Sugar Hill Band were assigned to replay and re-arrange the hot breaks of the day, as advised by the likes of Grandmaster Flash based on what the crowd responded to when he deejayed. Unfortunately, some of their finest work such as ‘Funk You Up’ and ‘It’s Nasty (Genius of Love)’ was never issued in instrumental versions, but I’ve done my bets to cobble together what I could from the vaults.
I didn’t get hip to Stetsasonic‘s brand of BK brilliance until I heard KRS-One shout them out and tracked down their In Full Gear album, but On Fire is worth your time for the classic ‘Go Stetsa’ and ‘My Rhyme.’ Here’s the stripped down demo version of their debut single, ‘Just Say Stet,’ which eagle-eyed Unkut reader P_gotsachill just put me up on. Now with added Human Mix Machine Wise!
The Def IVNice & 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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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. (more…)
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.
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.