The process of recording a rap album for a record label has often been fraught with artistic compromise, clueless A&R’s and misguided promotional campaigns. While what goes on behind the scenes has often remained a mystery, the arrival of the ‘Advance Promotional Cassettes’ in the early nineties offered a glimpse into ‘what might have been’ for a number of albums. I can recall reading reviews of several albums, only for some of the tracks mentioned to have mysteriously vanished by the time the album was released. A prime example of this was Show & AG‘s Goodfellas album, which had six of the tracks from the advance copy either replaced or remixed before it hit the shelves, while the sampler tape for Mobb Deep‘s Hell On Earth was largley comprised of songs destined for other peoples releases (‘Recognize and Realize,’ ‘Live Nigga Rap’) or soundtracks.
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…)
As most of you already know, long-time indy rap champion Pumpkinhead passed away this week at only 39 years old, tragically leaving behind his pregnant wife and two kids. I’m not really qualified to speak on the man’s numerous contributions, but Chaz Kangas has put together a fitting tribute to the man for Complex, while some of his friends shared their fondest memories on Facebook:
DJ Eclipse: Some of us spend countless hours, days, months, years and even decades promoting others more so then we do ourselves. PH was one of those guys. Even though he made a name for himself in the battle scene and even made some records, it was his work here in NYC that I’ll remember even more. An integral part of the 90’s indie movement as well as today’s battle scene and a promoter of authentic acts and events, PH cared about the culture of Hip Hop. For him it was about your skills and how to improve on them. He was one of the ones that helped keep the foundation strong for others to go on and build careers. (more…)
DJ Spinna and Kriminal provided the 1996 indy stand-out single, ‘Beyond Real’/’Dead Man Walking,’ which proved to be the one of the highlights of an extensive discography over the next six years. Spinna was in high demand during this period for his signature lush production style which combined restrained sampling and original riffs for an atmospheric canvas of sounds, while Krim provided the most compelling verbal contributions from a wide range of vocalists who utilized the Beyond Real catalog. Ignoring the hackneyed ‘conscious’/’underground’ cliches that came to sully much of the ‘independent as fuck’ mantra of the day, Kriminal maintained a refreshingly honest style of Brooklyn brag rap that wasn’t afraid to boast of of ‘putting a dick in your girl’ during a time of tiresome politically correct posturing and underground flag-waving. (more…)
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. (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…)
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.
Back in 2013, I got to chat to Black Rob for ten minutes as he was on his way to the studio. This time around I tried not to repeat the same questions, but unfortunately I caught him as he was trying to catch some food. Guess some things just aren’t meant to work out, huh? Regardless, you can catch Black Rob’s new LP, Genuine Article, is out 21 April.
Robbie: Were Spoonie Gee and Doug E. Fresh a big influence on you when you were a kid?
Black Rob: Hell yeah! Parties, break-outs – the whole shit! Doug E. Fresh was definitely slamming, man. I already wanted to my thing, but it gave me some inspiration to tbe best that I could be.
What was it like growing in Harlem?
It was different, man. A lotta kids was doing what they had to do, playing around and not doing music, so I came in there doing music. I used to have the parties jumping, little freestyles and all that stuff. Hear that shit out the window. I used to be the number one guy, but I was too young to really comprehend what I was going through, cos I was just stretching out. But I was nice though! [laughs] (more…)
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.
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. (more…)
Finally, we have an entry into the Gentrification Rap genre! Interesting to note that Droog seems to share the same singing voice as the little homey as well. Produced by DJ Skizz, from the Kinison EP.
This morning I had a quick chat with DJ, producer and record collector Freddy Fresh about B-Boy Records, Breakbeat Lenny, The Rap Records book and the correct storage of 45’s. Freddy’s latest album, Play The Music, is out this March.
Robbie: How did you get involved in remixing a track for BDP’s Man and His Music album?
Freddy Fresh: That was ‘88. My first recorded work was that remix with one button pause switching and broken turntables. That was me hanging out at the offices in the South Bronx of B-Boy Records. The plaque on the Criminal Minded album – there’s a plaque between Kris and Scott – I made that plaque. If you look at the back of the album it says, ‘Freddy Fresh, thanks for the plaque.’ I got name-checked on a lot of those albums – Public Enemy thanked me, MC Lyte, Audio Two – all those guys said ‘thanks Freddy Fresh’ on their album, because I was engraving name plates and sending them out to my favorite hip-hop artists in the Bronx and Brooklyn and stuff in 1985, 6 and 7. (more…)
Kid Rap became a fad in the early 90’s, but youngsters rapping has been going on since the beginning of hip-hop. Matter of fact, some of them had more to offer than shaved heads and shouted choruses. Tragedy and LL were sonning their peers back when they were 14 and 16, respectively. Meanwhile, Jeff from the De La Soul skits never made an album while those Quo clowns got Redman and Aaron Hall features on their album. Where’s the justice? (more…)
The following are a collection of remixes that where perhaps only an extra horn, new drums or a rearrangement of the samples differentiates them from the original version, but they’re still significantly better. You could add most of the 80’s Cold Chillin’ 12: mixes to this list, natch.