MONDAY, AUGUST 10, 2015
WEEK 32: OLD SKOOL HIP HOP
In the annals of hip hop history, the first rap record is always listed as the false start of an insignificant Fatback B side, even though it was ‘Rappers Delight’ that announced raps true arrival. A massively important record in every sense, in truth it was a cynical, opportunistic cash in of an essential, vibrant, freeform street culture that had been permeating the ghettos and projects of New York since the mid-seventies. Pioneered by young black kids from the South Bronx talking in rhyme over the instrumental bits and pieces of popular dance records, raps true ancestry lay within the sound system’s and toasting of reggae. That connection had been made a decade before by hip hops founding father Kool Herc when his family relocated to New York from Jamaica.
‘Rappers Delight’ may have been an inauthentic fabrication but nonetheless it still became a massive international hit. Unfortunately it also defined rap as being little more than a novelty, early singles like ‘Love Rap’ and ‘The Breaks’ merely confirming that first impression. Not only did the records sound far too similar, the content rarely strayed from ridiculous cartoon rhymes about girls, money and bigging up the DJ. These days the likes of Spoonie G and Kurtis Blow are fondly remembered but at the time they were considered mediocre, even boring. But then came two records that would change that perception literally overnight.
‘The Message’ was the big bang that blew away raps cartoon vibe in seven glorious minutes. With Duke Bootee’s intimate portrait of late seventies New York ghetto life and a squelchy synth riff now burnt into the collective pop consciousness, it was hip hop's first overtly political expression. And as if that wasn’t enough, despite being a very different type of record, Afrika Bambaataa’s ‘Planet Rock’ underlined hip hops artistic credibility. Mixing his creative vision with a healthy dose of happenstance, within its Kraftwerk sampling, futuristic pulse lay the musical DNA that would create electro and give hip hop the confidence to be whatever it wanted to be rather than the pop fluff it was in danger of becoming.
After two such daunting records it was understandable when hip hop lost its way momentarily. Apart from Rammellzee’s abstract ‘Beat Bop’ and the presence of strong, independent women like Roxanne Shante, all too often MC’s rhymes were still riddled with dodgy misogyny, idle boasts and threats rather than dog eat dog struggle. In fact, even as late as 1985, hip hop was still being perceived as not so much a passing fad as a passed fad. What finally flipped it around and made it so hugely happening was the influence of a white, Jewish, hard rock fan on his young label charges and a nasty bastard from Philadelphia called Schooly D.
Aided and abetted by Rick Rubin, Run DMC and LLCool J changed the sound, style and attitude of rap in a matter of months, their records little more than voices rhyming roughly over a pounding beat box and the odd classic rock riff. Hip hop was revealed as the new rock’n’roll, an image that improved dramatically when the old skool’s preoccupation with Village People kitsch was ditched in favour of real street style. As for the now forgotten Schooly D, his malevolent sexist slur remained underground but it did signpost an altogether more dangerous form to be explored at a later date. The novelty days were over. Hip hop was no longer entertainment. It was street warfare!
01 FATBACK ‘King Tim III (Personality Jock)’ (B Side July 1979)
02 SUGARHILL GANG ‘Rapper’s Delight’ (A Side August 1979)
03 SPOONIE G & THE TREACHEROUS THREE ‘Love Rap’ (A Side March 1980)
04 KURTIS BLOW ‘The Breaks’ (A Side August 1980)
05 T-SKI VALLEY ‘Catch The Beat’ (A Side May 1981)
06 AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE SOUL SONIC FORCE ‘Planet Rock’ (A Side April 1982)
07 GRANDMASTER FLASH & THE FURIOUS FIVE ‘The Message’ (A Side May 1982)
08 RAMMELLZEE VERSUS K ROB ‘Beat Bop’ (A Side April 1983)
09 RUN DMC ‘It’s Like That’ (A Side November 1983)
10 ROXANNE SHANTE ‘Roxanne’s Revenge’ (A Side March 1984)
11 LL COOL J ‘I Need A Beat’ (A Side October 1984)
12 T-LA ROCK & JAZZY JAY ‘It’s Yours’ (A Side November 1984)
13 DOUG E FRESH & THE GET FRESH CREW ‘The Show’ (A Side October 1985)
14 SCHOOLY D ‘PSK What Does It Mean?’ (Schooly D EP November 1985)