A Hip Hop Commentary


In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I think all of us who are involved or down for Hip Hop should take time out and give thanks to all those who gave us the music, the culture and the game. For example we all owe a bit of gratitude to pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa and his Universal Zulu Nation. Here's a guy who came out of New York's ruthless gang culture and succeeded in creating something positive when there was so much negativity around. He took former gang members put them under one umbrella known as Zulu Nation and over the years brought this group not only to their recently celebrated 25th Anniversary but made them a household name in Hip Hop circles all around the world. There are now over 10 thousand Zulu Nation Members world wide and chapters in every major city and countries throughout the Planet. The Zulu's who used to vehemently guard turf now guard Hip Hop Culture and many of its ideals.

Bam was known as the Master of Records because of his huge vinyl collection and his willingness to expand Hip Hop's musical boundaries. He was the first deejay I ever heard take a Malcolm X or Martin Luther King Speech and play it over a Hip Hop break beat. He was creative enough to take the 'Theme to the Pink Panther' and rock it over Hip Hop drum beats. Bam was the first to really take Hip Hop beyond the boundaries of The Bronx and Harlem's Black and Puerto Rican communities. Bam was the one who made Hip Hop multi-cultural. He was the first to take Hip Hop downtown to New York's trendy village community. He was the first to provide a safe haven for folks outside the community to come up and see what Hip Hop culture was really all about.

He's also the one who gave birth to the Electro-Funk aspect of Hip Hop. He's the one attempted to keep the soul of Black music in particular the funk from being compromised, diluted and watered down during the Age of Disco. Before folks were really up on George Clinton and The P-Funk, Bam was a full fledged Funkateer. Before folks really developed a deep appreciation for James Brown whose music became a major backbone for early Hip Hop, Bam was making records with him.

DJ Afrika Bambaataa was the one who spread the word thus making him Hip Hop's first Ambassador. He was the one who attempted to bridge the generation gap between a resistant older Black community and it's innovative young. He was the first who attempted to provide a positive forum of expression for the local neighborhood thugs. This is the same Bambaataa-The Grandfather of Hip Hop who recently came to the Bay Area to perform at a club with less then 100 people and not one major radio or video station that now makes a living peddling Hip Hop culture bothered to grant him an interview. No one bothered to build directly from his experience and wisdom. This is the same Bambaataa who laid down much of the blue print for Hip Hop but now when his name is mentioned to todays Hip Hopper he/she will arrogantly dismiss Bam and accomplishments and say 'He's Old School'.

Did you play a Bambaataa record this Thanksgiving? Did you give thanks to one of our founding fathers?

We owe thanks to DJ Kool Herc and his Herculoids. For those who don't know the Herculoids was the name given to Herc's monster sound system. It was unrivaled and it was what gave Herc his reputation as a DJ not to be toyed with. He could and would drown you out in any sound battle. It was Herc who was the first to throw huge block parties. These were the parties that people often rhyme about when they talk about going 'back in the days'. Like Bam, Herc was a peace keeper. His legendary block parties brought people from all over. During this time of New York's infamous turf wars, Kool Herc was one of the few that could bring everyone under one roof and make everyone get along. Herc's 25 cent admission price, his Herculoidian sound system and his unique deejaying style was always the feature attraction. Having such a booming system was a hold over from the many deejaying techniques Herc imported from his native Jamaica. In addition, Herc was the first to take two records, find the percussion breakdown [break beats] and extend it indefinitely on two turntables. This technique later became the foundation for Hip Hop's musical expression.

Lastly it was Herc who manifested the old African Oral Tradition by getting on the mic and saying a 'little some'em some'em'. Initially he made shout outs and acknowledgements to people attending the party. This helped keep the peace because it was a way of making folks feel important. No!, Herc didn't rhyme like they do today. But he laid down the ground work for what was to come. We owe thanks to Coke La Rock and Clark Kent who used to roll with Herc. These were Hip Hop's first emcees. They were the ones who not only gave shout outs, announced upcoming events and made celebrities out of all the party goers, but they were among the first to start reciting rhymes on a mic over break beats.

Ironically the technique of rhyming over music was initially attributed to our Jamaican cousins. It was known as toasting. However, the folks in Jamaica got their game from the early Black radio deejays here in the states who were known for their 'gift of gab' and rhyme skillz. Many used to rhyme while introducing songs. Many Jamaicans had opportunities to hear some of these old radio shows due to the fact that the signals which was carried on the AM dial, would bounce down to the islands. It wasn't long before some of these Black radio deejay techniques began to be mimicked by our Jamaican counterparts. By the time Herc hit the streets of New York that old style of deejaying was all but erased from the Black radio stations that were listened to by New York's young people. Radio back then was then undergoing major changes. The concept of of more music less talk was emerging and disco was being shoved down people's throat. A lot of kids were rejecting this music which left a huge void.

Herc's arrival filled that void and in a strange sort of way linked generations. I recall doing a radio interview with Herc about two years ago and he was remarking how he was having a difficult time obtaining free tickets to Hip Hop concerts. He remarked how he would hear NY radio stations boldly claim in their slogans 'This Is where Hip Hop lives' but when, Herc who is often considered to be The Godfather of Hip Hop would call and ask for a pair of tickets to an upcoming 'Hip Hop' event being sponsored by the station, his request would be denied. With Hip Hop being a multi-billion dollar a year business one has to wonder if Herc has even made his first million? With all the rap stars who have made it a point to do major collaborations, who has bothered to invite Kool Herc to bless one of their songs? Public Enemy's Terminator X was the only one I knew of who did this..

So this Thanksgiving lets give props to Kool Herc the Godfather of Hip Hop. More importantly before your son or daughter pops in a cassette of the latest Juvenile or Cash Money song where they talk about 'Bling Bling', make sure they know about DJ Kool Herc.

Lets not overlook Grandmaster Flash. This is the man who perfected the deejaying technique that was started by Herc. This was the man who brought style and showmanship to deejaying. He was the first to really elevate the art by inventing all sorts of turntable tricks. Flash was the first one I ever saw mix records while turning his back to the audience. He was the one who I first saw do what we now call quick mixing and cutting. Flash, who back in the days was a certified electrician, was also the guy who invented the cross fader that all deejays use to cue up records. Flash was also the first to bring out a drum machine and incorporate it into the mix. Back then it was called The Beat Box. Before Flash hit the scene with his legendary group the Furious Five. He was part of another pioneering crew called the L Brothers. The L stood for Livingston. Within that clan was a young kid who was mentored and taught by Flash name Theodore. It was Flash who passed down the game and gave birth to one of Hip Hop's most colorful and pioneering deejays Grand Wizard Theodore. For those who don't know Theodore is credited with inventing scratching.

Grandmaster Flash was always an attraction. He set the standard for aspiring deejays. When I think back to all the innovative turntable tricks Flash did back in the days and take into account the type of equipment he used, I can only wonder what heights he could've achieved had he had access to today's standard equipment. Back in the 70s Flash didn't have the luxury of today's strong motored Technique 1200s. He didn't have fancy mixers that are designed specifically for turntable acrobatics. What Flash accomplished can only be marveled.

While Flash was a household names, on par with him were his legendary emcees. The Furious Four Emcees and later Five. We're talking about Mr Ness aka Scorpio, Kid Creole, Mele-Mel and Cowboy. Raheem of course came from another Hip Hop pioneering group to whom we owe much gratitude-DJ Breakout And The Funky Four Plus One More. That 'One More' was Sha-Rock who was one of Hip Hop's first female emcees. Back in '78 she was the absolute bomb. Also The Funky Four Plus One More perfected the art of rhyming with an echo chamber. Props to the late great Cowboy who was Grandmaster Flash's first emcee. Back then he set the standard for rockin' parties. He was the one who developed all the popular 'call and response' techniques that are still used to this day. His untimely death some years back was sad indeed and in many ways tragic. For one who gave so much he has not been openly appreciated by many who claim they are down for Hip Hop. Hip Hop owes major gratitude to Cowboy. Thanks should be given to Mele-Mel who back in the days was the absolute best emcee. With his baritone voice, Mele was the one who as he put it, 'had rhymes galore'. He was also among the first to drop relevant social messages in his raps. Who can forget his landmark record 'The Message'? His style and finesse were what many an early emcee strived to achieve.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving lets give props to all the Hip Hop pioneers: The late Disco King Mario, Zulu Queen Lisa Lee who was another pioneering female emcee. We owe thanks to the late Masterdon and his crew The Committee which featured among others a dope female rapper named Pebbly Poo. The late Pumpkin who was Hip Hop's first real producer and original 'funky drummer' is owed some props. We also owe a big thanks to The Crash Crew which featured Mike & Dave, Lashube, the late Darryl C, Mike C, G-Man and Barry B-Stro who wound up doing an appearance on Saturday Nite Live back in '81. Grand Wizard Theodore and The Fantastic Romantic 5, who were rivals to Flash and his crew, The Brother's 3, Pete DJ Jones, the late Grandmaster Flowers, The Force MCs, Infinity Machine, The Disco Twins, Orange Crush Productions which was Russell Simmons' group in his pioneering days, Kurtis Blow who was the first artist signed to a major record label are all owed props. Pioneering djs like Kid Capri, Brucie B and DJ Cordeo should be honored. All you mixtape DJs owe a bit of gratitude to the original Tape Kings who were the first to do mixtapes 'back the days'.

Fab 5 Freddy gets props for more then just Yo! MTV Raps. He was a key architect in the early Brooklyn Hip Hop scene. Other pioneers we owe thanks to include; Spoonie G and The Treacherous Three which included Kool Moe Dee, Eddie Cheeba and The Cheeba Crew, Chief Rocker Busy Bee Starski, Lovebug Starski, The Mercedes Ladies, DJ Hollywood, Force MCs, Jazzy Jay and Afrika Islam for doing the first Hip Hop radio show called Zulu Beats. DJ Red Alert who just celebrated his birthday is due props as he's been putting Hip Hop down almost since the beginning. . We can't forget Mr Magic and of course The Cold Crush Brothers featuring one of Hip Hop's best, the legendary Grandmaster Caz. The Cold Crush epitomized the art of harmonizing and developing routines. Their 'Cats In the Cradle' routine is still a Hip Hop classic. They also sported DJ Charlie Chase one of Hip Hop's more visible Latinos. We would be remiss if we didn't cite Sugar Hill Gang for putting out the genre's second rap record. The first was put out by King Tem III OIt was called 'Personality Jock' and was on the flipside of Fatback band record. This record harked back to the old school Black radio deejay days. People's first introduction to Rap music was through Sugar Hill Gang. They also hold the dubious distinction of changing the name from emceeing or rhyming to rap These are just a few of the many pioneers who put it down for us. I haven't even hit on the whole dancing and graf aspects of Hip Hop culture.

Here out west we owe a great deal of gratitude to Egyptian Lover and Uncle Jamms Army. They were among the first to go out and have their own independent artist owned Hip Hop label. They were the west coast equivalent to DJ Kool Herc as they used to throw some legendary 'block' parties at local roller rinks, the LA Coliseum, The Sports Arena and Pasadena Civic Auditorium. In addition to all this they used to host concerts where they created a forum for all the upcoming artist of the day. Their reign went from the late 70s all the way into the mid 80s where they would be broadcasted live on Hip Hop's first commercial radio station KDAY 1580 am.

One of the first places folks out west got a chance to see Run DMC was at an Uncle Jamms Party. Ice T was the first to make the bi-coastal connection when he hooked with DJ Afrika Islam of the Zulu Nation. He even formed a bi-coastal group featuring himself, Mele-Mel and Bronx Style Bob called the Zulu Kings. Mixmaster Spade, DJ Unknown and The World Class Wrecking Crew all put it down for early Hip Hop here in the west. We can't forget Chris The Glove who still produces tracks to this day. DJs like Tony G, Julio G, Emcee O, M-Walk , Joe Cooley and the entire KDAY Mixmasters squad deserve our thanks. Remember KDAY 1580 was the nation's first commercial Hip Hop radio station. We owe much thanks to former program director and air personality Greg Mack. Folks like Toddy Tee and Captain Rapp were the first to drop socially conscious messages here on the West. Remember the song 'Batter Ram' where Toddy brought attention to LA's notorious crack scene and the LA police department's' outrageous response which was to bulldoze crack houses with a tank? Captain Rapp had the west coast equivalent to 'The Message' with the classic tune 'I Can't Stand It [Bad Times]'. Of course we all owe thanks to producer Rich Carson and some of the early Electro-funk he laid down with groups like Formula IV and their classic song 'Killer Groove'. Thanks must be given to west coast pioneers The LA Dream Team featuring the late Rudy Pardee. How could we ever forget songs like 'Rockberry'. Thanks go out to The Arabian Prince who was putting it down in the early 80s. A bit of gratitude is owed to that big baller King Tee and others like Rodney O and General Jeff to name a few.

Further up North in the Bay Area, pioneers like Too Short and Freddy B are to be given their due. They embraced the pioneering spirit of ownership and entrepreneurialism. They used to go around and sell homemade tapes on the back of buses and out the trunk of cars. And like the Hip Hop pioneers in New York, they too went around and performed at neighborhood block parties and community centers. Short also used to make custom made tapes for all the local shot callers and big ballers. Short with his record setting eleven albums laid down the blue print for other West Coast artist who went on to own labels. Other pioneers like MC Hammer and E-40 with his original group MVP [Most Valuable Players] built upon this model and added some crucial ingredients and ground work to this whole entrepreneurial scene. Other artists who put it down include Timex Social Club, Silky C, and Hollywood, Coughnut of IMP, Hugh E MC, Saleem, Dangerous Dame, MC Ant and Chill EB who went on to do some popular Sega commercials. Guys like One Take Jake and the members the group Basshouse Funk were among the early white kids putting it down for Hip Hop. Again this is going back to to the early 80s. People like Khayree, Al Eaton, Ant Banks, Alex Hill, DJ EFX and CJ Flash were among the early Hip Hop producers. Sway & King Tech of the internationally syndicated Wake Up Show were early Bay Area pioneers. A lot of people don't know that Tech was deeply involved in the early west coast break dance scene. In fact he was an original member of the SF Ballet Breakers which formed in '82-'83. On the radio front DJs like Kevvy Kev on Stanford's KZSU, and KK Baby, Marcus Clemmons, La Baron and Rappin' 4Tay's manager Frankie J were spinning Hip Hop beats and putting it down for Hip Hop as far back as ' 79-'80 on 89.5 KPOO. The whole radio aspect evolved and the end result was the formation of the Bay Area Hip Hop Coalition.

All in all, we who are down with Hip Hop owe a bit of gratitude to those who came before us. Many us make a comfortable living off the culture laid down by Hip Hop's pioneers-many of whom are still around. Like the creators of blues and Rock-n-Roll from several generations before, many of these pioneers do not share the windfall of profits that Hip Hop has generated. Sure, we have a few success stories we can point to like Russell Simmons or Andre Harrell who was with the pioneering group Dr Jeckyl and Mr Hyde. We can point too an Ice T, Too Short or E-40 and see that they're doing ok.. But the overwhelming majority of folks who initially put it down are all but forgotten and in many cases disrespected. Far too many us are arrogant when we state that such individuals 'had their day'. The problem with such sentiments is that we often forget that we have been able to avoid many pitfalls that have hindered our pioneers by learning from their mistakes. Let us not forget or take for granted the trailblazers of Hip Hop culture. Lets give thanks to all who came before us..and put it down. It's only to our advantage to know and appreciate our roots.

written by
Davey D
c 1999

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