It was 20 Years Ago Today Part 1

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It was two years or so after my mother, two brothers, and I moved to this fine country of green grassed suburbs, big food, grand billboards and all the other curious mysteries we only heard of in the land of Israel. Israel in the 1980’s and early 1990’s was still a backwater country where culture was lacking, or ten years behind. We started watching shows like Dallas way after the world found out who shot JR, who ever he is?!? However, as back-country as we were we still had an advantage over our Israeli peers, and that was our American cultural DNA. Having been born to American parents, and a father who was a touring musician, gave us a limitless taste for music, especially American, and to a lesser extent English music. Unfortunately this meant that our love for Israeli music is close to non-existent except for a song or two that rang loud during our childhoods in Tel-Aviv. This changed during the heaviest period for my parents which was the first Gulf War, which became the backdrop to their bitter break-up and later divorce. However, the move opened my eyes to the full access of music, films, and all other cultural curiosities. Instead of being the boy outside, I infiltrated the secret. This secret was American music.

The first sounds that crept up in my bones were the heavy buzz guitars of Guns N Roses, Metallica, Green Day, and of course the band that caught my ear, and my older brother’s who copped their single from a nice Dutch lady in Israel. Nirvana’s music spoke volumes to me even though my American angst had to grow from inside as opposed to growing up with it in the United States. But this was it. This was my future, and like Paul McCartney feared before he took his first hit of LSD I would forever be changed.

We moved to the United States 22 years ago, but 20 years ago is when I really began to notice the music wafting like plumes of smoke, no pun intended, out of my brother’s room. The early part of 1994 saw the release of many classic albums, as well as debuts and re-issues that expanded my musical pallet. One of the first albums, actually in the form of an EP, that caught me was Alice in Chains’ Jar of Flies. What struck me the most was the beauty of the song “Stay Away,” which has an interesting video to match. It’s a beautiful tune, yet the video shows this brooding nemesis of a kid who unleashes the fury causing many of the innocent looking circus performers to folly and be killed. Of course th best part is that he unleashes the fury by unscrewing the top of…..a jar of flies.

Another great album that shook me to the core, due to its bombastic delivery of Punk, was Green Day’s Dookie. Although not their first, as the corrupt hands of the Rock and Roll Hall of Shame pointed out by including them in this year’s roster? Really? It was 1994 where they literally blew up because the album was a thrust of white lightning akin to the likes of the Clash. Billy Joe Armstrong was channeling the bite of the Ramones with the satire of the Clash and the delivery of the Damned. This was all compacted together by his, and the band’s, roots in the west coast punk scene, which was afar cry from the east coast version that travels at the speed of light. Of course anyone who was my age in 1994, the ripe ol’ age of 13, remembers that the first single for the album, as well as their first video, was for their song “Longview.”

It so simple as it begins with a slow drum pace with the bass hitting a few chords to compliment the beat. It then rises into the upper levels of noise as Billy sings about the boring monotony of life. I identified with this so well living in the white trash suburbs of New Haven, in the lovely state of Connecticut. He says it all in the chorus pleading for someone or something to take him away, as he beats himself into complicity. It’s all about that lack of contact felt in the dawn of alienation that we call Generation X. The nail hits its head into the coffin when Billy sings that his mon told him to get a job, but she hates the one she has. He then tragically laments that masturbation’s lost its fun and I’m………..

On March 8th in 1994 two very strong and very different albums emerged that blew my mind away, Nine Inch Nail’s The Downward Spiral and GangStarr’s Hard to Earn. Each was a menace of a powerhouse in its own way. They can be seen as opposite sides of the same coin as both the groups, one headed by Trent Rezner, and the other by Guru (Although DJ Premier played a pivotal role). One shows you the underbelly of society through the use of industrial sounds and crashing landscapes of sound.

The other is vividly similar by portraying the underbelly of life on the streets corners, tenement buildings in the projects, dingy subway underground, parks with the odd characters, and shoot outs in East New York, also known as Brooklyn, AKA The Planet.

Although the backgrounds, origins, and treading grounds of these artists were very different, they both existed on the same plain. They existed on the plain where my ear, as well as my brothers and friend’s ears, could create a connective tissue. They both spoke of desolation and a longing for upliftment from their current situation. Whether is was physical, as for GangStarr, or metaphysical, as for NIN, they both spoke the same words of poetry to me and my jilted generation.

There were many more ventures into the musical realm that year that caught my ear, and eyes thanks to MTV still playing mostly music at that point. I can never forget, as most lads my age, the first CD I ever bought. It was Soungarden’s amazing Superunknown. All I remember is asking my mother to pick it up for me, and as she handed it to me all I could do was gaze at the cover.

It was a bizarre mystery. Was that the lead singer Chris Cornell belting out another ghastly scream of beauty, as he’s known for. He seems to hover menacingly over an upside down dark forest. This was some heavy image to some very heavy music. Of course all you youngens who are 32 remember the first single and video for the album, which I still see rummaging through my head to this day.

“Black Hole Sun” could be the anthem of our generation. This is the call of generation X where the darkness is all around us, but we remain to revel as we become apathetic to our surroundings. The video makes it darker as these contorted faces go from smile to dread as the black hole sun sucks their fraudulent asses back to Eisenhower’s America. This is rebellion without the protest, writ large and remains in our hearts and minds. Although this was what the media labeled “Grunge” music it was universally loved. I remember hearing an interview with the Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man and he said that he loves this song so much he bumps it rolling through the 16 – ooooo.

It’s funny because I don;t necessarily recall all the albums, but what I most vividly remember are the videos. MTV did a great job in feeding me a consistency of music, and by 1994 it was a whole mixture which was usually a mixture of the newest rap videos along with the grunge bands, and everyone in between. I can’t forget the first time I saw the Offspring’s video for “Separated,” and I liked that it had a MIddle Eastern flavor with the guitar riffs.

Now that’s energy. Although I should give props to their second video for “Self Esteem,” but this is where it was at. Another great video was from an angry fellow who I never knew of before. I never heard of the punk band Black Flag yet, and all I saw was this ranting, angry guy screaming at me. I wonder if I should trust him?

“Liar” is a great song, and a great piece of poetry as well. It penetrates because he says all the right things that effective liars have said since the dawn of time.

In a past blog post I spoke of some of the now classic rap albums that dropped in 1994. I can wax poetic about Illmatic all day,

But that’s in the past…blog. There were plenty of videos I encountered by groups I had heard of, but never fully formed the interest to pursue any further. That is until I immersed myself in their catalogs while eating up all that they had to offer. Blur, headed by the masterful Damon Albern are one with the release of their album Parklife.

Sonic Youth is another band that took me a while to embrace. However, I remember their video from their 1994 album, which is not one of their best on a whole, Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star.

Unfortunately the g-ds of you tube don’t have the video for the song “Bull in the Heather,” but this 1994 rendition on the David Letterman Show gives it the true Sonic Youth treatment.

There were plenty more hits and videos to go, and I just spanned from January to the beginning of May, so stay tuned for more recaps of the olden days where we went to school, hated being in school, skipped class, walked to the downtown area, and lounged around like the lost youth that we tried to be.

Vive le 1994

Peace

 

Happy New Jew Year!!!

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Happy belated Rosh Hashanah and of course a very spirited Happy New Jew Year! Who would have thought that we would make it this far, but hey 5775 is here. As most of you know, or don’t, Rosh Hashanah was last week, beginning sundown on Wednesday night and into sundown on Friday night, which led right into the blissful mouth of the Sabbath/ Shabbat. So from Wednesday night to Saturday night Jews across the globe, the universe, and in space!!! celebrated by praying, drinking, eating, and drinking some more. Sunday was a fast day so that we can remain grounded in our festivities, because at times when we party we might party too hard. In the Talmud there is a story about two esteemed sages who were close friends enjoying the Purim Holy Day feast. One of them got so hammered that he literally, or is that figuratively!?!, hammered his good buddy the sage to death. The next morning while nursing his hangover he realized what he had done. Feeling overwhelmed with guilt and sadness for his friend, he began to invoke the mysterious and Kabbalistic unknowns in order to revive his buddy. Thankfully for him, and apparently during the Talmudic era (dating 200-800 CE) these sages had immense spiritual and mystical powers, he revived his friend and all was well. The following year on Purim the sage (the killer) invited his buddy over for another exquisite feast full of food and drink. His buddy (the killed) replied kindly that, “maybe this year I’ll take a pass.” We need to ground ourselves amidst the celebration because it is our time of judgment. We are now in the period of the Ten Days of Repentance, or the Ten Days of Tshuva. At this very moment each and every one of us has a book way up there, and our verdicts are being deliberated. Once we reach Friday night and into Saturday night the Gates of Judgement will close and our fates will be sealed for the new year. This is crazy cosmic, but I want to make sure to emphasize the importance of celebration. It is in that vein that I turn to the purity of Rap music, and some rhymes for the New Jew Year!!!

 

The group Jedi Mind Tricks have delved deep into theology, and on one of their tracks they allude to the Shofar, which is blown on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The blast is like a call to arms for all of us to hear and tremble before the mighty sounds of G-d.

Interestingly enough the song, here the video begins with a nomadic sage decrying Christians, begins with the sound of a young boy. The boy is chanting “Ly, Ly,Ly,Ly” etc. For anyone entering a Jewish place of business you always here these saintly chants sung by young boys. The content in these chants is usually liturgy or some passages from a Siddur (Jewish Prayer book) or the Tanach (The books of the Torah, Prophets, and Writings). This without a doubt is a sample of one of these Jewish recordings. The reason I’m including the song is because the great MC Vinnie Paz drops a rhyme about the New Year spitting, “I’m about to blow the fucking horns like it was Rosh Hashanah.” Poignant and to the point comparing blowing up with blowing the Shofar.

Prayer is also a center focus of these days as we add additional prayers to the liturgy. Above is the wall and gate of the Kastoria synagogue located in Greece.

This is near and dear to me because my paternal grandmother’s family came from this town. They moved to Brooklyn, USA in the 1920’s and began to develop the community in the neighborhood of Bensonhurst. I attend the services at time, where my father is the caretaker, and feel this spiritual connection. Prayer connects us all, as today most of the attendants are either of the older generation or the incoming Orthodox Jews leaking in from the Borough Park section one neighborhood over. For the use of prayer I’ll turn to a nice smooth style of rapping by the artist Vulkan the Krusader.

On the track titled “2 Minute Drill” he drops the line spitting that, “U a goner praying on Rosh Hashanah.” Either he’s reflecting on prayer being your last chance on the day of judgment to face his wrath, or he linked it to his next rhyme. No matter. He still shouts out the New Jew Year!

The Wu affiliate and Biblically deep Killah Priest has also commented with his lyrics laced with religious allusions and other outer-worldly experiences.

The song titled “Let Us Pray” he strings us along a flow off the top of his conscious, and/or subconscious. The chorus says it simply, “Let us pray, let us pray, let us pray.” However, amidst all the mashed potatoes of lyrics he spits, “React furiously, Compulsive disorders, Witch torturer, big Torah, Rosh Hashanah.” That’s his version of showing respect and honor for the sacred. He even goes further with his track titled “Covenant.”

On this track he makes a few references to the Jewish Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, along with sprinkles of his towering knowledge of the various religions and their sheer depth. He makes references such as “Also the Book of Life and Book of Death.” This can be compared to the Torah and how Moses, through the divine, tells the Jewish nation that they may choose between life and death. The life is speaking of the life of Torah and its many rays of illuminating light. The death is speaking of the spirit and the soul, and how we may choose spiritual death full of a dark void of emptiness and chance. Killah Priest goes further by telling us that he immerses himself by sitting amongst the sages while drinking in their wisdom. He rhymes that he’s, “Eatin’ figs with the Rabbis, goin’ over the Torah, Lightin’ my Nora’s, Writin’ in waters, send Kosher prayers up to G-d, Yom Kippur – Rosh Hashanah.”

interestingly in the chorus section of this track he likens himself to the Jewish High Priest. The High Priest would be the focus of this time period, especially during the Yom Kippur service, because this would be the only time of year where the priest enters the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant resided. The Ark, just think of the film Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark for a likeness, contained the divine presence or what we call the Shechina. Killa Priest positions himself in this role with the words to his chorus by declaring, “Make way the High Priest enters the Holy of Holies, The Month of Tishri, the Day of Judgement, This is my covenant.” Fascinating how he flips this practice with his name while invoking the customs that occur in the Jewish month of Tishrei!!

This should be a sweet time, but also a rough time for us all to confront our bad juju. This past year’s bad deeds, decisions, actions, etc. should be looked upon with great inspection. However, don’t get too depressed because this should all be balanced with a Torah in one hand and a glass of Wine, Beer, Bourbon, whatever to inebriate and enjoy the season.

Peace and L’Shana Tova

 

 

 

The Hip Hop Family Tree, Volume 2

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History should have the force to slap you smack in the face, seeing your body hit the pavement hard, and then it spits in your eye just when you thought it was safe to look. In my history classes I try to teach history as a full on onslaught onto my student’s senses. History losses some of its brute force when put down to paper, where the writing is so think and dense that any student could get lost. However, there have been new methods of presenting history to the masses which holds both the education quality as well as entertainment value. In the realm of Hip-Hop it is even more pressing to show these new methods of history writing, and even presenting history. Hip-Hop is so tightly bound to our veins at this point that its origins have reached a critical mass of mythology. These stories of the early generation of Hip-Hop innovators are so far fetched, amazing, indecipherable (try to read Russell Simmons or Alonzo Williams’ words), that they can only be shown in a particular form. Many blog posts ago I reviewed the comic/history book written, researched, and illustrated by the great Ed Piskor. The first volume took us back, via the Deloreun’s boost from the flux capacitor, to the late 1970’s and ending in early 1981. For the details please refer back to that review, but for now it’s time to sink our teeth into volume 2!!!

Like the first volume our humble director of traffic, in the guise of Ed Piskor, leads us through these amazingly colorful corridors. He recounst many key events in the history of Hip-Hop, as well as the many fascinating side comments, far-out factoids, and some comedic side notes, as well as one or two tragic. It all begins with the story of Doug E. Fresh and how he was discovered in his native Harlem neighborhood by the one and only rapper by the name of Spoonie Gee. Spoonie, who was Doug E.’s neighbor, according to the story presented shows him his talents, as his beatboxing skills are reinterpreted through the wizardry of comic book wordings. With larger than life lettering you see the “BOOM BOMP, BA-CLICK OOMP!” coming out of Doug E.’s mouth. The entire pages, and its panels, show the skills as they waift through the crowd and eventually get to Spoonie’s uncle, and owner of Enjoy Records, Bobby Robinson.

The book continues to overemphasize the lyrics, by making them loom large over the rest of the cell that is trying to contain these words. Another fine example, displaying the sheer energy of the words, is see through the eyes of Malcolm McLaren being introduced to the Zulu nation in the Bronx River Projects. The words “Zulu Gestapo” loom large, as the cell provides the feel being somewhat askew and distorted. The cells on the page are shaky, which is probably how you felt in the midst of the chaos of dancing and fighting while the speakers are on full blast, shaking your kidneys from side to side. Piskor is trying to show us the energy of these jams, and the magnetically beautiful chaos surrounding these parties.

There are many more references he uses, as well as overlying themes about the music and its culture, as he fills in details of known stories. One theme he uses, through the connection with Rick Rubin and the very young Beastie Boys, is the connection between Rap music and Punk music in the early days. This volume spans from the years 1981 to 1983 where both genres had the same connective tissue of do-it-yourself, while eschewing the conventional sounds. It was Rick Rubin who brought that idea to rap, which would forever change the way artists recorded rap music after Def Jam came into existence. The Punk aesthetic isn’t lost on the readers as Piskor shows us how these worlds collided at times into one.

The Punk aesthetic isn’t lost on the readers as Piskor shows us how these worlds collided at times into one. Other examples of this include the clubs themselves in the downtown Manhattan scene, which included the Hip-Hop heads and the Punks.

 

Piskor is also very aware of the earliest days of Hip-Hop and how DJ’s who would play records would have to play breakbeats as rap wasn’t being recorded yet. Early rap recordings had live instrumentation, akin to the Disco sound, where the performance became obscured by an older form of recording songs. One of the very crucial elemenst to the brith of Hip-Hop is the emphasis on the DJ, and how famous DJ’s like Kool Herc, Flash, and Bambaata dug deep for obscure up tempo songs, or at least a small section of the song that people can dance to. Piskor, being an amazing researcher as well as illustrator, shows this with a quick backstory to one of the most popular songs equated with the era, the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache.” He traces the origins of the song to its creation by Jerry Lordon of the Shadows,

to its later incarnation by the Bongo Band,

how it went into obscurity and remained there until DJ Kool Herc began to play it at his parties. Many groups sampled it for their songs including an instrumental track Grandmaster Flash concocted and released by Sugar Hill Records. This is another example of Hip-Hop culture’s far reach into the past, and not necessarily an exclusively black past, but rather a shared musical past.

He also attempt to show how raw some of these rap groups performances were as opposed to their recorded material. One of the best live performaces of the past, and a dear personal favorite of mine, is Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s live rendition of “Flash to the Beat.” Interestingly enough Piskor shows that they were invited to perform live at the Bronx River Projects by Afrika Bambatta, with the help of a new gizmo Flash recently acquired he called a beat box, but was actually a drum machine. In the book Piskor notes a cloud over Bambaata as he says to himself that he was, “glad I’m recording this…” Here’s a version to listen to,

This is a perfect time capsule showing us how great these guys were when performing live. Apparently, according to Piskor’s account, the tape was leaked (either through theft, commerce, or trading) and circulated throughout New York City. It’s a treasure of a primary source because you hear the call and response between the members of the crew, capturing this moment of time that was lost for good. Piskor wrote it best saying that, “The bootleg (talking about this recording) is a multi-generation duplicate. It’s gritty. You can hear all sorts of residual noise. It’s far from perfect, but it might be one of the greatest snapshots of Hip Hop Before  the music became bis business.” (Page. 34).

I will not recount the stories, cause you should check them out on your own, but Piskor also has a gift in showing many things through these images. Not only are we seeing a story unfold, we’re also seeing other themes and trends that Hip Hop both created, destroyed, or compromised. One of these themes is the generational divide within the African-American community when it came to rap music, both recording and playing it on the radio airwaves. There are many telling scenes speaking of this divide, and even negative attitudes held by the older black generation towards this new music. He cites one of the most popular DJ’s, Frankie “Hollywood” Crocker (Note that DJ Hollywood took his name from Crocker), saying that there was no money in it due to the kids being broke. Another example is the exchange between the Furious Five and a disgruntled baseball player, Willie Stargell, and how he berated them for using nasty language while grabbing themselves onstage.

First the great, and Piskor makes sure to show his immense presence, Melle Mel chimes in saying that that is exactly what they are, while the group all chime in saying (with bold letters) “We Nasty!”

Hip-Hop history has short arcs as well as long arcs spanning years, even decades. The book is very well balanced showing the specific stories happening at that specific time frame, like the creation of the first Hip-Hop film, Wild Style. These little stories form the details about the history of the early years of Hip-Hop, and recorded rap music. However, Piskor also foreshadows stories or begins them and then stops in order to keep the avid fan waiting for the rest of the story. He does this with groups like Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys and how they evolved from scrappy youngsters meeting the people ( or in the case of Run-DMC being related to) who would jump start their careers. Piskor is also not fixated on the east coast as he does the same with up and coming artists, who are just getting their first taste of success, like young Dr. Dre and DJ Yella, and Ice-T. Interestingly enough the end of this volume show us the start of what we know as the group Run-DMC and the start of Dre’s push to the limelight.

Also, speaking of Dre and Run-DMC, Piskor shows us how Run-DMC’s performance in 1983 at the Cali club Eve After Dark influenced Dre immensly. They only performed for ten minutes, but those ten minutes were hard, raw, and packed with stripped down rage. Piskor writes that Dre says that, “I wanna make some street level shit like them dudes.” While Dre was being influenced by Run-DMC, Chuck D. and his mobile DJ group called Spectrum City pop up from time to time. He was briefly featured in volume one, and in volume two we get a sense of the type of music influencing his ears. He was far more politically inclined, as most rap music was far from political, so he gravitated towards these songs. There are not many but Piskor points them out beginning with Brother D with the Collective’s song “How We Gonna Make the Black Nation Rise,” and of course “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, and in this volume the reworking of a Malcolm X speech by the session musicians at Sugar Hill Records. Keith Leblanc, along with Doug Wimbish played over the words of the late Malcolm X. The song faded quickly from the radio, but certain ears heard it. One pair was that of Chuck D.’s, and after seeing how black youth have forgotten Malcolm X he decided to step in and make sure that brothers are gonna work it out.

For all us Hip-Hop history lovers we all know what will happen next. However, I can’t wait for Piskor to guide my vision in that realm.

Peace

#EdPiskor #HipHopFamilyTree2 #HipHopFamilyTree #Apache

 

 

Hip-Hop History 101

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During my research for my last blog post, about the immortal Gangstarr album Hard to Earn,  I happened to come upon some interesting classics. When I wrote on the scene making song “THe Planet” off the Gangstarr album I saw that they sampled “Holy War (Live)” by the rap group called Divine Force. The fact that their name, Divine Force, and the title of the song, “Holy War,” are together is of no coincidence. Once I saw these titles, as well as the label name my biblical alarm bells began to ring and jingle, LL Cool J style. The group was signed to an independent record label owned by the Funky President Melquan, and the name of the label is Yamak-ka Records Inc. It might be a play on certain words, or a reference to an ancient code, or an in-joke that no one will know unless we ask the owner. However, to a simple Jew like myself it was clear that it looked like the yiddish word for Jewish headgear, or as well call it in Hebrew a Kippah.

The song is a live recording of the MC ripping through his routine, with sheer raw energy. However, what caught my ear is what he says by the 1minute and 20 second mark where he rhymes, “Let me snap your fingers all wiggle, scream shout or laugh or just giggle, Shake that body, body, that body, don’t f#%k with me you’ll feel sorry, that’s word, I’m not the herb, understand what I’m saying.” The Wu flag rose high as I realized that this was a line used by Ghostface Killah on the song “Mighty Healthy” from his masterpiece of an album Supreme Clientele. Just take a listen and the words coincide……

Ghostface glides through his words with such skill and razor-sharp precision. Remarkably he drops the same line from the Divine Force track at the 1 minute and 20 second mark, gotta love the spread of history from a track recorded in 1987 to a track recorded in 2000.

Another great record made in the 1980’s is the classic, and heavily sampled, “Buffalo Girls” by Malcolm McLaren. This British ginger Jew had quite an extensive history including managing the New York Dolls in their last throes (that;s their last two weeks to be exact), and would later assemble the iconic English Punk outfit The Sex Pistols. After all of that he remained on the pulse, and close to the newest music and fashions coming out of New York City. He immersed himself in the scene and like most of the other young Jews he felt at ease working with young African-American DJ’s and artists like Afrika Bambaata and the Zulu Nation. The track is a pastiche of early hip-hop beats and sounds, that would be duplicated throughout the decade. The track made by him and the World Famous Supreme Team combines the fresh sounds with this video to the song, which was released in 1982.

The interesting part is the catchy introduction where McLaren hollers out “Buffalo girl go around the outside, around the outside, around the outside…..two buffalo girls go around the outside, around the outside, around the outside.” This line would be used two years later by the World Famous Supreme Team on their hit “Hey DJ,”

where they use the same holler “First Buffalo girl, go around the outside.” However, the words rang very clear when I heard. or rather saw, this by Eminem.

Eminem pays homage to the McLaren line when he holler out in the beginning of the song, “Two trailer park girls go round the outside, round the outside, round the outside.” We just made a historical leap showing that it not only the snippets of music sampled that convey the deep historical roots of Hip-Hop. This is no coincidence as these artists and producers are extremely aware of their musical history. So much so that the great, and production wise criminally underrated, group The Beatnuts dropped on their first EP an intro as an ode to the World Famous Supreme Team.

I also recall the use of specific choruses as a throwback to past artists. One of the most underrated albums, and mastermind producers, that I hold near and dear to this day is Prince Paul’s concept album from back in 1999. It’s an amazing day in the life of a young cat trying to rise up in the game, yet only to be done in by his so-called best friend. The album has many great guest spots, spanning from the heavy Chubb Rock to Biz Markie, and from Kool Keith to Mr. X to the Z Xzibit. One of the best songs is an early phone call to his girlfriend by the name of “The Other Line.”

It’s a great narrative where his girl is caught up again in the repetition of calling out for him from work. As each rapper goes back and forth you feel the stress of the girlfriend as she relents once again. When I first heard it my ear caught the last section where a chorus is sung out by a few guys saying “someone is calling my phone, someone is ringing my bell, someone is ringing my bell, etc.” The past slapped me square in the face as I went searching for that snippet I knew I heard before. It was only after listening to one of my favorite stations, Beatles Radio, where the divine gave me the answer.

Thank you Wings, or Paul McCartney for that matter, just listen to the track and you can draw comparisons.

As I noted earlier, Ghostface Killah brought us back to the Divine Force lyrics, and Ghostdini has a talent in fashioning his songs as a current blast from the past. Very few rappers out there cannot even fathom to feed our eras with both talent and wisdom. The last one I want to focus on is KRS-One, who is one of these grand purveyors of the culture. I want to point to a lesson of his, meaning a track that replicates these lyrics in such a great style. Hear is “Hip Hop vs. Rap.”

KRS starts out by giving us, the listeners some time to feel the beat, sway our heads, and drop a rhyme if we have the time. He then raps about the differences between Hip Hop and Rap, basically Rap being a style and Hip Hop being a true way of life. He then starts flipping beats, but mostly lyrics of classic rap songs of days past. He even cites his own classic “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” and even dropped some mad obscure references that even this historian couldn’t get. He dropped the line “Frisco Disco, the disc is like Nabisco, Chocolate chip cookie, don’t fuck with me rookie,” where he’s speaking of the 1970’s single “Frisco Disco” by the group Eastside Connection. No one might remember how it sounds like, but it’s most famous for being sampled by Slick Rick for his song “Mona Lisa.” By the second half of his lyrics each stance is a replicated series of words, or sayings, by many popular rappers and musicians. If you look down the list he begins with…

“So this DJ, he gets down, Mixing records while they go…” is from Jimmy Spicer’s magnum opus “Adventures of Super Rhyme” from 1980.

“Round and round, round we go…” is from Tupac’s “I Get Around.”

“Two Years ago a friend of mine…” is from Run-DMC’s “Sucker MC’s.”

“And Flash is gonna rock your mind…” is from Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s “Freedom.”

“Welcome to the terror dome, the terror dome…” is from Public Enemy’s “Welcome to the Terrordome.”

“I wonder if I take you home…..” is from Lisa Lisa and the Cult Jam’s “I Wonder If I Take you Home.”

“E-F-F-E-C-T, A cool operator operating correctly….” is from Eric B. & Rakim’s “Microphone Fiend.”

And on and on it goes until he finishes off with “You ain’t fresh, you ain’t fresh, you ain’t,” thanks to the line from The Boogie Boys song “You Ain’t Fresh.”

 

The point made is that for all of its detractors, Hip Hop is the only music where you can literally hear the past come alive, either through a sample or through words. The spoken word is just as powerful, and sampling aside this is another direct line to the griots of Africa. These stories told and retold through repetition, and later reinterpretation, help us listeners, or at least invigorate us, understand the true depth of history in Hip-Hop.

Peace

 

 

 

Twenty Years Ago…Anotha Classic

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Reaching the ripe ol’ age of 33 makes a Hip-Hop scholar nostalgic for the beats of lyrics from the days of yore. As I asserted on my last post, twenty years ago many classic albums in the realm of rap music were unleashed onto the masses. I remember it very well-being an astute listener, thanks to my parents giving me a deep appreciation for music, constantly digging for the great sounds permeating from the various genres that popped off in the 1990’s. Many classic Hip-Hop masterpieces came out in 1994, but this is my journey down memory lane. That’s why I’m bringing you down to my block where we only bang the classic beats laced with the fiery lyrics that used to mean something. One of these classics was the fourth album dropped by the group Gangstarr titled Hard To Earn.

The first time my eyes caught site of the album cover I was mesmerized by the overt redness with the solid chain link surrounding their logo reading GangStarr. The red is so blaring, but I was still fascinated by these two guys, MC Guru and DJ Premier. Once I flipped over the back I knew that this was the crew that no one wanted to fuck with. The menacing look of Jeru, Group Home’s Melachi the Nutcracker and Lil’ Dap, Premier, Guru and the ever-present Big Shug were all staring right at me, and I couldn’t stop staring back. For nostalgia’s sake I made sure to show the cassette version of the fold-out art cause who the fuck was buying CD’s, or afford them for that matter, back in High School? Not me. Once I popped in the tape the sound matched the cover perfectly, like Michael Jackson putting on his rhinestone uni-glove. The title screamed it all in fine print. This is some hard shit, and these guys didn’t play around, but were extremely serious about the music, and the state of affairs. It all starts with that fuzzy background you can only envisage coming from a Brooklyn basement, where the crew is writing rhymes, talking shit, drinking, rolling blunts, as Premier mans the turntables for that next sample to pop off. You then hear the “intro (The First Step)” with an overlying cool, slow, but fierce guitar lick, thanks to the sample from the Weather Report (The group not the news segment), as Guru in his monotone voice tells us what’s in store….

Guru tells it plain, saying that the rap game is not for everyone, and that his demeanor was always true and authentic from his heart. Unfortunately, in the present day everyone thinks they can be rap stars while overloaded with the bullshit. And then we embark on our voyage on the Gangstarr foundation’s charter boat to soulsville. It all begins with Phife Dog’s voice, as they sampled A Tribe Called Quest’s classic song “Check the Rhyme” to let you know that these guys are hard, and extra funky..

It’s all laid down from the start with Guru’s words saying “It’s a long way to go when you don’t know where you’re doing, you don’t know where you’re going when you’re lost.” The words are so solemn and true to the path of all people on this green earth. His words penetrate due to his voice and certainty as he kills the track, while Premier cuts each time as a chorus the words of Q-Tip from the same Tribe song. He also laces it up with samples of Melvin Bliss, Quincy Jones, and Richard Pryor. When I first heard the album this song prepared me for the ensuing onslaught of sheer talent and rugged energy.

The album touches on many themes and ideas as the Guru weaves through various subjects while riding the wave of Premier’s beats. It should be said that DJ Premier should be given credit for embellishing on the Rick Rubin rap song formula of a verse chorus scheme. Primo was tune with this and he sonically added to the songs by making his choruses in line with the great Greek tragedies of the past. On almost every track Guru rhymes and then Premier chides in with his signature scratches and cuts, making his style unique, which has been duplicated since he began doing this back in their first album. He was also in such high demand by the mid-1990’s that they even constructed a skit with the likes of MC Eiht and Nas calling Premier and leaving messages on his answering machine…..of course accompanied by a sick beat….

Another great example of Premier’s skills is the last single off the album titled “Code of the Streets.”

The song, and it’s video, speaks of the evolution of street crime, especially the art of car-jacking. Guru laments, while delivering the story like a news anchor, on the life of black youth in the poverty-stricken ghettos of New York City. The pace is set beautifully with the sturdy beat that reminded me of a James Bond theme throwback. The beat, provided with the samples by Melvin Bliss and Monk Higgins, punctures and the mundane tempo of street life and the street report is made more penetrating with Premier’s cuts with the ping noise.

The album holds a lot of weight where Guru can delve into the more serious and general problems plaguing society twenty years ago, and arguably to this very day, like Gun control. One such song to deal with this is the great ode to guns titled “Tonz O’ Gunz.”

It all begins with the spoken words of Malcolm X decrying American violence, while criticizing the fact that African-Americans were being drafted during the Vietnam War in order to kill people on the other side of the globe. Along with his words you hear a menacing beat resembling a scream as Guru spits that “The state of Affairs is in mad chaos.” He is decrying the proliferation of guns in his inner-city neighborhood, while also decrying the culture of violence in America. It’s prophetic when he says that more gums will come and more will cry.

We all know that this is the album that gave us the engrained classic that are deeply embedded into our childhoods and inner souls….and these are “Mass Appeal”

With its perfect beat, keeping the time as Guru tells us why these guys are the cream of the rap crop,

and the energy-laden “DWYCK” with the helping hand of guests (Greg) Nice and Smooth (B),

…..displaying the far more playful side of this overall heavy album.

There are many more tracks on the album, but I want to point to two of my close and personal favorites, and the first one being the crew laden “Speak Ya Clout” where Guru shares the mic with Group Home’s Lil’ Dap and the amazing Jeru Da Damaja.

To put this track into context we have to realize that it’s sequel to the song off of their previous album Daily Operation titled “I’m the Man.” Unlike the earlier track, where Guru starts it off, Jeru begins with the first verse, and then each gets a specific beat to rhyme on top in tune with each rapper’s personality. It all starts with Jeru, as his words are cut up from his verse from “I’m the Man” as he glides over a hard beat backed by a Weather Repost sample. We then slow down with Lil’ Dap as he gets a funked up beat with the help of mysterious sounds thanks to the Quincy Jones sample. We then glide to the end as Guru wraps it up nicely over a Caesar Frazier sample. They all work well together as Premier waves his magic wand while cutting it all up perfectly for the ear to catch the mashup of samples making this masterpiece of a track.

The last song, and another personal favorite, is a theme that comes up on every Gangstarr album, the beautiful borough of Brooklyn!!!

Even though Guru hailed from Boston, and Premier from Texas, they both focused on Brooklyn as the Gangstarr homestead. It was actually Guru who came first, and then hooked up with Premier, as Gangstarr was originally formed in Boston under Guru’s mantle. It was when he moved to Brooklyn and later hooked up with Premier where we get the official Gangstarr roster. On every Gangstarr album Guru gives us his ode to Brooklyn, and on this album he gives us his most personal and from the heart account of his history in Brooklyn, A/K/A “The Planet.”

It all starts off with a quick snippet of soul thanks to a sample of Taj Mahal’s “The Cuckoo,” and then we go into the serious sounds of the track thanks to some old school samples by the Divine Force and MC Lyte. The song is Guru’s story of leaving home, maturing on his maiden voyage, and always confident that he’ll make it out in B-R-double O – Klyn – The Planet. As he rhymes we follow Guru’s evolution from life in East New York, to the dead-end job, and the journey to become one of the best MC’s of all time. This song is his testament, which spoke volumes to me as I banged this track living in New Haven, CT while dreaming of life in the big city, in Brooklyn, in the Planet. This never left me as I made sure to move to Brooklyn, and make it the only Borough I ever wanted to call home. Many faded nights, lost dreams, happy highs, and shitty lows all came to me in Brooklyn. As his voice fades out with the words “The Planet” I feel that we both experienced our unique life in Brooklyn.

Rest in Peace to one of the greatest of all times….GURU.

Peace

 

 

 

Twenty Years Ago in Hip-Hop Classics

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There have been much, and plenty, of coverage of the twenty-year anniversary of the many triumphant works of art. These classic pieces of music remain timeless as they reach to the next generation, like certain types of music. The year 1994 saw the release of many hip-hop classics that solidified the year as the peak of the golden age of rap. Yes, that might sound naive, but in a way we, readers in their late 20’s spanning to the early 40 year olds, are the generation that saw some of the most multi-faceted releases from the various rappers and rap groups of the day.

For example, 1994 will be immortalized as the debut of the hardest hitting, and still legendary MC by the name of the Notorious BIG….

His name still resonates, but there were other debut albums by the hungry freshman of the class of 1994.

 

Nas, dropped his first and best album the same year, after two famous guest appearances, linking up with some of the most talented producers in order to feed us this…

The album was a sordid journey through the eyes of the many street dwellers expounding the street scenes.

The swath of talent looms large with many other rappers and crews heralding from many parts of the country like Atlanta’s extra-ordinary….

Outkast, who dropped their debut in 1994 titled Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik…..

Chi-Town’s Common, dropping the sense due to the threat of a copyright lawsuit, dropped his second classic album Resurrection

 with its Blue Note record label album cover inspiration the album is a tour-de-force thanks to its producer No.ID and its many great songs, including the hip-hop ode, “I Used to Love H.E.R.”

Many other albums were dropped into our hands, and consumed in large bites like a fine slice of New Haven pizza. But, there is one that fell through the cracks into relative obscurity. In 1994 the Gangsta rap fad was still looming large over the rap world, but there were other genres in hip-hop that provided an alternative. This alternative, which unfortunately has been eaten alive by the corporate hydra of formulaic rap music, provided us with an abundance of differences. One of the sub-rap genres that became popular was the jazz-rap phenomenon, embodied by the use of obscure jazz samples, along with the use of live instrumentation from the classic players themselves, along with a modern approach by using modern day slang. Certain groups like Gangstarr, Guru’s Jazzmatazz albums, A Tribe Called Quest, the Jungle Brothers, De Las Soul, The Roots, and of course the kitschy hit spawned by the group US3, all used these qualities in order to link the past (jazz) with the present and future (hip-hop). To me, and many music scholars, these artists’ albums embodied a timeless quality that was far more connected to the traditional black music than Gangsta or hardcore rap. All these artists have been amazing releasing classic and timeless rap albums, but there is one album that I personally cherish to this day.

However, one of the best albums to come out in 1994, and arguably a classic rap album in the history of the music, is Digable Planets’ sophomore album titled Blowout Comb.

The blissful sounding trio of Butterfly, Doodlebug, and Ladybug are the epitome of the cool Jazz throwback, with that street grime rap music from the early decade of the 1990’s. As many music critics, historians, and ethnomusicologists agree, this is a perfect example of melding Jazz and Hip-Hop music into a perfect product. The traditions lost on most rap music, except for the great sounds of Gangstarr, Guru’s solo albums, A Tribe Called Quest, The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, and US3, can be found on this magnum opus. It provides the listener with the connection of the old and the new, using legendary jazz musicians while focusing on the contemporary issues of inner city life. This all starts with track 1!!!

The quiet is pierced with the horns, followed by the beats of a small drum, and then it hits you with the cool wave under your wings with the opening track titled “The May 4th Movement Starring Doodlebug.” Doodlebug lays down the vibe as we skid into the graces of Brooklyn.

I don’t want to make this a track-by-track analysis, but the next track penetrates the light-hearted mood with a poignant telling of a black man being pulled over by the police.

The song “Black Ego” starts with a mellow sounding vibe, and a complementary vibe thanks to the samples of the Meters “Here Comes the Meterman” and Grant Green’s “Luanna’s Theme.” The start of the song’s smoothness is punctured when Butterfly is pulled over and in a faint speaking sound the officer reads him his right. During the reading of his Miranda rights the officer asks if he understands his rights, then Butterfly stings back with “When did I ever have rights?” Lastly the officer asks if he’ll give up the right to remain silent, and then Butterfly retorts coolly with two words, “Hell Yes.” We then stream into the consciousness of the crew, and their commentary on the fucked up state of affairs with regards to the abuse wielded on black men by this fair land’s law enforcement agencies.

We then ease to the next two tracks that work so well hand in hand that they compliment like bread to butter, peanut butter to jelly, and Jews to Jerusalem!!!

The first track titled “Dog It” starts off with horns as the beat hits with the glow of a sample by Herbie Hancock’s group the Headhunters’ titled “God Make Me Funky.” Each one of the MC’s play off each other and play with the slow drum beat conjuring the connections to past black music as Ladybug conjures Marvin (Gaye), Sly (Stone), and Cube (Ice that is) folding time and black music into the track. Once it ends it drops right into…….”Jettin”

It continues the party vibe, as we transport into the fairy tale land of Brooklyn, and you can feel the movement as Ladybug’s vocals go from ear-to-ear in your headphones. We ease back and keep our eyes set on the sunset as the track fades into a freestyle…

This is that Brooklyn shit…Block party, Corner Store, Barber shops, this freestyle and the follow-up song are testaments to the aura and mystery of Brooklyn. Of course what made the track titled “Borough Check” even more authentic is the guest appearance of MC Guru (RIP – Z’L) from the legendary group Gangstarr. This is poignant as he is another great source of the Jazz and Hip-Hop merger, and being a Brooklyn-phile he always had a few tracks on his albums that tell his stories of Brooklyn living.

We next get a small vignette of sounds and smoothness in “Highing Fly,” which has a spread of mystical wording flying 30,000 miles above the earth……crazy commentary.

We then get an intro beat sounding like a murder mystery introduction along with the ominous beats and piano licks. This piano lick and slow and steady beat comes from the group Tavares; song titled “Bad Times” and complimented funkily with the use of a sample from Eddie Harris’s classic “Get On Up and Dance.”

The song, bizarrely, titled “Dial 7 (Axioms of Creamy Spies/NY 21 Theme” is as smooth as they come due to the low octave chorus that starts off the singing part of the track.

The next track flies us out to India with the great sitar licks accompanying the slow and steady Jazz beats.

The Sitar plays over a smooth sample of Bobbi Humphrey’s “Black & Blues,” which was also used on two great tracks from the pre-MF Doom group KMD titled “Plumskinzz. (Loose Hoe, God & Cupid)” where Doom (or Zev Love X as he was called then) took the mic, and then on the reprise of the track titled “Plumskinzz. (Oh No I Don’t Believe IT!)” where his brother Subroc (RIP – Z’L) took the mic. It should also be noted that on the Digable Planets version Guru returns with his call for meditations in a classic call-and response format.

We then get a small snippet of the later track titled “9th Wonder,” but with a more instrumental flair. The track, “K.B.’s Alley (Mood Dudes Groove),” incorporates some of these legendary jazz players along a steady back beat along with a sample of things to come.

We then troop back to the elements of Hip-Hop, this one being “Graffiti.”

Along with two of their Brooklyn peers, the amazing Jeru the Damaja and his disciple Afu Ra, the group troops over a faster beat backed by a sample of Roy Ayers’s “Slow Motion.”

We then reach the magnum opus titled “9th Wonder (Blackitolism),” which had a companion video made, and take note of the cool orange ten-shekels note where the great Golda Meir graces its front facade.

This song is packed with the messages espoused throughout the album ranging widely from the 7 and a Crescent, and allusion to the Five Percent Nation (an offshoot of the NOI), Nation of Islam preaching, Brooklyn street life, the block party vibe, and chuck full of hip-hop history thanks to the sign, seal, and delivery made at the end with DJ Jazzy Joyce. The historical use of early rap samples is evident in their use of samples by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, The JB’s, and James Brown. These samples span the history of hip-hop from one of the original rap groups to two of the major sources for sampling drum breaks (at least in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.)

We then end on the corner, “For Corners” that is…

This is the supreme comedown, as you look over the sun rising and the LSD tab you ingested twelve hours earlier is finally wearing off, as you awake in a third floor Brooklyn apartment and ready to walk the day out, as we take stock of this fine masterpiece, Blowout Comb.

Much Love to you, Brooklyn and to my brothers in Israel, Peace!!!

 

#DigablePlanets #BlowoutComb

 

 

 

From Paris with Love, and Hip-Hop

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Oh the beauty of the Paris landscape runs through the mind when thinking of romance. France, being the cultural capital of the world beginning centuries ago, has still retained its love and joy through its amazing culture and people. I know that as a Jew France has suffered in the hands of the extremists, with the killings of Jews, including children, by vile creatures rising from the muck of anger and hatred. Still, France has many unearthed treasures, and one of these treasures is the amazingly talented, and beautiful Sophie Bramly.

Born in Tunisia, a lavish North African country that has maintained its Jewish population, she was whisked away by her parents to the land of France by the age of one. At the time of her parent’s move France was far more hostile to visible Jews, so her parents hid their traditions. However, like the pull that keeps us grounded to our roots she currently lives in the heart of the Jewish section of Paris. She told me that it was these amazing sounds of black music that fascinated her from a very young age. She was influenced by her older brother’s record collection of funk, soul and r&b, as well as attending concerts in order to make her brother look a bit cooler to the girlies. However, the music gave her a wave of sensation that made her interested in hearing more. This led her to the land of New York City in 1981, with a camera in hand.

She was amazed by these poor kids who were having fun while creating new ways to enjoy the older music. The influence wasn’t lost as she rode the iron horse all through the banging boroughs of New York City, and sniffing out the many venues pumping this new style of music.

She took many photos of the era, which have been displayed in museums across the world, chronicling the culture in it’s every day walk….

Showing the people who were involved, yet are buried in the annals of hip-hop history with no clear rhyme or reason…

She befriended some of the pioneers from Flash to Bam, from Zephyr to Futura, from Grandmaster DST to Fab Five Freddy, and beyond. Fab Five Freddy was championing the culture through the art as the murals on trains ended up in galleries. He also wanted to help spread the culture visually to the masses through the new medium we all know very well to this day, MTV.

From its beginning MTV was very white, refusing to show any videos by black artists. If you did (meaning Michael Jackson or Prince) they would be buried in hours and hours of Wang Chung, Duran Duran, and other modern love fodder of the 1980’s. Rap videos have been made since the late 1970’s (think Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s video for “The Message”), yet they were all shown locally within their neighborhoods, and communities. One example was the Video Music Box where you would order your favorite videos. However, most of the teens in everyday suburb USA never saw these videos. This all led to the creation of Yo! MTV Raps, not in the US but in Europe. And, who would host such a show? Ms. Bramly.

Due to her many connections and relationships she was tapped to host a rap video show, based out of MTV Europe in their London studios. Her, and an American Jewish producer by the name of Joel Klein, hashed out the details of the show together. She told me that at that particular time Public Enemy’s first album Yo! Bum Rush the Show, was huge and they couldn’t stop listening to Mr. Chuck and company’s debut effort.

As a play on the title her and Klein would address each other every day by one shouting “Yo!” and the other replying “Bum Rush the Show.” Naturally the word stuck and before you knew it the first rap video show was called Yo! The MTV raps part was added by their American counterpart when they began a year later in the summer of 1988. Bramly was the first to coin the phrase for MTV, but she was also the first to host this type of show.

When she first began hosting the show her friends would call from the US in astonishment that MTV started this, and in Europe. Meanwhile MTV America was playing it safe, until Ted Demme pushed it on them by 1988. However, there were some glaring differences between the two shows. Sophie’s show was far more international bringing rappers and crews from the United States, as well as from other parts of the world. She interviewed French, English, and many other rappers from across the globe, who were never exposed to an American audience. The American version of Yo! MTV Raps was very American-centric eschewing most of the European artists.

Unfortunately the European show did not last as long, being cancelled by the early 1990’s, as MTV didn’t want any inner competition. By consolidating their shows they cut off the European link. Still, they survived and Bramly persevered. This was the untold story where Bramly deserves credit as the first real host of Yo! MTV Raps. This lovely Jewish lady was inclined to push the culture, and its amazing music. She also has amazing photos that are classic and timeless hip-hop masterpieces.

Enjoy the show and much respect for Sophie Bramly!!!

Peace