Top 5 Craziest, off the wall MC’s

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Oh insanity!!! We all think we’re sane, but then when poked and prodded by mad doctors, you get the feeling that it might be you who is in fact insane. One of the best lines on insanity was uttered by one of the greatest and most eccentric artists, Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd fame, before Roger Waters went shmorgesboard all over Israel and it’s dastardly deeds.

Syd is one of the founding members of Pink Floyd and he wrote almost all their early hits, and misses until he took the acid thing too far. However, in an interview with Roger Waters he recalled that a psychiatrist noted to Syd that he has a mental issue. Syd retorted by saying, well maybe it’s the world that’s truly insane! or that maybe this is your issue, but not mine! Unfortunately Syd had little output after releasing two solo albums, and plenty of bootlegs and unreleased material. He slowly dove deep into the dark corners of his mind, and wasn’t seen from again, until 1975 when he traumatized his ex-band members during their recording of, ironically, Wish You Were Here. Syd remains quite an inspiration, not only to rockers but to certain hip-hop heads as well. Just check Edan’s first album, Primitive Plus. Inside the album there’s a sheet with faces of inspiration ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Just-Ice, and right smack in the middle is Syd Barrett. So, in honor of Syd and insanity here’s my list of the top 5, with an honorable 6th man, craziest off the wall MC’s in the history of Hip-Hop.

 

#5 – Kool Keith – Kool Keith is known by many different names, and is so diverse in his world that you can catch him watching a baseball game in the Bronx while eating pink cotton candy and sporting a green speedo, or catch him at the strip club in L.A. giving out free baggies of fried chicken, HiC juice, and a wet nap (I managed to catch one at a show in New Haven’s Toad’s Place). We all first heard him on wax along with his critically acclaimed group the Ultramagnetic MC’s whose style was both spacey and fully confrontational. Keith, who has made a residence in many places, including Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric ward, takes on, or has discussions with all his inner voices that come out as full-fledged characters, with such diversity and pomp. He’s brought us to the bleak experiments he conducts in a subterranean hospital in the guise of the evil Dr. Octagon,

He’s taken us through the bizarre ride of his sexual fetishes and porn obsessed mind as Kool Keith,

He’s taken us to the nether regions of sexual space in the guise of Black Elvis,

He’s teamed up with Motion Man, and the great beat maker Kutmasta Kurt to become a cartoon Master of Illusion,

He’s made a funny live action video as the Bushman,

and that’s just the tip of his Ice-burg (no pun intended). He has many more characters locked in his head, and we hear their words from time to time. He also hasn’t slowed down on creating, as well as talking smack about the rap game as he does on the song and video “Goodbye Rap,” as his ode to the culture and how it changed. Interestingly enough he also talks smack about the old methods and notions of the rap game.

Keep up the crazy critique Keith.

 

#4 – Rammellzee – This is the original (OG) crazy man of Hip-Hop. He also hung out with another eccentric artist who was big in the 1980’s by the name of Jean-Michel Basquiat,

and he should be considered one of the first Hip-Hop renaissance men. He mostly stuck to graffiti and other visual art forms, but he also recorded one of the most iconic songs in rap music, “Beat Bop.”

There is so much going on in this collage of sounds as we hear the dialogue between a teen, thanks to the young K-Rob, and a drug dealer voiced by Rammellzee. Rammellzee also has such a distinct style of rapping about the life of drugs, while he also uses non-sensical words while streaming them along with the beat. This is considered one of the first alternative and far from conventional rap songs ever released. The single’s artwork was done by Basquiat and to date is the most coveted item among rap’s historical artifacts. Rammellzee continued to record some music, produce art works, and kept his manic appearances bizarre as always, while pushing the limits through his art using language as design, while providing the basis for what he termed AfroFuturism.

Unfortunately he passed away in his home in Queens in 2010. However, his influence as well as the influence of “Beat Bop” could never be downplayed, and is still reverberating through space. His spacey apocalyptic visions on wax have influenced rap outfits like the Anti-Pop Consortium, and El-P, and the song has been sampled by the Beastie Boys on two separate occasions. RIP, Z’L and now you’re in and with the stars!

 

#3 MF Doom – Like Kool Keith, Doom takes on the many personalities lurking in his head, behind the eyes, and below his cerebral cortex. However, unlike Keith who was born with his instability, Doom took on his persona much like the comic hero he emulates. Doom came from the ashes of tragedy and trauma, hence his style is so unhinged, and unbound by the human ear. Originally part of the group KMD along with his younger brother, the group released a solid debut album, only to have their second album shelved due to controversy. During that time period his brother, Subroc, was hit and killed by a car. This caused Doom, who was known as Zev Luv X at the time, to go underground for a few years while immersing himself in Jazz, and other music, as well as beer and the sounds of his brain talking back. What came out of this underground was MF Doom, dropping the comic book style debut Operation: Doomsday! 

The beats were solid and full of old comic book Saturday morning cartoon dialogue along with funk breaks and samples. However, it wasn’t only the music, but the words that he spits a mile a minute.

Just dropping lines like “On the slow-mo the calm artist with the so-so chick, Chased them all like how he did to Slobodan Milosevic.” Bizarre, but poignant at the same time. Also like Keith he’s taken on various characters in order to embellish on other aspects of his erratic personality. Whether it be one f the two albums under the name Viktor Vaughn, reaching to the darkest recesses of an evil doer,

Or under the guise of his city crushing monster Island czar, King Geedorah,

Or his amazing collaboration with the beat-smith extraordinaire Madlib as the Madvillian,

Or dropping the MF and leaving the Doom on his insanely underrated album Born Like This,

Or most recently adding the letters JJ, hence JJ Doom, and in this case the JJ belongs to the producer Jneiro Jarel on his last solo album Key to the Kuffs,

Most recently Doom has been mentoring an up-and-coming MC by the name of Bishop Nehru, and who knows what’s next for the man behind the mask. We’re still waiting patiently for the second Madvillian album, as well as the mythical collaboration with Ghostface Killah. But he might drop a solo out of nowhere, including supplying beats for a countless stable of MC’s. The question is, what’s next in the mind of this amazingly original MC?

 

#2 – Ol’ Dirty Bastard – The man, the myth, the father of all styles that has no father to his styles. Much can be said, written, and insinuated about the man we call Ol’ Dirty, or any other name from Dirt McGirt to Asun Unique. Like most of us the first time I heard him was on the debut album by the Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the 36 Chambers. Dirty, along with his cousins the RZA and the GZA were the original founding members of the Wu. Once they branched out by bringing in other members his style still remained oft kilter and unique. Each member of the Wu-Tang has such a distinct voice, personality, and character, but his was truly unique and insane in its own way. He would rap off-key while bellowing out tunes as he rapped over that. On the song “Da Mystery of Chessboxin'” he belts out that he gets “low like Jacques Cousteau,”

He gets far more ruthless and raw on “Shame on a Nigga,” belting out, “Shame on a nigga who tried to run game on a nigga,”

His debut solo album is chock full of that spontaneous spitting while singing, and all packed with pure raw emotional energy and grit. He glides and slides from a party anthem like the song “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,”

Combining that 1970’s Soul Train cool  tinted with James Brown performance, with the bizarre ghetto I don’t give a shit style by wearing nothing but boxer shorts. This grit is displayed further in his amazingly dilapidated Brooklyn anthem, “Brooklyn Zoo.”

This is one of the greatest ghetto anthems full of gold vampire fronts, nasty urine soaked hallways full of people pushing each other around, while Dirty yells out that you best to run, or get the fuck outta Here! and stop acting like a pig trying to hog shit. Dirty’s debut is packed with these renditions where you’re enjoying his company while he’s constantly reminding you that this is a ride through the dark side of town. His second album is a bit different, but he still belts out the songs while rhyming in his unique way. This time he veers from the raps to the smooth Rick James style singing on top, as we see on the cover as he dons the Rick James look.

He says it best in the beginning of the title song “Nigga Please,” by saying that “My words can’t be held against me, I’m not caught up in your law.” Ol’ Dirty was embroiled by the law, but you hear how he lives on another plain, or plane, of existence like his cohorts on this list. Unfortunately he passed away in 2004 due to a drug overdose, but like that line I still believe that his soul is spiraling out in space, reaching other regions in the multi-verse, so keep your eyes open.

 

#1 – Redman – Red, A/K/A Reggie Noble can do many things when listening to his albums, especially the early ones. The man straight out of Jersey can make you laugh, cry, sing, think, and laugh some more due to his range as well as his no bullshit take no prisoners credo. He truly doesn’t give a fuck, which is solidified in many ways including a segment I saw on the Hate your Mom’s Loved the Videos Series. The DVD begins with a Redman show, that is then stopped, and then a fight breaks out while he’s just standing in the middle of it all with a giant smirk on his face. From his debut he broke the mold, not only being extra grimy and gritty, as we see in his love song “Tonight’s Da Night,” from his debut What: Thee Album.

Not only did he drop some gritty lyrics, he also handled production on most of his albums giving us a taste of the funk. He was the first on the east coast to use funk beats and George Clinton samples that were mostly used by west coast producers and artists. He revolutionized the game while veering from the playful to the more dark, as we hear on his second album Dare Iz a Darkside. Here’s an example from the single “Funkorama.”

It seems like he became ever more unhinged and experimental by his third album, and my favorite, Muddy Waters. Whether it’s a Blues Brothers themed video with Method Man,

Or taking us through Newark, New Jersey in his video for “Pick It Up,”

Or his moments of slapstick comedy used in the videos for his fourth album “Doc’s Da Name” (I hate how rap albums at the end of the century added the 2000 for some reason), in videos for “I’ll Be Dat,” and it has to be uncut,

Or chilling on the couch while he spits hot fire on “Da Goodness,”

Or his constant collaboration with his brother from another mother and Wu-Tang star, Method Man,from the album Blackout!,

As well as the most recent collabo,

Redman is also unique in the fact that, unlike most rappers, once he blew up he remained in his neighborhood of Newark, NJ. He also hasn’t changed much as we can always count on getting jacked in Newark by none other than Redman, what a privilege.

 

Honorary #6 – R.A. the Rugged Man – You definitely have issues if you’re an up-and-coming rapper who’s about to be signed to a label, and then tank it for no apparent reason. Unless, there is a reason or if the methods of losing the deal are hilarious. Hence, we have R.A. the Rugged Man. He wrote the book, or shall I say the list, in Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists, on 10 ways to get dropped from a record label. The list is funny where he advises to bootleg every song you make, dissing your cohorts openly on the radio, and keeping the label heads on the edge of fear each time you pass by. He remains an enigma while constantly making music that defies category such as his song “Holla-Loo-Yuh” along with Tech N9ne & Krizz Kaliko,

To his more recent commentary on the media, accompanied by a strangely entertaining video for the song “Media Midgets,”

Where he not only chastises the media, but all the news and pop culture mediums that perpetuate these stupid formulas. These formulas are so safe that an artist like R.A. would throw them far off the center of their gravity. He’s the People’s champ, and although he’s been blackballed by the powers that be in the music industry he never lost his crustified edge.

Peace

 

 

#SydBarrett #KoolKeith #MFDoom #Doom #JJDoom #Rammellzee #Ol’DirtyBastard #Redman #R.A.TheRuggedMan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rap and Reality: How Rap Music Tackles the Real

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Since its genesis Rap music, as well as the greater Hip-Hop culture, has been dumped on for various reasons. If you take a passing glance at the pseudo-internet-intellectual’s vitriol, it seems like they have much to say about rap’s ills. Forums across the web, as well as certain scholars, pundits, talking heads, and all other so-called experts (usually from the conservative side of the spectrum) have lambasted rap for its many negative qualities. The long laundry list includes rapper’s egotism, sexism, lack of lyrical skill, the unmusicality of rap’s structure, braggadocio of ones large bank-roll, glorification of violence, racism, glorification of drug use, sexual overtones, homophobia, hyper-sexuality of both black men and women, excessive profanity, glorification of incarceration, the use of sampling, and the laundry list continues depending on the people who concocted the list. However, like all musical genres Rap music is far more complicated and paradoxical. By looking at its long and rather glaring history you will find many topics and issues that were, and remain pertinent used in the music. Some argue that Rock N Roll had the power to push for desegregation, integration, and cooperation. Like Rock, rap music has created a bond across the racial spectrum amongst the people who grew up listening to the music. We, I include myself as one of these avid listeners, heard many issues being discussed in rap that were not clearly touched upon by rock music. Grunge did open the doors, but there were many times where a Nirvana or Soundgarden or Alice In Chains lyric was nearly indecipherable. Unlike grunge music, rap was loud, fast, ad in your ear. Maybe, like riots, people did learn from rap and its many topics worth covering. Here are a few themes that rap music tackled indiscriminately, and with far more aggression than any other genre of music.

Last night as I was cooking I was blasting random rap from my youth. One of my favorite groups was De La Soul, and their best album is their second, De La Soul is Dead. As the title suggests, the content is dark, especially when compared to their more optimistically hippied out debut 3 Feet High and Rising. The song that went for the jugular was “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa.” It’s a jarring narrative about a sexually abused daughter whose father plays the annual role of Santa Claus at the local mall. After a long bout of pain and suffering decided to shoot him point-blank during his shift at the mall.

It’s a vivid song as she pulls the trigger amongst all the screaming mothers and children. Like that scene the entire song is addressing sexual abuse, as well as the fact that both Plug One and Plug Two (The MC’s of the group) play troubled teens who are mentored by the man, the monster the abuser. Besides the horrid abuse they acknowledge that people at times either dismiss it as teen angst, or treat with down right disbelief. This is a glaring example of how a rap song can transcend its negative stereotypes.

Rap scholars and historians have pointed to the 1982 release of Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s “The Message” as the first real conscious rap song. The song, along with poignant video, chronicles the grime and drug-infested realities of living in the streets of the ghettos. The song spoke of lost hope and dreams amidst the doom and gloom brought on by a shrinkage of all support systems. Although rap music quantitatively in content is far more interested in excess and escape, there were a few songs that depicted the harsh realities of life. During my research I came across an older recording like “The Message.” Profile Records is mostly known as the label that landed Run-DMC, but one of their earliest releases was by a rapper or group called The Rake. They dropped a single on Profile in 1983 titled “Street Justice,” which is a tale reminiscent of the film Death Wish.

The song is rapped by a man, who sounds older and established as a working class guy living in the city with his wife and daughter. One day his house was broken into and his wife and daughter were roughed up by the assailants who were teenagers. They were later caught, arrested and tried, but the justice system failed him because they were let go. He raps that the punks were let off because their lawyer labeled them misdirected youth, hence justice failed in his case.

He then says that the punks stepped to him and told him that he was next, hence it was time to “beat the punks on the battle front.” He then goes Charles Bronson on them (Death Wish reference) as he basically kills them one by one. In the end he says that you have to take the law into your own hands because in the end it wont help. It’s sad how realistic it was at that point due to the cutting of the police force due to budget cuts in New York City in the 1970’s. However, in the current situation in the carceral state some blacks still have to deal with street justice.

The graphic above is just for show, and is not much of a reliable source, especially the last assertion that rap music listeners are more likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol. However, it proves the point that the generation growing up on rap music is far more lax when it comes to Marijuana. This attitude is due to the fact that they don’t fall for the war on drugs rhetoric, which is a mixture of racism and bullshit. Rap music, especially more recently has been overtly glorifying drugs, and the newer trend being pharmaceuticals. However, if you look at rap in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s during the height of the crack epidemic you’ll find plenty of anti-drug rap songs. One of the most pronounced was the classic “Close the Crackhouse” as an MC group effort.

It’s helmed by the great Professor X from the criminally underrated rap group The X-Clan. There are many more from groups like De La Soul (“My Brother’s A Basehead” and “Say No Go”), to Public Enemy (“Mega Blast” and “Night of the Living Baseheads”), as well as great songs from many notable rappers and rap groups like Masters of Ceremony (“Cracked Out”), The Maniacs (“Crack, Crack, Don’t Do It”), N.W.A. (“Dopeman”), Poor Righteous Teachers (“Get off the Crack”), Kool Moe Dee (“Monster Crack”), Brand Nubian (“Slow Down”), and MC Shan (Jane, Stop This Crazy Thing”), just to name a few. Although there were plenty of songs depicting the life of the dealer, it wasn’t just a glorification of the dealer, but also a critique as well. Here’s one of the best video about the epidemic, as well as America’s double standard thanks to Public Enemy!

Sex is many things to many people, but as men we must remember that sex is also about power. The fact that we can show our domineering sexual prowess over women can give any meek fellow the ego of a muscle-bound freak. Unfortunately one of the most overtly used formula for rap is the sexist imagery of the domineering male and the subservient woman (who is also beautiful in the current society’s standards). However, if you stop and listen to rap music you will find a wealth of songs about love and its deeply complicated inner vortex. Parallel to Rock music’s ode to that special lady (from “Anna” to “Zelda”), Rap music also has its many odes to that special lady (spanning from Warren G.’s “Annie Mae” to Grandmaster Caz’s “Yvette”). Each song is a sensual ode to a woman, and each is delicately rapped by the rapper or group speaking of this deep love. This is an aspect of that complexity of rap music. If you delve into the Ego Trip book of Rap lists you’ll find a long list of these songs. Here’s one of my favorites, “Latoya” by one of the best MC’s, Just-Ice;

There are plenty of rap songs that delve into the intricacies of love and lust, as well as everything in-between. One of my favorite albums, which I wrote a blog about, is Danger Mouse and Jemini the Gifted One’s Ghetto Pop Life. It has depth and dimensions that touch on humor and sadness as well as love and lust collapsed and compressed into two tracks. The first “Yoo-Hoo” talks about hollering at a women while the Jemini praises the woman he’s following with the duality of the lustful callings along with sensual overtures of love. The second song “Im’a Doomee (Love Letter)” is even more in-depth where the lyricist is pleading with his love about the life and lust on the road. He laments the fact that he cheats while opening up his feelings and vulnerabilities.

Rap and religion have gotten a lot of attention thanks to some old farts on the conservative end of the spectrum. The criticism goes that rap music is a bad influence (And the vitriol boils only when white teens are perceived as the victims of the influence), hence it’s swept under the rug along with all the other pathologies attached with rap music. There have been articles attacking that ridiculous myth including a great piece by Stereo Williams for the Daily Beast:

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/05/14/bill-o-reilly-hip-hop-isn-t-making-people-anti-christian-pinheads-like-you-are.html

Where he mentions the many Christian references made by rappers throughout the history of recorded rap music. It ranges from artists such as Doug E. Fresh, just listen to the great collaboration with the young Slick Rick (known then as MC Ricky D) on the song “The Show.” The song is laden with religious imagery. There are others like Run, of Run-DMC, becoming a Reverend, the many biblical references made by southern rap groups like Goodie Mob, Lauryn Hill’s references on her masterpiece The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, as well as the most recent debut masterpiece by Kendrick Lamar, good kid, M.A.A.d city where you can hear the lord’s prayer. There are also plenty more religious allusions with regards to other religions like Islam, shown through the vocal support for the Nation of Islam by various rappers, as well as respect for the off-shoot Five Percenters.

The saddest part about this editorialized bullshit is the fact that this topic was researched and written about by scholars like the great book above by Dr. Monica R. Miller titled Religion & Hip Hop. The book is a great study asking both scholars and laypeople to stop looking at Hip-Hop through the Christian lens. There is also another great book of articles edited by the scholar Anthony B. Pinn titled Noise and Spirit: The Religious and Spiritual Sensibilities of Rap Music. Like Dr. Miller’s book, Pinn is trying to shed light on the complexities of spirituality amidst a musical genre that is very individualistic, and materialistic. It also highlights how certain rappers embrace their own version of spirituality while not always eschewing their heritage and traditions.

To end this section I want to mention what Tupac kept telling reporters, liberal deuches, conservative cunts, the police nation, state officials feeding from the trough of corporate greed, and all their mindless minions (and I’m criminally paraphrasing) that “All eyes are on me, but I don’t care. At the end of the day G-d is my only judge. Like many people of faith, this is the real mission statement of us all.

There are plenty more rap songs about the travails of ghetto life, drug addiction, and the sheer weight of the history of being black in the United States, as well as more micro issues I mentioned above. Unlike other American musical genres that seem either stuck in suspended animation, Jazz I sadly there as well as Country, while rap keeps prying open these issues, while constantly challenging society and always expanding as an art of true expression from the heart.

Keep It Real, or until everything goes wrong!!!

Peace

#RapandReality #StereoWilliams #Religion&HipHop #NoiseandSpirit

Top Five: Dead MC’s (RIP and Z”L)

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The next few posts I’ll be writing are all inspired by Chris Rock’s recently released movie, Top Five. It’s a great and introspective film, which pays homage to many things such as the old vs. the new, the evolution of black humor, the many tricks and contradictions that black men tread when they become famous, as well as the conflicts of being considered a comedian while struggling to get out of that specific pigeon-hole. One of the most glaring influence felt throughout the film was Woody Allen’s self-inspection and conflict shown in his masterpiece Stardust Memories. Like Rock’s character, Woody Allen felt like everyone enjoyed his comedies while eschewing his more serious work. But, this is not a post about film.

This is a post about Rap music, and one of the topics discussed in the film is the various characters’ top five rappers and rap groups. While watching the film I kept asking myself the same question. Who are my top five MC’s of all time? I can’t tell you because I’m a partial judge who’s been listening to rap music ever since I was a little boy running through the streets of Tel-Aviv in the early 1980’s. Like myself, most Hip-Hop fans have grown up and gone through maturation or other forms of catharsis. If you asked me five years ago my list might have been different. If you asked me ten years ago the list would have been different as well. So, instead of pointing out five, with a sixth person for clean-up duty, I decided to categorize my top five rappers. Each post will give a list of the top five while I’ll try to stretch the categories to the far ends of the rap multiverse. So, without further ado, and much blabbed, I give to you my favorite top five rappers who have passed away. I’ll also add a sixth person of my personal taste. Also, as a note I know that there are plenty of rappers out there who deserve to be on the list, but I wasn’t such a huge fan. So, mad props to Biggie and Tupac, but they were never on my top five. Anyway, enjoy my list!

1. Too Poetic (AKA The Grym Reaper) from the Gravediggaz – Many rappers have their own niche, gimmick, and bag full of tricks at their disposal. The main ingredient for all MC’s is how they use their voices. At their best they could craft their distinct rapper voices. Poetic had that voice, and it was first heard in the opening track of the Gravediggaz debut album, 6 Feet Deep.

I think we were all mystified with this album. Although it dropped in 1994 amidst the rise of the Wu-Tang dynasty, it was crafted in 1991 through 1992. At first listen it catches you off guard when the intro drops. The mist begins to settle, followed by the screams, and cryptic words heard saying, “And just when you thought it was over”……”now comes the Gravediggaz” and then he jumps in like a bat out of hell, screaming…

“Beware! Four figures appear through the fog,Yeah, Gravediggaz cut like sword…AHHHHH, Fear makes ya brain go numb, You ain’t got a clue where the gods come from, I told myself to exist and then I fled over, Millions of sperm cells and I found the egg, No luck or mere chance, I came to enhance represent and get open as a vent.”

And that was just the opening salvo as he comes back to bite hard after Frukwan’s verse by rhyming,

“Mixing gravy pays my rent for the day, Some hate the image that I must portray, Critics say, “Go to Hell,” I go, “Yeah Stupid motherfucker I’m already here,” Frustrated, mentally aggravated, To be the rebel that society created, I’m good most times but when I’m foul then I’m flagrant, Living in the shadows like a government agent.”

The way he used his voice to personify the dread, fear, and anger gives the album its full breadth. Unlike the other members of the group Poetic was the odd man out, being the only unheard MC from the past or present in 1991. Prince Paul and Frukwan were both part of the rap band Stetsonic Fame, and Paul also produced De La Soul’s first three albums. Although he was somewhat new on the scene the RZA had also been heard with his first single for Tommy Boy Records as Prince Rakeem. However, Poetic had never really been heard until now.

The way he uses his voice can create levity amongst more shady situations. On the fourth track, “Defective Trip (Trippin’),” he weaves us through a defective trip while scheming a blowjob. The best part about his verse is the way he uses his tone in order to bring humor to a serious topic.

One of the best tracks displaying his talents is his sparring with the Rzarecter on “2 Cups of Bloods.” The best part about the track is the delivery. The RZA and Poetic go back and forth boasting some deadly metaphors. The dynamism and sheer talent between the two brings it to such a state of existentialism and dread. Poetic drops lines like,

“As you decipher the tricks of a viper, Swine is lethal!….is evil!, I am original, we can build upon, The ill form, and keep all your brain cells warm.”

And,

“Dead stinkin’ rotten, you braincells forgot in, The past, you had your bumba raas pickin’ cotton, Now ya hate ya knotty hairstyles, I guess you figure the texture too wild, Child.”

Poetic pushed along with the group, even though the second, The Pick, The Sickle and the Shovel, and third, Nightmare in A-Minor, albums paled in comparison to the first. The third album was released posthumously because Poetic passed away in July of 2001 due to colon cancer. I guess you’re really ready for the grave yard tour! RIP.

2. Big Pun (AKA Big Pun, Big Dog Punisher, and born Christopher Lee Rios) – It was one of my best friend’s, Puerto Rican Paul!!! Big Ups Purchase days!, who first put me on to the genius who was Big Pun. Pun came out of nowhere, at first guest starring on fellow New Yurican tracks like Fat Joe and the Beatnuts. He then broke out with his seminal freshman album Capitol Punishment. Beside his enormous size, and oversized personality, he was a massive presence on the microphone. The way he whizzed through words, spitting them out like coal embers spewing from his mouth at break neck speed. The amazing thing about his rhymes is that they all wrapped around these riddles and storylines, that at times were lost to the listener after only one sitting.

One example is his remake of the classic Dre and Snoop collaboration “Deep Cover,” but remade for Pun and Fat Joe. In the end of Pun’s first verse he just plays with the metaphors with such finesse by spitting,

“Dead in the Middle of Little Italy little did we know, That we riddled some middleman who didn’t do diddly.”

He has this bravado, personified by his 550 plus frame, and more so by his lyrical swagger. He then kills it with his last verse spitting with defiance,

“Fuck peace, I run the streets with no compassion, Puerto Ricans known for slashing catching niggas while they sleeping, No relaxing, keep your eyes open, sharp reflexes, Three techses in the jeep Lexus just in case police test us, Street professors, Terror Squad, ghetto scholars, Full-a-clips mob, inflicts the fear of God when the metal hollers, Better acknowledge or get knocked down until I’m locked and shot down, Heather B. couldn’t make me put my Glock down.”

Pun broke down many doors and has the status of being the first Latino rapper to reach platinum status, all on the strength of his debut album Capitol Punishment. He demolished, no pun !?! intended, the competition while piggy backing on the great Latino MC’s of the past like Kid Frost, Mellow Man Ace, Cypress Hill, The Beatnuts, and Fat Joe. There are many stellar songs on his debut, but the first song catches the full wreck he’s about to unleash.

As the strings play, thanks to a sample from a Henry Mancini composition, you hear Prodigy’s words wringing clear, “I gave you fair warning, beware!” And then Pun unleashes the fury spitting,

“What you thought punk? Shit was sweet now you can’t sleep, Gotta keep your eyes open wide and hide your face from the streets, I’m like the beast with a warrant, far from a law man, Gave you fair warning, now you on the stairs falling, I’m calling out any rapper that I doubt, smack em in the mouth, Throw em in the yoke. Boom! Then I knock em out, No doubt, Freddie Foxxx files, Twenty-shot auto Glock, blaow Benny Blanc Puerto Rock style, With a twist of black and I’m proud, twist your cap and I’m out, Sleep with the fish-dips for yapping loud, What’s happening now, niggas is hard as hell but they Gargamels, Picking on the smallest victim gives them heart to kill, My squad is real and holds it down the hardest regardless, Besides of the largest we polish the floor with the rawest hardcore artists, Flawless victory and niggas can’t do shit to me, Physically, lyrically, hypothetically, realistically, I’m the epitome of catching wreck, catch you when you cash your cheque, Smash you when you pass then jack you for your fucking Lex, Nothing less than the best if the squad did it, Hard-headed niggas better beware and fear like God said it.”

Wow! That was a lot of detail and chock full of assonance and metaphors, while sprinkled with pop culture references ranging from Carlitos Way to the Smurfs. While weaving these words together he manages to demolish any opponent through the sheer dread of attempting to battle this behemoth of a rapper. He not only delved in lyrical assassinations, both on his solo tracks and guest appearances, but he also had quite a wit and a sizable sense of humor. One of my personal favorites that shows his playful humor is the track “Nigga Shit” from his second, and sadly last, album Yeeeah Baby.

The song is an ode to the culture that he took part in, and is very thankful for its acceptance. It also presents that Latinos live under the same dreadful conditions alongside blacks in this country. Wether the Bronx or East L.A. these two cultures became mixed and cohesive, but with tensions as well. It’s a short song with only one verse, but that verse is golden going down memory lane for all of us who delved in that type of shit, and still do. He drops it spitting,

“That nigga shit, smokin weed with my moms,                               That nigga shit, Slingin D and Heron,                                      That nigga shit, no love for the cops,                                      That nigga shit, gettin my dick sucked with my pops,                 That nigga shit, gettin drunk with my Twinz,                               That nigga shit, swearin to God I’ll never drink again,                   That nigga shit, gettin drunk again,                                               That nigga shit, three days in the pen,                                     That nigga shit, talkin loud at the flicks                                     That nigga shit, fried rice and rib tips,                                      That nigga shit, lookin fresh with no ends,                              That nigga shit, beatin on my sister’s boyfriends,                        That nigga shit, yellow tape and white sheets,                       That nigga shit, whoopin my kid’s ass in the streets,                That nigga shit, Iverson crossover,                                         That nigga shit, cheese doodles grape soda,                         That nigga shit, playin in the last car on the train,                  That nigga shit, hot sauce on everythang,                                That nigga shit, nugget gold in the 80’s,                                     That nigga shit, iced out in the 90’s,                                      That nigga shit, shoot the place if you play me,                             That nigga shit, Pun to run til they find me.”

He uses three words for the set-up and then fills in the gaps with the happenstance for all of us on the lower socio-economic wrung. If anybody intimately experienced some of this so-called “nigga shit” then you can understand the humor and homage Pun pays to the culture. Although he tried many times to lose the weight he reached the maximum at his death of almost 700 pounds! He suffered a heart attack on February 7th, 2000 while staying at a White Plains hotel. Paul and I were attending Purchase College so we were close in proximity. It was a sad day, but due to his amazing talent he will always be considered one of the best rappers of all time.

3. Charizma (Born Charles Hicks) – The first time I heard Charizma was his track aptly titled “My World Premiere” from the classic mix tape “The World Famous Beat Junkies Vol. 1 helmed by the great DJ Babu with some help from JRocc. The mix dropped around 1996 – 1997, and unfortunately he died three to four years earlier. However, the sheer magnitude of his rhymes over this hardcore beat is mesmerizing. It’s just one straight shot verse, but it cuts with precision. This is the song that spawned such great lines like, “It’s not my birthday but I’m pulling cards” and “When I didn’t have a mic I rapped on headphones.”

Hailing from the West Coast, California to be exact, he eventually met Chris Manak, who we all know better as Peanut Butter Wolf head of Stones Throw Records, and they began recording. Charizma was the rapper and Peanut Butter made the beats. They recorded a few songs, but most of them never saw the light of day until after his death. His life was cut short due to a car jacker who shot Charizma dead on December 16th, 1993. Fortunately for all hip-hop historians Peanut Butter would eventually release all these recordings in 2003 with the full length Big Shots album. Throughout the album you realize how gifted he was, and how he seemed to bounce off the music with his slip and sliding rhymes. One great example of this is his great cut, “Red Light, Green Light.”

The video is great because the into shows Charizma’s playful charm. His opening lines start it all out on the path to the stratosphere. He rhymes,

“Tic-tac-toe, ah here we go, Red means stop and green light means go, Common sense dropped cause I truly love the hip-hop, (beatboxing) I even like to beatbox”

He explains the structure by rapping that it’s following the red light, green light game through his rap. He then continues with his love for hip-hop, and even drops a hint by dropping Common’s name, who did the song “I Used to Love H.E.R.” Throughout the song he plays with the structure while spitting hot fire. He ends his second verse with,

“Have a bubble bath and then let the dopeness begin, So bump, bump the loop in your mob car, no we don’t roll jeeps, We roll the mob cause on the westside of the street, And let your car feel the heat.”

The album is full of great songs, but my personal favorites are the last few tracks that project his cunning speed and wit on the Mic. The last four songs, “Charizma What,” “Fair Weathered Friend,” “Soon to be Large,” and “Pacin’ the Floor,” blend so well into each other. The beats perfectly compliment Charizma’s pace, while he bobs and weaves his words so magically. Last example is some of his words from the closing track “Pacin’ the Floor.” The track is a throw back old school joint with a basic beat, scratching and bass line, as Charizma goes on the attack.

This song is a bottled version of the essence of hip-hop. His death had a huge impact on Peanut Butter, but thankfully he trudged along and started one of the best independent Hip-Hop record labels, Stones Throw. It was Charizma’s song “My World Premiere” that was the first release, hence why I heard it on a mix tape in 1996. He also bonded with an old school MC who lost a close family member by the name we know as MF Doom. Thank G-d for Charizma.

4. Subroc (Born Dingilizwe Dumile, brother of Daniel Dumile AKA MF Doom and a member of KMD) – Talking about Doom in the last paragraph, let’s shine a light on his first group KMD (Kausing Much Damage or A positive Kause in a Much Damaged society). They were scoped out by MC Serch of 3rd Bass making their debut on the classic track “The Gas Face.” From then on they forged their own style, along with their muslim upbringing, while being signed to Elektra records in the late 1980’s. Although Subroc wasn’t as prevalent on their debut album, Mr. Hood, he was mostly responsible for inserting such diverse samples from television shows and other obscure recordings including a series of samples from a language instruction tape. This was a decade before DJ’s like Kid Koala and DJ Vadim used these samples at their leisure.

Subroc’s brother, Zev Love X, and the third member Onyx were far more prevalent on the album. But he had a chance to shine on a track aptly titled “Subroc’s Mission.”

In a recent post about the making of KMD’s second album Black Bastards Zev/Doom admits that Subroc became far more confident and brash with his rhymes. Some of his best work is on the second album, and here’s a snippet or two of that masterpiece. The album was far more contentious and racially candid due to the album cover depicting a hanging sambo character. The Dumile brothers produced the entire second album, and on tracks like ” It Sounded Like a Roc,” “Plumpskinzz (Oh No I Don’t Believe It!),” and my personal favorite “Gimme” Subroc devours the mic. Check out some of his rhymes on the melodic “Plumpskinzz,”

Originally this was a full song, but was cut into two parts for the album with Zev Love on the first and Subroc on the second. Subroc has a nice flow spitting lines like,

“But always fix fat drums in the batter
They say you must, must share a little plum
I say, “With that idea kid, you’re dumb”
I play the role, play the role, kinda shy
And keep the concept to unbutton the fly
The question, my oh my, any left for thy shore?
I pick fresh fruit, plus vick ’em galore
Raw as can be, I can be much more adore
My sweet gift shot like Quickdraw McGraw,”

Simple yet right to the point. He goes extra ballistic on my favorite “Gimme,”

He drops great morsels throughout the track like,

“Well welcome me back like my man Kotter, If not, I’ll leave ya flat broke nada, Cause I gotta keep my style flexin’ like areobic, Gimme elbow room I’m crazily claustrophobic” and “Touch it, it’s up your rear, I hear a sequence, gimme so I can tell a tattle-teller, Now shut your mouth while I speak it accapella, I’m the yellow maraca medium brown tone, I do what I feel cause child I’m grown, Gimme no cologne I rock oils, Gimme a lot of looten, I still won’t straighten my nappy coils.”

Like Charizma, these are just words on an electronic page. You need to listen to the delivery because his voice plays along with the beat in order to give it more personality. He also ends the track with a funny phrase. After chanting “Check the Clock” he finishes by saying, “Now get on your knees next to my balls and BOX!”

Unfortunately after completing most of the album Subroc was killed by being struck by a car while attempting to cross the treacherous Long Island Expressway. His life was cut short, and like Peanut Butter Wolf, Zev Love X took his brother’s death very hard. However, he would be reincarnated as MF Doom, and would eventually work on Stones Throw under the guise of Madlib and Peanut Butter. Strangely enough both his and Charizma’s death have brought amazing incarnations in the world of hip-hop.

5. MCA (Born Adam Yauch) member of the Beastie Boys along with Adrock and Mike D. – MCA along with the other two members of the Beastie Boys have been around for decades. Ever since they broke out they never got that much respect due to being the first white rap group to sell millions of records. They were also the first rap group to be featured on Spin magazine’s cover, much to Harry Allen’s chagrin. It is problematic that they were the first featured when there was a history of great rappers and rap groups who were all black. However, you can’t hold it against them because of their skin color. They also had a litany of rhymes that hit the mark, while using the old school formula by being performing in the call and response style with each other. Instead of the newer formula of a verse, chorus, verse, etc. they interweaves their rhymes around each other’s words and cadences. MCA has quite a trajectory when it comes to his rhymes. He went through quite the catharsis when exploring the content of his words. The early material was crass, boorish, misogynistic, violent, and offensive to many listeners. Just check out his opening remarks on the track “The New Style” from the debut album Licensed to Ill,

MCA rips into it spitting,

“Four and three and two and one (What up!), And when I’m on the mic – suckers run (Word!), Down with Adrock and Mike D. and you ain’t, And I got more juice than Picasso got paint, Got rhymes that are slick, I’m not surprised you’re on my dick,”

Funny and mischievous, but the first album was solid and chock full of entertainment and debauchery. They would eventually leave Rick Rubin and Def Jam for California, Capitol records, and a collabo with the Dust Brothers who would produce their most genius and underrated album Paul’s Boutique. It’s an amazing group effort as most songs don’t allocate verses to each member. Rather, they bob and weave off of each other’s words in such a precise manner. One track that had more of the standard formula was “3-Minute Rule.” On it each shines in his own way, and this is MCA’s contribution,

“Roses are red, the sky is blue, I got my barrel at your neck, so what the fuck you gonna do, It’s just two wheels and me, the wind in my eyes, The engine is the music and my nine’s by my side, Cause you know Y-A-U-C-H, I’m taking all emcees out in the place, Takin’ life as it comes, no fool I am, I’m goin’ off, gettin’ paid, and I don’t ask why, Playin’ beats on my box, makin’ music for the many, Know a lot of def girls that’ll do anything, A lot of parents like to think I’m a villian, I’m just chillin’, like Bob Dylan, Yeah I smoke cheeba, it helps me with my brain, I might be a little dusted but I’m not insane, People come up to me and they try to talk shit, Man, I was making records when you were suckin’ your mother’s dick.”

Nice, poetic and vicious, which are antics they were rhyming about. However, they would keep on maturing, getting back to the drawing board, and picking up their instruments again. But they still dropped some heavy beats and mean verses on their third album Check Your Head. Aside from the great collage of Jimi Hendrix that would end up being the unreleased version of the track “Jimmy James,” one of my favorites is “Pass the Mic.”

The track begins with MCA belting out some nice verses while preparing the next member for his introduction. He spits,

“If you can feel what I’m feeling then it’s a musical masterpiece, If you can hear what I’m dealing with then that’s cool at least, What’s running through my mind comes through when I walk, True feelings are shown from the way that I talk, And this is me ya’ll, I emcee ya’ll, My name is MCA and I still do what I please, And now I’d like to introduce what’s up? I’ll pass the mic to D for a fist full of truth.”

Nice, solid and to the point. As I wrote earlier MCA, along with the rest of the group, matured through out his career and made it very apparent by commenting on the status of women. On their fourth album’s first track “Sure Shot.”

The Beastie Boys were heavily influenced by Rick Rubin, and he pushed their offensive taste through what they said about excess. This excess meant plenty of beer and women. They also had quite a stage show displaying women in bikinis on stage who would dance in cages, while a large blow-up phallus was flailing behind them. This would all change, and MCA’s lyric is the strongest refutation of their past debauchery and offensive behavior. He rhymes on the track that,

“I want to say a little something that’s long overdue, The disrespect to women has got to be through, To all the mothers and the sisters and the wives and friends, I want to offer my love and respect to the end.”

It’s a beautiful statement of a man who’s grown up to be a responsible adult. It’s unfortunate that these types of rhymes are still very rare as the rap game has gotten far more misogynistic towards women in the rhymes. Unfortunately MCA passed away in May of 2012, followed by an announcement from Mike D. that the Beastie Boys were done. We can always go back to the prolific recordings made by the group, and you can always feel the beautiful camaraderie between them. MCA said it beautifully on their single “Alive,” which was released for their boxed-set.

“Mike and Adam have got my back, You bring the mics and we’ll bring the raps, Turn on the PA and rock your shack, Don’t smoke cheeba, can’t stand crack.”

6. Last but not least is the man, the myth, who was mentioned by Nas on the track “Where are They Now.” He allegedly staged his death in order to beat a bid, but the news sources were wrong on that account. News reports had to dig further into the fact that he in fact passed away in February of 2013. Who am I talking about? Tim Dog!!! Coming up from the Bronx and making guest appearances on tracks by the Ultramagnetic MC’s, he’s considered one of the hardest rappers in the history of the game. When the West Coast was on its rise to prominence, which was heralded by all the many hip-hop magazines, trades, and other mediums, Tim Dog didn’t like it to say the least. That’s why he dropped one of the most scathing west coast diss tracks ever. It was aptly titled, “Fuck Compton.”

He just tears it apart with rhymes like,

“Oh shit motherfuckers step to the rear and cheer, Cause Tim Dog is here, Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, And talk about a bullshit city, Talking about niggas from Compton, They’re no comp and they truly ain’t stomping,”

Although the track is directed as N.W.A. this was a pre-east coast vs. west coast spat. He claims that it was made out of frustration, rather than a personal axe to grind with the group. However, he makes sure to call them all out by name,

“(Why you dissing Eazy?), Cause the boy ain’t shit, Chew him with tobacco, and spit him in shit, I’ll crush Ice Cube, I’m cool wit Ice-T, But NWA ain’t shit to me, Dre beating on Dee from Pump it Up, Step to the Dog and get fucked up, I’m simplistic, imperialistic, idealistic, And I’m kicking the ballistics.”

He’s taking straight shots at the group, which was on top by this point. He also calls out Dr. Dre and the messy incident where he beat up Dee Barnes. This incident has been addressed again, most notably on Eminem’s track “Guilty Conscious” from his debut album, which was produced by Dre.

Tim Dog’s debut, containing the single “Fuck Compton” and other notable tracks like “Step to Me,” was titled Penicillin on Wax. These tracks were hardcore, in your face, grit along with the standard heavy drums, and break neck speed of a New York style rap song, circa the early 1990’s.

On “Step to Me” he kills it with more treacherous words,

“Step to me if you’re ready for a beatdown
Swift wit my hands, I don’t fuck around
I’m laying out MC’s in a sec
I’ll get wreck and break your muthafucking neck
Who can step to me from Compton
None them rappers cause I’m still stomping
So bail in your best MC’s
Nigga, please,”

Another great hard-hitting track, and arguably one of the hardest rap songs of all time, is titled “The Dog’s Gonna Get You.”

The beat is thrust into your ears as Tim demolishes the mic spitting,

“Pick ’em up, pick ’em up, pick ’em up
Pick of another wack punk then stick ’em up, vick ’em up
Suckers get in my way
I don’t play, so you’re gonna get slayed
You wanna come and come and come and come
Come on bum and come and get some
You know who the fuck I am?
Goddamn! Gimme a hand
I’m the man, I’m the man, I’m the man
With a lyrical hardcore plan goddamn,”

You can just feel the rage as he wails, grunts, and snarls bringing the fear into your heart, cause the Dog’s gonna eat you alive. Another great track that further describes Dog’s M.O. is “Bronx Nigga” where he describes looking for a stick up kid, finding him, and shooting his ass dead!

Tim Dog dropped six albums, two with the great and bizarre Kool Keith (who’ll be on a future top five list), but his debut solidified his legacy as one hard motherfucker. RIP Tim Dog.

So there we have it, my top five (with a sixth as clean-up) MC’s who are gone, but not forgotten. I agree that leaving Biggie, Tupac, Big L and others off the list is sacrilegious. I can already hear the screams of revulsion flying in my direction. These rappers were extremely skilled, but the guys on my list meant a lot to me personally. I also hope that if you didn’t know now you know, who they are. Listen to my suggestions and hopefully it will open up your scope on the history of rap music.

Until the nest list, Peace

 

#TimDog #MCA #Subroc # BigPun #Charizma

 

 

 

 

My Personal Montage of Heck

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As I sat back staring deep into the screen I couldn’t stop the emotional swirl percolating inside. Last Sunday I, and my lovely wife-to-be Saskia, strapped myself in for a ride back in time, and the time line was something very personal to your humble writer. The life of Kurt Cobain, as personified in the recent documentary of his life titled Montage of Heck, was somewhat of a mystery to the young me. His life struggles for recognition and love cut me like a knife, and like many of his, and his seminal work, I wondered if i ever really knew who Kurt Cobain really was? Or as shown through the many archives and mouth-watering artifacts that it was also a documentary about my early teenage years. That was my life post-Israel living, and pre-United States loving. The documentary was an emotional ride for us all, but it opened the box of memories harking back to my youth, and infatuation with his art.

In order to give you the full story of how I stumbled upon the music of St. Kurt and the holy trinity known as Nirvana, I need to go back. My parents were both born and bred in the county of Kings, also known as Brooklyn. By the late 1970’s they caught the Zionist bug, which was far more of a secular calling back then, and decided to move to the state of Israel along with my older brother, who was three at the time. My father, being an accomplished percussionist, got a gig with the Be’er Sheva orchestra, and would eventually land various concerts across the country and the world. So, they settled in Israel, and would move to the heart of the booming city of Tel-Aviv. I was born in a suburban of the area, but we lived most of my life in Israel, in the center of Tel Aviv. My parents, along with me and my two brothers, were an atypical typical couple, who were progressive thinkers and extremely open to new and foreign sounds and cultures. That is why our house was always brimming with loud music from quite a range of artists and genres, as well as genre busters. It was happy, but at the same time like most families we had issues. Unfortunately, like Kurt Cobain’s story, the rug was pulled from under our feet as our world came to a halt! This was the time of my parents’ divorce. This led us, especially my older brother and myself, to a precarious position with regards to our parents, to meaning, and to our purpose. Divorce, although very common by the end of the 20th Century, was still new for a lad like myself about to reach puberty, oh the awkward phases and how we both hate and relish in them at the same bout.

The divorce also meant a complete change of venue for my mother and brothers. We were informed in the Spring of 1992 that we’ll be moving to the U.S. of A!!!, which my mother had left for, leaving our father behind in Israel. The divorce and the move was traumatic and would affect us each differently. Each of the three brothers dealt the best he could, and I dug deep into my music, as did my brothers. It was that last summer when we were in Israel where my older brother played me Nirvana’s first major label single, “Lithium.”

My brother got the single from a bunch of nice Dutch girls who were working in the north of Israel where my father performed. Thank G-d for these lovely Dutch maiden because I found a sound, a voice, a look that I wanted for myself. The lyrics made no sense to me, but the music spoke volumes in its raging apex of guitar, bass, and drum mayhem. However, what really struck me the most, and this wasn’t until I saw the video, was Kurt’s look. Kurt Cobain wore torn jeans, as I did, a hand-me-down sweater, which I adapted thanks to my father’s old green sweater that got me much grief in Middle School, and of course the lower than shoulder length blond hair. That was it! Since that moment I decided to grow my hair our long, and let it cover parts of my face in order to obscure all the falsity of people and the machine.

Nirvana, along with plenty of other artists and musical groups began to be my coping mechanism, They helped me cope with the end of my parents marriage, and the ensuing battle between them, They helped me cope when my older brother went off on countless evenings leaving me to fend for my younger brother. They helped me cope with the utter change of scenery and people, as Israelis are their own breed of people, and American Jews are very different. They helped me cope with the fact that I just sat through bombardments as Scud missiles were falling on us the previous year. They helped me cope with the fact that being one of the few poor white boys, I had to attend the local underfunded and mostly African-American Middle School. All these things could have driven me to other paths of violence, mischief, and countless other hypotheticals I dare not tread. Even though I was picked on at times because of my hair and fashion sense I never gave a shit. Why? Because Kurt said it in his music, and after seeing the documentary I felt much closer to his ordeal and pain. His pain of displacement, loneliness, and depressing desperation to be heard were mine to burden.

Because the majority of my Middle School was bumping Hip-Hop I listened to that as well. However, it was interesting that very few people I knew listened to them in my school. I would band with one of the few white, and funny thing also Jewish, kids who went to the same school. My buddy, Sam, and I would listen to the music and think of the many mischievous things we could try to get away with. I distinctly remember the day he got the new Nirvana album, In Utero, and we heard it for the first time. All the way from “Serve the Servants” to “All Apologies,” the album remained flawless. The arc of the songs were disparate by ranging from the decrying of automatons, to the screed against the media’s attack on him and Courtney, to abortion, excess, speed, etc. etc. was powerful to say the least. After the album dropped I listened to it on constant rotation while following the news of Nirvana’s European tour, and the many ups and downs, including the false reporting by guess who CNN!!! that Kurt overdosed and died in Rome. He didn’t, but that would happen a month later.

Then a month later my, and the rest of the world’s, world would change forever. Sam and I heard the news, but we didn’t want to believe it at first due to past false reports. We ran back to my place, switched on MTV, and in front sat Kurt Loder’s solemn face declaring that Kurt was dead, long live the king! We were stunned, and in a bizarre way I still remain stunned by the loss of such an artist, However, being a practical Jew who tries his hardest to believe that all has a purpose must rack his brain around this. Kurt, along with many great tortured artists of the past to the present, had succumbed to his demons. But it was a plan that made sense because I needed to move on. Kurt shot himself in 1994, so the steady stream of music began to wane for me, and by 1995/1996 I turned whole-heartedly to the next authentic sound to me, which was Hip-Hop.

Tears of joy, tears of anger, tears of love, and tears of the dangers all came streaming. It was a stream down my eyes, but also inside my heart as I watched this bitter-sweet memory of a friend, and lost love gone so long ago. I still love Nirvana, and no one comes close. I was enraged when a commentator from NPR compared Nirvana to Lorde?!? which made me cringe with anger. But, it passed because I’m 33 years old, and have gone through other traumas. Still, I have to thank St. Kurt and the Holy Trinity of Nirvana for helping me deal in such a volatile time of my life, in such a volatile space. At least we had seasons in the sun!!!

 

RIP and Z’L Kurt! Thanks for the years and thanks for the tears.

 

 

 

 

 

Riots: An American Century

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As I slowly awoke from my slumber, feeling the warm safety of my man cave, I decided to take a look around and perk up my ears to any oncoming sounds. The United States, as well as the rest of the world, is being shown these images coming from Baltimore. Protests have sprung up due to a wrongful death, that has been echoed throughout the country and bolstered by other racial incidents involving black men and police officers. Social media has been boiling over where each side is blaming the other, and both the far right and far left are making these insanely outlandish claims on who’s to blame. I have also gotten into a few debates about the validity of the use of violence as a proper change agent. I am completely against violence for the sake of violence, but I do understand that certain communities have reached their boiling points. Incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island, New York, and North Carolina (to name the few of the many cases) have spurned these protests across the country. However, like its historical precedent you will have a minority who take advantage of the situation by looting and destroying property, or you have the disillusioned who turn to violent outbursts. Unfortunately, all the American news coverage has been pathetic due to their formula of projecting pathologies while eschewing the root causes of the protests and/or riots. That’s my main concern as a historian and I think most Americans don’t know or care to understand that in this past American century most of the riots were stoked or perpetrated by the white communities. It wasn’t only the riots in the 1960’s that devastated black communities for the immediate future. These riots debilitated black neighborhoods for long spans of time, so don;t forget before we heap the entire blame on the residents. Let us now take a trip down memory lane for the most memorable riots of the 20th century. So big ups to Ego Trip for compiling some of this data, and let’s get our riot on!!!

unbeknownst to most Americans, and especially to the locals of Tulsa, Oklahoma, by the end of World War I leading into the roaring twenties Tulsa had a vibrant black community. The main drag of black owned businesses in the district of Greenwood were so prosperous that the locals dubbed it the “Black Wall Street.” That would all change on the night of May 31st, 1921. On that night a crowd of angry whites (one of the scariest sites in American history!!!) converged onto the local court-house to view a lynching. In the previous days to the riots the local newspapers published a fabricated story about a black show-shine who allegedly attempted to rape a white woman. As the white crowd was about the lynch the man a group of blacks came to his defense trying to protect him from the angry mob. Unfortunately, as the skirmish ensued shots rang out ending in a white man’s death. This would unleash the fury of the white wrath in “a unprecendented bloodbath.”

The entire Greenwood district is torched by white rioters from land and from the air as small airplanes dropped bombs on the district, which is basically an act of Civil War. The riots lasted two days, but in those two days 1,400 black homes and businesses were destroyed including churches, restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, libraries, schools, law offices, a hospital, law offices, a bank, a post office, several private planes, and a bus system. The city’s official death toll stood at 30 black victims, but the Red Cross estimated the number to be close to 300.

Historians have recently wrote on the unearthing of mass graves in Tulsa and the surrounding areas, which could bring the death toll up to the thousands, but we’ll never really know.

 

California, for the most bizarre reasons, is such a contradiction of its man-made self. California is seen as the land of hippies and uber liberalism. However, it’s one of the most racist in its history and was the breeding ground for the American Nazis. In Los Angeles from June 3rd to June 7th, 1943 riots broke out, and was later labeled the “Zoot Suit Riots” by the media. It all began when 11 sailors on shore leave claimed to be attacked by a group of Mexican-American teens who donned the latest trend, being the baggy zoot suit look. The outfit, just like the current trend where baggy cloths, gold chains, and hoodies are signifiers for juvenile delinquency, was stereotyped as “hoodlum gear.” In order to get payback for their assault more than 200 sailors taxi-cabbed it to the Mexican-American barrio located in East Los Angeles. They then indiscriminately beat the living piss out of any teen who was rocking the zoot suit.

This lasted for the next four nights where you have crazed sailors, along with soldiers, wreaking havoc on that particular community. The entire time these events were transpiring the police ignored the pleas of the local citizens. Not only that they were willing participants. In the June 21st issue of Time magazine later reports that, “The Police practice was to accompany the caravans of soldiers and sailors in police cars, watch the beatings, and jail the victims.” Thankfully the military authorities stepped in on the night of June 7th calling the area off-limits to all servicemen.

Of course most of the victims were not wearing zoo suits, they were just wearing their non-white skin. Many of these teens were arrested while NO sailer or soldier was ever prosecuted.

Also, local and national media played it as a point of pride that the good ol’ boys taught these uncivilized wannabes a lesson.

 

Presently the fair city of Detroit is not doing so well, and hasn’t for quite some time. However, Detroit was the motor city where during the Second World War it was one of the most important industrial centers in the country. The great migration of blacks from the south brought them to the industrial hub of Detroit. Unfortunately, the city was ill-equipped to deal with the massive influx of newcomers. Most of the migrating blacks took the factory jobs that were vacated by the white population fighting abroad. This all came to heated and tense standoff between the whites and the blacks of the city. It all began in the heat and grime of the humid summer. On June 20th, 1943 at an amusement park called Belle Isle, multiple incidents violent incidents occurred between white and black teenagers. AT the same time tow vicious rumors, that were unfounded, circulated through the city of Detroit. One of the alleged rumors was that a group of whites tossed a black woman and her baby over the Belle Isle Bridge. The other alleged rumor, that was a common accusation across the Mid-West and American South, was that a black man had raped and murdered a white woman on that same bridge. The rumor mill kept its maniacal churn as the they both spread like wild-fire across the fair city of Detroit. In response to the lighting of the powder keg, the city exploded with various violent incidents.

Black mobs looted and destroyed white-owned businesses while whites attacked streetcars carrying black passengers, while they also gathered outside a black patronized movie theater, the Roxy Theater, and proceeded to attack moviegoers. The following night the irate white mobs invaded the black ghetto, called Paradise Valley, and unleash their fury on the residents. This led to a military crackdown in the city eventually shutting it down.

In the end about 9 whites and 25 blacks were killed, and allegedly 17 of the blacks were killed by police. Nearly 700 people were injured and the estimate of the damage ranged at around 2 million dollars worth. Unfortunately this won’t be the last time where Detroit will feel the wrath of the riot.

 

Let’s tread back to our favorite dark utopia, California circa 1965. The country has moved forward as the Civil Rights Movement reached its critical mass. However, all was not good in the hood, of Watts that is. As I wrote above California is a perplexing place. Blacks moved to the area during the great migration and were provided with jobs and homes. However, they still had to suffer under racism and racist policies with regards to residence, but more importantly their rights to assemble were non-existent. Whites in California were allowed to join groups like the boy scouts, and other teen groups, while blacks were barred. Also, whites could assemble, but when blacks assembled it was considered gang activity by the police. That is why in the history of the state gangs are disproportionately black, while fraternal societies were all white. They were also scrutinized far more by the police, and not just physically, but mentally and even spiritually. This led to a rise in solidarity amongst blacks and hence you have the gang situations. The festering boil of stress was even more projected because of the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. However, none of the policies changed police infractions, and the riot or uprising as some call it, began with the police.

It all began on the night of August 11th when Marquette Frye, a black man, was stopped and arrested by white police in his neighborhood in South Central L.A., which is a part of Watts. This happened in his neighborhood so the neighbors and onlookers were taking in all the actions. As he was being put into the cop car his brother and mother ran out pleading for his release. The police refused and after a scuffle they attempt to arrest his brother and mother as well, but the locals were not havin’ it. The crowd surrounded the police and began to spit on them, and pelt them and their car with bottles and rocks. The crowd proceeded to set small fires until the situation becomes dire, and hence you have one of the most notorious outbursts of violence in the good ol’ U.S. of A. For the next six days African-Americans and Latino loot and fire bomb the local white, and mostly Jewish, owned stores in the neighborhoods. As the city burned snipers sat perched on top of roofs in order to attempt to pick off firefighters who attempted to extinguish the many fires.

In the end the National Guard was called in to establish order by instituting a city-wide curfew, sound familiar, until the dust and smoke settles. In the end around 34 people die, around 4,000 are arrested and the damage estimates approach 40 million dollars.

 

The long hot summer of 1967 saw a melee all across the United States with a series of riots/uprisings. The northern urban cities of New York, Washington, DC, Chicago and Newark were all reeling from rioting in the streets. However, it was Detroit rock city that got the most attention, and the worst of the riots, which explains why it’s still in its disheveled state. It all began on July 23rd where the police raided a black-owned business while proceeding to smash in some skulls. Rumours spread following the raid of police brutality, which made blacks take to the streets in protest. Unfortunately, the current trend had some precedents, some of the protesters began to loot and burn down white-owned businesses. Because of the horrid precedent of 1943 the police and state officials feared that they might overreact so they left it alone. They even imposed a news blackout hoping that the violence and strife would blow over. However, that didn’t help as the rioters began burning down black-owned businesses as well.

In the end 43 died, 7,000 were arrested, and the total price tag to the damage exceeded 22 million dollars. The following year was a low-point as well due to the reaction to Martin Luther King’s assassination.

 

Boston is such a melting pot, unless you don’t mix well with the ingredients. On June 21st, 1974 a federal judge decreed that in order to bring racial balance to the school systems they instituted the busing method. Black children would be bused into white schools in white neighborhoods and visa versa. The decision escalates the tension between the black ghetto of Roxbury and the white Irish-Catholic counterpart in South Boston and immediately makes Judge W. Arthur Garrity the most hated man in the state. For the next three years the black children, who along with a police escort, were treated to a daily barrage of rocks, bottles and epithets by the local whites.

Even with the police protection, and overt security apparatus in the schools, racial fighting breaks out daily. The wrath was so pronounced that the photograph above, taken by Stanley Norman outside the Boston City Hall, shows the tension in the city.

 

12 years before the chase, arrest and subsequent beat down of Rodney King, we had the beauty of Miami and the murder trial of a black insurance salesman by the name of Arthur McDuffie. In December of 1979 McDuffie was arrested after a high-speed chase, and was later beaten to death by the police officers who benevolently beat him with their flashlights. The police claimed that he accidentally killed himself during the chase. The case was taken to court and presented in front of an all white jury, who would eventually acquit the four officers. The subsequent riots in the black ghetto of Liberty City, big ups to GTA: Vice City!!, claimed 18 lives and caused about 100 million dollars in damage.

The frustration is two-fold for African-Americans because they are being barred by whites, while the incoming Latino population are seen as taking their economic opportunities.

 

Rodney King has recently passed away, but his scars (physical, emotional, and mental) probably exhausted his soul. We all know the story, and thankfully it was recorded for the world to see over, and over, and over again. King was chased by police, stopped and subsequently brutally beaten by the police officers. The action was so blatant, and the proof as well, that most of the world thought the cops did wrong. However, the jury disagreed as they acquitted the officers. This caused one of the most chaotic riots on the closing of the twentieth century.

These are the prime examples of learning from past events. The last century saw plenty of violence and rioting, but we have to put it into context. All these riots/uprisings were perpetrated by whites against blacks in the earlier part of the century. By the 1960’s African-Americans began to voice their growing historical frustration through their actions. Gone were the days of non-violent protests. So, what can we make of the actions in Baltimore? It’s all a vicious cycle that must be broken. If we continue with the status quo then the actions will get far more dire, and then the system will either fall or react in a violent way. Raise your fists in protest, but all sides should know their American history.

 

Peace and respect to all who want to be free!!!

 

Note: Most of my research is public domain, and I urge you all to investigate for yourselves. Also, mad props for Ego Trip’s Book of Racism, don’t sleep on the sordid scholars.

 

 

 

 

Farts Will Be Heard: Jewish Audacity and the Punk Aesthetic

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In my days as an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, I attended an interesting array of classes. Being a history major I usually trolled the halls of the history department. However, being a Judaic Studies minor I also spent, as well as attended, many hours in the Jewish studies department. One of the classes I took was on American Jews and was taught by an extremely intelligent, and extremely old, professor. Professor Druks was his name, and most of the classes were his diatribes about the stupidity of our founding fathers. He went off on the doctor, and Declaration of Independence signer, Benjamin Rush. Apparently Rush was a huge critic of Jew and Judaism, while trying to convert them or put the fear of hell in their hearts. He also championed the idea of bloodletting, where he would dump the blood into the Potomac River. Not such a great idea s it attracted mosquitos and hence you have a leading cause of Malaria in the nation’s new capital. Besides that he also prodded us to seek out these stories of eccentric Jews who shook the rafters, seeing the status quo crumble to its knees. It was in this class that I decided to write my research paper on one of my favorite Jewish iconoclasts, Mel Brooks.

The paper, titled “Farts Will Be Heard” to the dismay of my professor led me to various sources, especially the book American Jewish Filmmakers by David Desser and Lester D. Friedman. The third chapter is devoted to Mel Brooks, and is titled farts will be heard. From the moment I saw the title I fell out laughing, but I also knew exactly what they were talking about. In one of Mel’s greatest films, Blazing Saddles, there’s a scene depicting an enormous amount of gas escaping from a group of cowboys’ rears.

Originally the studio was against the scene as the executives thought it was done in poor taste. However, the unrelenting attitude of Mel Brooks would never allow it. During the heated exchange between Mel and the studio executives he proclaimed in his New York Jewish accent that, “Farts Will be Heard.” Being one to never back down Mel has pushed the envelope going back to his first film The Producers. We take for granted the fact that humor and the Holocaust can be used in the modern-day, but when upon the film’s release this subject was extremely taboo. However, Mel being a boorish Jew, like the Jews before him, his contemporaries and future Jewish iconoclasts, pushed sensitivities that make these issues easier to embrace. Unfortunately, the US has gotten so sensitized to the idea of talking about race that a film like Blazing Saddles would not have gotten such a rave review if it was released in the present.

Mel Brooks is a genius, but he’s also got chutzpah, loosely meaning audacity, to push these ideas to shock and prod, but also to entertain and open the debate. Many Jews have done this in the many professions especially in popular culture, as this was the main way to make money when coming during the great immigration to the United States. This low-brow humor would prod the audience to laugh, but also to think about the constructs heaped on us by the elite, and usually waspish persuasion. Brooks brought that brand of comedy to the fore, forever changing the concept of American comedy.

Woody Allen is another example, although unlike the brashness of Brooks, Allen was started out with slapstick and would evolve into quite the auteur. Very few filmmakers can compete with the sheer amount of films, nor can they compete with the amount of accolades heaped on many of his films. His range is insane from the slapstick material (Bananas, Sleeper, and Take the Money and Run to name a few), to the sentimental nostalgia of New York City (Manhattan), to the complexity of relationships (Annie Hall and Husbands and Wives), and even the bizarrely serious (Interiors and Match Point), and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Both he and Brooks are not a rare breed as they are part of a bigger heritage of Jewish iconoclasts. We have to hark back before they came of age to the great Jewish comedian Lenny Bruce for a clearer picture.

Lenny Bruce’s influence lingers to this very day through the routines of such comedians as Chris Rock and Louis CK. Bruce had quite an influence by being one of the first successful comedians to use dirty language along with a smart-ass New York City attitude. His routines veered from language, as he was a supporter of the word “fuck,” but he also pushed an anti-establishment message. In the book The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB’s by Steven Lee Beeber, the author links Bruce to the performance traditions of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a Jewish bastion of performers. The author also asserts that before Bruce that “almost all comedians entertained both Jewish and non-Jewish worlds even as they internalized their exclusion and accepted it” (Beeber, p. 4). This feeling of exclusion was felt by Jews, but also by the best comics of the time as well who were African-American. He further shows that Bruce was aware of his Judaism because he said that, “I like to think of myself as a scholar of the Talmud of rock ‘n’ roll” (Ibid. p.7).

In the realm of music it could be argued that many of the iconoclasts who pushed the music were Jewish. We have the olden days of Jazz, Ragtime, Blues, and what would become R&B and Rock ‘n’ Roll. However, by the decade of the 1960’s two entities ruled the world of music, The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan, along with other Jewish songwriters at the time fused their Jewish versions with Americana. Sean Wilentz’s book Bob Dylan in America encapsulates specific eras of his life, while showing that his music always harked back to an American source. Other great artists of the time like Lou Reed (who was one of the first to record songs about Sadism and Masochism and Heroin) kept pushing the content further. Reed came from a typical Long Island suburban Jewish family, yet he embraced “suburban alienation and resentment.” Jews coming of age might have had a comfortable bed in their suburban household. However, this didn’t necessarily mean that they were fully assimilated into the American way.

By the decade of the 1970’s the musical terrain had gotten so bloated, even Rolling Stone magazine moved to posh locations amidst rising skyscrapers. So, naturally who would be the new crop of iconoclasts clothed in a new/old music later labeled Punk? It’s the Jews! to little surprise. Also, when the Punk culture began to take shape in New York City, as well as in Cleveland, Ohio, most of its roots were based on the antics of Lenny Bruce, the destitution of Lou Reed, and Bob Dylan’s Resolve. Beeber’s book is a treasure trove of information because he shows how most of these progenitors of Punk were almost all Jews. Along with the influence of Lou Reed, Danny Fields was another mythical character.

Danny Fields is standing on the right, along with Dee Dee and Joey Ramone, Linda Stein and David Bowie.

Danny Fields came from a conventional background, and is a very smart scholar who pushed and helped publicize various punk styles and groups from the MC5 to the Stooges to the Ramones. He’s also such a character that when seen being interviewed you laugh out loud. He a charmer and one of the early cheerleaders of the proto-Punk bands like the MC5 and The Stooges, to the Punk era Ramones. Many others were also part of the tribe like the duo of Martin Rev and Alan Vega, known as Suicide.

Suicide was an event to watch as their art was confrontational street culture, personified through minimalist performances, influential to many in the scene. Through a violent performance Vega interacted with the crowd while acting in a masochistic fashion. With the use of vocals and synthesizer, they paved the way for many minimalist groups like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire. There are countless others including Jonathan Richman, of the Modern Lovers, was another sentimental straight man who gave us ballads Punk ballads about Boston, the proprietor of the legendary CBGB’s, Hilly Krystal, was another Jew who lived on a commune in upstate New York during his youth, the main singer (“Handsome” Dick Manitoba) and songwriter (Andy Shernof) of the first American Punk group to release a record, The Dictators, Joey and Tommy Ramone of the Ramones, Richard Meyers, B/K/A Richard Hell of Television, and the Voidoids, Chris Stein who molded the Punk goddess Debbie Harry of Blondie, were all Jewish.

Talking about women I have to mention the first real all girl rock group. Goldie and the Gingerbreads preceded the record company manufactured Runaways. Goldie – Genyusha Zelkowitz or best known as – Genya Ravan, is considered the mother of the Riot Grrrl music scene. Her and Helen Wheels were very influential but their brashness intimidated the men. These women who paved the way for the Riot Grrrl wave in the 1980’s and 1990’s, were mostly Jewish women. Being of little coincidence is the fact that many of these groups like Bikini Kill, Sleater Kinny have Jewish members.

There’s even an argument that the same goes for the Punk scene in England that was spearheaded by two Jewish businessmen. Malcolm McLaren, who would go on to manage the Sex Pistols as well as make some legendary rap records, was one and the other was Bernie Rhodes who would manage the Clash.

Besides the iconoclasts of music, music journalism by the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was beginning to change. In the past music journalism was on the fringe, or a marginal pariah where the journalist was usually treated like a sub-human species, like crap! By the 1970’s a new breed of journalists were taking the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) model, fusing it into their words. The new crop consisted of such luminaries as Lenny Kaye, Richard Meltzer, Sandy Pearlman who wrote for Crawdaddy, Jon Landau and Lisa Robinson who wrote for Creem, Greil Marcus and Nik Cohn who wrote for Rolling Stone, and Andy Schwartz who wrote for the New York Rocker.

 

John Holmstrom and his founding of Punk magazine along with Legs McNeil was another watershed moment for the movement. He embraced the idea of naming the magazine Punk because it was like a curse word and very forceful to viewers, a la Lenny Bruce. This magazine would pave the way for the label that historians would position it with this music. These journalists became celebrities in their own write, and the print culture in New York was changing with the likes of R. Crumb and the founding of MAD magazine. There was also a change of tone in the content with more serious slant and topics in the comic world in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, which paved the way for innovative comic works like Maus and Ghost World. All these writers and publications formulated the rules which were anti-establishment, DIY, and promoting the punk aesthetic.

Now let us come full circle with Mel Brooks and the Punk aesthetic. One of the main markers of Punk was the use of Nazi imagery. The use of Nazi imagery in Punk music was prevalent and Beeber asserts that the “responses to the Holocaust range from the mocking to the shocking to the world rocking”(Beeber, p.164). Punk groups (both in the US and UK) dealt with the issue through their art as scholar Jon Stratton argues in his book and articles, especially the articles. He also makes the same point about England’s pride at beating the Nazis and loss of their dominance, the reactions to the loss of an empire. When he veers to France and the popular Jewish artist Serge Gainsbourg, who lived in France during the Nazi occupation wearing a yellow star, there is a comparison to Mel Brooks and his first film The Producers. In 1975 Serge Gainsbourg released his album on the legacy of the Nazis and the Holocaust titled Rock Around the Bunker. It was done for shock values, an element of rebellion, while tearing down the symbols of oppression, as well as oppressive seriousness. Mel Brooks achieved the same goal by breaking down the barriers of accepted comedy. Bruce did this, as the Punk musicians did the same with the music. There is even a connection with these Jews and the Jews who would be involved in the other burgeoning art of 1970’s New York City, Hip-Hop.

What does it all mean? G-d only knows, but thankfully farts were heard!

Peace

#MelBrooks #BlazingSaddles #WoodyAllen #CBGB’s #LennyBruce #StevenLeeBeeber #SeanWilentz #TheHeebie-JeebiesatCBGB’s #Suicide #The Ramones #TheProducers #PunkMagazine

 

 

 

 

JewDan’s Manifesting

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My Dissertation Ideas for the Masses

This blog post is part of my dissertation ideas and the analysis. The dissertation analysis will cover the historical relationship between Jewish Americans and African Americans in popular American music. Were Jews responsible for the theft and exploitation of black artists? Or was the relationship more complicated, as shown by the past half-century of scholarship. In the past five decades scholars have written on this so-called relationship by chronicling its heights, such as with the labor unions, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Civil Rights Movement, to its fracturing due to black militancy, Islamic extremism, and Jewish disillusionment. Other scholars have written on the fiction of a cohesive relationship that never existed, or at least in the way it is portrayed. Historians like Hasia Diner, Paul Berman, Seth Forman, and Ethan Goffman have written on this myth over the decades in their works. According to the Jewish scholar Emily Miller Budick their works, along with Jeffrey Melnick’s study, are all part of the larger argument that, “Identification and the utilization of black cultural materials were less acts of Jewish commitment to the black cause than a way American Jews had of positioning themselves as white Americans within a racist and potentially anti-Semitic social structure.”[1] This is not the entire story because Jewish immigrants to the United States had their past severed by these scholars. European Jews constantly faced violence and oppression due to their beliefs. It would take centuries for them to attain emancipation from the ghettos, but the next challenge would be assimilation. European Jews have always adapted their country’s culture, so much so that most of the Jews who perished in the Holocaust were not observant. Once the great waves immigrated to the United States they naturally continued the process of assimilation. These scholars also do not state the fact that European Jewish immigrants had a long tradition of music through liturgy, one example being Mark Slobin’s book Tenement Songs, and other religious observances and celebrations, not to mention that the Eastern European Ashkenazim and the Middle Eastern and North African Sephardim have very distinct differences with regards to tunes, melodies, and music making. The story of the Jews in music, as well as their relationship with black artists, is far more complicated and rich.

 

These Jewish immigrants, and their children, had very little encounters with African Americans before the 20th Century. Once they both arrived at the urban centers of the United States due to the immigration rates and the great migration from the south, they began to encounter each other. They worked with each other and though Jews began to gain more power by positioning themselves as owners, they still were not the settled Christians of the nation. Due to their history in Europe there was a sense of anxiety, which in certain sections remains to this day, so they felt far more dutiful to assimilate. Scholars have asked why so many Jewish personalities have been part of the music industry, especially when working with black artists? Jonathan Karp argues that certain Jews could immerse themselves in blackness while remaining distant to its true implications. He writes that, “Jews attracted to the black mystique may have sought escape from their own ethnic heritage through immersion in the culture of a hipper “other,” but such empathy did not mean sharing in any debilitating anxieties that blacks may have felt over their capacity to succeed in business.”[2] These individuals he calls “non-Jewish Jews” or “Jewish white negroes” were mostly the businessmen of the 1950’s and 1960’s. By the 1960’s and 1970’s many Jews became visible artists, yet they shared the same interests in black music promoting the electric blues genre, as argued by Jon Stratton in his work Jews, Race and Popular Music. This sentiment changed, but the equation would remain for the next great music genre, rap music.

The wage of whiteness is important to mention because these Jews were still considered white, yet some felt far more akin with blacks. This kinship is complicated because Jews are white therefore they have more power than blacks in the industry, which was built on illegality and racism. This issue is important with regards to the relationships being called exploitative or one sided. This is the case in certain examples, but it wasn’t the norm. By the decade of the 1950’s and 1960’s the Civil Rights Movement, and later the Black Power Movement, African Americans were becoming far more empowered than in the past. They had more control over their destinies, yet the music business remained racially hierarchical. By the decade of the 1970’s a new art form began to take hold first in New York City, and later in the tri-state area, and globally in the present. Hip Hop is the newest musical form created by blacks, as well as Hispanics, and the dynamic remains. Just like the independent record labels of the 1950’s, which were overwhelmingly almost all owned by Jews, and mentioned in Karp’s article and by other writers like Jon Stratton and Michael Billig, the same story occurred with the early years of rap music. Rap music saw the rise of many Jewish personalities, and the best example of this literature is by Dan Charnas, who have helped it in its infancy to become the global phenomenon it is today. But unlike the past African American artists, as well as producers, label owners, radio personalities, and promoters, were far more empowered than in the past. This has sparked some controversy with rappers openly chiding Jewish ownership. However, the relationship between Jews and blacks in Hip-Hop is far stronger today than ever before. This bond helped create American popular culture, and remains fixed in most of our imaginations.

[1] Budick, Emily Miller. “A…..

[2] Karp, Jonathan.