Twenty Years Ago in Hip-Hop Classics

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

#DigablePlanets #BlowoutComb

 

 

 

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From Paris with Love, and Hip-Hop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace