Hip-Hop History 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Peace

 

 

 

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