Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Founding Fathers

This is a documentary coming out sometime next year, I don't know who the producers of this film are, but they are on point in this joint. Some of the people I recognize off the bat are: DJ Divine of Infinity Machine, Sweety Gee and Pete DJ Jones.

One of the premises of this film is that hip-hop didn't just start in the Bronx. One of the first people I remember is a guy who played all over Queens named King Charles. This was 1977 maybe early 1978, that I started seeing flyers all over the place featuring his jams, along with the Disco Twins and Cipher Sounds. At the top of the flyer it would say: Tiny Promotions, or something like that.

I hope Pete Jones says live on camera that he is NOT from Brooklyn! For years it has been reported that Pete DJ Jones was from Brooklyn - he isn't, he lives in the Bronx and is originally from Durham, North Carolina.

I remember a couple of years back my home boy Davey D was on a panel somewhere in New York, when a brother in the audience got real heated up, when a Bronx cat, possibly Grandmaster Caz, said something to the effect of hip-hop starting in the Bronx with Kool Herc.

This brother, who was the maintenance man or something like that in the venue where the panel was being held took real exception to the whole "hip-hop started in the Bronx" thing. He said, hip-hop started in Brooklyn with guys like Grandmaster Flowers and the Smith Brothers and he named off all kinds of streets and projects where the different deejays did their thing at. To top it off, he said the Bronx cats never came around there, so how would they know what they were doing?

To be sure, there were all kinds of mobile jocks in New York in the early 70's. Hands down, no questions. I've always asked the Bronx cats that I've interviewed this one important question, "Yo, what impact did the Jamaican sound systems have on ya'll?"

Everybody from Toney Tone to Kool Herc to Bambaataa said: "None, none at all. They weren't a part of our thing. They did their own thing."

Which is more than likely true, with one exception Grandmaster Flash's sound system the Gladiator was built by some Jamaican brothers on Freeman Street. And in Brooklyn, there is no way in the world those dudes in Brooklyn could not have heard the different sound systems. Deejay culture in Jamaica goes back to the 50's!

The one time I interviewed Kool Herc I asked him about the Jamaican sound systems in the Bronx and he acknowledged knowing a few of them, but said that they had no influence or impact whatsoever.

What pisses alot of dudes from Queens and Brooklyn off is when the Bronx cats dismiss them (the early dudes that is) as being "disco". That's a diss, in the literal sense. It's their way of dismissing those brothers as being something inauthentic. To be sure, yes, the brothers did play what was popular on the radio, but they also played breaks too! The real division between the Bronx and I'm gonna say the other four boroughs, is the fact that there was a heavier emphasis on breaks - rare breaks and scratching. Also the MC'ing was a little rawer too. But it was basically the same thing: Talking over funky ass beats on a sureshot sound system.

See the pic above for my personal opinion as to where hip-hop really comes from.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Tribute to a Real Rapper...

This guy was sayin' some deep stuff
when Tupac was an itch in his daddy's

He was a poet, preacher and a communicator
in the soulful age of Rhythm and Blues when
singers not only sang, but rapped as well. And
they said some really deep, soul stirring stuff too.
They talked about life, love, heartbreak,
pain and hard times.

In other words, real life ish.

By no stretch of the imagination was Bobby
Womack a hip-hopper. But we can learn
a lot from he and his music.

"Across 110th Street", "If You Think You're
Lonely Now", "A Woman's Gotta Have It",
"I'm Lookin' For A Love", "Where Do We Go
From Here", "Harry Hippie" and "I Can Understand It";
Womack had a way of getting straight to the heart of
the matter.

"When the skeletons come out of the closet,
And chase you all around the room,
And the memories sail around like a ghost,
And mess you around with a sad long tune.
If you think you're lonely now - wait until tonight."

And this...

"I was the third brother of five,
Doin' whatever I had to do to survive.

I'm not saying what I did was all right.
Tryin' to make it out of the ghetto was a day to day fight."

I met him backstage at the Oakland Paramount Theatre in 1996.
I didn't know how old he was. But the brother seemed "old"
to me. I now know that he was about fifty-two - but
from being around him and listening to him he seemed like he
was seventy-two.

My best friend Mark was working with the promoter somehow
or another, so I tagged along and got to hang out with "The Poet."
He was impressed by my knowledge of music.
Only a crate digger knows that it was Bobby and Gabor Sazbo
(I probably spelled it wrong) that originally did "Breezin"
a song that George Benson would later popularize.
Bobby's eyes glistened behind his glasses and a warm smile
enveloped his face with every song of his I mentioned.
After all it isn't everyday that a legendary soul man comes
face to face with a twenty-six year old that knows his
music like it came out yesterday.

At the time I was shopping demos and having no luck.
I had heard all of the music business horror stories: Broke artists.
Ripped off artists. Broken groups. Fat cat record men with huge
pockets made off of near destitute artists. I had to ask someone who
would really know...

"Mr. Womack, how do you make a living in the music business?"

Mr. Womack took a long draw on his cigarette while interrupting
himself from the small space of solitude that he reserved for
himself for quiet private thoughts and said to me: "Son, you gotta
love what you do."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ain't Someone Ever Gonna Give Me A Break

Kurt Walker probably never had the kind of job where he had to punch a clock or take his lunch to work in a brown paper bag everyday. And he more than likely never stood on line at the unemployment office either. Yet, his music – at least in the first part of his career, was firmly grounded in the blue collar work world of fifteen minute lunch breaks, irate supervisors, low pay and lay offs.

Of all the “firsts” that Kurtis Blow can truly lay claim to(first rapper signed to a major record company, first rapper with a RIAA certified gold record, first rapper turned producer, first rapper on Soul Train and first rapper to make a million bucks) he bears the distinction of being the first and at this point, probably the only, rapper to make songs that paid tribute to that long forgotten shadow of the American silhouette: the hard-working everyday man.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, politicians used to care about the guy who punched in at 7:30 everyday and punched out at 5:00. He got by on little and managed to eke out an existence on even less. But he’s been tossed to the side like that old worn out sofa that’s been in the living room for far longer than anyone can remember. Discarded. Dismembered. No longer useful. No one targets him as a demographic anymore. He’s been replaced by soccer moms and hockey moms.

There once was a time – when the genre was called Rhythm and Blues, that the music was directly aimed at the blue collar workforce. Men like Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, Sam Cooke and ZZ Hill come to mind. They talked about “the boss” and real life every day situations. Nowadays every nigga’s a player or a hustler. And everybody knows that players and hustlers don’t work.

For whatever reason Country music never lost this connection with the everyday man.

The last Rhythm and Blues record that truly captured the sentiment of and related to the ‘hard-hat wearing, cigarette-in-one-hand and gin and tonic in the other’ everyday man was an instrumental by John Handy aptly titled “Hard Work.”

In a culture that celebrates out of control narcissism and unchecked hedonism; songs like “Hard Times”, “Tough”, “The Breaks”, “If I Ruled The World” and “Party Time” would probably not make a dent in corporate controlled radio play lists and would definitely never see the light of day on BET.

But if you listen to those songs closely you’ll hear outlooks that only a man who’s been on the wrong side of words like “opportunity” and “profit sharing” can relate to. This is real adult content.

“You work all year to buy a brand new car,

A CoupDe Ville or a Jaguar,

But you didn’t make enough for a good cigar

Cause it’s tough!”

TOUGH: It’s a way of life, lost your job,

Your money but not your wife.

ROUGH: Getting in the black

Uncle Sam’s in your pocket,

And your woman’s on your back.

HARD: That’s the deal,

Had to get a loan

Just to buy a meal

TOUGH: That’s how it goes when it’s getting better nobody knows!

TOUGH: That’s the word,

Unemployment is all I heard.

ROUGH: When you start your day,

Watching the finance man tow your car away.

HARD: To hold a job,

When your being replaced by a little blue knob.

TOUGH: Like a dollar steak

Ain’t someone ever gonna give me a break!