Sunday, February 15, 2009

Toasts, Boasts and Street Stories

Back…caught you lookin’ for the same thing!

Okay true believers, history buffs, hip-hop aficionados and people who are just bored out of their skulls, Hip-Hop 101A is back. Dig it, before I go any further special shout to my man Mike G for supplying me with the information for this piece and o-dub over at soul-sides for the inspiring sounds.

Let us move on…

In the years immediately following the release of ‘Rappers Delight’ and ‘The Message’, newspaper reports and magazine features briefly mentioned raps origins being connected with toasts.

For the record: I didn’t know what in the hell they were talking about.

The first toast I ever heard was Hustlers Convention by Lightning Rod (aka Jalal of the Last Poets). At one time the toast Sport” on the Hustlers Convention album was a staple on the b-boy scene because it opened with a bass and drum break that flowed into some horns. The opening lines went something like this…

“It was a full moon in the middle of June,

In the summer of ‘59

I was young and cool and shot a bad game of pool,

And hustled all the chumps I could find.

Now they call me Sport,

Cause I push the ball short,

And loved all the women to death.

I partied hard and packed a mean rod,

That could knock you out from the right or the left.”

Hustlers Convention contained a full album with tracks by Kool and the Gang along with Eric Gale and Buddy Miles. It was a gangsta ass album when Ice Cube and Dr. Dre were still potty training. Jalal as Lightning Rod, ran down the adventures of he and his ace boon coon Spoon, as they prepared to take on all winners at the ultimate street extravaganza, a one night winner-takes-all in craps, pool and cards at a place called Ham hocks Hall. The event is so high powered that hustlers from every part of the country attend: Finger Poppin Teddy and his call girl Betty, Grit, Big Bill Wheeler (international drug dealer), Stingy Brim Slim and many others.

Lightning Rod must’ve had an eye for cinematography, listening to him will make you think of Madame Zenobia’s in the Bill Cosby/Sidney Poitier flick “Uptown Saturday Night.”

Hustlers Convention ends with Sport sentenced to the chair and then shipped to Sing Sing from there, where he kept on coppin’ a plea. The best line of the whole album is where the Black Nationalist Jalal steps in and unveils the stupidity of thug life with the lines

‘The real hustlers steal billions,

From the unsuspecting millions,

Who are programmed to think they can win…

In my solitude I found out what’s really goin’ down you see…

I learned the whole truth when I was there.”

In all honesty the first place I heard Hustlers Convention was on the album “Grandmaster Mele Mel and the Furious Five”. Mele Mel did a remake of the toast “Sport” and totally reworked the scene at Hamhocks Hall. At the time, I thought Mel was a genius because I had never heard anyone rap like that before.

Little did I know back then, that that was the original style street hustlers rapped in back in the 50’s and 60’s. There are hundreds of toasts – why they are called toasts is beyond me, but, they deal with street life. They apparently originated on street corners and penitentiaries all over the country. The poems a lot of them sad, tragic, some funny, some remorseful talk about the blows a pimp takes in the game, the lost love of a pimp (Doriella DuFontaine) and the penalty one must take for participating in the game.

Iceberg Slim (a/k/a Robert Beck) a man who was no stranger to jail cells or street corners, recorded his own collections of toasts for an album called Reflections, Slim wrote his own toast to his deceased mother Mary Brown Beck, it’s title? Momma Debt.

One of the most popular toasts is attributed to the late comedian Rudy Ray Moore b/k/a Dolemite, Moore popularized the toast the “Signifying Monkey”, to this day, at 40 years of age, I still don’t know what signifyin’ is, but the monkey, a bad mother fuckin monkey at that, talked shit to any and every one in the jungle.

“Way down in the jungle deep,

The signifyin’ monkey stepped on the lions feet…”

Listening to the toasts I can see where someone could get the inspiration perhaps to say them to the beat, especially when you consider that it was the funk and soul era, it would only be natural to marry street poetry with funky beats.