Saturday, May 15, 2010

Fela! On Broadway












Been meaning to blog about this, while I was in New York I went to go see the Broadway musical Fela! This is a musical produced by Will and Jada Smith as well as Jay Z. If you don't know who Fela is go get a late pass.

He's to African music what James Brown is to funk. What Bob Marley is to reggae and what Malcolm X is to Black Power. When your in NY go see Fela! It was just got nominated for 11 Tony awards.

Quote of the Week...

















The other day, there was a heated discussion on Facebook. Former Furious Five MC Rahiem rattled a few cages and shook a few nerves with his remarks about who and what a pioneer is.

I won't go into everything he said but his ideas do merit note. First, there are very few "true" pioneers in hip-hop. He says outside of Kool Herc, Afrika Bam, Coke La Rock, Timmy Tim and DJ Hollywood, there are no pioneers. Why does he say that? Because the previously mentioned brothers were the ones who blazed the trail and started this thing of ours. What blew me away was a Bronx cat gave Wood credit for starting rap as we know it today. Usually, it's the cats from Harlem that cite Wood as an influence, the Bx dudes have been frontin' for years.

Second, he says that Grandmaster Flash, Grandwizard Theodore and Grandmixer DST are not just pioneers, but they are innovators. Flash, innovated the theories and practices of the quick mix. Theodore, added the scratch, and DST was the one who took all of that and made the turntable an instrument. That's innovation.

He says everyone else that came after -including himself, are legends.

That's alot to think on and maybe we'll discuss some time soon.

Anyway, Cold Crush deejay Tony Tone questioned Ra's theory. Let's put it this way, they had a very spirited discussion. Tone, says he doesn't care one way or the other, he knows what his contributions to the culture are. For those that don't know, Tone was the sound man for the Cold Crush. He started with DJ Breakout in 1974. That's a long time back. Especially when you consider that Herc's first party was in August of 1973!

Anyway, Tone gets the quote of the week, he says he was talking to a brother he's known a long time, who told him that he's "out grown hip-hop." Upon hearing that statement, Tone pondered on it a moment and then asked the brother: "...Well, what have you grown into?"

The brother didn't respond, or his response doesn't matter. Hip hop is real. It is who I am. It is who Rahiem is. It is who Tony Tone is. It's who DJ Hollywood is. And all of us that love this culture and music. I still walk with a bop - not when I'm working, wear my hat backwards - not when I'm working, and lose my mind when I hear breaks like "Listen to Me". This is forever, baby. I'm 41 now, and if God says the same, I'll still be a b-boy at 71! Ain't no outgrowing this here!

Friday, April 30, 2010

Mark Skillz and Travis Senger on WFMU

Ok, now you know I ain't really into the glorification of myself, i like to highlight the music and the people, but in this case where, its about a film that i am extremely proud of, its like the old saying, "If you don't blow your own horn, no one will know you can play..."

Anyway, here is the show we did, but first a little background would be nice here.

Twenty years ago, yours truly was a struggling MC trying to get on. A good friend of mine (Damina) worked with a guy named Billy Jam who had a show on KALX. I took my demo on his show. After playing the demo he opened the lines up to the audience, audience gave it five thumbs up. Billy didn't like it. At that time Billy like a group called APG.

Anyway, Bill loves this movie. I've been redeemed.

http://www.wfmu.org/flashplayer.php?version=2&show=35472&archive=60319

...And the winner is: "White Lines and The Fever"










"Wow" and "Daaaaamn" are the only words I can think of to describe my reaction to "White Lines" winning yesterday at the Tribeca Film Fest.

Let's go back a sec. I was in New York last week for the film's premiere at the Chelsea Cinema. Had fun in New York by the way. My parents were there also. Anyway, the first night, Friday night, I sat there watching the film, I've never been so focused on a film before in my life. So much anticipation. From beginning to end, it was great. I knew the story - hell, I co-wrote it with Travis, but I hadn't seen it on that big of a damn screen before. Everything was extremely well done. The editing (Michelle Witten gets a strong shout here), the audio was well mixed, the story flowed extremely well. There is nothing I would change. Absolutely nothing.

As I sat in the theatre looking at the big screen, my eyes clouded up as I remembered that day eight years ago, when I first started writing, I had given up on my dream to be an MC. I was out of work, unemployed, and had this kooky idea to take up writing, at what I felt was a little late in life. At the age of 34, i had finally decided to listen to my mother and see if there was anything to this writing thing. My wife, who was extremely frustrated with the idea, asked me as I wrote one of my first stories, "Are you gonna get paid for it?" I told her no, that I would have to do some free work for a minute, before I could get paid.

I thought back to that morning when my publisher Andre Torres called me and said, "Yo, is this Mark?"

"Yeah," I said, as it was eight o'clock in the morning and I was still asleep.

"Yo, my name is Andre Torres, I'm the editor of Wax Poetics. Hey man, I got your query, hey, you're what we're looking for at our publication. I don't know if you've ever heard of our publication before..."

Heard of his publication before? Hell yeah. I have the first issue. I kinda borrowed-it-and-still-haven't-returned-it-yet from a guy called Cool Chris at Groove Merchant Records in San Francisco. Uh, Chris, if you should be reading this right now, when I get back to the Bay I'll make every effort to get over to the city to give you back your magazine. Trouble is I don't know when I'll be back in the Bay Area...

Anyway, so Andre asks me what do I want to write about. I pitched the Fever story to him. He said, "How many words do you want? 7,000? 6,000?"

I said, "Nah, 5,000 should be enough."

"You sure, man?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," I said. A few weeks later I called him back and said, "Say, about those 6,000 words..."

Anyway, I wrote the story as I was transitioning from the West Coast, my home of many years, to the South. I drove across the country. I stopped at every Barnes and Nobles along the way to see Wax Poetics issue 14. I had to read it. I had to see my work in the stores. It was a great fuckin feelin. All of it was there. The little sub chapters "The Place to Be", "Chillin' VIP Style", "Junebug the Baddest Deejay Ever".

Fast forward to December 2008. I get an email from a guy named Nydrin Barnes. "The reason I'm writing to you is because I came across your article online entitled 'When the Fever was the Mecca" and wanted to know anything you can tell me about DJ Junebug, the reason I'm writing is because I'm his son, and I never got to know him. So anything you can tell me would be greatly appreciated..."

I didn't know Junebug. But I knew some guys that did. As a dad it touched my heart that there was a person out there that never got to know their dad, who was an extremely talented and celebrated person among his peers. I put him in touch with Disco Bee and Sal. And I left it at that.

When Michael Mouncer hit me up about optioning the rights to my story for a film project, i was overjoyed. Man, great, someone wants to produce this. Travis and I sounded the story out. We narrowed it down to be about Junebug. I reached out to Sal. Sal, the typical Bronx, New Yorker was a little leery at first. "Have these people ever done anything before?"

Travis and Mike sent me a link to their previous work. They did a video for a group called The Counts. What caught my attention, was that they went out of their way to make an authentic looking Sesame Street episode. They used the same camera and same graphics, that the show used way back in 1969, which was when I used to watch it. My street instincts told me to work with these guys.










"Sal, these are young, hungry, professional filmmakers. I have alot of confidence in them."

Sal agreed.

Now we needed Sweet G.









G lives in Columbia, SC just like i do. I've been here for four years and had never ran into G one time. And then one day, the day after Sal agreed to do the film, I'm standing on line at the gas station. That little voice in the back of my head started whispering to me in my inner ear. Cop. Cop. There's a cop near by. I don't know how to explain this to you, unless you've been in the streets before, but I can feel a cop or pick a cop out of anywhere. I turned around and there was a cop behind me. But this wasn't any ordinary cop. There was something familiar about this cops face. I turned around and looked at him again. Thought for a second, looked again. It was Sweet G.


"Are you Sweet G? George from the Fever?"

"Yeah, that's me."

"Lawd hammercy," I thought to myself, "there really is a Gawd."

"I'm Mark Skillz from Wax Poetics."

"Hey, I know that magazine I have it in my house."

"Yeah, I wrote the story."

We talked for a minute, I told him to give me his number. I couldn't believe how all of this was coming together.

Then we needed to get someone else who knew Junebug well. I reached out to my friend Disco Bee. "Yeah, I knew him," Bee told me. Turns out Bee and Bug were best friends.










We didn't know Junebug's real name. I called Sal, "Hey Sal, Sal, what was Junebug's real name?" In Sal's defense, he is close to 60. "Uhhhhhhhhh, I don't remember. Hey, I know look on G's record, you know that one "A Heartbeat Rap"? it's on there."

The credit reads: DJ Junebug.

I asked DJ Hollywood the man that taught Junebug how to spin. "Yo Wood, what was Junebug's real name?"

'Julio something or another."

Finally, I asked Sweet G.

"Yo G, yo man, I need your help. Yo, what was Junebug's real name?"

Without missing a beat, he said, "My friend's name was Jose Almeda."

It was at that moment that I knew that not only had I found one of Junebug's best friends, but I knew that we had a story with a lot of emotion.

And that's why we won at Tribeca....

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Road To Tribeca Pt. 1
















So, "White Lines and The Fever" has been accepted into the Tribeca Film Fest! Could I be happier? I dunno, I was stunned silent when we won the Grand Jury award for Best Documentary Short Film at SXSW Film Fest, and now we're heading into Tribeca?!? Wow...

http://www.tribecafilm.com/filmguide/shorts_flashback-film31283.html

I got the call at somewhere near midnight a few nights ago. Honestly, I was sitting in my other office (the bathroom) when my cell phone started ringing. "Who in the hell is that calling here at this time of night!" I said out loud, cause I don't want my wife thinking some woman is calling me or no shit like that. Anyway, she opened the door to my other office and handed me my phone, it was Michael Mouncer.

"What in the hell is Mike doin' callin' me at this time of night?" I thought to myself. "Oh no, maybe we got booed or some shit like that at the film fest. Goddamn it.

Me: Hello
Him: (loud party noise in the background people cheering and shit like that) Hello Mark
Me: Hey Mike, what's the deal?"
Him: YOUR AN AWARD WINNING WRITER NOW, MARK
Me: Huh?
Him: YOUR AN AWARD WINNING WRITER NOW, MARK
Me: How?
Him: We won in our category, we got the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary Film Short
Me: No shit?
Him: No shit buddy!

I couldn't move. Damn. We won. Still sitting on the can I called the one person in the world to whom I owe it all to.

"Hey Pop!" I blurted into the phone in the middle of the night still sittin' on the can.
'Hey!" My dad said, probably looking at his clock and wondering the same thing that I did: "who-in-the-hell-is- this, and if it's Mark calling my house at this time of night, something is really wrong."
"Hey Pop, we won."
'You won, won what?"
"Hey Pop, we won in our category at the SXSW Film Fest."
"What? Hold on a second Mom's up. Hey, Mark's film won it's category at the film fest."
"Oh shit!" I heard my mom say in the background.

Understand this, I didn't start writing until I was 34 years old. And please believe my mother has been encouraging me to write since I was in the third grade. But I couldn't see it.

"Wow," she said into the phone, "did you ever believe something like this would happen?"
"Nope, not ever," I told her.
"Hey," My dad said in the background, "bet you didn't see this comin' fifteen years ago!"
"Hell no I didn't," we laughed.

Fifteen years ago...what was I doing? I need pencil and paper. I can write my ass off, but I need pencil and paper to do math.

Oh shit, I was twenty-six years old. I was working as a telecom tech and mailroom clerk at James River. I was hustling my demo tapes everywhere and was getting nowhere. I had my heart set on my music. Glad to see I had more to offer the world than just music. And I'm even happier to realize my God given gifts, millions of people walk through life not knowing what they were put on Earth to do. It is truly a blessing....

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Turntable Skillz 101 with Grandmaster Flash...

I didn't get to see this back in the day, basically, cuz my family was too poor to afford cable television. I remember asking my moms, "Yo Ma, when're we gonna get cable?" To which she would look up and say something like, "When somebody around here can afford it!"

I remember hearing about HBO when I was a kid in the late 70's and early 80's, but I never saw it. I heard about MTV in the early 80's, I didn't see it until one day at my home boy Rod's house, he was watching Mike Jax singin' "Billie Jean".

Back in the 80's I heard stories of Flash being on MTV demonstrating his "quick mix" skills. At that time, on MTV, if you were Black and weren't Mike Jax or Prince, then you got no love from MTV! So to hear about Flash being on MTV with his turntables was some other shit!

I never got to see it until now...

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Makes You Wanna Holla

This ain't hip-hop related but humor me for a moment here...

When I think about what the forces of evil (the Machine) have done to our culture, I swear it makes me wanna holla, throw up both of my hands and yell from the tallest building.

But I'd get arrested and thrown in the looney house so I won't be doing that anytime soon.

But for real. Look at the values that have corrupted our culture. Materialism is first and foremost, there used to be a time when you would say that a person was so fake that they were plastic, now look, girls wanna look like Barbie, so much so to the point that they literally look plastic.

Let's take inventory here:
Fake lips
Fake hair
Fake nails
Fake tits
Botox in forehead
and last but not least, and probably should be at the top of the list
FAKE ASSES.

What da fuck?

I saw a pic of a video model, who shall go nameless here, and this chick looked like she weighed no more than a 130 pounds...now how can that ditz have a 60inch azz?

Women i know and have seen with 60 inches of azz are clearly over two hunnit. They ain't pushin' two hunnit, they are over two hunnit. Ain't no way some broad 5'3 and 130 lbs can have 60 inches of azz!

Makes me wanna sing that old Teddy Pendergrass song "Be For Real..."

And the homo thugs aren't any better. Recent news about an artist I have always respected has me looking at him sideways now. Didn't see that one coming.

When I think about all of it, I feel like the last man that really cares. That forgotten person stranded on planet in some Twilight Zone episode. Wait, not the Twilight Zone, right about now I feel like Chief Iron Eyes Cody, from the "Keep America Beautiful" commercial. You know, The Indian in the commercial from back in the day.

You know the commercial, right? the Indian cat is rowing his boat in the peace and serenity of the great and beautiful outdoors. Everything is lovely...and then all of a sudden some jackoff in a station wagon drives by and throws some trash out his window. The camera pans to the Indian who has a lone teardrop fall from his eye.

Remember it now?

That's how I feel, when I see what these morons have done to our culture!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Shout to Guru

So glad to hear Guru, who will always be known for Gang Starr, has pulled through this major crisis in his life. It's a wake up call for all of us, to take better care of ourselves.

In the early 90's hip-hop (da boom bap flava that is) was at its apex, Gang Starr was one of the groups that was taking things to the next level. This wasn't a couple of guys with dope beats and a marketing gimmick, these were two serious brothers who were dedicated to taking the music beyond its boundaries, but still have it grounded in its original form.

Keith, put a lot of thought into his lyrics. He understood how to match themes with the atmosphere of the beats Premiere supplied. They were one of few groups back then who's songs were "in the pocket" so to speak.

Even when he did "love rap" Guru was still hardcore!



My favorite Gang Starr joint is "Check the Technique", this Marlena Shaw based sample is Guru at his best lyrically. Guru and Premo forged the bridge between hip-hop and jazz like no one had ever done before. Jazzy Jeff's "A Touch of Jazz" was the first to cut breaks (Harlem River Drive, Change Makes You Wanna Hustle) but Premo turned the world upside down with his jazz and funk based samples.

Guru this is for you...


The first time I heard the name Gang Starr it was a group called Gang Starr Posse, it was Keithy E and a couple of others, that crew went nowhere, but once Guru and Premo hooked up and rocked the streets with "Words that I Manifest" it was over...

Friday, February 26, 2010

White Lines and The Fever



"...This is a revolution sureshot!"

If you'll be in Texas for the SXSW film fest March 13th -20th be sure to check out "White Lines and The Fever". This film is based off of my 2005 article "When the Fever was the Mecca."

We filmed this last October at the Salud Club in Yonkers, NY. Club Salud is owned by Sal Abbatiello, the previous owner of the South Bronx club The Fever.

Appearing in this film are Kurtis Blow, DJ Hollywood, Sweet Gee and Disco Bee. It's directed by Travis Senger and produced by Michael Mouncer.

Anyway, The Fever, as Sal likes to say, is the last great story about that bygone era.

Check it out and lemme know what you think.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Think I'd take my chance with the Apache Line

















With all of the talk about gangs and hip-hop I got this little tidbit from my home boy George "Sweet Gee" Godfrey.

George, a Bronx native was being recruited into the Black Spades, which by the way, was the biggest black gang in New York in the 60's and 70's. He told me to be initiated into the Spades you had to ride a bike off of the sixth floor of an apartment building and into a tree!

I don't know about you, but...that doesn't sound very smart to me. Not only doesn't it sound too smart to me, but it doesn't sound very fly either.

George told me that the Spades leader Bam Bam, saved him from having to do that. George and Bam are still tight to this day. I feel for those poor, crazy souls that wanted to be down so bad that they took a page from the Evil Knievel School of Foolishness and jumped off a building on a bike.

"Oooooooooh shit, he missed the fuckin' tree!" I bet they yelled quite a few dozen times from the safety of the ground as some moron on a huffy bike went sailing head first into the concrete.

I don't know about you, but, if i had to join a gang, and be initiated into one, then the apache line here I come.

So what they hit you with bricks, fists, feet, chains and sticks...I like my chances for survival on the Apache line versus jumping off of the sixth floor and into some tree!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Boom Bap Extinction Quotient

Depending upon where you're from, or where you're at, hip-hop is many things. For me, at it's root and it's core hip-hop is a deejay's art. It comes from deejays. It was given birth to by deejays and was nurtured by deejays.

If you're from the East - northeast that is, and or your taste in music tends to swing to the northeast flavor, than you no doubt love the boom bap. Your head nods when you hear the following drum pattern: da.boom...da.bap...da-boom-bap.

You feel that shit move your head and neck in unison and it's an involuntary movement.
You also more than likely love to hear old funk and soul, along with rock and reggae with your uncut funk, am I right?

Me too.


In the last five years, maybe more like seven years, someone somewhere, conspired against da boom bap.

Someone somewhere made it a crime for MC's to sample.
They said it's unoriginal when rap cats sample a beat.
They said rap cats that use samples are lazy.
They said that rap cats that use samples aren't being creative.
And they made it so that beats made using Fruity Loops and Reason are so much more "original" and they the producers were somehow or another much more talented than a guy with a room full of records.

That's what they've done.

That's what they've said.

The critics in A&R rooms and the gatekeepers at magazines said, 'Nah, sampling is wack." Thus, the reason we have the quality of music we have today.

But can someone tell me why R&B people get to sample and no says it lacks creativity or originality? Why, can Destiny's Child sample The Dramatics and Jahiem can sample "Help is on the Way" and use the drums from "Why Can't People Be Colors Too", and no one says 'sampling is wack' in those cases.

Who died and left them in charge? Who do they think they are Ron O'Neil?


Use to be: rap cats jacked R&B cats tracks and the shit was all good.

Then: R&B cats started jacking rap cats tracks. I didn't like it much, but it was still all good.
Now: R&B cats can sample damn near anything they want and make their records sound like they were recorded at Hitsville USA in 1967 and no one says their shit sounds old.
Why is that?
Damn asking that question makes me wanna pull out Redd Holt Unlimited's "Do it Baby".

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Next Hustle























How ex-pimp Robert Beck transformed into writer Iceberg Slim,introducing a new genre for literature, film and music


By Mark Skillz

Robert Beck was forty-seven years old when he started writing a brutal book called Pimp. On one hand, it was an ode to his former profession, but on the other…it was all he had.

In twelve years, Beck wrote seven books, which vividly captured the inner world of the street hustler. His stories made him a star. But then in the eighties, he dropped out of sight, right when his name had taken on mythical proportions in the hood. Pictures of his face and real biographical information were as hard to find as Osama Bin Laden. In his absence, folklore took precedence over fact.

Before the author died in 1992, he had sold more than six million books in
four different languages and inspired two generations of rappers, poets, actors and writers. Yet, very few people know the true story behind the making of his classic memoir.

Until now.

For Those That Remember

Robert Beck was
enigmatic, hard to figure out; clever, vain, anti-social and elusive. He was a gentleman pimp and con man, who educated himself in four penitentiaries. When he wasn’t incarcerated, he was holed up in hotel rooms hiding from the law. But don’t get it twisted, he wrote about what he knew about – and a lot of it was first hand.

According to Betty Beck (his common law wife of the 60’s and 70’s) and Misty (their youngest daughter) he was a man who had clearly “saw and experienced a lot” in his life.
Betty, the mother of his three stunningly beautiful daughters: Camille, Melody and Misty (who has been featured three times in Jet Magazine as the Beauty of the Week) assisted Bob with his Holloway
House titles: Pimp, Trick Baby, Mama Black Widow, Naked Soul, Long White Con, Airtight Willie and Me and Death Wish. Though Betty and Bob were never legally married, to this day, she still uses the last name Beck. To her dying day, her fondest memory will be the day she met a striking looking man with a mysterious past.



















The Dapper Predator

This story star
ts in 1961 when a then twenty-six year old Betty Shue moved to Los Angeles, California from Austin, Texas. Though raised by redneck parents in a time of strict segregation, Betty dug soul food and Jimmy Witherspoon records.

It was at a hamburger stand in Lemert Park, where she soon caught the eye of an enigmatic stranger. The man – tall, slim and charming, was impeccably dressed, Betty recalled how “uncomfortable” he made her feel, “he was just sitting there looking at me”, she said between coughs. “But there was one thing that I knew for sure,” she states “and that was that he sure in the hell wasn’t from around there.”

That’s because according to Betty’s recollection the man was “elegant and refined” and looked like he could’ve been the president of a bank or a doctor.
After a couple of weeks the mysterious man simply introduced himself to her as “Bob” and asked if he could take her someplace where they could eat something “other than hamburgers.”

“Are you gonna take me someplace where I can eat soul food and listen to some gut bucket blues?” she asked him, to which he answered, “Sure, my dear.”

When he picked her up that night he handed her an expensive
black and gold dress to wear for the evening. Betty was instantly swept off of her feet by this mysterious man who not only correctly guessed her dress size, but also drove an impeccably clean old Chrysler with a record player in the back seat of the car.

At the time, Bob was sharing an apartment
with his sick mother Mary Brown Beck and her caretaker Cookie. Mary was dying of heart disease. Deeply religious and proud she had serious concerns about her only son Bob. Day and night out loud, she prayed for his salvation. Betty remembers Mary constantly chastising him: “Bobby, you need to repent! Repent for all that you’ve done.”

“Mama, I will mama, I promise mama, I’ve changed you’ll see!” he swore and swore, but Mary didn’t believe him.
One night from behind a closed door Betty overheard Mary warn him, “Bobby, don’t you take this pretty girl and put her on the street!”


At the time naïve country girl, Betty had no idea what Mary was talking about.

At the height of their courtship, Bob and Betty h
ad been virtually inseparable for weeks. And then one night while Bob was away Mary and Cookie cornered Betty. “If you know what’s good for you, you better get away from him”, they warned her. Dumbfounded Betty asked why. “What has he told you about himself?” they pressed her, for which she had no answer. The two women looked at each other with knowing looks and said, “Girl, you better get a hint.”

Before she died, Mary gave Betty a final warning: “Don’t you trust him.”

Later that night when Bob returned Betty couldn’t contain herself. “You know Bob, we’ve talked a lot about me and nothing about you,” she said as she confronted hi
m, “I’ve known you all this time and I don’t know a single thing about you. Tell me about yourself.”

“Where would you like for me to start at?” he responded.
“I dunno start from the beginning.”
“Tell you what; I’ll start at the end.”
Pausing Bob then took a seat and started his confession. “I was just released from prison over a year ago where I did ten months in solitary confinement at the Cook County House of Corrections.”

Betty say
s at that moment that her jaw hit the floor.

“I was captured on an old fugitive warrant because I escaped from prison thirteen years before.”

In a state of shock Betty’s head was spinning, because she believed her boyfriend – this “refined and elegant gentleman,” to have been a professional of some sort. Speechless sh
e somehow managed to ask him, “What did you do to get locked up?”

“The original charge was robbery”,
he said. “But I’m no thief. Stick ups, muggings and things like that weren’t really what I did.”
“Then what did you do?”
“I was a pimp.”


The Big Windy

Robert Lee Maupin, Jr. was born on August 4th 1918 in Chicago, Ill. From hi
s own accounts and based on prison records he grew up in Rockford, IL and Milwaukee WI. where he would first be enraptured by street life. But it is the city of Chicago that he would be closely associated with for much of his criminal life.

Upon being
released from prison in 1960 Maupin changed his last name to Beck, in honor of his stepfather William Beck. Like many American cities, Chicago is undergoing a transformation. The run-down tenement buildings and rat-infested sky-high projects are being replaced with townhouses, condominiums and stores with names like Bed, Bath and Beyond.

The streets of Chi-Town that Beck – calling himself Cavanaugh Slim, stalked some fifty and sixty years ago are long gone. But make no mistake; many of the landmarks are still there: 63rd and Cottage Grove, State Street and many other places are still physically there. But the street pl
ayers, the hustlers, the gamblers, the crooked cops, the bars, the after hours spots, the Policy Kings, the whore houses, the drug dealers, the dope addicts, the neighborhood heroes and zeroes of that time are all gone. Many of the physical buildings are still standing, but, in many cases, they have been abandoned for so long that barely anyone remembers who owned them or what businesses were there. The nightspots and the people that bought life, laughter and sorrow to them are nothing more now than faded pictures in cracked frames stored in attics and basements.

But back in the good old days when Chicago was called “The Big Windy” if you were Black and drove a brand new Cadillac it meant one of four things: either you were a gangster, a numbers operator, a drug dealer or a notorious trafficker of flesh, translation: a pimp. In the ghettoes back then, nobody outshined a pimp.

Processed hair, pencil-thin moustaches, diamond rings, zoot suits, Stacy Adams shoes and flashy clothes told the story of how sharp a hustler’s game was. But what spoke just as loud as a player’s threads (that’s what clothes were called back then) and his hog (as Cadillac’s were called back then too) was
his name, your name had to say something about you. If a hustler’s game was especially slick he might have a moniker like “Charlie Golden” or “Cadillac Sonny.”

On the cold and treacherous streets of “The Big Windy
” in June of 1942 is where Bobby Maupin, sometimes using the alias Bobby Lancaster, would learn his craft. For twenty-three years, Slim hustled on the streets of Milwaukee, Indiana, Chicago, Cleveland and Detroit. These cities would later provide the backdrop for his books. Wherever there was a ho stroll or a whorehouse was where he sent his stable of girls to work.













In the minds of mo
st people, the name Iceberg Slim is associated with images of the 1970’s Blaxploitation flick Super Fly or the Huggy Bear character from the TV show Starsky and Hutch. What they fail to realize is that Slim is from another era. His was the generation of “jive”, be-bop, “boogie woogie” music and a dance called the “Lindy hop”. Their icons were Billy Eckstine, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Billie Holiday and Louis Jordan. Their culture thrived in spite of racial segregation and some of the worse racism in American history.
















Urban Solilo
quies

That night ba
ck in the apartment Betty’s head spun like a top. Part of her didn’t want to believe what Bob told her. But she knew it was true.

Every night Bob would tell her the most fascinating stories about crooked cops and pimps, Murphy men and hookers, stick up men and drug addicts, con men and queers, cum freaks and tricks, Italian gangsters and pickpockets. She couldn’t wait for him to get home so that she could hear more. It wasn’t just the subjects that held her captivated it was also the language he used while narrating events. “Bob was the smartest man I have ever met in my life,” she says, “he had the widest vocabulary of anyone I have ever known.”

One of the first people Bob told Betty about was his mentor a notorious pimp – and killer, named “Baby” Bell. Born Albert Bell in Omaha, Nebraska in 1899, Bell – a gambler at the time, migrated to the Windy City sometime in 1930 from Minnesota. It is then that he caught the attention of the infamous Jones Brothers, an organization which ran vice in Black Chicago.

In the book, Pimp the character of Sweet Jones is based on Bell. Although Bob exaggerated Bell’s features – making him a huge black skinned giant, when he was really short, fat and light-skinned, Beck made no exaggerations at all about Bell’s infamy.

According to newspaper clippings from the Chicago Defender, Baby Bell was a psychopath who had a penchant for murder. On June 4th 1943 Bell shot and killed a good fri
end in cold blood. The Black press and the Black community were enraged as popular attorney Euclid L Taylor (the Johnnie Cochrane of his time) got him acquitted.

“How could it be”, wrote one incensed Defender reader, “that a man co
mmits a crime and goes free without justice being served upon him.” That was because according to the Defender, approximately “thirty to forty people” witnessed Bell leave the balcony of his apartment on 124 East Garfield Blvd. and shoot Preston Ray five times – the last shot going through his throat.

Popular Chicago Defender columnist Henry Brown described Bell as “a blustering, swaggering braggart”, who ruled the underworld. Others described him as “despicable” and “savage.”

For whatever reason, Bob revered Bell so much that he even named his child
ren after him: Robin Bell and Bellissa Beck.

According to Beck’s friend Lamar Hoke, Jr., Baby Bell was a “boss player” (as those in the life would say). “Here was a black man in the 1930’s mind you,” Hoke told me on the phone, “that had a stable of Oriental hoe’s that used to chauffer him around in his Duesenberg. He had a white ocelot that wore a diamond on its collar and had a long gold chain for a leash. He lived in an exclusively white area at a time when Black people didn’t do that kind of thing. He was politically connected downtown. He was virtually untouchable.”

Indeed Bell was invulnerable back then, according to the book Kings: The True Story of Chicago’s Policy Kings and Numbers Racketeers by Nathan Thompson, along with be
ing a pimp, Bell was an enforcer for the Jones Brothers.

One night Betty approached Bob with a thought: “You know, if you put all of these sto
ries in a book…people would buy it.” But Bob dismissed the idea.

To Betty’s way of thinking, she says that she doubted if any white people had ever heard stories about the world that Bob was from and that a great many of them would find it interesting.

And she was right.

Black literature at the time was the domain of Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes, their books appealed to liberal Whites and intellectuals Blacks. At that time there hadn’t been any books that truly captured the inner struggles of the Black underworld. But Bob neither believed in himself
or in the strength of his story.

The Pimp the Professor and the Start of a Classic

In 1967, Robert Beck was a forty-nine year old ex-offender with a rap sheet dating back to 1932. He had a growing family to feed but had no marketable skills or education. This presented a major problem.

In his 1944 Leavenworth prison record, he told the review b
oard that the only legitimate work he had ever done was as an entertainer as well as a “tap dancer and a magician.”

Beck, who was sentenced there for violating the Mann Act, denied any involvement in or knowledge of pimping – his real occupation. When asked about other types of work he had done, Beck comically told the staff that he had been a door-to-door salesman. “And what product did you sell, sir?” they asked him. “Ladies hosieries", he responded – more than likely with a slight smile on his face.

But Bob didn’t fool them one bit. The prison psychiatrist notated on his record: “Inmate will more than likely offend again. He is a menace to society and a confirmed pimp.”

Years later out in the real world – and his former profession behind him, the only work that Bob could find was, ironically, as a door-to-door salesman. “He used to con people into thinking tha
t they had roaches and that they needed to buy his bug spray, to get rid of them”, laughs Betty.

One day while out working he met a man whom Bob would later only refer to as “the Professor.” The Professor – who Betty confirms for me was a white man, was a writer who was inter
ested in authoring a book about Bob’s life. Bob and Betty had been infrequently working on chapters for their own book, but because of Bob’s lack of confidence, they didn’t seriously pursue it. Betty’s fear was that the Professor was going to steal their idea and they wouldn’t ever see a dime for it.

After weeks of the Professors double talk Bob ditched him.
At the time, the couple was struggling to make ends meet. Bob was at a crossroads. He didn’t want to return to his old life, which – he made plenty of money at, but he also described as being “miserable” and “lonely.”

But he also couldn’t see how writing a book could solve his problems. Throwing caution to the wind he scraped together seventy-five bucks and bought Betty a typewriter, with the understanding that: He’d write his stories if she’d type and organize them. Together they delicately balanced their growing family with writing his memoirs.

The Pimp Chronicles













In the history of African American, literature there had never been anything like Pimp. It was decades before the 1999 documentaries Pimp’s Up Hoes D
own and American Pimp. And it definitely preceded the blockbuster films The Mack and Willie Dynamite by at least six years. It could be successfully argued that the blaxploitation genre itself was in part inspired by the runaway success of the book Pimp.

From the opening sequence to the very end, Beck narrated his life story in graphic visuals depicting a world where hustlers snort and bang (inject) cocaine, smoke gang
ster (weed) and ride the white horse of heroin to the zenith of ecstasy – and good doses of wild sex and violence are thrown in, too.

In detail Beck – holding nothing back, discussed his mastery of burying his foot in a bitches ass, while maintaining what he called an “icy front.”


The story starts with a three year-old Beck being sexually molested by his
babysitter Maude and ends with his release forty years later from the Cook County House of Corrections after wasting his life as a pimp and a con man. In between, he discusses a life that is devoid of love and warmth and full of regret. Chapter after chapter, Beck – with the brutal cruelty of Sadaam Hussein, beats his prostitutes as they plead for mercy through teary eyes. But to him their screams are seen as nothing more than mere bullshit.

Ironically, many of the people who knew Beck later in life would describe him as a “total loner” and a man who “vigilantly protected his emotions.”

Nowhere in the book does he talk about where or when he first started writing. Although, he discussed attending Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute for a short period of time (where he studied
agriculture), he gave no hint as to his first efforts at writing.

According to Betty, “The first thing he ever wrote was Pimp.
This is strange, because B
ob’s prose was a little more polished than your average off-the-corner-wanna-be-writer. “As the sun butchered nights head with a golden axe.” Is one of many examples of his uncanny mastery of metaphors.

But it’s something Betty told me about Bob’s writing habits that strikes me as peculiar. For instance: Bob liked to write on the edge of newspapers, napkins, toilet tissue, a tissu
e box and once to Betty’s dismay, “that mother fucker wrote in circles on a paper plate.”

It’s even odder when you consider that Betty always made sure that Bob had plenty of notepads and pens in his immediate surroundings. Dr. Peter Muckley, whose book The Life As An Art, which is the first book to discuss Beck’s work at length, had been told that, “Bob used to stare at th
e ceiling for hours at a time sketching out story scenes in his head. A technique he called “writing on the ceiling.”

This isn’t exactly unusual for a writer. But note, they didn’t say that he stared at the wall or the floor, but the ceiling. According to Bob’s memoirs, he was a voracious reader who spent a lot of time in solitary confinement. Stands a chance he first started writing in prison. After all, where else would one get a habit like staring at the ceiling for hours at a time and then writing down notes and stories on anything they could say like: toilet tissue, napkins and paper plates?


Before he started his book, he made two promises to himself: no glamorizing his former life and no snitching. According to friend and former Yo! MTV Raps host Fab 5 Freddy, “Ma
ny of Bob’s friends were still alive when he wrote that book.” So he changed all of their names and descriptions. “Baby” Bell became “Sweet” Jones, his best friend “Satin” became “Glass Top” and he created composite characters of some of his former err um “employees”: Mary, Eloise, Liz, Mattie and Maybelle became Phyllis ‘the runt’, Stacy, Kim, Joann, Chris, “No Thumbs” Helen and Rachel.

But then he went a step further and gave himself a nom de plumme.

“This character has to be cold,” he told Betty.
“Cold from top to bottom.”

“Like an iceberg?” she asked him.
“Yeah, that’s it, like an iceberg…cold from top to bottom.”
Thus, the hustler who was once called Cavanaugh Slim was re-born: Iceberg Slim.

Adult Themed Titles and the Black Experience

“Black writers needed! Publisher will pay you for your stories.” Read the ad in the Sentinel Newspaper. Betty was floored. This was the break they were looking for.

According to Betty’s recollection, Bob doubted that anything would come of it.


The company Holloway House Publishing is located at 8060 Melrose Avenue. This small publisher in a non descript building would eventually become home to some of the greatest black fiction writers ever.
Today, when calling the offices of Holloway House one is immediately thrown off guard, the phone is answered very simply and professionally with a pleasant, “8060”. If you’re not sure where your calling you might hang up fearing that you dialed the wr
ong number.

Holloway House CEO Bentley Morris sounds like a man who could’ve replaced Bob Barker on the Price is Right. However, on second thought with his big booming bass voice, perfect elocution and salesman persona, he would’ve been a perfect candidate for Monty Hall’s Let’s Make A Deal.


According to the ad in the paper, the company was looking for manuscripts by African American writers. They were looking for books that really captured “the Black experience.”
As far as Black authors went at the time Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Claude McKay were the toast of the literary scene. However, this publishing house was looking for somethin
g different.

“We were looking for writers who were talking about their own experiences. We didn’t want to get anything about their trips abroad or anything like that; we wanted the Black experience as only a member of the black community could deliver it.” Bentley Morris said.

While dropping the manuscript off Bob accidentally left his sunglasses behind. Editor Milton Van Sickle was immediately struck by the title: “Pimp: The Story of My Life by Iceberg Slim.” Van Sickle read the first few pages and was instantly hooked. He urged his bosses Ralph Weinstock and Bentley Morris to buy it. They approved. But they had no way to contact the writer as he left no info.


“We were knocked out by what we read,” recalls Morris, “[The editor] was very impressed he liked his style, he liked the intensity, the legitimacy of what the author was writing about. He came to us and got the ok to continue negotiating with him.”
The editor, Milton Van Sickle, was excited about the prospect of publishing such a provocative piece of work. The company had been no s
tranger to controversy; they had previously published “adult themed” titles and an explosive work called The Trial of Adolph Eichmann.

The next day Bob returned for his sunglasses. They have them, they said. Van Sickle came into the waiting area and introduced himself …Bob’s life was about to change in ways his deepest insecurities wouldn’t allow him to imagine.

Bentley Morris will never forget the day he met Bob Beck.

“He was charming and meticulous about his dress.” Morris remembered. “From the crease in his trousers to the scarf around his neck, there wasn’t a hair out of place – he was a charming guy, he was a man you’d like to sit and talk with for hours.”


What no one in the small publishing house knew was how this well-mannered, articulate and charismatic gentleman would change the course of their company.


The Cultural Impact of Pimp

According to Morris, the book Pimp wasn’t exactly a bestseller out
of the gate. The New York Times and every other literary critic refused to write a review “rave or otherwise.” Critics reportedly disliked the title but mostly – and probably more importantly, were totally turned off by the language.

Pages and pages of the book Pimp contained slang words that the average White American (and a whole lot of Black folks as well) had never heard before.

Some smart person at Holloway House had the insight to insert a short dictionary in the back of the book. For the longest time in Black literature, Bob’s book of slang was a constant reference source – not today though, because phrases like “hog” (car), “wire” (info), “short” (car) and “boot” (a Bl
ack person, a phrase I definitely wouldn’t recommend using while referring to or in conversation with an African American, or you yourself might get pimp slapped) are terms from four generations ago. However certain terms are still in use: busted (arrested), cat (female sex organ), cut loose (to refuse to help) and roller (cops).

Undeterred by that pack of snobby New York critics Beck did what any hustler worth his Stacy Adams would do: promote the book himself. Turns out Bob loved self-promotion. Word spread to local talk show host Joe Piney about a new book taking LA by storm. Piney contacted Holloway House to set up an interview with the author.

According to Betty, initially, Bob was ashamed of his previous life, because he went on the Joe Piney Show wearing a “brown paper bag over his head, with holes cut out in the front of it for his mouth and eyes.”

Nevertheless, it was at this point that Pimp found its audience. Bob was delighted but scared. People in the ghettoes of Los Angeles were fascinated with his work. No one had ever read anything like it before. There was a growing audience that couldn’t relate to books about the civil rights movement or slavery; they wanted to read stories about life in the ghetto as only one of their own could tell.

To young readers in the hood, “Pimp had that raw, street feel to it, it was real gritty”, says Dr. Todd Boyd, an accomplished author and USC professor of cinema, who has in his book collection an autographed copy of Pimp, which he calls “cherished property.”
Dr. Boyd remembers how the book Pimp, “was able to bring attention to a lifestyle that a lot of people weren’t aware of back then. Pretty much any house in the hood had a copy of Pimp lying around.”


Between 1967 and 1979, Beck wrote seven books that captured the brutally hard world of the ghetto. Moreover, he did it in a way like no writer of his time had done. He told stories of pimps, hookers, drug dealers, con men and gamblers in frightening detail. It was the first time that anyone had accurately captured the inner struggles of ghetto dwellers in the language of the street
.

However, in his time and to this very day his work is dismissed as “trash” in both Black and White literary circles.
There were three major forces at play impeding Beck’s acceptance into mainst
ream America: “The Black Power Movement” the “Women’s Liberation Movement” and those snobby New York literary critics. Thanks to them it was a done deal: the book Pimp got no love.

Of the women’s lib movement, he would later tell a reporter from the Los Angeles Free Press that it was a “minimal irritant.” With titles like Pimp, Trick Baby and Mama Black Widow, Slim wouldn’t have had a hooker’s chance in a monastery to have made it into Oprah’s Book of the Month Club. Slim was a hustler who exploited women – helping them to raise their self-esteem and empowe
r them was not part of the pimp doctrine.

However, his rejection by the Black Power Movement was
painful. In the late 60’s and early 70’s black militants didn’t take kindly to interracial relationships. Due to his former profession and white common law wife, the Black Panthers wanted nothing to do with Beck. But it was because of the huge popularity of books like Pimp, Manchild in the Promised Land, Soul On Ice and the Autobiography of Malcolm X that readers, according to Dr. Boyd “started to gravitate toward stories of downtrodden people in the inner city.”

Pimp made its impact at the same that the Black Power Moveme
nt was starting.

The Legacy and the Disciples













In the back streets of Black America, Beck’s books were selling faster than a twenty-dollar hookers’ car date. It was then that you st
arted to see more writers of the Iceberg Slim mode. One of them was a young man who also hailed from the Midwest, and like Beck, he too, had been a hustler. His name was Donald Goines.

“Let me tell you something”, Morris, says to me excitedly, “Donald Goines loved Bob Beck. They were from the same streets. He came in my office and many times, he’d tell me how much he loved Bob Beck’s work. He looked at Beck as his own personal God.”

Betty recalls Bob respecting Goines’ work on one hand, but also eyeing him with some suspicion as many of their books told the same stories.
According to Dr. Boyd, “Clearly, Donald Goines was popular in the hood. People in the hood know Goines’ body of work, but Donald Goines never transcended the hood like Iceberg did.”

It was the collective efforts of Goines, Slim, Odie Hawkins and Joe Nazel that gave rise to a genre called the “Black experience novel”. The authors told riveting tales of life in the hood in the aftermath of the 60’s riots, Vietnam and the introduction of heroin in the Black c
ommunity. Due to the success of their novels, a new generation would later find their voices.
















In 1970, incarcer
ated Bay Area pimp, Robert Poole was so riveted by Beck’s work that he too was inspired to write. On toilet paper, Poole wrote a screen treatment about his life entitled ‘The Mack and his Pack.” The film would later become a major Hollywood blockbuster The Mack starring Max Julien and Richard Pryor.

“I was first inspired to write after reading Goines’ Dopefiend while in federal prison.” Author Vickie Stringer told me via email. “It was such an authentic read, that it made me feel unashamed of my own path to prison.” Today, Stringer is not only a best selling author but is also CEO of her own imprint Triple Crown Publications.

Stringer along with Sista Souljah, Darren Coleman, Terry Woods and many others are front-runners in a new genre called “gangsta lit”. This genre’s stories are set on the streets of twenty-first century America and tells tales of drug infested streets in the ‘keeping it real’ age of hip-hop’s gangsta influenced, materialistic culture. And like a lot of today’s gangsta inspired music even Stringer admits that, “Gangsta lit is like rap mu
sic, whereas, you have some people rapping about what they've experienced and what they’ve heard second hand. Goines and Slim were very authentic and they bore their soul to us.”










Of the two writers, Goines was far more prolific than Beck. Goines wrote sixteen boo
ks, in six years, four of which were under the pseudonym Al C Clark. Because of Goines’ subject matter and output, it was soon rumored that Iceberg Slim and Donald Goines were the same person. Things got even more confusing when Goines died in 1974 and Beck stopped writing a few years later. Rumors soon spread that Beck had died sometime in the early seventies as well.

“How did Bob handle being a successful writer?” I asked Betty.
“I know what you’re asking me”, she said in a solemn tone. “Sometimes he would lay in his bed all day looking up at the ceiling and he would ask me, ‘Do you really think we can do it again?” Sometimes he would be quite proud of himself and other times…it mystified him. He never imagined his life going in that direction.”

Bob’s last years on Earth weren’t happy. He had diabetes, a failing liver and was blind in one eye. Due to his many ailments, Bob became a recluse. In 2005, the Beck family (Melody, Misty, Camille and widow Dianne Millman Beck) filed suit against Holloway House for back royalties. In their suit, they state that Robert Beck died penniless.

Upon hearing that the man who has been called ‘one of the best selling African American writers ever’ died broke, I asked Bentley Morris:
“So, how did this man who sold some six million books die broke in a one room apartment in South Central?”
“I don’t know”, Morris, said to me.

“By your own account you’ve said that he sold six million books, they say when he died he had nothing, how did that happen?”

Rather matter of factly Morris responded: “I don’t know what he had in his bank account. When Bob came around here, he never gave any indication of living in poverty or anything like that. He drove a Lincoln he was always well dressed. We paid him his royalties. When Bob would come to the office in the later years – no, we weren’t as close as we had been, but he was always professional, we were cordial with Bob. We treated him very genteelly. Sir, you’re talking about someone I really liked and had an enormous amount of respect for.”

According to the lawsuit: “Beck and Holloway signed an agreement for Holloway to publish Beck’s first novel with the first right of refusal for his second work along with perpetual worldwide copyrights.”

Basically, Holloway House used the same agreement for each of Beck’s books. As smart as he was, Bob was never represented by an attorney or a literary agent because according to the suit, “Beck didn’t understand the legal terms of the initial agreement and relied on Holloway’s expertise, and agreed to whatever royalties Holloway offered to pay him.”

According to his youngest daughter Misty, herself a talented writer who’s published two books of poetry ‘Waves of My Emotions and Pimp Poetry (Iceberg Slim’s life told in rhyme) “My father’s last royalty check was for $638.” Which barely covered Bob’s $500 a month rent and dialysis treatments, for which Misty says her father “would beg Bentley to pay for.”

“My father died not knowing how popular he still was”, Misty told me. “Bentley had him thinking that no one was buying his books anymore. My dad died a pauper. You should’ve seen how he lived. He lived in the heart of gang territory in a one-room apartment with barely running water and leaky pipes. It was horrible.”

On April 30th 1992 Robert Lee Maupin Beck died from liver failure.

Sadly, due to the Rodney King riots that engulfed Los Angeles that week, the world wouldn’t know about the passing of Iceberg Slim until many weeks later.
Even sadder was the fact that the man who inspired a movement died virtually uncelebrated.

According to his daughter Misty, “there were maybe thirteen people” at his funeral, actors Jim Brown and Leon Isaac Kennedy were among the few who came out to pay their last respects. The man who wrote so poignantly about the lonely misery of “the life” died a lonely death.


For more information check out the upcoming Ice T and Jorge Hinojosa produced documentary: “Iceberg Slim: Portrait of A Pimp”


Special thanks to Betty and Misty Beck for sharing their memories with me. And also Bentley Morris, Fab 5 Freddy, Dr. Peter Muckley, Dr. Todd Boyd, Lamar Hoke, Nathan Thompson, Faisal Ahmed, Vickie Stringer, attorney Brian Corber and the staff at Waupun State Prison and Leavenworth.

This article is dedicated to the memories of Betty Mae and Camille Mary Beck.

All Rights Reserved Copyright 2009. No part of this article may be reproduced anywhere in any form without the express permission of the author.

Article first published in Wax Poetics issue 38 December 2009

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Copyright Criminals








Copyright Criminals is a new documentary from Independent Lens. Like a charging rhino they attack the issue of sampling head on. They cover the history of sampling as well as the legalities involved in the art form.

The first sampler I remember was a huge machine called the Fairlight, this thing was as big as a stove. You would select a sound you want and it would play it back, I think the bit rate was 44.1. It was awesome. In 1985 that is.

Akai attacked the art of sampling a couple of years later with the Akai S -900 I think it was called. Also on the market was the sp-12 and then the sp-1200, this is when hip-hop production of the 90's and late 80's began to take form.

The master of the sp-1200 was WBLS deejay and producer Marley Marl. Hands down, everyone that came after Marley learned their craft from him. His shit was incredible. The first production he did utilising a sample was MC Shan's "Marley's Scratch". Marley used the kick and snare from RUN-DMC's 'Sucker MC's". Every production Marley did thereafter was off the wall. Marley would take a 3.5 second sample or a 5.5 second sample from something like "Hard to Handle" or "You Lost That Lovin' Feelin' and kill it. He added 808 kicks and snares and reprogrammed the drums, he was like God to us back then.

If Marley was God to us, then the production team of Hank Shocklee, Eric Sadler, Keith Shocklee and Chuck D were as awesome as a Black Hole to us. What they did, to this day, is the most incredible shit. The way they layered sounds on top of sounds was ....invincible.









Their use of James Brown's band the JB's in particular the funk drumming of Clyde Stubblefield was not of this world. I'll never forget the very first time I heard "Rebel Without a Pause", I fell off of my bed with my mouth wide open and in stone cold silence.

Chuck sounded like a prophet broadcasting from some underground bomb shelter somewhere. "Yes, the rhythm the rebel..."

Maybe the best opening for a rap record.

The only thing Copyright Criminals lacks is coverage of Ultimate Breaks and Super Disco Brakes, the records that were the foundation for late 80's and early 90's hip-hop recordings.