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Hiphop Nation: America Raps Back

Nationwide: America Raps Back
January 19, 1988

Record Industry types used to ask me, “How long will this rap thing last?” They don’t any longer. Not when three different hip hop tours played to near-capacity crowds at sports arenas and concert halls across America last summer. Not when they can look at Billboard’s black album chart last No­vember and see that eight of the top 30 albums are by rappers, including three of the top 10. Not when their kids ignore Marlon Jackson, the Bar-Kays, and Sha­lamar for the simple pleasures of U.T.F.O. and Kool Moe Dee.

Rap, and its hip hop musical underpinning, is now the national youth music of black America and the dominant dance music of urban America, with the possi­ble exceptions of Washington, D.C., spawning ground of the hip hop influ­enced go-go scene, and Chicago, with its retro-disco house music. Rap’s gone na­tional and is in the process of going re­gional. That seems like a contradiction, but it’s actually easily explained. Rap spread out from New York to attract a loyal, national audience. New York rapped and America listened. Now Amer­ica is rhyming back.

Over the last year and a half labels like Miami’s Luke Skywalker, Houston’s Rap­-A-Lot, and Boston’s Beautiful Sounds have emerged, independent record com­panies nurtured by local rap scenes and often fighting losing battles for radio play in their areas. While creatively these cit­ies have yet to spawn Def Jam/Rush level stars, these fruitful hip hop markets will inevitably produce talent with national appeal. Dallas and Houston, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Miami, and even Los Angeles can, according to Def Jam promotion vice-president Bill Stephney, “outsell New York on certain records.”

While judging last summer’s raucous hip hop competition at the New Music Seminar, it was clear that there was more to rap than Uptown. Three of the four finalists in the scratching DJ throwdown were from outside New York: Philadel­phia’s Cash Money who, with MC Mar­velous, cuts for Sleeping Bag; Los Ange­les’s Joe Cooley, who works with rapper Rodney O; and Miami’s Mr. Mix, of the notorious 2 Live Crew. Though none of the out-of-town rappers made the finals, several were among the most memorable, including Detroit’s Robert S., who’s re­corded two poorly promoted 12-inches on Epic; Philadelphia’s well-regarded M. C. Breeze; and Cleveland’s Bango the B-Bov Outlaw, who’ll be heard on the sound­track to Dennis Hopper’s Los Angeles gang melodrama, Colors, in late February.

The reasons for rap’s growth are easy to trace. First, there’s the music; direct, raw, easy to emulate. Equally important have been New York rap tours, and not just the big arena extravaganzas of recent years. When Kurtis Blow and Grandmas­ter Flash hit the road in the early ’80s, they helped create a new chitlin’ circuit of teen appeal clubs and auditoriums. Be­cause it was so inexpensive to book rap acts — Blow traveled with just a DJ and a road manager — dates were possible not only in small venues but, in towns like Gary, Indiana, and Lake Charles, Louisi­ana, a rapper could play multiple dates in one night. So the generation of rappers and scratchers now emerging first tasted hip hop up close and personal.

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In each city where rap’s appeal has expanded there have been key figures who’ve fought authori­ties, peer pressure, and local inferiority complexes. In Cleveland WZAK program director (and sometime rapper) Lynn Tolliver has been on point since the early ’80s by fearlessly programming rap at all hours, where many other PDs try to limit it to late hours. In Philadelphia (first at WHAT and now at WUSL) DJ Lady B has been “the Godmomma” to the most impressive community of rap talent beside the Apple. Because Lady B has al­ways played homegrown talent beside New York honchos, Philadelphians be­came aware of local groups and pur­chased their homies’ records. Because of Lady B’s advocacy Jive Records has in­vested heavily in Philadelphia hip hop in the past year, signing Schoolly D, Steady B., and Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince. In Miami a homeboy using the handle Luke Skywalker founded Luke Skywalker Rec­ords, which is anchored by the ultra­raunchy 2 Live Crew. Their ribald 2 Live Crew Is What We Are was so lyrically foul several localities sought to ban it (and even got a record store clerk arrest­ed down South for selling it), yet it was the first non-New York area rap album to sell over 500,000 units. (I don’t count Whodini’s three made-in-London albums since they all involved New York talent.)

Of all the local hip hop catalysts, I’ve found two — Houston’s Steve Fournier and Los Angeles’s Jorge Hinojosa — the most interesting because of their ambi­tion, energy, and location. Fournier is a stocky, bearded white Texas DJ who five years ago fell in love with rap. He landed a gig at a big barn of a dance hall called Rhinestone’s and, because of his “110 per cent rap” policy, the place became the Gilley’s of hip hop. Recently Fournier moved to a new barn, Spud’s of Houston, where he still plays to crowds as large as 2000 seven days a week. There’s very little rap played on Houston radio, so Fournier’s club play constitutes the medi­um of most exposure for rap, not just in Houston, but in the Southwest.

But Fournier wants more. Like many of the non-New York rap entrepreneurs he seeks the respect of New York and acknowledgment of his area’s importance to rap’s future. As a result Fournier has founded the Rap Commission, a national record pool based in Houston with offi­cers in New York and Los Angeles. Four­nier, of course, heads it and acts as a conduit for rap records to reach the DJs and club jocks scattered around the coun­try. The Rap Commission would then have the most comprehensive list to date of labels, club jocks, and radio outlets for hip hop. The idea that such an institution would be run by a white man in Texas makes many brothers here in the Apple bristle, as if Fournier’s efforts were an affront to the black roots of rap. Four­nier feels that’s simply New York chau­vinism. “Texas is centrally located in one of the biggest hip hop markets,” he says. “There are tons of local groups here and I think acts like the Ghetto Boys, Jazzy Red, or R.P. Cola are competitive with New York and Philly but don’t have the national exposure. Hey, New York is still where it was born, but the rest of the country has something to contribute.”

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Not surprisingly, one of Fournier’s chief supporters is another non-New Yorker, young half-Bolivian hustler Jorge Hinojosa. Often described to his chagrin as “a West Coast Russell Simmons,” Hinojosa has an enthusiasm and quick wit reminiscent of Rush Pro­ductions’s founder. Hinojosa manages the city’s best known rapper, Ice-T (whose Rhyme Pays on Sire has sold over 300,000), signed an L.A. rap compilation album called Rhyme Syndicate to Warner Bros. (out in March; it includes a 20-page comic book highlighting L.A. hip hop), and is the top rap promotion man there. (He broke Salt ’n Pepa’s “I’ll Take Your Man” in L.A. and worked the early Man­tronik records for Sleeping Bag.)

“I never wanted to be a manager,” he says, “but when I worked at Island rec­ords Ice-T and his producer Afrika Islam couldn’t get signed there. I begged Island to sign him. When they didn’t I quit my job to work with him.” In the early 1980s New Yorkers considered Los Angeles “too soft” to be a factor in hip hop, and those horrible Cannon break-dance flicks (Breakin’ and Electric Boogaloo) seemed to confirm Southern California’s cotton candy approach to street music. But the tone and, as a result, the image of that city’s street culture has changed pro­foundly. The tension between lower class black, Latino, and Asian youth in LaLa­Land has created a mean streets lifestyle that embraces rap’s hard edge, sometimes explosively, as in the notorious gang riot during a Long Beach rap show in 1986.

Hinojosa, aided by the heavy rap pro­gramming philosophy of KDAY’s Greg Mack, has capitalized on the growing awareness that East Los Angeles has its own street culture, one understandable on the East Coast. That the West Coast based Warner Bros. signed Rhyme Syndi­cate (and recently negotiated a distribu­tion deal with New York-based Cold Chillin’ Records) is, to some degree, a byproduct of Hinojosa meetings with El Lay’s once suspicious record executives.

Hinojosa, Ice-T, who was born in New­ark but raised in Los Angeles, and former Soul Sonic Force member Afrika Islam formed a team, one that anticipates the future of hip hop. Hinojosa, a resident of the San Fernando Valley, is an upper-­middle-class kid with business savvy; Ice-­T is street, but L.A. street, with long red hair and raps that refer to West Coast scenes; and Afrika Islam, who was once a Bronx fixture but now living and spin­ning in Los Angeles, and brings New York expertise to Ice-T’s music. As a unit they illustrate the local flair, old school style, and ambivalence that mark this phase of non-New York hip hop.

I say ambivalence because Ice-T re­corded his album in New York, subcon­sciously confirming the idea that quality rap can only be recorded here or with New York involvement. Moreover, too many non-New York rappers “bite” the styles of Run, the Fat Boys, Slick Rick, L.L. Cool J, etc., failing to localize the music. Case in point: Boston Goes Def! on Beautiful Records. It contains 15 cuts from different rappers, yet there are only two specific references to Boston. A shame, since the beats, samples, and verbal dexterity of the rappers, overall, was as good as anything you’ll hear on Magic or Red Alert’s shows this weekend. Of the Philly crew Schoolly D is the most bellig­erently local. On occasion he writes quite powerfully about the violent world of his Philadelphia (e.g., “P.S.K.”), detailing a landscape specific and personal. More­over, he is contemptuous of New York’s superstar rappers, rarely performing here or even traveling north for business meetings with Jive. If Schoolly D can consistently funnel that anger into good music — which, alas, he hasn’t — then he could set the tone for a new non-New York hip hop. To date the most effective non-New York rap record is that contro­versial 2 Live Crew album. To my ears it was crude on all; levels; the raps were witless (“Throw the ‘ D’ ”), the elocution sloppy, and the recording quality awful. Yet its fast tempos (surely influenced by Miami’s enduring disco romance), in-yo-­face words, and down-home flavor made it, for a time last spring, the South’s hottest rap record. And, maybe, that’s the point. The rap that’ll surely flow from down South, the Midwest, and the West Coast will not, and should not, feel be­holden to what came before. Just as hip hop spit in the face of disco (and funk too), non-New York hip hop will have to use its own accent, its own version of B boy wisdom, if it’s to mean anything. After all, New York is already paid in full.

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MASTERS OF CEREMONY: Best Crack Record

From its “Atomic Dog”-struck opening strains to the chorus that chimes in, “You are what you are,” to the little sister with the Big Lie — “Crack is the word” — “Cracked Out” (Strong City) runs amok like a record possessed, reaching a level of self-contradiction and paranoia analogous to that of the substance-abuser. Masters of Ceremony’s production style might best be described as Desperately Seeking Confusion, with a mélange of voices, rhythms, and forces trying to get their two cents in before the record ends. (Turn up the base!) Vocalists Bill “Grand Poobah Maxwell” Dixon and Todd “Dr. Who” Dixon saunter in with the most unaffected banter ever heard on a hip-hop record, and proceed to act as witting foils in superdetailed tales from the curbside. It’s dirty and dope.

So what was the next move to break open? Producer Jazzy Jay did the all-too-rare by creating a remake where the hype level is even stoopider than on the original (“Cracked”Out [Remix]”), and, thusly, declared himself an old-school force to be reckoned with still. Best part of the cut: the siren that plays over and over but fails to resolve itself. This is truly hell; the sound of self-torture made evident.
—Harry Allen

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SHARP HK-9000: Box Most Likely to Accidentally Start a Nuclear War

Am I lying? Even the name sounds like some kind of supercomputer. HAL’s little cuz, no doubt. SPECIFICATIONS, y’all. Price: $299.95. Length: 33 inches. Width: 9 inches. Height: One foot. Weight: 32.5 pounds, without batteries. And that’s until you decide you wanna rock “Two, Three, Break” on the Queensbound Goetz Local, or bust your own funky fresh ditty on the built-in PA system. Put in 10 D cells, call your homey, ask him to grab a 9, one end, and walk.

Yeah, I know. Technosonic. Junk. A lot of plastic, a lot of empty space inside, and a motion-sensitive burglar alarm. Gimme a break. Yo, if I keep selling enough of these articles, I’m gettin’ myself hooked-up correct. See you the Day After.
—Harry Allen

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69 with a Dirty-Mind: Age Has Not Mellowed The Weird World of Blowfly

Now this is a résumé: dapper king of Miami soul, groove-master songwriter for the likes of Sam & Dave, trailblazer of rap music, and the novelty act progenitor of both 2 Live Crew and Weird Al Yankovic. For the past 40 years, r&b legend Clarence Reid has been better known as Blowfly, a potty-mouthed, purple-hooded alter ego responsible for such crass classic parodies as “Hole Man” and “Shitting on the Dock of the Bay.” This affectionate, if occasionally leering, documentary reveals Reid to be an indefatigable performer, paranoid loner, and limping late sexagenarian who’s still the filthiest boy in the room. Having sold his lucrative catalog for a paltry sum in order to pay off debts, Reid teams up with road-hog percussionist Tom Bowker to wring a meager living out of the Blowfly legacy, which sends them from sparsely attended saloon sets to a sold-out festival show in Dresden, where our caped offender dodges projectile trash. Although its subject is never less than captivating, Jonathan Furmanski’s film is frustratingly unfocused, a scattershot collection of candid footage and biographical information. Thankfully, Blowfly’s world is weird as promised, a discordant mélange of hairnets, hissy fits, cock talk, and cockamamy fears of the feminine sex.

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Repaid in Full

Rock historiography is full of lore about the making of canonical albums, but there hasn’t been much like that for the rap world—until now. Rakim Told Me: Hip-Hop Wax Facts, Straight From the Original Artists—the ’80s, the first book by Boston-based hip-hop journalist Brian Coleman (published by the author’s own imprint, Wax Facts Press), features as-told-to accounts of 21 classic albums, from Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back to 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty as They Wanna Be to—naturally—Eric B. & Rakim’s Paid in Full.

One of the things that struck me was how eager these cats seemed to talk about the music as music, rather than as sociology. I think artists are sick of that. Some artists, say Schoolly D or Mr. Mixx from 2 Live Crew, they’re scientists. They take the shit apart and obsess over what drum machine they’re using.

If you were going to pick one album to turn into an episode of VH1’s Classic Albums, which one would it be? It’s kind of obvious that the love letter in this whole book is Ultramagnetic [MC’s Critical Beatdown]. Kool Keith obviously loves an adventure but he’s also a really, really insightful guy. If he stops making shit up, you can get a lot of really amazing stuff out of him.

You were supposed to do a book on De La Soul’s 3 Feet High & Rising for Continuum’s “33 1/3” series. Did that book become this one? Yes and no. You can blame De La and their management for that book not happening, instead of the good people of “33 1/3.”

The records in the book are pretty much your prime era as a fan, right? I’ll be 35 next month; I guess I’m about the age of a lot of the guys I covered in the book.

When did you begin writing about hip-hop? The earliest stuff I was reviewing was in ’95. I started at a local magazine called Boston Rock. No one was really writing about hip-hop, so I was like, “Maybe I should just do a column for free.” Before I knew it I was a quote-unquote writer.

Publishing the book yourself is a very hip-hop thing to do. Publishers are not all chomping at the bit to publish hip-hop books, and the books they do publish tend to be more academic and talk about hip-hop as a social, popular-culture thing. There really haven’t been enough books that talk about the music.

In the introduction, you mock music writers who write about their experiences instead of the artists’ thoughts. What’s your beef there? It’s never been something I’ve been interested in. To be honest with you, I could have called people out whose work I particularly dislike in that regard, but the point of the intro was to explain what the book wasn’t.

My understanding is that most editors are interested in that “just the facts” type stuff. True, but there’re certain people who make things more poetic and dramatic than they actually are; maybe because they should be writing fiction instead of reviewing De La Soul.

Are you thinking of anyone particular here? This isn’t really the right venue for that. Unimaginative hip-hop artists and uninformed, lazy hip-hop album buyers are a worse danger to hip-hop as an art form than shitty writers.

How do you make a living? I’ve never really done it as a full-time job. I do jazz PR for [Braithwaite & Katz].

Would you rather be writing full-time? I never really planned on being a publicist, but it was something I enjoyed. I’ve always done the writing more as a hobby because I am incapable of writing about stuff I don’t really care about. The life of a freelancer kind of horrifies me—the thought of having to do a feature on T.I.

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Banned in the U.S.A.

Saving kids from offensive lyrics is nothing new, as this time line demonstrates.

1964

The Kingsmen, “Louie Louie” The fratboy anthem catches flack from Indiana governor Matthew Welsh, who wants it banned for supposed obscene references: “I smell the rose in her hair” is rumored to actually be, “I feel my boner in her hair.” The FCC finds the lyrics indecipherable.

1971
Peter, Paul and Mary, “Puff the Magic Dragon” The Illinois Crime Commission compiles a list of songs referencing drugs, including the Grammy Award-winning children’s ditty about how “Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff.”

1982

Led Zeppelin, “Stairway to Heaven” California state assemblyman Phil Wyman plays the song backward for Congress, trying to demonstrate the masking of subliminal messages, which purportedly say, “Here’s to my sweet Satan.”

1985

Ozzy Osbourne, “Suicide Solution” Osbourne is sued by the parents of John McCollum, who charge that the song’s lyrics aided their son’s suicide. But a judge cites insufficient evidence, insisting the lyrics are protected speech. “Suicide is slow with liquor/Take a bottle and drown your sorrows/Then it floods away tomorrows.”

1985

Tipper Gore and 20 other Washington wives form the Parents’ Music Resource Center, urging Congress to force the music industry to sticker or rate albums with explicit content. Targeted songs include: Prince, “Darling Nikki” (“I met her in a hotel lobby/Masturbating with a magazine”); Sheena Easton, “Sugar Walls” (“Come spend the night inside my sugar walls”); W.A.S.P., “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)” (“I start to howl, I’m in heat/I moan and growl and the hunt drives me crazy/I fuck like a beast”); The Mentors, “Anal Vapor” (“Bend up and smell my anal vapor/ Your face is my toilet paper”).

1989

N.W.A, “Fuck tha Police” The FBI writes N.W.A. a nice letter thanking the group for the song and sends the note to police around the country. “Some police think/They have the authority to kill the minority/ . . . A young nigga on the warpath/ And when I’m finished, it’s gonna be a bloodbath of cops.”

1990

2 Live Crew, “Me So Horny” A Broward County, Florida, sheriff aims to pull 2 Live Crew records from stores; a Florida judge rules the album obscene. His decision is overturned by the Supreme Court, which maintains that the lyrics are protected under the First Amendment. “Put your lips on my dick, and suck my asshole too/I’m a freak in heat, a dog without warning/ . . . Fuckie suckie. Me fuckie suckie.”

1992

Body Count, “Cop Killer” Ice-T kills the single from his band’s album after protests and boycotts of Warner Bros. “I’m ’bout to bust some shots off/I’m ’bout to dust some cops off!/Cop killer!/It’s better you than me/ Cop killer!/ Fuck police brutality.”

2000

Eminem, “Kill You” The white rapper winds up the ubiquitous punching bag during September FTC hearings about the entertainment industry marketing violence to children. Lynne Cheney holds him up as evidence of Western civilization’s decline. “Put your hands down bitch, I ain’t goin’ shoot you/I’m a pull you to this bullet and put it through you/Shut up slut, you’re causin’ too much chaos/ Just bend over and take it like a slut, OK Ma?”

2001

Rage Against the Machine, “Calm Like a Bomb” A lawyer for one of the accused teenagers in a Colorado triple murder case maintains these lyrics influenced the suspect: “There’s a right to obey and a right to kill.”


Honorable Mention: Marilyn Manson Unpleased with onstage antics involving dildos, shredded Bibles, and thongs that expose his butt, officials boycott the shock rocker and cancel his concerts in the aftermath of Columbine.


Related articles:

Kelefa Sanneh parses the new federal attempt at music censorship, and gauges the music community’s response. Chelsea Peretti breaks down who owns what.

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The 12 Lays Of Christmas

If St. Nick cums down your chimney with an entourage of horny little helpers clutching chocolate dildos Friday night, you’d better believe he’s Blowfly, the bigger and blacker Santa. All boys’-bathroom bawdiness (“Jingle Bell Cock,” “Dick the Hoes,” “Twats The Night Before XXX-Mas”), the only punch lines in this musical comedy are about spurting in tight pussies and even tighter asses. Fifty-four-year-old r&b singer Clarence Reid, a/k/a Blowfly, wants “to spend all night in your rump-pa-pum-pum.” And so go these 14 carol parodies showcasing his uncanny knack for rhyming words with “fucking”: Between Spector-girl jangle and Ringo romps, your holiday house-party mix tape sure could use a track or two.

Blowfly’s gravelly “soul-talking” has been featured on more than 50 albums for almost 40 years, almost all risqué “party records” released on small Southern independents—his 1962 single “Odd Balls” was purportedly the world’s first rap song. Blowfly liked it raw back when ODB was wearing diapers. He put the salty in Chef’s chocolate balls, and he’s the forerunner to 2 Live Crew’s and Kid Rock’s sleaze—the fuck-off stuff with gold four-finger rings, rotating pelvises, and facial muscles working overtime, licking mad orifice in hot tubs. It’s a party on your pussy, and everybody’s getting (and going) down.

Backed by laugh tracks and Casio-demonstration-button keyboard, the real action is Santa Blowfly’s trash talk. Frosty’s snow penis melts at its first encounter with a hot ass, but in Blowfly’s harmonious world, everybody else gets some: gay and straight, young and old. Even jolly old Mr. Claus, with his “dick all red and white.”