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Big Daddy Kane: The AfraKane King

On Big Daddy Kane’s record cover, three Nubian hand­ maidens in a regal, Greco-Ro­man fantasy tend to the every wish of the Cameoed King. Long Live the Kane (Cold Chillin’) one whispers as she leans over his shoulder, proffering a goblet of Calvin Cooler. Pause, then flip over this bad, blood-filled, basement-party album. Centuries later, Kane plays a game of Trouble in a Brooklyn living room with Mad Money Murf, while the same unnamed virgin looks on. DJ Mister Cee rests, dreaming of another master plan or mix. Dancer/rapper/barber Scoob Lover, dancer Scrap Lover, and a teddy bear chill.

A historically-hushed rift is implied by these two images. Between ancient Afra­kan vivacity—ripped off and up by un­educated Greeks and post-their-Renais­sance Europeans—and modern-day African-American samo-samo lies a chasm of truth, one that opens long ago near the Grand Lodge in Luxor, Egypt. As George G. M. James reveals in Stolen Legacy, as Martin Bernal expounds in Black Athena, and as Kane alludes in the exultant “Word to the Mother (Land),” Luxor is where Socrates saw the words “Man Know Thyself,” then bit ’em, sure that they’d work great as a slogan back home. He was right.

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The rift widens. Much gold around a king’s neck might hint at Luxor’s heyday, at Kane’s revision of the Staple Singers’ warm, wet, free-at-last Utopia (also called “I’ll Take You There”), or of the great Kankan Musa. Tells historian Maulana Karenga, this Malian mansa, or emperor, left on a yearlong pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, taking along 60,000 baggage men, royal secretaries, soldiers, and Black ur­ban professionals. Passing through Cairo with these, 80 to 100 camel loads of gold dust, and a generous attitude, he gave away so much gold that its Egyptian price was depressed for the next 12 years.

Yup. Kane’s fat gold ropes might re­mind you of Mansa Musa from Mali. Then again, they might just remind you that DeBeers/Botha break Black backs with demonic regularity in South African mines. Today, the hoops and dookies are cold sold for a king’s ransom, not given away, in stores with door buzzers and inch-thick glass. So, Big Daddy—where you at? Past, present, or Black to the future? Are you the ruler of old on the album’s front, your toplofty tone most domi­nant in “Long Live the Kane,” or an around-the-­way on the back, endear­ingly dope in “On the Bugged Tip,” lovestruck and longing on “The Day You’re Mine”?

What he is is a point-­blank African-American, complete with the requi­site wish list. Kane supports Minister Farrakhan and the fact of Afrakan historical primacy, though crit­ics still fiending for Public Enemy’s warm jockstraps, Rakim’s glowing brilliance, or acid house probably haven’t noticed. Kane plays the riffs and rifts well (Afra­kan or American? Gold trunk jewelry or Black rule in South Africa? Light skin or dark? B’klyn or anybody else?) over an original music made from scraps of origi­nal music. Five-Percenter self-sufficiency gets with Roy Rogers, Gucci, and Kel­logg’s Sugar Frosted Flakes, and it all comes to a head. In 1988 Blackland, drug dealers are arbiters of taste, and We, descendants of Afrakan kmgs and queens (but lacking diplomatic immunity), are target practice for the 5-O. For Kane, as for James Brown, Hendrix, Coltrane, Beethoven (Black, caucasianized for the record), and other new music makers, here the future of music (dope) meets Black life’s particularly present-day dick­-downs (dog food).

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“I wanna get into my thing!” Kane quoted one June night at the Apollo. “Can I get into my thing? MOVIN’? GROOVIN’?” Then, as Scoob ‘n’ Scrap twisted, shook, and folded their unfailing­ly limbered physiques, the Microphone Lord dropped a brand new bomb and “Set It Off,” popping pailfuls of pentametrical poetry, knotting together metrical foots trochaic and trisyllabic. The crowd searched hard for their minds, hyped by this smooth ‘n’ sweaty show­man’s versificatory variations. If Rakim flows, Chuck D jump-cuts, and KRS ONE conversates, then Kane blurs. He’ll race, as he does on the upcoming, rabid “Wrath of Kane,” or he’ll rhyme like he wrote the lyrics out on a chalkboard, smeared the words with an eraser, then said that. His tone is teeth-sucking, like a brother sounds when he’s about to wax the behind of some recalcitrant bass­kicker. “You don’t want none o’ this!” Kane insists on “Set It Off,” right before one of his velvet-gloved beat-downs—hyperbolic, discombobulating, gentlemanly assaults so swift you don’t realize you’ve been insulted ’til much later (“Get you a nurse … too late! Get you a hearse!”). Nobody’s spared, with “Raw,” muscular rhetoric front to back. “Shut the fuck up,” Kane snorts mock-pissedly on “Mis­ter Cee’s Master Plan” when his DJ gets mike-happy. From “Half-Steppin'”: “I grab the mike and make MCs evapor­ate/The party people say, ‘Damn, that rapper’s great!'” Spoken wistfully over producer Marley Marl’s odd, dreamy, butt-swingin’ groove, the boast comes off as a most sublime mastery of understatement.

Big Daddy Kane, the man who would be king, is, in a way, hip-hop’s most nor­mal, gimmickless artist. That is, if L.L. Cool J was state-of-the-art in 1987, Kane’s the same in ’88. Not to say at all that L. is outta here, y’all, but yo: If he ever takes off the Kangol, there best be a Hi-Lo below.

P.S. Editor Marty Gottlieb & Co. say: “Doesn’t being thanked on the back of Kane’s album affect your critical credibil­ity, Harry?” I’m not a critic. I’m a brother who speaks the people’s truths on their terms, and I’m thanked for that. My credibility? Most intact. ❖

Big Daddy Kane will be at the Apollo November 18.

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Vijay Iyer Trio

Jazz, for the most part, is about connection, and the chemistry the recent MacArthur Grant recipient generates with his appropriately applauded team is the “aww shit” kind—you know, like when Big Daddy Kane’s pen hits the paper. On the bandstand there are moments when the communication is jaw-dropping. Since they’ve been bouncing around Europe for the past couple of weeks, we’ll assume the signature interplay will be even be goosed a tad higher. Pay attention to the boss’s left hand—it’s a rhythm machine.

Oct. 31-Nov. 3, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m., 2013

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Jay-Z – Barclays Center – 9/29/2012 (Day 2)

See Photos From Night One: Hello Brooklyn: Jay-Z’s First Night at the Barclays Center

Jay-Z
Barclays Center
9/29/12

Better Than: Seeing Jay-Z on the third night at Barclays Center.

Brooklyn has quickly become New York City’s most popular borough, amassing a cult-like following (and real estate exodus) from celebrities, out-of-town transplants and the twentysomething set. Natives might balk at the concept of a borough du jour, but it’s undeniably cooler to live in Brooklyn versus even comparable neighborhoods elsewhere in the city. At a cursory level, the cache is essentially just a marketing ploy that in many regards can be traced back to Jay-Z; the borough’s most famous brand ambassador has steadily name-checked his hood in every pop culture permutation possible since the inception of his career.

See Also:

Hello Brooklyn: Jay-Z’s First Night At Barclays Center
Jay-Z After Party with Talib Kweli and Young Guru
Meek Mill – 40/40 Club – 9/26/2012

 

This borough revivalism reached its apex on Saturday night when Jay-Z performed the second of eight sold-out shows at the newly opened Barclays Center. Jay, the consummate walking billboard, came suited in full Brooklyn Nets regalia including a custom “Carter #4” basketball jersey and baseball cap. Interestingly, the rapper only owns some one-fifteenth of 1% of the team. With a thumping live band behind him, featuring longtime DJ/engineer Young Guru at the helm, Jay-Z jumped into the gritty, autobiographical “Where I’m From” (“Brooklyn” was remixed into the hook, “Cough up a lung/ Where I’m from/ Brooklyn, son”) followed by the fittingly titled, “Brooklyn We Go Hard.”

He then paused and paid homage to Brooklyn’s other famous son, the late Notorious B.I.G., by adding “One More Chance remix” and the classic “Juicy” to the set. Since B.I.G.’s untimely murder in 1997, fans have oft speculated how the two former friends from ’round the way would have coexisted had Biggie lived and as thousands–many too young to physically remember B.I.G.–chanted along the first verse of “Juicy” acapella with Jay, it was clear that they would have shared this historic moment.

Longtime crony Memphis Bleek served as the night’s only special guest, performing “Do My” and “You, Me, Him and Her.” Jay-Z had touted the string of Barclays shows as solo feats, but following the rap legend Big Daddy Kane’s cameo on opening night, many expected a bigger name the second time around. “I came to do these eight shows by myself!” Jay announced, maybe sensing the audience’s disappointment. Such is the paradox of a great Jay-Z concert: Even amid back-to-back crowd pleasers like “Public Service Announcement,” “Hard Knock Life,” and “Big Pimpin’,” fans always ponder who else from the rapper’s famous Rolodex might show up.

“Let’s not act like this is no regular shit tonight,” Jay-Z defiantly announced at one point. He was right. This was not a run-of-the-mill Jay-Z concert, but rather, an inspirational homecoming. The concert wasn’t meant to be about how many famous faces could be paraded through Barclays Center so much as it was the one-man celebration about a local boy done good. Jay-Z prefaced several songs like “99 Problems” and “On To the Next One” with uplifting jargon about following ones dreams; the master of words, “Motivational Speaker” would not be a career stretch. “Anybody out that that has a dream, don’t let nobody hold you back. You follow your dream,” Jay-Z preached towards the end after the resplendent closer, “Encore.” “Today is a beautiful day and a dream realized…I’m living proof that dreams come true.”

Critical Bias: Jay-Z is the greatest rapper alive.
Overheard: “Memphis Bleek; THAT’S who we get?” – Complaint about the special guest
Random Notebook Dump: It took two (delayed) subways and one very begrudging cab driver to get to the venue. Can Jay-Z take over the MTA?

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ROCK THE BOAT

When it comes to hip-hop, the words “all white” will forever be associated with the dress code at Puffy’s legendary Hampton bashes. But tonight, Hot 97’s Mister Cee adapts the colorless color scheme for his own purposes as he leads fans of the radio station on a midnight Manhattan cruise. Expect Cee to spin radio hits of today (“Cashin’ Out,” “Mercy,” anything Meek Mill) mixed with New York classics (dude came up as Big Daddy Kane’s DJ, after all) to keep you rocking all the way until you return to dry land at four—they don’t call him “The Finisher” for nothing. The Spirit of America doesn’t depart until half-past midnight, but leave yourself time to park, board, and get started on the complimentary buffet.

Sat., July 7, 12:30 a.m., 2012

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LONG LIVE THE KANE

Rapper Big Daddy Kane once boasted, “My rhymes are so dope . . . I’ll have to open a school of MCing,” on his 1988 classic “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’.” Since then, his records have served as classrooms, and some of rap’s great heroes are his star pupils: Chuck D calls him the “most gifted rapper of all time”; RZA praises the Bed-Stuy lyricist’s “Brooklyn aggressiveness”; Scarface says, “Everybody should rap along with Kane[‘s records]; and the list just goes on. At his peak, Kane was one of rap’s fastest rappers and one of its first sex symbols (he appeared in Playgirl), and was instrumental in ushering in new talent like Jay-Z. Tonight, at the Celebrate Brooklyn festival in Prospect Park, he will be honored with a short documentary, BDK: The Big Daddy Kane Story, as well as tributes from former Roots member and this evening’s host, Rahzel, Brooklyn-via-Ghana MC Blitz the Ambassador, and Video Music Box creator Ralph McDaniels, before he hits the stage himself with a live band. Class dismissed.

Sat., Aug. 8, 7:30 p.m., 2009

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Pole Position

Women stand to benefit from going out more regularly with the girls to see male strippers—this according to esoteric South Bronx crew the Juggaknots. The new electro-meets-hip-house track “Strip Joint,” from their 10-years-coming sophomore disc Use Your Confusion, is a product of the three public school teachers’ romper-room-style “Why’d you hit me?” sibling interplay, first heard on 1996’s landmark vinyl-only release Clear Blue Skies. “It’s a fun song, it’s a sexy song, and we have the flexibility as a group to deal with issues from both a female and a male perspective, ” explains Queen Herawin, chilling with her brother MC Breeze Brewin in his Bronx home. B. Slim, older brother of the two and the group’s primary producer, actually just stepped out. (Yeah right.)

Relax, guys. They’re not knocking strip joints. The song simply knocks around the idea of equal strip joint opportunity—a dick bar next to that titty bar on every corner—while contemplating the crucial role strip joints play in our daily lives. “Cats go to strip joints and spend their rent,” Breeze says. “I’ve seen it happen. I’m like, ‘Dog, you just spent the mortgage.’ I might end up blowing the cable bill, but, yo, stop there.” (Herawin’s a tightwad, though. On the track she’s full of Hennessy shots, shoutin’, “Damn boy/Work that,” while the rock-hard dudes are “looking real handy with serious tools.” But she’s still not giving up the loot.)

You may know Breeze as “Tariq” from Prince Paul’s much lauded 1999 hip-hopera Prince Among Thieves, where he played lead among big dogs Big Daddy Kane, Kool Keith, Chubb Rock, Xzibit, and Sadat X. Prince Paul handpicked Breeze after listening to his demo. Really. “A cool, cool cat,” recalls Breeze, who lent a hand in Confusion‘s production thanks to his time with Paul. Even B. Slim’s beats have a touch of the daisy. Remember when samples were almost undetectable? When producers would just piece together tiny snips of songs and use cool, anonymous one-liners from movies instead of lazily just speeding up an entire record, vocals intact, so it’s totally obvious what’s being sampled, and thus it just sounds like a remake with a rap on it instead of an original song? “We’ve definitely not really wanted to have the run-of-the-mill samples,” Breeze says.

For “30something,” he reunites with Brand Nubian’s Sadat X, wherein they decide, as Breeze now interjects, “It’s not that bad being old.” Still, they take issue with how a lot of good older rappers are “getting aged-out on some Menudo shit” instead of getting bigger gigs like older musicians in other genres. Slick Rick of “La-Di-Da-Di” fame (who’s actually facing deportation again) joins forces with the crew for “Vows”; Brooklyn’s Wordsworth, Herawin’s college classmate, drops in for “Liar, Liar,” which expounds on how lying may not always be right, but in some cases is polite. The Juggaknots like to slip in little axioms. Even Use Your Confusion‘s title track offers existential comments on everyday shit, but don’t use the C-word on them. “When I hear this ‘conscious rap’ attack, sometimes it’s unfair to cats ’cause there’s a certain pedestal that’s easy to fall off of,” Breeze says. “For what it’s worth, we’re regular people.”

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Raw Shit and Rubber Duckies

I got this idea for a TV sports craze: Bad Golf. Stand-up comedians rag on the stultifying dullness of your average British Open partly because everyone’s just too
drives, the 12-putt disasters, the club-tomahawking tirades? Let’s dump a bunch of atrociously unskilled amateurs at Pebble Beach and let ’em hack away at it. Their failures will be hilarious, their successes truly shocking and inspiring. Isn’t reality TV entirely based on this concept? Mechanical, unerring excellence makes for lousy spectacle. And television. And hip-hop.

I often prefer bad rappers. Or at least unknown, unloved, inexperienced young MCs forced to woo the public via awkward battle tracks calling out the mechanically competent big-shot rappers the public actually knows, loves, and will pay money to experience. Where to go for such a stew of ambition and despair? Where else? Jersey.

“Whassssup . . . Newark?” Thus did Boston trio Project Move hesitantly kick off the climax of the Rock Steady Crew’s 29th anniversary party, a four-day hoedown for the legendary Bronx breakdancing crew that featured B-boy/-girl competitions, celebrity basketball games, and DJ/MC events like this one, a free all-day Lincoln Park blowout on a late-July Sunday afternoon. Brick City citizens were thus well represented onstage and in the pit, but plenty of NYC peeps made the subway-train-bus sojourn as well. “It took me two hours to get here,” bemoaned one of our hosts from the Lower East Side crew End of the Weak. That’s WEAK, as they reminded us 15,000 times throughout the day while jovially shepherding a lineup ranging from who-dats like PackFM (nice Akon-dissing routine) and Many Styles (“Yo, this joint is called ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ “) to our star attractions, including Rhymefest, Big Daddy Kane, and in his new superstar-DJ guise, Q-Tip.

Can we start with him, actually? Have you heard Q-Tip rap in person? Does he sound an octave higher than on record, or was that some kind of mic glitch? Can a dude’s voice actually do that? Or are his decks just elaborately disguised tanks of helium? Initially the Tribe Called Quest frontman merely spun clips of “White Lines” and what have you, but he finally indulged us and burst out front to rap through Tribe’s “Award Tour,” “Find a Way,” and “Check the Rhime,” letting the euphoric crowd fill in Phife’s verses, or at least the parts we could remember: “Ummm a tidbit/Ummm a smidgen/Whosawhattagleebleglobblesomethinsomethingpigeon.” Crowd went apeshit.

No surprise Phife cameo, alas; earlier, Chicago’s Rhymefest had politely curbed our enthusiasm by making sure we knew that colleague-patron-underwriter Kanye West would not burst from backstage during his set, which climaxed when he leapt into the crowd and barreled around freestyling for a while. It ended when he delivered, a cappella, the missing third verse to Kanye’s “Jesus Walks,” which he co-wrote. (Cutting the stuff about having to shop at Payless Shoe Source was probably the right call.) Between Rhyme and “Rhime,” Wise Intelligent’s spazzy dancehall beats pummeled us, while Lord Jamar tried to teach his MySpace minions what a “5 Percenter” is and Large Professor revisited the insanely catchy “Looking at the Front Door.” Then there was Freddie Foxxx (a/k/a Bumpy Knuckles), who actually did have a surprise special guest (DJ Premiere) and led us all in a menacing chorus of “Real/Nigga/Real/Nigga.” (“Don’t do nothin’ to the white boy if he sings the hook,” Foxxx warned the crowd.)

Freddie’s set was full of “This is real hip-hop shit” japes—he talked up his forthcoming American Black Man record by hinting at all the big-name rappers he’d confront and deride. Part of this mentality arose from an impulse to honor the Rock Steady Crew—hip-hop in the classic “pre–Run-D.M.C.” sense, as one MC put it. So we got some live graffiti on the grounds, some breakdancing both onstage and off, and lots of shout-outs to Rock Steady luminary Crazy Legs and accompanying pleas for a return to, well, real hip-hop shit. Curiously, the show’s first few hours, full of unknown up-and-comers, was also punctuated by real hip-hop yeah no fuckin’ around this is the raw shit braggadocio and stinging barbs at super-famous and thus of course completely shallow and unworthy MCs who were probably not within earshot. Whether you’re a veteran with industry respect but few magazine covers or a com plete unknown with neither, the paths to super-fame converge: Join the big boys by taking a few down. Like 50 Cent did with “How to Rob.” Or hell, look at Rhyme- fest, whose battle victory over Eminem at 1997’s Scribble Jam, back before either was remotely famous, dominates his press now that Em’s ascended and Rhyme’s finally got a major album out.

That struggle to escape anonymity often makes unknown rappers more compelling than the big dogs whose careers they covet. Higher stakes, maybe lesser talent, definitely fewer certainties, but higher highs and lower lows. Maybe that’s why our Newark day trip’s highlight occurred at a point exactly between the have-nots and have-somes: End of the Weak (“That’s WEAK“) showcased the unique approach to MC battles they invented and showcase weekly (not weakly) on the L.E.S. From a handful of the competing who-dat rappers the crew brought onstage emerged the day’s single best line (“I got girls on my nuts like George Washington Carver”) and best sustained gimmick: During one round, instead of freestyling by battling each other, the contestants took turns rapping while reaching into a box and pulling out random objects, which they then had to incorporate into their rhymes. Sample muses: a deodorant stick, dominoes, a roll of masking tape, a dog chew toy, and a bottle of steak sauce. Inspiring.

This experiment resulted in a lot of hesitant “Oh shit, it’s . . . a paper plate!lyricism, but it makes for surreal, compelling drama when a hardass dude looking to outshine Big Daddy Kane is forced to wax rhapsodic about . . . a rubber ducky. When Big Daddy Kane himself took the stage hours later, he first politely rattled off the titles of all the demos, mixtapes, and DIY releases he’d been handed throughout the day, giving the feverishly self-promoting unknown studs a brief moment of celebrity. Then he ripped through “Ain’t No Half-Steppin’ ” to rampant crowd elation. A little half-steppin’, though, can sometimes be more fun.

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Thousand Eyes

Sure, any moderately dedicated hip-hop fan can tell you Lost Boyz sideman Freaky Tah was shot dead outside a party in Queens, but it takes a true head to know it went down at geocoordinates 40 N, 73 W. Or a total geek. And yeah, I know, what’s the difference, right? But nerdy or not, Google Earth user Popenyc’s painstaking compilation of satellite-mapped “Hip Hop Places” does its subject justice, echoing the music’s long-standing obsessions with streets and ‘hoods. Load this database into Google Earth and your screen becomes a God’s-eye-view atlas of hip-hop history: Zoom in on “Big Daddy Kane old crib” (a blunt, gray projects tower on Myrtle Avenue), then follow your cursor out to “Kanye West Mom’s New House” in the far Chicago suburbs. Admire the small lake in the backyard but wonder if it doesn’t look a little lonely compared to the Wests’ old place on the South Side.

And if all that televoyeurism feels too intimate, you’re not alone. Google Earth location taggers like Popenyc have been scouring with an attentiveness that’s making some national governments uneasy (South Korea officially griped to the U.S. about Google Earth pics of its military sites). And with Microsoft’s newly revamped Windows Live Local adding low-flight “Bird’s Eye” close-ups to the mix, it’s hard not to fear for the future of backyard nude croquet. But despite privacy concerns raised by Google Earth and its progeny, their wide-open user accessibility points toward ever more interesting applications. “Hip Hop Places” is itself one example, but nothing’s stopping anybody from folding it into a mash-up that, for instance, highlights the concentration of toxic-waste dumps in African American neighborhoods. Wouldn’t take but an hour, G, and what? You got something better to do with your Christmas vacation?

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Music

Four years ago, Fatboy Slim jacked Doug Lazy’s voice, and the jolly hip-house icon never caught a check. He who “Let It Roll” doesn’t catch a break on this mix CD either, but all of his not-quite-rough-enough-for-Edan’s–Fast Rap–tape homies are here: MCs Fast Eddie and KC Flight, producers Strafe and Tyree. “Rap and house is kinda different,” Juice Crew non-biscuit Craig G insists in “Turn That House Into a Home.” “To do this, you must be gifted.” That’s not totally true (this was, after all, the era when MCs stated exactly what they were essaying to do in each song. Meta what? Meta who?), but the swinging style isn’t for everyone, only the sexy people. Special Ed got down, as did Big Daddy Kane (best are the latter-day quick-spitters who get shoehorned in nicely: Rah Digga, Joe Budden, even Cincy arty-partys Five Deez). And Chi-town house dons Adonis and Steve Hurley prove their urban bona fides, though almost no one in New York’s rap world was listening. “I’ll House You” aside, this was music flowing mostly from the outside in, assuring regional marginality despite tristate club saturation. For the record, Ayres swears D.C.’s Doug will eat well on the forthcoming Vol. 2.

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Rocket ’88

In ’88 I was not pushing weight. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, was I getting chased to my building. Nor, in case you were wondering, was I a ballerina. Oh no. What I do remember about those good ol’ days are snippets of sound and vision. Raiders Starter jackets, bootleg rap tapes with the songs on the wrong side and bad color-copy inserts, Cross Colours T-shirts, and taping late-night mix shows off Power 99 as I tried to sleep while voices crept into my head: “I got a letter from the government the other day,” “Fuck the police,” “Put a quarter in your ass cuz you played yourself.” In ’88 I was just 11 years old, and all I really remember is that rap was a secret that I shared with a small nation of millions.

Edan’s music is about memory, and his project is basically about reimagining his youth, sewing together scraps of songs. He was, in all likelihood, hit by the same lightning bolt that struck hundreds of other white kids like me that year. It could’ve been “You Gots to Chill,” or “The Symphony,” or “Microphone Fiend,” but one day learning French and algebra or listening to U2 seemed a distant second to trying to figure out what “half-steppin’ ” was, and why Big Daddy Kane was so against it.

Last year Edan dropped two blasts from the past. His full-length, Primitive Plus, and his newish EP, Sprain Your Tape Deck, are collages of attitudes, sounds, and slang that form a rough approximation of what life must have been like for him, white kid on the beat street in the late ’80s. Rather than make songs that simply recall hip-hop’s golden era, like the way Jurassic 5 keep it real (sleepy), Edan makes songs that sound like what hip-hop’s golden era sounded like to him back then.

He’s from Boston, in his early twenties, and sports a variety of hats: MC, DJ, producer, and mesh. And his records are largely bedroom productions. In interviews he’s talked about Syd Barret and certain tropicalia artists as non-hip-hop influences, and you can see the sense of wonder he shares with them. There’s palpable affection for the snap, crackle, and pop of low-tech drum machines and scratchy vocals. A thrift-store hand-clap simulator is the highest-mixed track on Sprain‘s first song, “Let’s Be Friends.”

That’s another thing Edan remembers: Hip-hop can be funny. Not funny like “Nelly has a Band-Aid on his face” funny. But Grand Puba funny. Milk D funny. “Let’s Be Friends” finds Edan going vegetarian, kicking the beef to the curb, and wishing out loud that he could take his favorite MCs out for ice cream and a movie. On “Run That Shit,” he kicks an anthem about the five-finger discount, running down a shopping list of shit he plans to steal: “I ain’t working at McDonald’s/You can suck my dick/Matter fact give me a burger and the keys to the whip.”

Therein lies the only problem with Edan. Listening to his records gives you a really good idea about what he likes: rhyme structures pulled straight from the vocal cords of Rakim and G. Rap, slap-boxing beats that have the same tripping-over-themselves quality as Audio Two’s “Top Billin’.” The problem is you don’t know what he’s like. Dropping introspection in favor of tributes to Gucci-time God Schooly D and other ultramagnetic heroes of his youth, it’s hard to decipher who this masked man is. Obviously a student of the game, a scholar of the invisible arts behind rap’s magic, his albums can be heard as exhibits, textbooks, or stand-up routines. But when you grasp for something more, he goes skipping down memory lane, rocking red-and-black hi-top Jordans, and pumping Superlover Cee out of a boombox.