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Hiphop Nation: Calling Dr. Strangelove

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.
—From the special “Hiphop Nation” edition of the Village Voice, January 19, 1988

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Hip-Hop Nation: Power to the People

Hip-Hop Radio: Power to the People
January 19, 1988

It’s appropriate that the first, the only, place I heard the Audio Two’s last record, “I Like Cher­ries,” was on The D.N.A.-Hank Love Ra­dio Show (WNWK, 105.9, Sunday, 2 to 4 a.m.). As the self-proclaimed “Under­ground of Hip-Hop,” D.N.A.-Love is in­deed a minority in a minority, playing many cuts, artists, and labels that the Magics and Red Alerts won’t even unbox. So, while Magic pompously fronts him­self as “the Donald Trump of hip-hop,” and J. R. Vance wastes talk-time engag­ing Red Alert in the corniest chitchat this side of Diff’rent Strokes, I even tape the commercials read by DJ Hank Love. (The Billy Jean’s Hair Salon ad is an existentialist must-hear.)

Sure, D.N.A. plays a lot of wack rec­ords, but that’s a hazard of democracy. (Mitch-Ski and Shan ain’t exactly the Kings of Rock, by the way.) D.N.A.-Love listeners hear their own music — the “Star for a Night” feature, 4-X, allows them to visit the Manhattan studio and hear their tapes as part of their own verbal environ. The audience knows by fact, not by de­fault, that they’re definitely down with the program. “The people who listen to our show, they want to be recognized as listeners,” D.N.A. says. “We talk with our listeners; we don’t talk to them. It’s like a family operation. ‘Yo, what up, D.N.A. I’d like to give a shot-out to my homeboy Bob-Ski up in…’ ” Thusly, this is the only N.Y. radio show where B-boys take over the station in a substantive sense, and in which the act of first playing an Audio Two, Ultra Magnetic M.C.’s, Ma­jestic Productions, Ultimate Choice, or Super Lover Cee, becomes a vital com­munity service.

Although the exact size of the audience is not clear (the 27-year-old entrepreneur boasts “two million listeners in four states”), its brief history is more so. D.N.A. took over the WNWK (formerly WHBI) slot in 1985 right after Mr. Magic was called back by PT-109’d WBLS, which had stopped playing hip-hop for personal reasons.

D.N.A., a former Jackson 5 fan turned music student turned Rush Productions promo man, had long realized that the best way to get inside the biz was from backstage. His backstage pass was getting a sponsor to pay for two-hour time blocks and reselling minute-sized slices to adver­tisers. It worked, and his continued suc­cess with the show has allowed him to develop related projects, such as estab­lishing something wrongly too rare in the music business: a Black-owned company (D.N.A. International, Inc.) producing, packaging, and promoting hip-hop.

Now inside, he hasn’t exactly been wel­comed with open arms. D.N.A. is gay, and some of the difficulty he meets on a professional level, just trying to get his crews airplay at various spots on the dial, for example, comes from prejudice. While not denying this, he sees other reasons for the chilly reception as well.

“We’re envied by everybody. One, be­cause we come in there as businessmen, knowing what we want and knowing what we wanna do. We don’t come in there as guys just playing music.” Later he ad­mits, “People just don’t like me. But that’s besides the point. They didn’t like Christ either, so what can you say?”

No delusions of grandeur here; just someone who’s nonsense-tired. Hardly a proselyte, but not one to hold back. “I wish we could get together and organize and take control of this music, because now, it’s like we’re just a bunch o’ Black folks running around, with no organiza­tion, no goals, you know what I’m sayin’? There’s nothing organized.”

“I’m not on an ego trip. Believe me, I am more than honored that people listen to me. They are the stars. They are the Donald Trumps, they are the Godfathers, they are the Official Voice, not me. They put us there, they keep us there, without their support we wouldn’t be there. That’s why I always say on the radio they are the world’s greatest listeners: they stay up ’til two o’clock in the morning. They’ve been with us for almost three years, supporting us. I don’t need no title like ‘Godfather,’ or… uh… uh… ‘Pre­mier,’ or ‘Emperor.’ It’s not all about me. Without them, we ain’t jack-doo-doo. And that’s a quote.”

But then, perhaps thinking he had spo­ken just a little too soon, D.N.A. turned to his coproducer. “Well, how do you feel, Hank? Should we call you, ‘Prime Minis­ter Hank Love’?”

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Oh, Yeah, Those ‘Other’ Hip-Hop Shows

Yeah, it’s a ghetto, boo-yee. But we call it home (or at least we do until after the revolv-olution).

MR. MAGIC’S RAP ATTACK (WBLS, 107.5, Friday & Saturday, 9 p.m. to 12.)
Pluses: Marley Marl, the man most likely to exceed, and to eventually write a jazz opera for turntables. Marley Marl’s well-earned status as a disc driver is assured, and we’ve known his mixes were edgy for years. Other pluses: the show’s nice, half-hour bites (just right for tap­ing), clear signal, Magic’s knowledge of the music and his attitude.
Negatives: Magic‘s attitude (his on-air dissing of Hurby et alli makes him sound like a jealous wish-I-wuz), regular “World Premieres” that aren’t, and, though “Fly” Tyrone Williams is no longer in the booth, Magic still pushes up, up, and away too much Pop Art-Prism-Cold Chillin’ product. (That year-end top 20 was a joke, ha-ha.)

CHUCK CHILLOUT & RED ALERT (WRKS, 98.7, Friday & Saturday, 9 p.m. to 12.)
Magic’s competition. I don’t listen to Chuck, as it comes on during Sabbath, so I’m talking about Red here.
Pluses: Clear signal, more variety in cuts than you­-know, the show’s closing music and pro­mos (“Who’s Jimmy? VIOLATORS!” Dooooope!), sometimes commercial-free for hour-long stretches.
Negatives: Zero shout-outs, worst on-­air conversation in N.Y. hip-hop (too bad; word-for-word, Red’s a more interesting talker than you-know), and unex­citing mixes. (Marley wins as a record player; however, for the record, Red’s a better record producer.)

THE AWESOME 2 (WNWK, Sunday, 4 to 5 a.m.)
America’s chillest air personalities, with the best opening music of any of these shows, comes on right after D.N.A., and they’re close in the Raw Feeling De­partment, but, being chill, they’re some­times a little cold on-air. Pluses: Toddy­Tod (subtly dope), frank, on-air shout-outs and interviews, the lack of gee-whiz. (They’re chill, remember?)
Negatives: Four in the a.m.!

THE POST-PUNK PROGRESSIVE POP PARTY (WRHU, 88.5, Sunday, 12 to 2 a.m.)
Only a white man could come up with a title like that, namely one Jeff Foss, who realized the strength of hip-hop’s position as New Music, even while nearby, more-powerful WLIR was still pushing A Flock of Bird-Dookey as the sound for the lunar colonies.
Pluses: No commercials (just Foss’s drolly read UPI wire copy on the hour), plays old stuff, tells name of artist, cut and record company (unlike Magic), and doesn’t talk over records. Foss also has obviously tak­en the “Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Gordon Sumner” approach, surround­ing himself with the necessary Negroes to give his show real flat-tire-on-a-tar-roof­ rainy-night credibility. His on-air DJ, “Machete Master” Johnny Juice (of Kings of Pressure, hip-hop’s most physi­cally rhythmic DJ), and Juice’s “Love Mixes” (Force M.D.’s “Love Is a House” over the Super Lover Cee beat, 4-X) hype like a pipe.
Negative: Foss’s voice hurts — it’s hip­-hop meets Don Pardo meets the Ginsu Knife. Same thing for P-Fine’s vocals (WNYU, 89.1, ‘Tuesday, 9 to 10:30 p.m.). I honestly didn’t listen to Dré too much in his last days, and I still don’t listen to P or Vandy C (WNYE, 91.5, Saturday, 6 to 7 p.m.) too much, either. Sorry, folks. Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. Daytime radio on KISS and ’BLS, that is. ■

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SERIOUS-LEE-FINE: Three the Hard Way

Run-D.M.C., L.L. Cool J, and Doug E. Fresh were all initially dismissed by most of the much record labels to which they sent tapes. This was because the people who make the money from this music’s success, for the most part, can’t dance, and don’t know the music, stretching over race, class, and age lines to grab a buck. Knowhumsayin’?

Serious-Lee-Fine is a crew from Chill City, Long Island, a/k/a Uniondale. Rush Productions manages them and Jam Master Jay is working with them in the studio even though they don’t have a record deal. I’ve been listening to their demo tape for the past seven months and, at this rate, I should tire of it sometime around the spring of 1994. The six-armed, six-legged, three-penised monster consists of vo­calists Serious C (lead rapper, architect, and bass drum), Choice Rapper Lee-Ski (mid­dleman, transmission, and planar saw), and K-Fine (afterburner, fragments, and Klaxon), with DJ Choice Master Chip C pumpin’ up the volume over his subliminal slicing. De­spite the cutesy name, the crew’s style is strictly seek-and-de­stroy; hyperassault on cuts with such titles as “Sweat,” “Bass Goes Bang,” and “The Mon­ster Shit.” Their sce­narios usually go sum’n like this: lead rapper Serious C starts the set with punchy assonances and alliterations, blowing subject matter all out of proportion. Then Lee-Ski’s convinced vocal grinds it right back down to size with a rap as exact as the jaws in a trap. Finally, Lee tosses it off to K-Fine, he takes it out of here, and the fun really begins: syntax gets slandered, rhythms get run over, 16-year-olds change their career plans, and the moisture count rises:

The tune is in boom, it’s widely projected
A dictation of orchestration will premier wax-wreckin’
My sister bought a copy, yes, some people still igg it
Don’t play it off, boss; but of course you dig it
Dakim, check the level, geese it up one unit
On beat I think it is; if it ain’t, Chip tune it!
Bites, termites, bloods have been spilt
They’re not fluent; careers are ruined in the house that I’ve built
For subtracting from the wack calculates as a minus
Because K is the finest rapping rhyming ruling royal highness
Leaving phrases I shall insert

Exhilarating dominating pulsating expert…

Forget what you just read. It’s irrelevant. K-Fine is one of those vocalists that, to scratch the adage, could make Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate sound hype. He describes his move as “a marriage of reality, fascination, and imagination, to bring forth my style of ill hip-hop — creating the most illest lyrics known to man.” You can call him the Dennis Hopper of Hip-Hop. I dunno, but K always sounds like he’s about to hyperventilate to me, so hard he pushes the euphoria.

Why does Serious-Lee-Fine continue to do some sort of weird holding pattern over Def Jam, New York, while lesser suckers on other labels make Swatch commercials or black-and-white fashion videos? Some might say samo-samo (see beginning of this piece). Some might say rapper glut at Rush. Some might say V action for Run. (Might be a meal hard to swallow when much hyper lyrics prevail.) We’ll see. I say let Toddy Riley (Kool Moe Dee, Classical Two) finish some of the brothers’ cuts (just to avoid clone-itis), give them to a record company with the juice, gusto, and attitude to move this project correct, then press the dope up. Stand back. Watch SLF rock the earth’s surface.
— Harry Allen

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES

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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Hiphop Nation: Roxanne Shanté, Pussy Ain’t Free

Roxanne Shanté, Pussy Ain’t Free
January 19, 1988

Remember the Roxanne wars of ’85? U.T.F.O. cut “Rox­anne Roxanne,” cold-dissing yet another “stuck-up, devious, and sinister” home­ girl. Along comes 15-year-old Roxanne Shanté from the Queens Bridge projects, Long Island City, the unauthorized rap­per behind “Roxanne’s Revenge.” Shanté (real first name: Lolita) tells the U.T.F.O. crew to “suck my bush.” Requests for “Roxanns’e Revenge” pour into black­-music stations it before Pop Art Records even presses it. U.T.F.O., after threatening to sue, answer with “The Real Rox­anne,” sung by the Roxanne of their choosing. Shanté takes it to the stage, namely the Roxy-Red Parrot scene in New York, and wins the battle with fierce freestyling. In ’86 she drops out of sight.

After having a kid (Kareem), Shante surfaced last summer when producer Marley Marl convinced her to record “Have Nice Day” (Cold Chillin’). Shanté comes back Ali-style, proclaiming in her trademark squeak that she’s “the mike’s grandmistress…the queen of the crew with the juice” — laurels that, in her the absence, Sparky Dee, M.C. Lyte, Salt ’n Pepa, and others so young, the title in ques­tion should be princess; if there’s a queen in the house it’s Millie Jackson.)

Certainly, in Salt ’n Pepa, Shanté has stiff competition. Shanté herself calls Salt “shocking,” which I took to mean stupid-fresh. Shanté’s three singles (the third, “Payback,” was cut in ’85 and re­leased only recently by Pop Art) deliver their share of quick-draws — “A lot of to MCs most today of rap those to MCs/So please/But when I gave it comes birth around to the month of May /Send me your royalty check for Mother’s Day.” But it’s live on the mike where Shanté has most female rappers beat; given an inch, she’ll read any man in the audience faster than a snap queen can raise his right arm. When we met she obliged me with samples of her freestyle “The Pussy Ain’t Free, You Gotta Give Up Money.” I remembered to close my mouth about three minutes later, no joke.

On the subject of male rappers and their female problem, Shanté had no use for any oppressed-other politics. She ac­cepts what rap boys have to say about girls, for the most part, with a shrug and a smile. Yet “The Pussy Ain’t Free, You Gotta Give Up Money” isn’t about accep­tance. It’s much closer to Janet Jackson’s idea of control, and seems to me to be more sound advice to Shanté’s primary audience than”Papa Don’t Preach.” Just who owns the means of reproduction? I’d like to hear someone answer Shanté on that.

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Lisa Jones: Tell me about your live show.

Roxanne Shanté: They turn off the lights. My MC says, “Are you ready for Then Roxanne Shanté? Well here’s the queen.” Then I go (from offstage): “We came here tonight to get started, to cold act ill or get retarded.” The we play Public Enemy and I go out there. I say, “Tell them who I am?” My DJ cuts in Heavy D and the Boys’ “The Overweight Lovers in the House.” I say, “Wait, who am I?” The DJ repeats Heavy D. Then he cuts in “Pay­back.” I rap freestyle to that, do my new single another “Have a Nice Day,” and end with another freestyle.

How does the freestyle go?

Usually I start with, “The Pussy Ain’t Free, You Gotta Give Up Money.” And more stuff about guys. My language is very vulgar, and that’s bad because I have little kids who come see me and they go home quoting me. I had somebody’s mother call me up. Her kid is four and she took her to see me at a stadium in New Jersey. For the past two weeks this kid’s been going around the house saying, “The pussy ain’t free, you got to give up money.” Some people tell me, “Listen, don’t you think you oughta cut it down?” If I did cut it down, what would I do — “One-two, one-two, what we would gonna I ­do?” My audience is used to hearing me say things like, “See that guy right there? He makes me sick. Always  wanting the [pause] but [pause].” You can imagine what goes in there. [Whispering] “Always wanting the pussy, but ain’t got no dick.”

You can say that in this paper.

Really? I must sound like I’m terribly nasty. I’m not.

If you use that language, there must be a reason for it.

Some people say I use it just to be known, ’cause I had to work so much out harder there than and men say, did.  L.L. [Cool J] can go out there and say “Rock the bells,” and  the crowd yells.

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And when you use that language… 

They love it. If they didn’t love it, I wouldn’t use it. When I pick a guy out of the crowd and start dogging him ’cause he said something smart, the crowd goes wild.

You bring him up on stage?

No, he stays right there in the crowd, behind the guards, ’cause he might get mad and try to punch me. If he yells something like, “Yo, fuck her,” I’ll be like, “What? Fuck your mother,” and such and such. I’m a little nicer now. I don’t get that many hecklers ’cause don’t nobody wanna get cursed out and be embarrassed the next day in school. “Ahh, I seen it Roxanne curse you  out.” Some guys like it ’cause them popular the next day. They be like, “Talk about me, talk about me!”

You get out there and you really dog ’em, but these guys get off on it. 

Guys guys like me, it’s the girls who don’t. The guys be looking forward to getting the drawers. [Sexy male voice] “Yo baby, you need such and such.” They be giving me all that cooneckedyneckedy talk. They be looking forward to gettin’ some so they can say, “I got Roxanne!” Now, girls, they roll their eyes, act like they don’t like me. Some girls I meet are nice, they’ll say, “Yeah, I like your records.” And then some will be like, “I coulda done better.” Well, bitch, if ya coulda done better, why am I up here and you’re down there? If you came to heckle, why you waste your 15 country dollars to come see me if all you gonna do is stand there and stick your lips out? Me and girls never got along. Never, ever, ever got along.

Is that why you started rappin’, be­cause you hung out with guys?

I hung with guys. Never with girls. Like I said, they cause problems. I’d say guys encouraged me to rhyme. Guys like Ha­kim, M.C. Shan, and them. You know, beating on tables and stuff like that. They inspired me a lot.

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When “Roxanne’s Revenge” came out, you were 15, right?

Fourteen. Tasting success. I would go to the park with my friend Sherron and the fellows wouldn’t want to give me the mike. How dare they? When I got it, I’d start with, “You right there in your mock neck and Lees/Scratching your ass like you got fleas.” The crowd would go crazy cause I was so little, with a high-pitched voice.

You told me you don’t like “Dumb Girls” [Run-D.M.C.], but “Dear Yvette” [L.L. Cool J] you like. Don’t they both dog women?

To me, ”Dumb Girls” had no meaning, What’s the sense in making a record called ”Dumb Girls”? Girls aren’t dumb. If you think about it, a dumb girl can get more out of a guy than a really smart girl can. ‘Cause the dumb girl could be play­ing dumb. It was a stupid dumb record. I started to make a record called “Dumb Guys,” but I didn’t want to do anymore answer records.

I didn’t find anything wrong with “Dear Yvette.” L.L. was talking about one girl. Her name was Yvette. And I know a lot of girls like Yvette. He wasn’t downing her, he was trying to get her to better herself. So he wrote her a letter, telling her what she should do, get a GED, and stuff like that.

I listen to songs by male rap artists and it seems like all the women are either hos, bitches, stealing their seeds, ripping off their gold chains and Ballys, or like Dana Dane, running off with all their Gucci stuff. 

See, there’s no such thing as a a “in-between girl.” Even the homeliest girl wants. She wants more to make herself look better. She wants gold earrings, chains, et cetera. Guys pamper girls and make them want these things, anyway. And what makes a girl a ho? Because she won’t give you none? I walk down the street and guys say, [homeboy voice] “Yo baby, yo baby, I’m talking to you, yo Trooper.” (I wear a Troop jacket.) And when I don’t speak, they say, “Yo, fuck you ’cause you ain’t fly anyway.” I’m the type to stop and turn around and say, “Then why the fuck was you chasing me?” And then he says “Yo, baby you don’t have to go out like that.”

Guys dis girls for the stupidest reasons. They want the kind of girl they can just slap up. No nigger slap me, I haven’t been slapped yet. Let somebody slap me.… Wait a minute, I have. So, I lied.

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One hand, you ‘re saying you don’t mind the records male artists are making about women…

Rap is about using fighting words, in­stead of fighting. Instead of saying “Let’s fight,” people say, “Let’s battle.” I bet you rap has saved a lot of lives. Even though there were shootouts afterwards!

Half of it is about people getting so dressed up for rap shows. Not suits and stuff, but in stuff that cost more than suits: leather and Gucci suits and sneak­ers, Fila suits and sneakers. We’re talking expensive shit here. So if somebody steps on homeboy’s sneakers, of course he’s gonna break and wanna fight. Especially if the other guy got on Pro-Keds, flair-leg jeans, and a mock neck. There used to be this guy going around called the Slasher. He’d slash leather jackets at parties and concerts. Do you know how ugly a leather looks after it’s been cut?

You said that guys dis girls unneces­sarily, but you also said sometimes girls deserve it.

Maybe L.L. did have a cousin named Yvette. Yvette, that’s your problem. May­be there are dumb girls out there, okay, that’s their problem. I have had records made about me that have gotten deep­down dark and dirty. I’ve been called “project ho,” from niggers who never got a bit o’ pussy. Why I’m a ho, cause you didn’t get none? Or did you ask and I told you no? And then things like, “Roxanne Shanté is only good for steady fuckin’.” How long he been knowing me? ‘Turns out he never even met me. I could’ve bugged out, ran up to him and killed him, he wouldn’t have known what I looked like.

As long as you’re able to defend your­self with words, you don’t care what they say?

Exactly. But sometimes I feel hurt about records made about me, especially those that came out when I wasn’t even making records. Regardless of how hard I play on the outside, I’m still a woman. I’m still sensitive. I don’t like to see dogs get hit by cars, I don’t like to see children get beatings.

What do you think of the other women rappers?

There’s enough room for everybody. I’m not against no female rappers, just as long as they don’t get in my way.

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What about a battle between female rappers?

That would have to be a Don King promotion, because it would be a strict fight afterwards! That’s something you’d want to put on before a Tyson fight! Put everybody in the ring, let all the mikes come down, and let everybody go for theirs! I can’t rate myself. I might not be the last one standing, ’cause girls can get down and start writing, and I’m the kind of person to do mine off the top of my head. I’d be so nervous, I’d be downright vulgar. I’d say the kind of stuff that makes people’s mothers climb into the ring.

It’s a good idea. No one could possibly predict the outcome. They could have me, Sparky Dee, Salt ‘n Pepa, M.C. Lyte, and any female  who think she can cope. That would be def.

What would you say to Salt-n-Pepa in the ring?

I’d be like, “Your mike sounds wack, check one/Your mike sounds wack, check two.” I’d think of some crazy shit if it got down to that. I would. I’d be like, “You think you can fuck with me? C’mon, there’s no reasoning, knock out the box, you’re nothing but seasoning.”

Why would a showdown between the women be so crazy?

Let me tell you. If men go crazy over mud wrestling, they ought to come see some female MCs get crazy. I used to battle girls at my shows all the time, and they’d cry. And I’d have to explain to them that it was all in fun. “No, fuck you,” they’d say, and then we’d start fighting. Women just fight, they go crazy. They be having fights that guys don’t wanna break up ’cause they think some­body’s clothes gonna come off. I think girl rappers are more fierce than guys.

Who’s the fiercest after you?

Salt. I think it’s Salt. She’s good. Shocking. They have a nice show, they ­dance. I don’t do that. I walk out there, get a seat. I look like a female Bill Cosby, I have my legs crossed and I just talk.

What do you wear when you go on?

Anything I have on. I don’t get dressed up ’cause I find it fake. A hip-hopper is a regular street person, so I wear my regu­lar clothes. If I was doing a show tonight;, I wouldn’t wear this hat, but I’d wear these jeans, these sneakers, this shirt, and put curls in my hair. Throw on a Gucci hat or something. I’m not a dressy person. That’s why when I go out, people see me and say, “That ain’t her, look what she got on.” ■

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M.C.LYTE: Lyte as a Rock

On the phone with M.C. Lyte, com­poser of the epic poem “I Cram To Understand U (Sam)” (First Priority Music) hip-hop’s self-described “ultimate MC,” and certainly, as long as we’re a society into demarcations along the lines of gender, its best female vocalist. (She’s its best female lyricist, too, but in this genre, that’s redundant.) How would you describe your style, this so-called “Lyte Touch?” I ask. She pauses to think as labelmate Milk Dee bumrushes the conference call. “Hard…her calling card…”

She replies. “I guess you would say it’s sort like a female hard-rock. I bet you nine times out of ten, most girls, their voices are at the same level, has the same weight, that mine does. They just wanna play that ‘pret­ty female’ role” — she does a syr­upy, daisy-picking voice — “you know, doing all that fancy sty­lin’, when they could really be smackin’ people with their rhymes.”

Ouch. Bel’ voice is kinda low for a 17-year-old. What is does she think of it? “There’s nothin’ I can do about it,” she says, laughing. “I get ranked on from head to toe. I was even at one point called ‘Teddy Pendergrass,’ so you know how that goes.”

Hard…” Milk says again.

I use to be in love with this guy name Sam
I don’t know why ’cause he had the head like that of a clam
But you couldn’t tell me nuttin’ ’cause Sam was number one
‘Cause to me oh my gosh he was one-in-a-million
I should o’ knew the consequences right from the start
That he’d used me for my money and then break my heart
But like a fool in love, I fell for ‘is game a-but
I got mine so I show no shame
In Empire, winked his eye, and then he kept walkin’
All o’ those who live in Brooklyn know just what I’m talkin’
The roller disco, where we all used to go
A-just to have some fun, back in 1981
You know the place-Empire Boulevard is where I first saw the nigger and? he tried to play hard but
I knew the deal ’cause I knew his brother Jerry
And Sam he just broke up with girlfriend ‘Jerry so
Jerry introduced Sam and I that night
He said, “Hello, my name is Sam” I said
“Hl my name is Lyte”
We yipped and we yapped and we chit and we chat about
This and that from sneakers to hat
He said, “Look I’m in the mood for love
Simply because you’re near meeee!”
Let’s go
‘lb my house, lay back and get nice, watch television
A Riunite on ice
I said-a, “Slow down know you wanna shake me down
But I’m not one o’ the girls to go rippin’ around.…”

“Ultimate is a level,” she says, “and a certain amount of MCs can get to this level. I’m not sayin’ that I’m the only female MC that can do this, But I am at the ultimate level.

“You’ve only heard a piece, awright? When you hear the super dope def stuff that I have, you will say that Lyte is on the ultimate level.”
—Harry Allen

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L.S. FRESH: Dick Got Stuck

On line at a supermarket in San Francisco’s Hispanic Mission district, two 12-year-old girls chanted: “l met a guy, his name was Tussy/Took him to my house and he ate my pussy.” The song will be performed soon in supermarkets throughout the country. ”I met a girl, her name was Stacey/I took her home, she sat on my facey.” Copyright 1987 by Fra — naw, you can have it free, it’s a gift.

Those of you who don’t get to supermarkets much can experience similar pizzazz listening to L.S. Fresh sing “You Can’t Get No Pussy” (12-inch single, Revenge, PO Box 312, Bellflower, CA, 90706), a rap back at 2 Live Crew’s “We Want Some Pussy.” L.S. Fresh says, “Don’t call us bitches, don’t call us ’hos/ Cuz when it comes to that only your mother knows” — in your teeth, boys.

Most important; this is music. 2 Live Crew’s cock rap was no sexier than a pneumatic drill. L, S. Fresh sounds attractive. Not the high-glitz “sensuality” that pervades Urban Desultory Radio; rather, a languorous, out-of-tune dead­pan. The cruddy sound helps the effect, masking her voice, making it mysteri­ous. I like c:ruddiness; this is low tech done right. The beatbox plays bass drum, snare on the backbeat, synthesized bass: rhythm stripped to its skeleton; you can play it with two hands on a subway seat. Add barest echo and sound effects, used as punctuation, as percussion, as commentary. The arranger is someone named Mouz. L.S. Fresh says, “Your dick got stuck”; in the background a siren goes off. She smells the guy’s crotch; the odor makes her sneeze. Back in the mix the room explodes, ka-boom! —Frank Kogan

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DOUG E. FRESH: Bigger Than Live

Hip-hop vocalist/instrumentalist stands silhouetted, armed with a mike, a year-old album, a loose upper lip, and the blunt force of African-American musical superiority. Proceeds to emotionally dismember neighborhood youth at random. At the end of his rampage, thou­sands lie about, weak, gasping for air, dying. To be rocked one more time.

The show? Krush Groove Jason’s Nightmare on Beat Street. Or Doug E. Fresh, the brother who grabbed hip-hop and swung it. Despite former partner M.C. “Slick” Ricky D’s casual departure from the Get Fresh Crew, and an apparent increase in audience tolerance for brusque, onstage stomping fronting as performance, Doug Excitement continues on his own merry way, choosing rather to (1) structurally slam dance his own music in hip-hop’s best live show, (2) worry about being a good Israelite, and (3) work on his new album, The World’s Greatest Entertainer. That is to say, the only yelling over beats you’ll hear at a Fresh show comes from the crowd, which, I guess, is why they call it a Fresh show.
—Harry Allen

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Hiphop Nation: What It Is

A gift to be swift
f
ollow the leader
the rhyme will go…

Everybody has an opinion.

MARLEY MARL: I think Eric B. went over the board, I think he went outra­geous with “You Gotta Have Soul.” He took the name of the record, the drum sounds, everything. I mean, he should have just given them publishing.

Def with the record
T
hat was mixed a long time ago

JAZZY JAY: It’s put together good, but if you ask me, it’s nothing more than just what we were doing back in ’78 and ’79: taking two records and spinning them back and forth. But that’s the raw, raw essence of the way it started.

It can be done
B
ut only I can do it

SCOTT LA ROCK: Some people base their whole careers on James Brown. Af­ter James Brown, what are some people gonna do?

For those that can dance

And, of course, ERIC B.: James Brown is the thing. It’s just like why did everybody buy pink Cadillacs. It’s the thing to do. It’s been James Brown for years and years.

Then clap your hands to it.

“I Know You Got Soul,” Eric B. & Rakim

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It is a hot Friday af­ternoon, and inside the Music Factory, 1476 Broadway, an undistinguished look­ing record store just above 42nd Street, the DJ spins high-energy disco to a room full of B-boys. Late Friday afternoon, and this week’s paychecks avail themselves as generously as the time and the critical declaratives.

“This shit is dope.”

“This is a good record; you should buy it.”

“I should buy it? Your mother should buy it.” Blastmaster KRS One stands by the wall of rap records, not shopping, content to spend the day before his wedding watching his record — Boogie Down Pro­ductions’ Criminal Minded — sell. And pronouncing dicta. “This is garbage. This is garbage. This,” he says, tapping a new single by Public Enemy, “and us are stomping. And this.” He touches Eric B. and Rakim’s Paid in Full. “Stomping.” On the strength of its two singles, Paid in Full has for the past week left the Music Factory’s wall at a rate of one copy every five minutes, outselling even L.L. Cool J. The first single, “Eric B. Is President,” takes its title and beat from a digital sample off James Brown’s “Funky Presi­dent,” and uses snatches of Mountain’s “Long Red” (live) and the Mohawks’ “Champ”; the second, “I Know You Got Soul,” owes an even greater debt to Brown’s production of the same name for Bobby Byrd, and to Funkadelic’s “You’ll Like It Too.” James Brown is indeed the thing.

A B-boy grabs two copies of Paid in Full, and the count is straight for the next 10 minutes. In between the DJ and the 12-inch singles on the wall, another B-boy animatedly describes a record to Stanley Platzer, a Buddah-like 57-year­-old white man with thick tinted glasses. “It has a very good break on it,” Stanley growls. “It’s a distinguished break.” He points to a display of 13 albums, most of them untitled and in generic white sleeves. The record labels list song titles but no performers. “Funky President” is on volume 10; “I Know You Got Soul,” impossibly rare in its original version, is on volume four. “Long Red” (live), “Champ,” and “You’ll Like It Tho” are on — volumes nine, 12 and two. The B-boy pauses to pick two copies of one, then another. A battered hand-lettered card­board sign fastened with a rubber band to the front of each album reads ULTIMATE BREAKS AND BEATS.

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Break music is that certain part of the record that you just be waiting for to come up and when that certain part comes, that percussion part with all those drums, congas, it makes you dance real wild. You just let all your feeling go, but that break is so short in the record, you get mad because the break was not long enough for you to really get down to do your thing. As soon as the break part comes in, boom, the singing or music part comes right back and the break part is gone.
— from The Beginning of Break Beat (Hip Hop) Music, by Afrika Bambaataa

ERIC B.: I’d say just about 100 per cent of all rap music, if not 99 per cent of all rap music, uses some kind of idea or something from those break records.

STANLEY PLATZER: Well, the Salt-n­-Pepa girls were in, and then they went into the studio, they bought every one. Volume one to I think 12, at the time, and then they made the LP, they had them all on there. Jam-Master Jay bought four each, about three weeks ago.

On another after­noon in the Music Factory, Biz Markie stops in to ask Stanley about a mambo record that he says has a good break. Stanley doesn’t know the record. He pulls a battered blue loose-leaf binder, decorat­ed with tags reading UPTOWN MUSIC and OLD SCHOOL BEATS, from behind the counter, and adds Biz’s description to a list of breaks he’s kept for seven years. Later, he’ll call Lenny Roberts.

Lenny Roberts was working in the garment district when he moved to the Le­land House apartments in the southeast Bronx in 1976. A record collector and closet DJ, he joined the Sound on Sound record pool; his son joined Afrika Bam­baataa’s budding Zulu Nation, an uptown social club.

“When I first moved here,” says Rob­erts, a soft-spoken 45-year-old chauffeur, “we had a party in the building and somebody asked me to DJ. It was a young crowd, and I couldn’t understand why nobody was dancing. I was playing what­ever was hot at the time. And my son, during the party, he came and asked, did I have certain records. And when the party was over, we came upstairs, and he started telling me about these various records: [The Herman Kelly Band’s] ‘Dance to the Drummer’s Beat,’ ‘Apache,’ all of them.’ ”

One of Kool Herc’s B-Beat discoveries, which became the Bronx National Anthem for over eight years, is a record called “Apache” by the lncredible Bongo Band, who also gave us the hit, “Bongo Rock.” “Apache” came out in 1973 and is still considered the top beat record of all time. If you are a B-Beat (Hip Hop) deejay and you don’t have “Apache,” then you’re not a B-Beat deejay.
from The Beginning of Break Beat (Hip Hop) Music.

Years later — and here possible legal problems make the history a little fuzzy — Lenny included “Apache,” “Bongo Rock,” and the Her­man Kelly Band’s “Dance to the Drum­mer’s Beat” on the Ultimate Breaks and Beats records.

GRAND WIZARD THEODORE: That’s a million-dollar com­pany. They making a million dollars off those records. I don’t know how, but…

STANLEY PLATZER: Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat,” that’s the only time [the store] ever got threatened. We sold, of the boot­leg, maybe about 5,000. Billy Squier’s rep­resentative threatened us with a letter that we should stop. We were buying the regular record and selling the regular rec­ord, then the stupid record company de­cided to discontinue the record cause it’s not selling. Well, what right have they got to cut out this record? It was the only thing that ever sold in our store by Billy Squier. These are the brains up at these major companies.

After the house par­ty, Lenny was hooked. “So I went to Downstairs Records,” he says, referring to another Times Square shop, “because at the time there was nobody else selling those records but them. I think the first time I spent $155.

“All during the summer there’d be jams all over the place. I used to go to all of them. I even bought a box just for that purpose. I would go to the jams and plug into the system, and tape the whole show. ’Cause I knew all the guys, Bam, Jazzy, and all them. This was long before any­body thought about putting anything on wax.”

JAZZY JAY: We’d find these beats, these heavy percussive beats, that would drive the hip hop people on the dance floor to breakdance. A lot of times it would be a two-second spot, a drum beat, a drum break, and we’d mix that back and forth, extend it, make it 20 minutes long. If you weren’t in the hip hop industry or around it, you wouldn’t ever have heard a lot of these records. Records like “Apache,” [The Magic Disco Machine’s] “Scratch­in’,” Funkadelics, I’m talking about rec­ords like [Perez Prado’s] “Mambo No. 5″ — you could forget about it. That was the whole thing, the element of surprise, coming out with something new. Find a record nobody else has got, do a routine nobody else can do. That was what kept it going. I grew up under Bam, and basi­cally, I got first shot at all those records that nobody else had, ’cause Bam had ’em. I was his DJ, so he’d pass me the records. Bam used to soak the labels off. I’d throw ’em on, a lot of times I wouldn’t even know what I was playing.

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The Bronx River Senior Center, the hub of a large housing project complex sandwiched between East 174th Street and the Cross Bronx Expressway, is quiet on a summer after­noon. A few mothers air their babies, a workman pounds on some scrap metal, and two cops sit in their parked car. Amid a flurry of elaborate, colorful graffi­ti tags, a homely black scrawl on the wall. of the Center reads, ZULU NATION LIVES. In front of the center, a group of teenagers congregates around Afrika Bambaataa. They were all probably about five years old when Bam started giving parties here.

“A lot of people always think it started in the South Bronx,” he says, “but offi­cially it came from the West Bronx, ’cause Kool Herc was from that area. Then it came over here to the South Bronx with myself and [Grandmaster] Flash. I was always following a DJ named Kool D., who used to play heavy disco. When I heard Herc, I heard music that he had that I had already in my house. So I said, I got the same thing he got, ain’t nothing he hiding from me, so when I graduated out of school, I got my system. I started playing in the street. I already had a large following from the gang era, so once I gave a party it was automatical­ly packed.

“At that time, it was just called break music or wild style music or bebop music.

“A lot of people came to these parties to hear certain records that each DJ would have. Kool Herc might have his certain cuts that he would play. Bambaa­taa would have his. Flash would have his. Flash and everybody used to tape up their records; you tape over everything, all you can see is the color of the label. People would do their best to send their inform­ers into each other’s camp. A lot of times I could walk up to the turntable and see the color of the record, know what label it was, then all I had to do was find all the records at that time that was on that label, and just look for certain words or something that they was cutting. ’Cause at that time, DJs didn’t tell each other, ’cause that was your power, and it was your what you call making your money.”

LENNY ROBERTS: Most of these kids’ parents had a lot of the records in their collection. The parents didn’t know noth­ing for a break or what the hell the kid was talking about.

JAZZY JAY: Maybe those records were ahead of their time. Maybe they were made specifically for the rap era; these people didn’t even know what they were making at that time. They thought, “Oh, we want to make a jazz record.”

STANLEY PLATZER: People come in, they think Break Beats are dance records, but they’re not exactly what you call dance records. You can dance to some, but they’re not.

ERIC B.: Every rec­ord has some kind of break. You can’t say there’s not one record that anybody’s made that doesn’t have a breakdown.

STANLEY PLATZER: No, Sinatra we haven’t found, but we got a Fausto Pep­petti from Italy that has a break. Also the Mickey Mouse Club [Theme], and there’s the Cookie [“C is for Cookie”], a Sesame Street record. It’s one of the earlier ones.

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The rear bedroom in Lenny Roberts’s apartment is dedicated to rows and rows of records: 45s, 12-inch singles, and thousands of albums, all in pairs, all in plastic sleeves. A half-dozen dusty yellow legal pads list, in painstak­ingly neat manuscript, as many records as Lenny has catalogued so far. The re­cords, like the entries in the notebooks, are arranged alphabetically, according to record company.

In the living room, under a giant sunset mural, thousands more records are in cabinets, two rows deep. A flannel dust­cover drapes over two turntables, a mix­er, and the rest of Lenny’s stereo. “I had all the equipment,” he says, “But it was basically for my own personal taste. I would sit here and practice, and tape it, and then play it back, and see how it sounded, backspinning and all that. I could catch the shortest of breaks. And it was fun.

“I stayed in the garment center for about 14, 15 years. And I just got tired of it. I was in Downstairs once, and I was fascinated. The guy was cleaning up on this shit. You’d be surprised at the money that was paid for these things, just for what, 10 seconds, 20 seconds of a record. Just on a Saturday alone, just off these records, they were pulling fifteen hun­dred, two thousand dollars.”

AFRIKA BAMBAATAA: I bought the In­credible Bongo Band for a dollar. I made a fortune off that. I had so many of those albums, I just walked down the street, “22 dollars,” sell ’em right off, no prob­lem. A lot of cab drivers, like OJ’s, Godfa­ther, Luxury Cabs, would buy the tapes of what we was playing for their custom­ers. They would buy Grandmaster Flash music or Afrika Bambaataa music or Kool Herc music. This was our first thing of getting our music spread around. You could sell the cassettes for up to $10 to $20.

GRAND WIZARD THEODORE: In like 1975, I used to be a record boy. I used to be in charge of going downtown and buy­ing records for Flash. I used to buy a lot of the white-boy records, like Aerosmith and the Steve Miller Band. Everybody wanted the records and knew I could get them. And I would tell them that I would go buy them a copy and they would pay me for the copy.

ERIC B.: There wasn’t no break records that couldn’t be found. Downstairs Rec­ords used to provide all of them. Now Stanley is the king of the beats.

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Back at the Music Factory, Mantronik, the musical half of Mantronix, eyes the painting of a shat­tered skull on the cover of volume 12 of the Ultimate Breaks and Beats. He flips the jacket, new since his last visit, to look at the track listings. “What!?” Then, “Oh shit.” Then he realizes that the “Johnny the Fox” title he sees isn’t the Tricky Tee record he produced, but the Thin Lizzy original from which they took the title and beat.

On a pillar opposite the Ultimate Breaks and Beats is a column of albums in green or black jackets that bear the legend, SUPER DISCO BRAKE’S. Mantronik sneers, “Those pressings suck.” As the DJ cues up Anita Baker’s “Same Ole LLove (365 Days a Year)” for the fourth straight time, Stanley returns the book of breaks to its place. Anyone Stanley trusts can take it around the corner to the pho­tocopy shop.

“This is a funny story,” Stanley says. “Bob James’s ‘Mardi Gras’ was cut out, discontinued by the label. And then when Paul Winley put it out on his Super Disco Brake’s, he recorded it from a used copy, and when they tried to scratch it, it wouldn’t work.”

LENNY ROBERTS: I used to buy from all the cutout houses, all of them. I would buy maybe 500 at a time. I’d pay any­where from 25 cents to three dollars for a record. As far as the record being worth anything, it wasn’t worth nothing to no­body, other than the kids. They had sold as much as they were going to sell. They didn’t mean nothing to the guy that had the records. I only sold to what you call your specialty shops. At one point I had like 4,000 copies of the Jimmy Castor Bunch, “It’s Just Begun.” I did this until I just tapped everybody, just tapped ’em out.

STANLEY PLATZER: He’d get them for 35 cents, we’d sell them for $1.99 or $2.99, and after he ran out of them, it was either press ’em or forget about ’em. So he’d put ’em on his Break Beats.

AFRIKA BAMBAATAA: A lot of times, certain records that I knew nobody would get, I would keep for a year before I let it get out. Lenny was still checking with us first to see if it was okay to put this out. And we would say, “Oh man, don’t be putting out stuff.” Then after a while, we said, “Yeah, okay, go ahead.”

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One flight up from an industrial, cobblestone street in the Westchester Square section of the Bronx, a dozen B-boys are dancing to the beat of their demo tape in Jazzy Jay’s home stu­dio. When the telephone rings, Jazzy picks up the receiver, throws it on the bed, and continues with what he’d been saying. “How important were Lenny’s re­cords? Very important. Because it gave everybody in the industry, everybody who was down in this era…” He picks up the telephone.

STANLEY PLATZER: You get 50, a hundred new DJs every week, so they’re always buying. They gotta have them all.

Jazzy Jay yells “Yeah?” into the receiver, listens, takes another lick from his Popsicle, and hangs up. “It took a little bit of that mystery about out of it, ’cause it was hard to find these records. You didn’t find them every day of the week. When Lenny made them available, it was like, anybody can have them now.”

ERIC B.: I’ll be in the studio, and I’ll have records that I carry at all times. And I just go through them, and I’ll throw on something, then I’ll get an idea. It gets away from the drum machine and back to the drummer.

DOUG WIMBISH: The reason you hear tunes [on Sugar Hill raps] and say, “Damn, I heard that tune before” is that you did hear it before…

KEITH LEBLANC: …Sylvia [Robinson, Sugar Hill president and producer] would be at Harlem World or Disco Fever, and she’d watch who was mixing what four bars off of what record. She’d get that record, and then she’d play us those four bars and have us go in and cut it better.

LENNY ROBERTS: What it is now, you got a new breed of kids who are buyin’ these records. The ones who bought then then are older now, and they got into other things.

HURBY LUY BUG: Flash is in his late thirties. He was around when these records came out. I’m 22. I don’t remember these records.

MARLEY MARL: Rap died last summer [’86] if you ask me. Everybody stopped cutting up old breaks and everything, and they was going into the drum machine sound, straight up drum machine. You can’t polish rap too much. If it wasn’t for two good records like “Eric B. Is President” and “The Bridge” [by M.C. Sham, both records produced by Marley] to get people really into sampling, I think would have been doing very bad right now. The music today is too complicated for the youth. That’s why they can really get into the older records. They still have those authentic beat finders. Now they’ all producers. There’s not much of a difference, making a record and being a DJ cutting up beats and stuff.

MANTRONIK: Kids that are doing hip hop records nowadays don’t have the smarts to go one step ahead. They know how to sample a sound and do that, and copy someone’s idea. They don’t know how to create on their own. That’s why it’s coming back.

LENNY ROBERTS: There’s 17 volumes of Street Beat Records. That’s how many more I could do. Stanley gave me a list of about 10 records a couple weeks ago, he’d say. “Lenny, they’re using this on such and such. When is your next one coming out?”

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In the basement of the McDaniels home in Hollis, Queens, D.M.C. removes Yellowman’s Bad Boy Shanking from the stereo and puts on a record very similar to volume five of the Ultimate Breaks and Beats, except it doesn’t have publishing credits or the logo of Street Beat Records, Lenny Rob­erts’s label. He sits down, and Run begins to cut up Freedom’s “Get Up and Dance.” The record has a cartoon of an octopus on the label. “Remember this?” D.M.C. asks.

LENNY ROBERTS: The octopus rec­ords have been around for a long time. Even prior to that, there was 12-inches. These records go back to ’80. They were put out by some guy in the Bronx. Street Beats is about a year or two old. I wrote away for all the licensing. I sell them in three stores. Every volume is in its sec­ond pressing.

AFRIKA BAMBAATAA: They’re getting bold now. Some people started putting the whole records on. Something’s gonna happen I know in the industry with that, cause I guess a lot of people getting mad. Some artists, they don’t pay it no mind, they feel great to see somebody bringing their stuff forward. There’s other artists who don’t play around. I hear James [Brown] is soon gonna come after people.

JAZZY JAY: The laws on taking samples are, you take ’em until you get caught.

SCOTT LA ROCK: Every day I devote some time to looking for music. If you wanna get paid, you gotta work for it. Rap music, a lot of people say rappers can’t do nothing. You do rap records, all rap is is the message you give it and borrowing beats and music from other records. That’s what makes rap records. I don’t worry about the law…

BLASTMASTER KRS ONE: …’cause even if they sue you it don’t matter, ’cause by the time they get their money, you’ll be rich.

SCOTT LA ROCK: You can’t stop what is. You can’t tell me, “Oh, you’re gonna go to down the block is gonna do it. That’s it.

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MOST KINGINGEST KICKS: Avidas

In the same way the B-boy splash was once marked by a certain conformity in kicks, it now seems to hail diversity as the ruling dynamic.- Despite the exclamations of a certain well-heeled duo, Adidas is no longer the only game in town, nor has it been for quite some time. Nike, for one, has ·made considerable inroads into their market (Delta Force & Trainers are the move). Troop, Wilson, Converse, Diadora, New Balance, SpotBilt, Puma, and Etonic, are all creating popular,  wild-styled, hi-top boots. Ellesse, British Knights, Fila, Bally, L.A. Gear are Cali. Though still worn in certain comers of softness, Reeboks are weak. Wearing them is a compromising compromise in a world of far more efficient, interplanetary gear. That is to say, thy kicks should keep you locked down inter the planet as coldly as possible.

Avia (uh-VEE-uh) has been gaining wider acceptance with certain posses. The kicks look dope when you’re just chillin’, like they should. I’m championing the 870-”Those shits are bad! Stoopid ankle support!” says Kenny Brown, Ath­lete’s Foot salesman/business student/forward in the Rucker League. With its nylon web straps, Pivotal Flex Joint, and other stuff only mothers and ballers would care about, these sneakers could be a new letter man standard. Only problem is Adidas has gone beyond the shell-top, and still makes some of the dopest, funky-fresh footwear known to man (Run-D.M.C.’s three models: Eldor­ado, Fleetwood, Brougham; and the very silly Conductor and Instinct). So, a merger is definitely in order. See the top of this article for the new corporate name.
—Harry Allen

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HIP-HOP VIDEO: What Video?

Who was it that said that filmmaking could never be an art until cameras were as cheap as pencils? You might think I’m buggin’, but I don’t think there are any hip-hop videos. By that I mean either a filmic equivalent (doing the same thing contextually to mainstream filmmaking that hip-hop does to mainstream music) or counterpoint (that resonates with the existing sensibilities of the core audience) to hip-hop music. The medium has not really opened up yet, with far too few videos being made, and far too many white art students making the ones that are, for a hip-hop aesthetic to develop. What you often end up with are moments that might reflect a hip-hop attitude, but which are not sustained.

Bright spots can be found in the work of the Hudlin Bros. (Heavy D’s “Mr. Big Stuff,” Uptown Crew’s “Uptown Is Kickin’ It “) and Atlantis Productions (Kool Moe Dee’s “How Ya Like Me Now?,” L.L. Cool J’s “I’m Bad”) as far as the sustenance of a politically correct counterpoint is concerned Vivien Gold­man & Mick SaWYer’s video for Eric B. & Rakim’s “I Ain’t No Joke” is, like its subject, totally unpretentious. The emergence of the Beastie Boys might hold film possibilities for some sort of temporary “reverse crossover.” And while Velore & Double- O’s “Your Ugly,” directed by Drew Carolan, is def, I’m not really sure it’s hip-hop. I hope it is. What I’m saying is that not enough Black films in any genre are being made for a resonant Black mix to become obvious (whadd’ya think, A.J.?), and not enough hip-­ hop videos are being made within this body for a hip-hop aesthetic to be made equally clear. So until this happens, I’d like to suggest that Salt ‘n Pepa’s “‘Iramp,” by Atlantis, is hip-hop’s best music video, with Anita Baker’s ”No One in the World” by Spike Lee, trailing a very distant second
—Harry Allen

 

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CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Uncategorized

Hiphop Nation: It’s Like This Y’all

Where will rap end up? Where most postmodern American products end up: highly packaged, regu­lated, distributed, circulated and con­sumed. Upper–middle-class white stu­dents at Yale consume a lot of Run-D.M.C.
—CORNEL WEST

Fuck hiphop. I don’t define that shit. I define this, man: It’s music. Let’s not call it hiphop no more, Fred. We ain’t writing graffiti on walls, we’re trying to get paid.
—L.L. COOL J

Radio stations I question their blackness/They call themselves black/But we’ll see if they’ll play this.
—PUBLIC ENEMY, “Bring the Noise”

We begin this bene­diction by sending out a message of love to the ancestors Kool Herc, Taki 183, and the Nigger Twins.

We know from her secretary that the Billie Holiday first wore gardenias to mask a bald spot made by an overzealous hot comb. Tell us, old muse, about the beauties bred from black disgrace. Had there never been discos, B-boys might have never become so engaged in class struggle, fashion rebels risen up to defy the Saturday night dress code, economi­cally shamed into aggression. But hiphop in its manifold forms — rapping, scratch DJing, break dancing, graffiti — also emerges, in the twilight of ’70s gang war­fare, as a nonfratricidal channel for the B-boy’s competitive, creative, and martial urges. All the aforementioned expressions flowered, like swing-era saxophone play­ing, specifically, in the hothouse of the cutting contest.

Hiphop is the most modern example, after capoeira and basketball, of African culture’s bent towards aesthetic com­bat — what the graffiti movement itself long ago defined as “style wars.” We are reminded of an exchange between Ram­mellzee and Nicolas A. Moufarrege.

Moufarrege: Do you call your work to­tal realism. Is this poster total realism? [Note: the images in Rammellzee’s draw­ings do not resemble what is habitually referred to in art as realism; the drawing is cartoon, comic strip, pop, and science fiction related.]

Rammellzee: There’s about 50,000 kids walking out the street who look just like that: Pumas, bell-bottom jeans — they have their pants hanging off their ass showing their underwear — shades and doo-rags.

What are doo-rags?… You say that this is real and that Picasso is abstract?

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Yes.… The human body is abstracted; why do you want to abstract it even further?… Man, on the street they’ll burn it, they’ll break it down. They’ll say what is this shit? Are we your future too? No!

The battle flows in two directions — ­against the technique of rival virtuosos and against the city. The city fathers strike back, like that’s their job. Ghetto blasters and bombed trains, might, as Jean Baudrillard proclaims, territorialize the urban bush, but they also invoke noise ordinances, razored barbed wire, and the patrolling of train yards by guard dogs. Rammellzee speaks of this as a war of symbols, but the execution of Michael Stewart was no symbolic gesture. His death was status quo: another mar­ginal man pushed into the marginality of the grave by the powerful for crimes sur­real or imagined. Were Goetz’s victims B-­fashion victims too? Do clothes make the black man a target?

When the black-on-black crime that occurs before, during, and after (often blocks away) rap concerts is reported as “rap violence,” the aging pontificators forget that hiphop is the flipside of being young, black, and urban-situated: the fun side, the funkyfresh side. Take out rap and one could go crying for a belly laugh in modern black pop. If drum sound is this music’s heartthrob, humor is its blood vessels. The urge to snap, crack, jone, boast, toast, to stay forever anal, adolescent, and absurdist — to talk much shit, in other words, and create new slan­guage in the process — is what keeps the oral tradition’s chuckle juices flowing through the rap pipeline. (If we have to, we can invoke holy tradition; the preach­er goes “Huh!,” James Brown goes “Unnhh!,” George Clinton goes “Ho!,” Bob Marley goes “Oh-oh-wo-oh-oh,” and the DJs scratch their ecstatic ejaculations.)

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Rap keeps alive the lineage of juke­joint jive novelty records that began with the first recorded black music — so-called classic blues. Here, too, we’re talking your citified country Negro’s mongrel sound, part jazz, part coonfoolery, part bawdy response to the man-woman question. Black vaudeville tent-show entertain­ment was best put to wax by heavy-duty womanists Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. Bringing us to the position of the sistuhs in rap. No, Stokely, not prone, but com­ing into their own, going beyond the first flurry of lubricated lip answer records to go stone careerist. Roxanne Shante’s jockin’ and clockin’.

The minds behind the music’s muscle are its DJs and producers — Russell Sim­mons, Eric B., Larry Smith, Teddy Riley, Rick Rubin, Dennis Bell, Hank Shocklee, Hurby Azor, Mantronik, Marley Marl, Terminator X. We continually marvel at this fraternal order of rhythm tacticians, this consortium of beat boppers, mega­mix researchers, sound-collage techni­cians, and rare-groove clerics. They think about electronic percussion orchestral­ly — voicings and shit — like any jazz drummer worth his African roots. We understand that analogies between hip­hop and jazz rankle the jazz police who believe harmonic improvisation on West­ern concert instruments is the measure of black genius. Partly because the beat­boppers’ axes (save the wheels of steel) originate in the digital age — drum ma­chines, sequencers, and samplers — the ears of the jazz police fly off the handle.

The suckers have yet to figure out the prototype — Miles Davis’s 1972 On the Corner — so we can’t expect them to listen to Eric B. & Rakim as Wynton Marsalis listens to Ornette Coleman, for his fi­nesse with rhythmic changes. And it goes without saying that New Music America­-type festivals don’t consider these per­cussive melodists composers. Probably because the beatboppers audience dances to the music.

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The coordinated chaos of hiphop’s dance component holds clues to the ori­gin of the universe. You want to under­stand why the subatomic realm is so full of strange behavior? Look to the body language of the black teens. Their cultur­ally acquired fluidity are new dance forms waiting to happen. Who can lament break dancing’s faddish decline knowing such energy is never destroyed but transformed, in this case, into the Wopp, the Snake, the Cabbage Patch, and other spasms yet to be named.

For some, hiphop will always be “that chain-snatching music.” We are remind­ed of a buppie party in Brooklyn where the hostess denied a request for Run-D.M.C. “This isn’t a Run-D.M.C. kind of party.” A Doritos and disco dipshit party is what it was. What can we expect from Philistines? Hiphop, Russell Simmons informs us, is an artform. To which we add, it’s the only avant-garde around, still delivering the shock of the new (over recycled James Brown compost modern-ism like a bitch), and it’s got a shockable bourgeoisie, to boot. Hiphop is not just Def Jam shipping platinum, but the at­traction/repulsion of commodification to the black working class and po’-ass class. The music that makes like a saccharine pop ditty with a dopebeat today could be the soundtrack to a Five Per Cent Nation jihad tomorrow. Hiphop might be bought and sold like gold, but the miners of its rich ore still represent a sleeping-giant constituency. Hiphop locates their mar­ket potential and their potential militancy.

Public Enemy pointman Chuckie D wants to raise consciousness though his manifesto serves dreamers and schemers alike: “This jam may hit or miss the charts/But the style gets wild as state of the art/Dazzling in science/Bold in nerve/But giving my house what it de­serves.” Later for the revolution. For the here and now, hiphop’s stance of populist-futurism is progressive enough. Is there any creative endeavor outside of recombinant gene technology whose shape to come is more unpredictable? Latter-day prophets predicting hiphop’s imminent demise have already become extinct. Afrika Bambaataa sez rap will be around as long as people keep talking. You think we’re gonna let ’em shut us up now? Sheee.

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Hurby Azor & Hank Shocklee: The Ballot or the Bullet

The success of supa def dope produsa Hurby Azor is based primarily in the effortlessness with which he produces a new music unencumbered by its own newness. In his world view — one most clearly exemplified by his work with Salt ’n Pepa, Kid ’n Play, and Dana Dane­ — hiphop is not new music, but simply pop music. He’s the first producer in the new school to regularly make hip-hop records that you can not only hum, but that you want to hum. It’s top 40 rap, in every sense of the word, and answers directly to nothing — race, class, sex. The irony of this, however, is how the work hotbeds as easily under Dana Dane’s ugly black creaturisms, as it does under Salt ’n Pepa’s parafeminism. In the context of hip-hop, both remain strangely correct, expedient, and political.

On the 180 degree tip, Hank Shocklee’s work, especially as refracted through the telescopic sights of Public Enemy, takes those same subjects (the role of Blackfrican off-pissedness as the fulcrum between white gimme-gimme and First World gate-crashing; the B-boy, not as creature feature, but as hyperresonant icon; sex and the single white liberal music critic) but, as opposed to dismissing or diminishing them, correctly rereads them as overriding concerns and concepts, letting the bodies fall where they may in the best bum-rush hip­hop’s ever seen. As part of the madness behind P.E.’s (rhythm) method, hip-­hop’s Clintonmeister puts the Thin-Line Theory in effect, raising the roof, the marquee, the sound levels, and the ante, not always in that order. This ain’t the future of hip-hop — this is just a nagging reminder of a past imperfect. ‘Tawana, get Uruzi, and, when you do, don’t forget to bring some noise. —Harry Allen