Eric B. & Rakim: Titty Boom-A-Rooney

The levitation of our dreams confirms the gravity of our wakefulness.
Hollis Frampton, filmmaker and theorist

Demonic is the first word that the title track on Eric B. & Rakim’s Follow the Leader (Uni) brings to mind. Before the jam inspires dance, prance, or make-romance, it says call the exorcist. An appre­hension birthed of the fact that where most raps go off in your face, this mono­logue aims at your interior. The music on “Follow the Leader” is spooky, a science-­fiction score that sounds straight out of the Tangerine Dream songbook. Rakim’s on an elocutionary speed-trip, a black bullet train slitting through hyperspace. The rhymes are telemetric, tracking sucker-soft targets with a monomania more relentless than anybody’s Terminator. In rap’s ongoing war for poetic su­premacy, Rakim has metaphoric space he can call his own, though for others it’s a danger zone.

While Public Enemy shakes the shit out of white people, Rakim is the rapper who makes my blood run cold. Listen to “Microphone Fiend” and you say, Gött­dam this is the dope jam (mainly because the lyrics seem to mock PE’s “Night of the Living Baseheads”).

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Like Boogie Down Productions’ rapper KRS One and PE’s Chuck D, Rakim brings his own worldview into rap, his own philosophy. These brothers are hip-­hop’s major thinkers. Somebody once ex­plained the difference between the minds of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk as Powell being more likely to drop a heavy insight on you about the state of the world and Monk being more likely to lay something deep on you about Monk. Chuck D’s forte is the overview, Rakim’s is the innerview. KRS One’s homilies are more down to earth, more streetwise, than either of them. He makes the most conversational records in the idiom. Think of him as hiphop’s Sonny Rollins to Chuck D’s insane Coltrane.

“If you’ve ever picked cotton,” says the Rev. Al Green, “you will appreciate a cool drink of water.” Rakim’s persona is that of a sagacious gangster, like Miles Da­vis’s. The rapper, too, works an aesthetic steeped in the sort of cool that can’t be bought off the rack, not even at Yoji Yamamoto prices. We’re talking about that school of self-confirmed bad-assed-ness, where you don’t need spectators to know you’re looking sugarshit sharp. Drop Miles or Rakim on the moon, they’d still be chilly-most. This is less about profiling cool than about putting that iconic presence to work (yes, in the diva sense of the word, chile.)

Rakim’s work on last year’s “I Know You Got Soul” comes closer than anything ever heard in rap for matching the incisiveness of a Miles statement. Seeing Miles at Pier 84 a few weeks back — best show I’ve heard since ’75 — made me real­ize once again where these hiphop/jazz comparisons fall to pieces: tonality. I’ve yet to hear a rapper with a sound like Miles, that sonorous simulation of sex when it’s too good, killer ecstasy slipping across pain’s Cambodian border.

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Still the Miles comparisons mount with Rakim. He’s the one rapper with a mystique as devastating as his rhymes. As with Miles again, what you hear in Rakim is black cultural difference exem­plified in ways so high-handed it makes negritude or nationalist countersupre­macy sound crude. “I Know You Got Soul” is race-championing by aristocratic example, not ideology. Rakim does his ennobling African ancestry proud through the finesse and poetry of his performance alone.

Picture a mike: the stage is empty
A beat like this might tempt me
To cold show my rings and my five gold chains
Grab the mike like I’m on Soul Train
But I wait, ’cause I master this
Let the others go first, so the brothers don’t miss
Eric B. break [brake?] the sticks

The LP those lines came from, Paid in Full, is a confirmed hiphop masterwork. Masterful because like Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, and Boogie Down Productions’ By All Means Necessary, it shows how color­-struck the hiphop palette has become. I tend to be big on records, like Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, where each composi­tion is a microcosm, painted with signa­ture strokes even when the artist is work­ing in revived forms. Paid in Full is avante-garde and formally prodigious in that way. But it’s an avante-gardism whose rhythms and textures speak from an intimacy with the communalism black pop conveyed in the ’70s.

Eric B.’s rare groove choices take me back to the proletarian house parties my grandmother, a hip barber, dragged me to in Ohio. These were folk for whom party­ing hardy was synonymous to partying with family. Eric B. once told Harry Al­len that he and Rakim make records that their parents can listen to and under­stand. I can hear that, especially on the new LP’s “Put Your Hands Together.” The mix-construction on Follow the Leader is different from that on Paid in Full. It’s harsher, more jagged, jarring and less sensually inviting. On Paid in Full, Eric B.’s mixes match Rakim’s rhymes for contemplated restraint, in­vention, and lyricism. There Eric B. rocked us with more orchestral detail than anybody outside of PE in late ’80s hiphop. He also brought understatement to hiphop drum programming — almost as if he’d taken to heart Lester Young’s soft-­shell admonition to drummers, “No bombs, just titty-boom.”

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This is just a hunch, but I think Eric B. and Rakim have been taking lessons in the art of noise from Public Enemy, like PE has been going to Eric B. & Rakim’s work, among others, to study up on melo­dy. I’ve heard complaints that there are no classics on Follow The Leader like “I Know You Got Soul” or “Move the Crowd.” But those who been bitchin’ just need to listen. I said it, I meant it, and I even represent it.

On that note: Inquiring minds want to know what I think of Chuck D (the Living Messiah) branding yo’ reporter The Village Voice‘s porch nigger and a sell-out in the current Spin — os­tensibly behind doing the right thing and busting PE’s monkey-asses on charges of homophobia, sexism, and anti-Semitism. What I think is grits ain’t groceries, and the Mona Lisa was a man. ❖


Hiphop Nation: What It Is

A gift to be swift
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
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
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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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



Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer Is a Portrait of Portraiture

In 2001, street photographer Jamel Shabazz released Back in the Days, a volume of his collected works and a rare portrait of hip-hop’s infancy. The book, which gathers hundreds of photographs captured on the streets of Harlem and beyond between 1980 and 1989, represents an authentic chronicle of the people, fashions, and poses that embodied a lifestyle, articulating a rich history of urban style. Charlie Ahearn’s new documentary, Jamel Shabazz Street Photographer, tells the story of how Back in the Days came to be, and so, in a sense, is a portrait of portraiture. But Ahearn works at a distinct disadvantage: Present to document the book’s reception rather than its genesis, he has no direct access to the vibrant past about which his subjects reminisce, leaving him to merely coast on the iconography of Shabazz’s work. The film, intending perhaps to enrich the photographs with historical context while also testifying to their enduring significance, defers to the expertise of those who lived through the period, lingering in barbershops and on street corners as now-middle-age men extol Shabazz and the veracity of his depictions, meandering through fondly recalled anecdotes of rocking boom boxes and Pumas. Shabazz, we’re told repeatedly, was a genuine fixture of the scene, but witness accounts to the fact are, like much in this film, wholly redundant. “This right here,” KRS-One says of Back in the Days, “tells all the stories.” It is high praise for an important book and an indictment of the superfluous documentary about it. The work speaks for itself.



Hidden Colors 2: The Triumph of Melanin

What has been hidden in doc Hidden Colors 2: The Triumph of Melanin is a whole global history of black accomplishment, and so Tariq Nasheed’s film sets out to prove nothing less than the African origins of everything of worth in history, on a continent-by-continent basis: “Look at the Buddha’s hair!” pronounces KRS-One with self-evident relish. The MC is one of a revolving cast of talking heads that includes Nasheed himself. A fair enough talker, Nasheed badly needs an editor; I say this not simply because his movie is two and a half hours long, but because he has a seeming total inability to separate gibble-gabble from revealed truth, vital social concern from talk about Chemtrails and digressive subchapters with titles like “The Hidden Truth About Santa Claus.” Indeed, Nasheed seems incapable of waving off any conspiracy, be it regarding “the war on melanated people” (arguably real) or Shakespeare’s authorship of the King James Bible (absolutely not), each point illustrated via Google-search images and Second Life computer graphics. There is exactly one interviewee here who is always fully in charge of sense and facts: the only woman, Michelle Alexander. Her well-reasoned discussion of the American penal system is compelling, but it’s an embarrassment that she should be placed alongside the likes of Dr. Phil Valentine, a “metaphysician” whose malarkey about AIDS (“the so-called immunity system of the homosexual”) is a low point, as is Umar Johnson’s lionization of the late, unlamented Gaddafi and the odd nostalgia for segregation that runs throughout.



Our fingers could not be crossed tighter for Lauryn Hill—that the past decade skirting the spotlight brought her solace, that she wants to rejoin us half as much as we want it, and, not least, that she will actually perform as promised at Rock the Bells. Ms. Hill’s recent trickle of appearances leave us uneasy, but her incredible ability could never be diluted. Also, she’s not running for president of anywhere, so that’s neat. Come prepared for excellent surreality: Snoop Dogg will also perform Doggystyle in full, and A Tribe Called Quest will revisit Midnight Marauders. With Wu-Tang Clan, Rakim & KRS-One, Slick Rick, and more.

Sat., Aug. 28, 2 p.m., 2010


KRS One+DJ Cool Herc

Santos Party House gets a taste of the original Bronx hip-hop party-starters—including the guy who invented partying itself! As the many guests tonight (NY Oil, the So Fresh Band, Espinoza, Why G, more) will probably tell you repeatedly, we all owe DJ Kool Herc gratitude for inventing the breakbeat, making breakdancers bug out, and kickstarting hip-hop culture. Prized pupil Blastmaster KRS One is still one of the most kinetic performers in hip-hop, and will be especially pumped in this celebration of Hip Hop Appreciation Week.

Sat., May 30, 7 p.m., 2009



Perhaps a function of hip-hop’s modern-day jones for old-school signifiers like rope chains and battle raps, the fourth annual iteration of the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival is making a decidedly, uh, conscious effort to turn back the clock. To wit: Saturday’s all-day jam features MC, archivist, and self-proclaimed Blastmaster KRS-ONE, legendary beat-miner DJ Premier, and former Black Moon vet Buckshot, while retro-future rap practitioners Mickey Factz and Fresh Daily aim to channel their elders’ throwback vibe. Keeping all the indie heads bobbing into the early evening are J. Period and 88-Keys. But that’s just the grand finale. The three-day festival kicks off tonight at Brooklyn’s Masonic Temple with neo-soul crooner Bilal and BK’s own Smif & Wessun, among others, and continues on Friday at powerHouse Arena. Brooklyn keeps on taking it. Check for full schedule and locations.

July 10-12, 2008


Noise from the Front

Lady Hawk
Teenage Love Song,” from Ladyhawk (Jagjaguwar, 2006)
[Music listing for Sunday, May 20]

You Must Learn,” from Retrospective (Zomba, 1997)
[Music listing for Sunday, May 20]

Mates of State
Nature and the Wreck” from Bring It Back (Barsuk, 2006)
[Music listing for Wednesday, May 16]

Noche Azul” from More Shine (Sony, 2005)
[Music listing for Saturday, May 19]

Click Five
Jenny” single (Atlantic, 2007)
[Music listing for Tuesday, May 22]

Laurie Anderson
The Fifth Plague” from Plague Songs (4AD, 2006)
[Music listing for Thursday, May 17]

The Jesus & Mary Chain
The Hardest Walky” from Psychocandy (Warner, 1986)
[Music listing for Monday, May 21]

Johnette Napolitano
Amazing” single (Hybrid, 2007)
[Music listing for Wednesday, May 16]

Psychic TV
Tune in, Turn On” from Jack the Tab (Wax Trax, 1988)
[Music listing for Friday, May 18]

The Bacon Brothers
Flowers” from The Bacon Brothers (Forosoco, 2006)
[Music listing for Saturday, May 19]


Before MTV

As a child, Ralph McDaniels’s Trinidadian family played Calypso music and his uncle introduced him to Motown. Now that he is New York City’s uncle, VJ Ralph McDaniels returns the favor by locking up Saturday nights on Channel 25 NYC-TV. The Bridge, a new show devoted to old school hiphop videos, airs at 11 p.m. Ralph, cohost Tiffani Webb, and executive producer Trevor Scotland unearth classic videos to rock minds and shock bodies. [Press Record]. Then, at midnight, Video Music Box blazes across screens for its 23rd continuous year, debuting new videos and Ralph’s classic exclusive interviews. [Reeewiiiiind!!!]

Did you always call yourself Uncle? No, I originally was VJ Ralph McDaniels. Red Alert started calling me Uncle Ralph and coined Luke Skywalker, from 2 Live Crew, Uncle Luke. It came about because anybody who’s been around for a little while, helps people out, broke a bunch of groups, “Oh, you’ve got a video, you gotta go see Uncle Ralph, he’ll take care of you.”

How does it feel being an uncle to a huge group of people you never even met? I’ve affected two generations. I’ve got a 40-year-old who’s grown up with me from watching Video Music Box in the ’80s, and there are kids who are listening to me right now. Kids will come to me like, “You know my mother!’ and I’m like, ‘Oh Lord . . .’ ”

What acts would you take credit for breaking on Video Music Box? I can say pretty much everybody.

You didn’t have to be a superstar to be on the mic. You could be just some dude walking down the street. I meet people now like, “I was on Video Music Box back in such-and-such—yo man I was big that summer!” The people were the stars of the show and I think we have to bring that back. We invented the shout-out.

I pick up on certain things that I think the audience will be interested in. Even if it’s something I may be totally off and I’m wrong. I may have believed in an artist more than they believe in themselves sometimes! But the audience will be like, “We see what you saw, Ralph. No problem,” because they know it’s from my heart.

You played New Kids on the Block long before anyone else. Some things you know are gonna be a hit because it’s generated from the record companies. Irish kids from Boston are pretty thugged out! It’s like going to Bensonhurst, it’s some pretty thugged out white dudes. I saw that this was gonna be something—I didn’t know what. Once it became totally blown out, I was done with it.

Why did you give Native Tongues [Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep, more] two entire episodes of The Bridge? It used to be where the artist would influence the society. Native Tongues had a big influence on the culture in the city. Now the government has more influence on everything. There was a time when if KRS One said it, “black cop, black cop,” whatever it was, it was like whoa, forget about what Bloomberg or Bush said, it doesn’t really matter, KRS One said it. Now, Bloomberg said something, young 18-year-olds are paying attention to what he is saying.

Really? I think so. Look, if you got arrested in the projects, your parents could get kicked out of their project building. That was a slick little move right there. All of a sudden that kid is thinking a lot different than how he was before. You better fall in line.

The Bridge premieres Saturdays at 11:00 PM. Encores Sundays at 11:00 PM and Thursdays at 9:00 PM. Reruns until May, when season two begins. Not in New York? Stream The Bridge here.


Beguilement and Rage

Pick Hits


Oceans Apart

(Yep Roc)

Robert’s songs more tuneful in their maturity, Grant’s more atmospheric,
they punch ’em all up to make a stronger impression than on their comeback
album, thus proving that it was one. Settled down in real life, Robert
recaptures his peripatetic past with a clear conscience and a sharp eye;
still questing, Grant couches his romanticism in instrumental subtleties
that soften his detachment. Robert so fond, Grant so elusive, both so
beguiling, they’re deeply civilized for the leaders of a working rock band.
And for just that reason they can follow the calling until that distant day
when strumming itself is too much for them. A

Stream “Here Comes a City” (Windows Media)


Black Skies in Broad Daylight

Lillian Berlin is Johnny Rotten with politics. His art would be nothing
without his rage; he’s so possessed by the need to get his point across that
he grabs his brothers’ music by the throat and makes it bellow his tune. But
his rage wouldn’t be much without his analysis, which however simplistic—and
it is, though at this perilous moment no more so than apolitical cynicism or
liberal equivocation—gives shape, purpose, and a referent outside his
tortured psyche to feelings that emanate from who knows where. A more
balanced person would have gotten this cleansing full-length released in the
U.S. last fall, when we needed it so much, but a more balanced person
wouldn’t have recorded it. The Berlins have bought it back from UniMoth, and
maybe some patient U.S. bizzer will put it out eventually. Meanwhile, my
advance is identical to the U.K. version, while the Japanese boasts two
bonus cuts that’ll cost you 12 bucks apiece. Like it says inside their EP:
“Just one enemy—The Exploiters.” A MINUS

View “Bombs Below” (Windows Media)



(Palomine/Minty Fresh)

Down on my luck in Amsterdam, I’d want Carol van Dyk for an aunt, or a
second cousin, or a friend’s ex-wife, or something more. Back on my feet,
I’d remember her fondly for the rest of my life. But we’d lose touch. And
before too long I’d find it impossible to recall the details of the album we
used to play at breakfast. B PLUS

Download “Attagirl” (MP3)


Push the Button


Their genre incontrovertibly passé, they can put futurist games
behind them. So, free to do their thing without looking over their
shoulders, they turn in their best album since 1996 even though some schmuck
from the Charlatans ruins track two. “Believe” and “The Big Jump” rock the
block. The Arabian strings of “Galvanize” are augmented-not-improved by the
tyrant-bashing rhetoric of “Left Right.” And the three abstractions that
complete the project clatter, tweetle, shudder, chime, whoosh, and phase.

View “Believe” (Flash)


See You Next Tuesday

(Tommy Boy)

The attitude is tougher and the material thinner, but you have to love it
for not falling flat on its heightened expectations. Two albums in, these
three young things still aren’t rich—not with their “dresser drawer full of
broken cellphones” and their homeboy who’ll “rob Mickey D’s for
condiments”—and that still hasn’t taken them down. With electroclash a dead
delusion, what sells their handlers’ beats is the girls’ faith in the sacred
mission of growing up and having fun at the same time, which in case you’ve
been away is no gimme these days. A MINUS

Sample Album


Separation Sunday


Confession booths are for rosary twiddlers, but Bible lore is as American
as Sunday school, so I take the scriptural references as tokens of Craig
Finn’s quality education. And since in my Sunday school, papists like my
grandpa were going to burn forever because they never got “born again,” I’m
glad Finn’s guys and gals get “born again” too. At bottom, his people are my
people, and I wish them the same shot at heaven my adolescent Billy Graham
experience guarantees my reprobate ass. Which is to say that this literature
with power chords addresses not only the crucial matter of vanishing
bohemias as cultural myth but also the crucial matter of re-emerging
spiritualities as cultural fact. From “Lord to be 17 forever” to “Lord to be
33 forever” is a long road, and Finn is old enough now to know it keeps
getting longer—and to spread the living gospel that 33 is too good to throw
away on myths. A MINUS

Download “Stevie Nix” (MP3)


Aha Shake Heartbreak


There’s an early-Stones feel here it would be perverse to deny: 12 songs
in 36 minutes, each with an indelible identiriff and its own seductive
rhythmic shape. Caleb Hollowill’s slippery wiles recall Jagger’s without
grasping Jagger’s gift for the pungent phrase. That Hollowill avoids
cock-rock clichés hardly means he’s come to terms with the jezebels
who were driving backsliding Southern boys past their intellectual limits
long before Elvis paid Mr. Phillips to record his love song to Gladys. B

View “The Bucket” (Windows Media)


Same !@#$ Different Day

(Quannum Projects)

Unlike most remix albums, not a fanbase-only ripoff. None of the eight
remakes is inferior to the Later That Day . . . version; Evidence and
KRS-One’s “Pack It Up” and a funked-up “Hello” constitute clear
improvements, “Do That There” piles on ridiculous rhyme, and the standout “I
Changed My Mind” was a 12-inch. Nor is that all—the five new titles include
a Bay Area praisesong, a motormouth “capping” dis, and just one too many
showcases for LB’s quasi-operatic helpmate Joyo Velarde. In short, had
Later That Day . . . come second, you might well prefer this
reinterpretation. A MINUS

Stream “Pack Up (Remix)” feat. Evidence and KRS-One

Stream “I’m Just Raw”


Celebration Castle

(In the Red)

Like so many unpretentious young bands-with-a-knack, the Ponys are
assumed by their contemporaries to bring nothing new to the party even
though their sound is theirs alone—an object lesson in the primacy of
timbre. Their second album isn’t quite as good as their first album because
its hooks are slightly less inescapable, which you can blame on Steve Albini
if you want. But the difference is slight, and other differences are
positive: more momentum, the girls get to sing one, and the Richard Hell guy
sounds as weedy as the Peter Perrett guy, hence more like himself. A

Download “Glass Conversation” (MP3)

Dud of the


You’re a Woman, I’m a Machine


Idon’t get this. We listen to a Snoop or Lil Jon record—I do, anyway—and
say, Yeah, the music is pretty good, but it’s really no fun hearing women
degraded that way, so the hell with those guys. Maybe if the funk is
terrific (Cam’ron, or the new improved—and somewhat more mild-mannered—50)
or the rhymes acute (Jay-Z, Ghostface), we let down our guard and try to
hear how the other half feels. Otherwise no. So why is this tight, intense,
recidivist screech-and-crunch exempted from such complex responses?
Preferring funk to crunch as I do, maybe I’m merely insensible to the
guitars’ siren call. Or maybe its slaves are insensible to misogyny that
stops at cut-and-run man’s-gotta-do you-hurt-me-too, rather than claiming to
control that ‘ho. B MINUS

Consumer News

Honorable Mention


Fair and Square

(Oh Boy)

“Old Faithful’s just a fountain/Compared to the glory of true love” (“She
Is My Everything,” “Some Humans Ain’t Human”).

Stream “She Is My Everything” (Real Audio)

Stream “Some Humans Ain’t Human” (Real Audio)


Pop-O-Anthology 1984-1993


Sans their famed debut EP, San Francisco weirdos prove it’s not so hard
to make entertaining straight-ahead guitar rock—only now try and imitate it
Stream “In Frisco” (MP3)




Indigo Girl’s solo sober Southern identity (“Rural Faggot,” “Let It

Download “Put It Out For Good” (MP3)

Download “Driver Education” (MP3)




Prefer him to Julian Cope, not to mention Phil Oakey, and she holds up
fine against Sarah Cracknell, never mind Martha Wash (“I Like It,” “Where
You End”).

Sample Album (Windows Media)


American Dreamer


Four-billionths of the vastest nation on earth nail pro-American Clash
imitation (“That’s What I Know,” “New York City”).

Download “That’s What I Know” (MP3)


Lost and Found


Raps better than Rodney Dangerfield (even when he was alive), and funnier
to boot (“If You Can’t Dance [Slide],” “Ms. Holy Roller”).

Stream “If You Can’t Dance (Slide)” (Windows Media)

Stream “Ms. Holy Roller” (Windows Media)



He’s hard to ruin, which doesn’t stop Steve Lawrence and Sammy Davis Jr.
from trying (Ella Fitzgerald With the Duke Ellington Orchestra, “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall in Love)”; Sarah Vaughan, “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye”; Louis Prima and Keely
Smith, “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”).

Stream “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” (Windows Media)

Stream “Night and Day” (Windows Media)

Stream “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” (Windows Media)




Nirvana unplugged it ain’t, and a precious resource he remains (“God,”
“What You Got”).

Stream “God” (Windows Media)

Stream “What You Got” (Windows Media)


Silent Alarm


Benetton boys adrift on Tony Blair’s morass of neoliberal compromise
(“Helicopter,” “Pioneer”).

Download “Banquet” (MP3)


(Luaka Bop)

At long last bossa newwavo (“Guns of Brixton,” “Too Drunk to Fuck”).

Stream “Teenage Kicks

Sample Album


Nine Lives


Cool cats confront or deny their own inevitable decreptitude (“Circling
the Drain,” “Quittin’ Time”).



(Quannum Projects)

Latyrx-Blackalicious alliance plots next move (“If,” “Best of Me”).

Stream “If” (Windows Media)

Stream “Best Of Me” (Windows Media)


So Jealous


Believe your old dad<“What I figured out was I needed more time to figure
you out” ain’t gonna work (“Take Me Anywhere,” “You Wouldn’t Like Me”).

Download “I Bet It Stung” (MP3)

Download “I Know I Know I Know” (MP3)




Provincial lads make a go of Tony Blair’s morass of neoliberal compromise
(“Saturday Night,” “Born to Be a Dancer”).

Stream “Saturday Night” (Windows Media)

Stream “Born to Be a Dancer” (Windows Media)


Dark Snack

(Yep Roc)

Melissa Swingle’s slide attack carries lyrics that deserve better,
sometimes (“Talk About It,” “Hard Times”).

Stream “Terrier” (Windows Media)

Choice Cuts


“My Baby Left Me,” “Angel Baby”

(Rock ‘n’ Roll, Capitol)



(Resight Your Rights EP, DreamWorks)


“Patriot Act,” “Message Board”

(Weapons of Mass Distortion, SW)


“Bleed Like Me,” “Why Don’t You Come Over”

(Bleed Like Me, Geffen)


“The Joker”

(Palooka-ville, Astralwerks)



Open Season

(Rough Trade)


Human After All



R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece

(Doggy Style/Geffen/Star Trak)


In Love and Death (Reprise)


Bows and Arrows

(Record Collection)