Saturday, June 20, 2009

rap music history

Rap Pioneers Then & Now
Posted Tue Jun 2, 2009 1:22pm PDT by Shawn Amos in

The other week Tone-Loc was hospitalized in Florida after passing out during a concert. He's 43 now, and his collapse begs two questions: can dudes rap into their forties, and... people go to hip-hop shows in Florida?

Actually, the whole hip-hop generation is approaching middle-age. I'm sure we could argue all day long about the first hip-hop moment, the first hip-hop single, or the moment when hip-hop's spark was truly ignited. I'm going to put a stake in the sand on that last one and call it as August 11, 1973. That's the night Bronx DJ Kool Herc (short for "Hercules" - a childhood nickname) played the first breakbeat at the 1520 Sedgwick Avenue project housing recreation room. And with this break the hip-hop blueprint was drawn.

Rap without a breakbeat is like rock with out an amp. That "five-minute loop of fury" gave rappers the foundation to build their rhymes. Thirty-six years later, 1520 Sedgwick Avenue is now officially the "birthplace of hip-hop" (thanks to Herc's lobbying) and a host of old-school rappers are now approaching AARP age. While Eminem, Method Man & Redman, and Cam'ron all suck up the hip-hop oxygen this summer, let's pay our respects to the pioneers who hold them up. Know your history to create your own.

GALLERY: See what rap's pioneers look like now
MELLE MELTHEN: Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five's 1982 single "The Message" is credited as the first socially conscious rap recording, but rapper Melle Mel (born Melvin Glover) didn't want to do it when his label, Sugarhill, brought it to him. Mel thought it was just another forgettable single. But when he heard it played in the Bronx club Disco Fever, he knew he was wrong. The crowd dug it. NOW: Since his '80s glory days Mel has done everything from pursue a wrestling career to write a children's book ("The Portal in the Park"). He's also dropped an "l" from his name and now goes by Mele Mel. The name change hasn't brought him back to hop-hop's mainstream, but maybe it helped get him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2007 he and the Furious Five became the first rap artists inducted.

GRANDMASTER FLASHTHEN: DJ Grandmaster Flash (born Joseph Saddler) moved to the Bronx from the West Indies and quickly became a student of both his father's record collection and Kool Herc's DJ style. Both helped Flash pioneer the early use of scratching. An interesting bit of trivia: an unofficial video for the 1983 single "White Lines (Don't Do It)" was directed by NYU film student Spike Lee and featured an unknown Laurence Fishburne.NOW: Flash has travelled a lot of ground since his early '80s heyday. He spent most of the '90s as musical director for Chris Rock's HBO series and found a loyal following in Europe and Asia, where he continues mix for legions of kids who wish they were born in the Bronx (but deep down are glad they weren't). He's also taken to the airwaves with a show on Sirius XM Radio and made himself a legit author with the publication of his memoirs, which he wrote completely in rhyme. Just kidding.

KURTIS BLOWTHEN: Harlem native Curtis Walker was in a late-'70s group called The Force with future hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. Simmons wound up managing Walker and persuaded him to change his name to Kurtis Blow. His 1980 single "The Breaks" was the first hip-hop song to be released by a major label (Mercury) and got him an opening slot for Bob Marley at Madison Square Garden. NOW: Blow gave up recording in the '90s and briefly worked as a radio DJ with a show on L.A.'s Power 106. Then he got religion. Blow went back to college as a theology major, graduating this year. On the road to rap religion, he lent his name to a compilation of Christian rap music and co-founded Hip Hop Church New York, which holds services in Harlem. I guess this answers the question, "Are there breakbeats in Heaven?" Pass the turntable, and praise the lord.

DOUG E. FRESHTHEN: The Human Beat Box, Douglas Davis, gained recognition in the classic 1984 hip-hop film "Beat Street." Throughout the '80s, Doug E. Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew (whose M C Ricky D left the group and went on to fame as Slick Rick) released a series of hugely successful records, including the humbly titled "The World's Greatest Entertainer." NOW: After his crashing from his chart heights, Fresh turned to commercials to keep the cash coming in. He's provided music for McDonalds, Coors, Tanqueray, and all sorts of other brands begging for hip-hop cred. Fresh also became a Scientologist. I assume he's bringing some hip-hop to the Celebrity Center. What rhymes with L. Ron Hubbard?

KRS-ONETHEN: New Yorker Lawrence Parker lived in homeless shelters as a teen. It was there he met Scott Sterling (a.k.a. DJ Scott La Rock), and the two formed the seminal late-'80s act Boogie Down Productions. The deaths of La Rock in a 1987 shooting and a fan at a 1988 show prompted KRS to form the Stop the Violence Movement, which donates money to the National Urban League. NOW: KRS-One briefly worked as a label exec for Reprise Records but ditched the gig in 2001. That same year he got himself into trouble when he said, "We cheered when 9/11 happened." To clarify his remarks, KRS explained that he was referring to the cheering for what happened to the rich and powerful. That didn't help. As recently as 2007, he was still explaining himself to Fox's Sean Hannity of all people.

PUBLIC ENEMYTHEN: Chuck D (born Carlton Ridenhour) and Flavor Flav (William Drayton Jr.) practiced their MC skills while delivering furniture for Chuck's father's business. They were signed to Def Jam after a demo featuring Chuck's freestyles caught the attention of label co-founder Rick Rubin. Their powerful black militant stance put them in the center of many controversies where they were accused of being homophobic and anti-Semitic. NOW: Today, aside from continued PE touring, Chuck D has become a reliable political pundit for the left. He co-hosted Air America's "Unfiltered" show with Rachel Maddow and now his own show, "On the Real." Flavor Flav, meanwhile, has become a reliable staple of reality shows, starring in four different series. He wears a clock in all of them.

RUN-D.M.C.THEN: One of the most influential hip-hop acts in history began when Russell Simmons asked his younger brother, Joseph, to DJ for Kurtis Blow under the name "DJ Run." Run's friend Daryl "D.M.C." McDaniels began rapping to his beats and soon they recorded their first single right out of high school with neighborhood bad boy Jason "Jam-Master Jay" Mizell. NOW: Mizell was gunned down in 2002, allegedly for deciding to work with a young blacklisted rapper named 50 Cent. Run has since dedicated himself to inner-city youth and reality TV, while D.M.C. successfully fought depression (with the unlikely help of Sarah McLachlan's song "Angel") and reunited with his birth mother in 2006.

LL COOL JTHEN: James Todd Smith probably had the most idyllic childhood of any of his rap contemporaries. He sang in church choir, joined the Boy Scouts, and delivered papers. His grandfather bought him his first mixer at Sears. His first single as LL Cool J (it stands for "Ladies Love Cool James), "I Need a Beat," sold over 100,000 copies. NOW: In the great hip-hop tradition, LL Cool J is a serial entrepreneur. He's written four books, has the requisite urban clothing line (Todd Smith), and regularly acts in film and on television. Next up is a starring role in CBS's upcoming fall series "NCIS: Los Angeles." Cool J is also one of the most in-shape dudes in hip-hop, employing a personal trainer and gracing the covers of fitness magazines. That's why the ladies love him.

M.C. HAMMERTHEN: Say what you will about his credibility (or lack thereof), Hammer taught the world how to wear baggy pants and blow $30 million. Hammer began his career as a batboy for the Oakland A's in the early '80s. By the early '90s he was a multi-millionaire thanks to rap-lite hits like "U Can't Touch This." He tried to toughen up his image by signing to Death Row Records at the end of the decade (none of his recordings, which included collaborations with Tupac Shakur, were released).NOW: By '96 Hammer was bankrupt and his career a punch line. He went from traveling with a 300-person entourage to appearing with Ed McMahon in a Cash 4 Gold commercial on this year's Super Bowl broadcast. He's now a minister (the "M.C." now stands for "Man of Christ"), which earns him extra cash for officiating weddings of other faded pop-culture icons, such as Corey Feldman and Vince Neil. But things may be looking up for the MC: his new TV show "Hammertime," which chronicles his struggle to relaunch his empire with the help of his wife of 24 years and their six kids, debuts June 19 on A&E.

D.J. JAZZY JEFF & THE FRESH PRINCETHEN: Jeff Townes was a local Philadelphia hero when he met a kid named Will Smith at a 1985 house party. They had instant chemistry and soon a hit single with 1986's "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble." It was released a month before Smith's high school graduation. Three years later they won the first ever rap Grammy for "Parents Just Don't Understand." NOW: Officially, DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince have never disbanded, but they have taken very different career paths. DJ Jeff went on to contribute scratching for Eminem, Talib Kweli, The Roots, and others. Unfortunately, things didn't turn our so well for Will Smith's career: a forgettable sitcom and some box-office bombs. Maybe Flavor Flav will put him in his next reality show.

No comments:

President Obama's Welcoming Micheal Steele Chairman of the RNC to The Heezy!