had all the signs of a hype as the music papers devoted acres of space to the new fad growing in the New York ghettoes. Black urban youth had found a new way of taking on the world, eschewing conventional singing to ‘rap‘ (basically talk rhythmically), over the most minimal of beats, a ‘scratching‘ DJ . manually squeezing out short bursts of his favourite records for accompaniment. Suddenly the big funk ensembles of the past, with their legions of backing singers and brass sections were unwieldy and unfashionable. Outside of the Eastern United States, however, rapping sounded alien to all but the hippest black music fans and most clear-sighted culture pundits. The peripheral culture surrounding the music caught on quickest — break-dancing and subway graffiti — but the music itself seemed to outsiders to be too much a part of a self-obsessed scene. This was fairly true, but because of the rap scene’s ferocious competitiveness, low boredom threshold and restlessness it was progressing and diversifying at amazing speed.
The rap sound was originally a party sound: The Sugarhill Gang lifted a Chic riff to make ‘Rapper’s Delight’, and scored a bonaﬁde Bn'tish hit. Not getting quite the same attention were such early classics as ‘That’s the Joint’ by The Funky Four Plus One, Kurtis Blow’s ‘The Breaks’ and ‘The Birthday Party’ by the same Grandmaster
Flash and The Furious Five who were to bring out ‘The Message’ and follow the Sugarhill Gang into the charts. Sylvia Robinson’s Sugarhill label had been the first to pick up on the rapping scene in a big way, and the early records were all smooth and slickIy-produced, with a regular studio band providing the backing tracks, but on the streets rap was mutating into hip-hop. Scratch DJs plunged headlong into their record collections and pilfered whatever they wanted to use, providing a jittery cut-up backing for the second generation of MC, who was as likely to be bragging about his social standing, the label on his expensive Italian sneakers or the size of his sexual apparatus as retreading the kind of socially-aware raps that made Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel pop stars.
The piracy of the DJs (enhancing the ‘rebel’ image of hip-hop) has been multiplied a hundredfold by the technological possibilities offered by sampling, enough to keep every record company’s law division tied up in red tape for at least the next
decade. The early adventures on the wheels of steel (turntables) were just the vaguest prototype of the current wholesale demolition of conventional structures by both black and white cut creators. It was surprising enough to see The Real Roxanne and Eric B & Rakim riding up the charts, but the overwhelming success of M/A/R/R/S’ ‘Pump Up The Volume‘ shows how quickly and completely unorthodox sounds can be accepted by the listening public. Hip-hop elements have been leaking into mainstream dance music for years. Wizard producers like Arthur Baker and Michael Jonzun pioneered a kind of ‘cybernetic soul’, using modern studio techniques to take the experiments one step further. But it was the indomitable Afrika Bambaata (later James Brown and John Lydon collaborator) who appropriated Kraftwerk‘s ‘Trans-Europe Express’ and turned it into ‘Planet Rock’, thus placing a quartet of ageing West German techno-buffs near the top of the hip-hop pantheon. The interchange of ideas between black and white music was getting into full swing, but, outside of the general assimilation of hip-hop production techniques into the mainstream, it would be Rick Rubin and the decisive Def Jam pastiche that would have the biggest commercial impact.
Jam records took the outlaw stance and allied hip-hop with hard rock, rendering it acceptable to the mass of white Middle American teenagers who were, and still are, buying Bon Jovi and David Lee Roth records by the truckload. The label was founded by black hip-hop producer Russell Simmons and white heavy metal fan Rick Rubin. Impressed by his black classmates, who had a new favourite record every week. Rubin was greatly excited by the rap scene. With Simmons he started his own label, and by the time he graduated had signed a distribution deal with major establishment label CBS Records. The shrewd Rubin had assembled the acts on his label to appeal to a
teenage audience with similar tastes to his own. LL Cool J , the star of the Def Jam tour is a born showman with a big mouth, from which streams a constant barrage of homages to his own ego. He’s only 19, with traces of
puppy fat, but can jive his mouth off with the best of them. The stage set for his current tour is a gigantic ghettoblaster placed in a replica of his old schoolyard, a reminder to himself for every second on stage just how far he has come. All this obnoxiousness would be intolerable if it wasn’t for the fact that his current LP, Bigger and Deffer is an accessible, imaginative and genuinely exciting work. LL knows that there are scores of rappers back in the Bronx and Queens just waiting for him to slip up so that they can take his place. His identification with his homeboys is a crucial element — he displays the conspicuous wealth that all B-Boys aspire to: gold chains, rings, fancy ghettobla: rs and most important of all the‘ ngnt labels on his clothes: Kangol, Fila, Adidas. His name, incidentally, is an abbreviation of his previous modest tag, Ladies Love Cool James. He puts up the impression of toughness, rebelliousness, but all he really wants is to run around in a Porsche and buy Mom a new house.
Cool James has a hit single now, ‘I Need Love‘, despised by many B-Boys, who say it’s soft, a sell-out. Aware of the ﬂak from hardcore fans he reinforces his macho image by simulating a bonk with a chaise longue when it’s performed live.
Run DMC, an early signing to Def Jam, claim to have changed the face of rap with their second single, ‘Sucker MCs’, in 1983. ‘Before us,’ they claim, ‘rap records was corny. Everything was soft.’ Certainly the single prefigured what was to come: stripped down, all beats and rapping voices, very little music, but their claim that the Sugarhill house band broke up as a direct result of the single , realising their usefulness was ended, is a typical boast. However, it took the sly tack of recording a version of dinosaur rock band Aerosmith’s signature tune ‘Walk This Way’ to get them in rotation on the notoriously racist MTV - since when they’ve become national stars in America, and decided that it was time to drop the too-prominent heavy rock angle and get back more to their roots.
The Beastie Boys were ideally placed to reap the rewards of all the groundwork that had been done since the mid-70$. Sam Phillips, the discoverer of Elvis Presley, denied he’d ever said, ‘If I could ﬁnd a white man with the Negro feel I could make a million,’ but can Rick Rubin say the same? The Beastie Boys, as everyone knows by now, are three well-brought-up middle-class white boys from Queens and Hollis, who promote their image as foul-
— WORD PlAYS
Yo! Masters of hip-hop LL Cool J, Public Enemy and ' Eric B & Rakim get ill and dis the competition at Glasgow’s Barrowland on Friday 27. Kool Mab D chills out and prepares for some Christmas Rapping.
mouthed, beer-swilling yobs with enviable determination - for Def Jam they were a godsend. Formerly a dodgy punk band who liked nothing more than to send themselves up, they are now the perfect money-spinning rap/hard rock fusion, stuck at a permanent stage of pubescent angst. And still sending themselves up rotten. The music press reacted with horror to the lifestyles of Baltimore‘s Yo Boys, mainly still at school, getting most of their income from selling drugs and ﬂaunting their Italian clothes, gold chains and rings, money and, of course, guns. Reports mounted of teenage murders, reputedly sparked off on occasion by nothing more than envy of the brand of a rival’s shoes. It’s said that in Baltimore LL CoolJ refused to take the stage after shots were fired in the audience, and violence has dogged rap concerts in the States.
the Yo Boy violence has
fizzled out, but of course the copycats have gone forth and multiplied. It’s spread over here already. At the infamous Beastie Boys Liverpool gig, the one where Ad-Rock was hauled off by the police, charged with hurling a beer can full into an audience member’s face (he was acquitted), havoc was caused by football casuals and the legendary ‘scallies’, who had heard that these gigs were the place to cause trouble. LL Cool J ’5 recent London shows were marred by a total of 16 arrests, including one individual who threw ammonia in a policeman’s face.
It could be that part of the success of hip-hop in Britain, on a grass-roots level, is that its high profile over here coincided with the ‘ten year wave’ that was talked about so much last year, when everyone was celebrating the tenth anniversary of the birth and death of punk rock. Elvis Presley, Flower Power, punk rock, and now. . . ?
Hip-hOp was the only serious contender, and it was sending revolutionary waves through the rock scene. As has always been the case most of the British rock bands who are regarded as forward-looking (although this is a great generalisation) are those who are taking lessons from black music. Whatever you may think of those groups (e. g. Big Audio Dynamite, Age of Chance, That Petrol Emotion) they have taken advantage of the altogether different sense of dynamics to find new ways to
channel rock’n’roll. Even that last bastion of conservatism , heavy metal, is succumbing in places, mainly bands like Slayer who have had proﬁtable run-ins with Rick Rubin. Its inﬂuence has spread across the board, from the soul/dance market to the lowliest indie group— and the ultimate proof of acceptance: TV advertising soundtracks.
Better get used to that beat; it’s here to stay. Word!
The List 27 Nov — 10 Dec 1987 5