Category Archives: Old-School Hip-Hop

The Lord Of The Rhyme – 10 Reasons Why Grandmaster Melle Mel Will Always Be One Of The Greatest Emcees Of All-Time

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In 1982 I was a seven-year-old kid growing-up in the UK obsessed with “Star Wars” and comic books. Then I heard a record that would literally change the course of my life by introducing me to the music and culture of Hip-Hop. That record was “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five.

I can still remember hearing “The Message” for the first time like it happened yesterday. A classmate of mine had come into school with a cassette excited about a new song that his older brother had been playing continuously and, as young kids always want to emulate the cooler older kids, he’d brought it in on tape to share with anyone who wanted to listen.

I can’t remember exactly how he described the track, aside from that it had some bad language in the opening line, but I do remember that I was curious to hear what my classmate was so excited about. I borrowed the tape and took it home.

In 1982 I didn’t have anything that resembled my own stereo-system. Neither were Walkmans readily available. So, I borrowed my dad’s small mono cassette player, took it into my bedroom, slid the tape in and pressed play. For the next seven minutes I was mesmerised.

First, the beat started and it sounded nothing like the music my parents played around the house or that I’d heard on the radio. That slow, deliberate drum programming combined with those strange keyboards that sounded like they were being played underwater immediately had me both hooked and confused.

Then came that voice. When Melle Mel started rhyming, I didn’t know what to think. Who is this? Why’s he talking instead of singing? Why is there broken glass everywhere? Where does this person come from?

By the time the Bronx emcee had reached the infamous “Don’t push me…” hook, my young mind had been introduced to a world I didn’t know existed and I was as intrigued by “The Message” lyrically as I was musically.

Of course, as a young, working-class white kid from England, I couldn’t comprehend much of what was being described and addressed in “The Message”. But with Melle Mel delivering his rhymes in what I would come to know as his trademark gruff, authoritative style, even though I might not have fully understood everything I was hearing, I knew from the way it was being said that it was something important.

Melle Mel’s voice literally demanded and commanded my attention.

With my official introduction to Hip-Hop made and a series of lucky coincidences meaning I was around older brothers of friends who were already listening to rap and electro, Melle Mel became the standard by which I judged all other emcees I heard.

Listening to artists like Captain Rock and Divine Sounds on the “Electro” compilations of the time from UK label Streetsounds, the question I always asked myself was, ‘Are they as good as Melle Mel?’

By the time Mel had parted ways with Grandmaster Flash and was leading his own incarnation of the Furious Five, dropping singles like “Beat Street Breakdown” and “Step Off”, he was like a lyrical super-hero to me.

At that moment in time, I would have probably even argued that Mel’s trademark “Urrrghrah!” was more impressive than some other artist’s entire verses!

Of course, as the years have rolled by, plenty of other supreme lyricists have risen to prominence and left their own indelible mark on the culture of Hip-Hop, from the likes of Rakim, Big Daddy Kane and Chuck D, to Nas, Ghostface and Black Thought, just to name a few.

But regardless of how many other microphone fiends might have captured my attention since I was first introduced to Hip-Hop over thirty years ago, to me, Melle Mel will always be the first name I mention in any conversation about the greatest emcees of all-time.

To refresh your memory, here’s ten reasons why…

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – “Superappin” (Enjoy Records / 1979)

In the wake of the surprise late-70s success of the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”, some of the same crews who’d been busy laying Hip-Hop’s foundations on Bronx street corners were eager to make the jump from block party to wax, with labels like Bobby Robinson’s Enjoy Records all too happy to cash in on what many viewed to be a musical fad.

Clocking in at twelve minutes of fluid disco-flavoured funk, “Superappin”showcased a tighter Furious Five than was heard on the Brass Records “We Rap More Mellow” track released the same year (without the group’s actual consent) under the name Younger Generation.

But whilst members of the Furious Five such as Rahiem and the late, great Cowboy rhymed about their microphone prowess and success with the ladies, Melle Mel clearly had bigger things on his mind, literally predicting the success he would go on to experience in the 80s with lines such as, “It was something in my heart from the very start, I could see myself at the top of the chart..” and “My name on the radio and in the magazines, My picture on a TV screen…”.

Ending that particular verse with a confident, “It ain’t like that yet, But, huh, you’ll see…”, Melle Mel was either daydreaming outloud or could clearly envision the potential his talent had to be heard around the world.

The BX emcee was already looking forward to the days when he’d no longer have to take the train, take the train.

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – “It’s Nasty” (Sugarhill Records / 1981)

Putting their own unique spin on Talking Heads spin-off group Tom Tom Club’s infectious early-80s new wave hit “Genius Of Love”, “It’s Nasty” once again found the Furious Five committing well-rehearsed crew routines to studio tape as well as demonstrating some slick dance moves in the accompanying low-budget video.

But what I’ll always remember about hearing this track for the first time as a young kid in the 80s was Melle Mel starting to rhyme in French after bragging about the water-bed seats in his limousine! I had no idea what he was talking about at the time but I knew it had to be some ol’ fly ish, otherwise why would he have gone to all the trouble of learning another language to say it?!

In my opinion, “Je m’apelle Melle Mel…”remains one of the simplest, yet most memorable lines in Hip-Hop history.

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – “The Message” (Sugarhill Records / 1982)

In the same year that Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock” took Hip-Hop into a futuristic musical universe, “The Message” kept the music well and truly rooted in the Rotten Apple gutters that it was born from with vivid images of ghetto life in New York City.

Although it’s been well-documented that not all members of GMF & The Furious Five were excited about recording this slow-paced slice of social commentary that appeared to be at odds with the party-rocking style rap was known for at the time, “The Message” deservedly became one of the most important records in Hip-Hop’s evolution.

With Melle Mel only sharing mic duties with Sugarhill-affiliate Duke Bootee, “The Message” showcased Hip-Hop’s potential to address social issues and makes listeners think at the same time as it was making their heads nod.

It could be argued that had the majority of the track’s rhymes about junkies in back-alleys, stick-up kids and unemployment been delivered by any voice other than Melle Mel’s dominant bark, “The Message” could have easily lost some of its initial sonic impact.

Although he was guilty of lifting lyrics from the previously released “Superappin” for his final verse on the track, Melle Mel’s performance on “The Message” remains one of the most captivating and influential displays of lyricism in popular music, highlighting the full effect of 80s Reaganomics on inner-city America.

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – “New York New York” (Sugarhill Records / 1983)

Another brilliant example of Melle Mel’s ability to place his poignant social commentary of the time within a wider political / economical framework, “New York New York” painted pictures of corporate skyscrapers and a robot-like workforce inadvertently reinforcing the status quo (“A castle in the sky, One mile high, Built to shelter the rich and greedy…”), whilst also graphically describing the plight of the “poor and the needy” on the streets below.

Amidst funky guitar licks and shimmering synths, Mel goes on to describe the limited options for young Black Americans of the 80s, seedy goings on in Times Square, and the tragedy of a young mother abandoning her baby in the city streets, setting the stage for the vivid lyrical portraits the Bronx emcee would find himself painting the following year.

Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five – “Beat Street Breakdown” (Atlantic / Sugarhill Records / 1984)

Arguably Melle Mel’s finest lyrical accomplishment, the lead single from cult Hip-Hop flick “Beat Street” went far beyond simply being a catchy ode to the film’s central graffiti-obsessed character Ramon.

Weaving elements of the “Beat Street” story-line into an epic seven-minute long display of verbal mastery, Mel compared the end-to-end burners seen on NYC subway cars of the time to the work of Michelangelo, tackled social inequality and predicted a future filled with economic struggle and religious conflict in a world populated by people who had become slaves to technology.

By the time this track reached its stirring climax, with Melle Mel shouting “And if you believe that you’re the future, Scream it out and say ‘Oh yeah!'”, it was impossible not to feel inspired.

Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five – “World War III” (Sugarhill Records / 1984)

As a child in the early-80s it felt like the threat of a nuclear apocalypse was everywhere. The Cold War between America and Russia was in full effect and with the UK being a close ally of the US it seemed natural at the time to assume England would be a target if disaster struck.

It seemed like every time my parents watched the early-evening news there was a story involving Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev and the possibility of either one of them pressing that little red button.

In school we were even shown an animated ‘educational’ programme that gave advice on what to do if a warning of an imminent nuclear attack was given and how to survive a blast. Ban The Bomb-style graffiti slogans could be seen around my local town centre. As a kid with a vivid imagination, I was shook.

So by the time Melle Mel dropped his own lyrical bomb, the nine-minute masterpiece that is “World War III”, my young mind was already convinced that the planet wasn’t going to make it past 1985.

Covering everything from the potential horrors of a nuclear holocaust and the futility of war, to the struggles faced by veteran soldiers trying to fit back into civilian life (with Vietnam having only ended less than a decade before), Mel painted disturbing end-of-the-world images on a grand scale throughout this track from 1984’s “Work Party” album.

Descriptions of post-nuclear streets filled with “mutant dogs and sabre-toothed rats”, bloody battlefields and communities forced to live underground to survive the fallout might sound far-fetched today, but thirty years ago the possibility of approaching a point in history where “the world is a ghetto, high and low” didn’t seem out of the question.

With “World War III”, Melle Mel brilliantly captured the fear, anxiety and paranoia that surrounded the nuclear debate of the time, turning the subject of potential global conflict into one of the most instense, emotionally-charged examples of lyrical skill ever to be committed to wax.

Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five – “The Truth” (Sugarhill Records / 1984)

Melle Mel’s contribution to this raw, block-party-style lyrical tour de force remains one of my favourite verses of all-time from any emcee.

Following spirited bragging and boasting from Scorpio, Cowboy and King Lou, the Grandmaster almost bursts through the speakers as he grabs the mic to close this track with an ego-driven verse of gargantuan proportions.

In less than sixty seconds, Mel crushes the competition in no uncertain terms, asserting his legendary status, demanding respect for helping to lay the foundations of Hip-Hop, whilst also aiming some less than subtle verbal shots at then new kids on the block Run-DMC, who’d made a huge impact on the rap world a year earlier with the release of “Sucker M.C.’s”.

With Melle Mel, as always, not ready to give up an inch of the ground he’d claimed at this point in his five years of already making records, he ended his verse on “The Truth” with some stern words for the upcoming kings from Queens (“You got a little bit of fame and wealth, Now you think you did it all by yourself, Huh, I am you, But you ain’t me, Because you didn’t start rockin’ ’til ’83, Melle Mel is the best that will ever exist, And if I gotta be a sucker, suck on this!”).

Chaka Khan ft. Grandmaster Melle Mel – “I Feel For You” (Warner Bros Records / 1984)

Before Alicia Keys sang about the streets of New York with Nas, Mary J. Blige breathed new life into an old-school soul classic with Method Man, or Jody Watley tackled the subject of friends with Rakim, iconic vocalist Chaka Khan enlisted the help of Melle Mel to add some Hip-Hop flavour to her remake of a track originally recorded by Prince for his self-titled 1979 album.

In hindsight, this was my first experience of dealing with the conflicting feelings shared by many true-school heads when seeing Hip-Hop being given exposure on a mainstream level.

On the one hand, to me, in 1984, Hip-Hop was still very much an underground secret shared by a select few that in a pre-internet age wasn’t easily accessible to the masses. Hip-Hop was still largely being viewed as a here-today-gone-tomorrow youth fad by the older generation. So, as as fan, you wanted the music to gain more exposure and be taken seriously so that everyone could appreciate and understand the brilliance of this innovative, creative culture.

But on the other hand, I remember not being totally sure how I felt about hearing my dad mimicking Melle Mel’s opening “Chak-Chak-Chaka Khan…” line from “I Feel For You” when the record would come on the radio station he listened to when we were out in the car. As far as I was concerned, my dad didn’t know who Melle Mel was, he wasn’t a fan of Hip-Hop, and therefore it didn’t feel quite right for him, or other casual listeners, to be reducing the talent of an artist such as Melle Mel to one catchy sing-a-long line with no real intention of investigating his catalogue of material.

That might all sound a little over-dramatic now, but that’s how seriously I took this Hip-Hop ish even back then.

Either way, “I Feel For You” was, and still is, a great record, which, thanks to that brief, to-the-point Melle Mel appearance, played its part in pushing the art of rap into places it might previously not have been welcome.

Afrika & The Zulu Kings – “Cars” (Posse Records / 1986)

I can remember hearing this track for the first time on British radio icon Mike Allen’s Hip-Hop show on London’s Capital station.

By the time 1986 had come around, I was already becoming a huge fan of then upcoming West Coast legend Ice-T thanks to tracks such as 1984’s “Reckless” from the “Breakin'” soundtrack and the vicious single “Ya Don’t Quit”.

So to hear the Iceberg rhyming alongside Melle Mel on this Afrika Islam-produced gem at a time before collaborations in Hip-Hop were commonplace was a big deal.

Even now, when I hear Mel’s third verse description of his custom ride with its plush interior, state-of-the-art phone, Uzi in the trunk and a button which, if pushed, might make the car “sprout wings”, I can still remember hearing this record and picturing the NY legend driving through the Rotten Apple in something that looked like a cross between K.I.T.T. out of “Knight Rider” and the Batmobile!

Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – “Cold In Effect” (Elektra Records / 1988)

Even in 1988, as a new generation of artists were changing the sonic landscape of Hip-Hop forever with a variety of revolutionary styles and sounds, Melle Mel still wasn’t giving up his throne for anyone.

In the same year that classic albums such as “It Takes A Nation Of Millions…”, “Follow The Leader” and “Strictly Business” dropped, the original Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five line-up reunited for one last album, the Elektra-released “On The Strength”.

During a period which saw Mel publicly battling new-school emcees of the time KRS-One and Queens legend Mikey D at the infamous Latin Quarter and New Music Seminar respectively, he still found time to give some spirited performances on what would be the Furious Five’s last group project.

Declaring his rap dominance on this track almost a full decade after he’d initially emerged on wax from his Bronx stomping grounds, Melle Mel wasn’t ready to let anyone retire him to the old-school history books, coming out swinging like a veteran boxer determined to prove he could still go a few rounds with the young bucks.

Or, in this case, just prove that he was still, and always will be, cold in effect, boyee!

Ryan Proctor

Old-School Hip-Hop Megamix 8 Download – Tizwarz The Real

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The Scotland-based vinyl junkie cuts and blends his way through a long, long list of 80s / 90s tracks from the likes of Whodini, Egyptian Lover, Ultramagnetic MC’s and many more – download here.

MA Rap Discography Vol. 1: 1980 – 2000 – Library Of Vinyl

Boston, Massachusetts native Pacey Foster has put together this quality clip featuring a near-endless stream of label shots from local Hip-Hop talent throughout the years such as Jonzun Crew, T.D.S. Mob, Scientifik etc.

Making The Beat – 45 King / Devastating Tito / Mikey D

Latest episode of the 45 King’s “Making The Beat” featuring Fearless Four member Devastating Tito and Queens, NY battle legend Mikey D trading rhymes and discussing some Hip-Hop history.

Part One

Part Two

WBLS In Control Reunion Show Radio Stream – Marley Marl / Kevy Kev / Clark Kent / Pete Rock

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Massive shout-out to Kool Scooby G for uploading the audio of this weekend’s historic In Control Reunion show on NYC’s WBLS featuring Marley Marl, Kevy Kev, Clark Kent and Pete Rock dropping golden-era classics like it was still 1989 – listen here.

Old To The New Q&A – JW Hype

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If you miss the days of high-top fades, James Brown loops, fat gold chains and matching sweatsuit / sneaker outfits, then Chicago’s JW Hype might just be the artist for you.

Mesmerised as a youngster in the 80s by the seemingly endless flow of new styles and sounds pouring out of the then equally young culture of Hip-Hop, JW spent just as much time studying beats and rhymes as he did studying his school-books, immersing himself, like so many others of his generation, in music from the likes of Big Daddy Kane, Eric B. & Rakim and EPMD.

Fast-forward some twenty-five years later and Hype has gained himself something of a cult online following with his own brand of back-to-the-future throwback rap. Drawing heavily on his golden-era influences, the Chi-town producer-on-the-mic’s two recent EPs, 2012’s “Return Of The Hype Era” and 2013’s “Back 2 Work”, found JW flawlessly recreating the funky, uptempo feel of the classic records so many of us were doing the Running-Man or the Kick-Step to in 1989.

Also available as a limited edition vinyl release on the Chopped Herring imprint, Hype’s two free downloadable EPs instantly take the listener back in time, with the rapper’s slick flow, quick wit and dope beats sounding authentic enough to make the uninitiated wonder if they’ve stumbled across a demo-tape from the First Priority vaults upon first listen.

Here, JW Hype discusses his reasons for wanting to pay homage to late-80s Hip-Hop, favourite rap videos and his thoughts on the music of today.

Get busy, y’all!

What are your earliest recollections of Hip-Hop?

“Man, I can take it way back (laughs). I’m in my mid-thirties so I remember hearing the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” on the radio when I was a kid. I used to break-dance when I was in second, third grade, plus my uncles were all deejays, so I was familiar with groups like Newcleus and music like that. But I would say the time when I started actually developing my own tastes was around 86 / 87. I would say that’s when I really fell in love with Hip-Hop through hearing people like Rakim. I had an uncle who was in high-school when I was still in elementary school, so I remember him bringing albums over like “Paid In Full” when that first came out, the first Public Enemy album, and other stuff like MC Lyte, Sweet Tee, Three Times Dope. So I would always be going through his tapes and taking them outside to listen to and that’s when I really started developing my own tastes in terms of what appealed to me musically.”

Was there a local scene to speak of at that time when you were growing-up in Chicago?

“I mean, I grew-up in the suburbs but we were frequently back and forth to the city. My uncle, he was from the city, so he was bringing this music to me. I mean, I was already familiar with it and new what it was, but he was bringing it to me en masse. I had a few friends around me at the time, all elementary kids, and we were all listening to rap. We were all deep into Hip-Hop (laughs). We would figure out different ways to get tapes and go to the record store together. So I wouldn’t say there was really a Hip-Hop scene around us at that time. I mean, growing-up in the 80s, it was really an eclectic time for music and you had pop, rock, whatever, and we were familiar with everything but we just really gravitated towards Hip-Hop.”

What was interesting in the early-t0-mid 80s was that a lot of the same musical technology of the time, such as synthesizers and drum machines, was being used across a variety of genres, from pop and soul to funk and Hip-Hop… 

“Oh yeah, definitely. Especially when you get to the more electronic sounding records, like the Eurythmics and groups like that, there was definitely a lot of the same sounds and technology being used in different genres that really crossed barriers in a way.”

So given that you were listening to music from different genres as a kid in the 80s, what was it about Hip-Hop that really drew you towards it over anything else?

“I think I always liked it on a sub-conscious level, but the record that really made me consciously say ‘This is for me’, I would have to say that was EPMD’s “You Gots To Chill”. The reason why was because I had that Zapp “More Bounce To The Ounce” record that they sampled on there. I loved that Zapp record. Then when I heard what they’d done with it on “You Gots To Chill”, I was like, ‘Okay, this is something I could do.’ I mean, I didn’t even really understand what they were doing in terms of sampling, but it made me realise that I didn’t need a band or anything like that to make music. But when I then realised I didn’t really know what I was doing in terms of sampling, I decided to start rapping (laughs). But yeah, EPMD’s “You Gots To Chill” was the record that really did it for me. I wanted to be a kid rapper back then (laughs).”

Did you ever pursue the idea of actually making records back then?

“Not at all. Like I said, I was living in the suburbs at that time, so making records or anything like that really wasn’t a reality for me. Rhyming was just something that I really loved to do. It was just a serious, intense passion.”

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So moving a little more up-to-date, when did you first get the idea to start putting together whole projects based around that late-80s throwback-rap sound?

“I was already making music and doing production for people on a local level. I was also doing little remix projects here and there. Plus, I did my own album in 2008, “Where Da’ Sidewalk Ends”, which was a local release. There were a couple of songs on that album which were like throwback songs, and they were the songs that everyone seemed to love. So I started thinking that, at some point, I wanted to put a whole project together in that same style. Time went on, but the thought never went away. So I finally did it and that was 2012’s “Return Of The Hype Era” EP. It was just something that I’d always wanted to do because I felt that era had never really been revisited like that. I think people have more tried to revisit the mid-80s, but hadn’t really done the same thing with that 1987 – 1990 period. I mean, for me, those years really laid the foundation for everything that came afterwards in the 90s. In my opinion, there were a lot of artists that released classic music back then that don’t necessarily get mentioned as often as they should when people look back at that time. I mean, you look at a Super Lover Cee & Casanova Rud for example, they put out a classic album. Paul C. was ahead of his time with the production and lyrically and flow-wise they were doing things on there that a lot of rappers didn’t really pick up on until later. It’s important that records and artists like that are remembered which I think sometimes get forgotten.”

That period was definitely a great time to be a fan of Hip-Hop because the music was making huge creative leaps and you were literally hearing things being done for the first time, whether that was musically in terms of sampling or lyrically with the subject matter emcees were bringing to the table and the different rhyme styles they were using to deliver it…

“It was just a really experimental time where it seemed like all the artists were just trying to top each other creatively. Everyone was doing their own thing but it was all building towards something. The artists of that time seemed to have a sense that they were building something, even if they weren’t exactly sure of what it was at that point. But that just added on to the greatness of it all, because it just felt like there was a greater cause behind the music other than it just being about making money and fame. People were doing it for the love of the art and to add-on to the culture. I mean, as cliched as that sounds today, that’s really what it was. Plus, something else that contributed to the overall creativity of that time was the fact that this was right  before the sampling laws started to come in. I mean, you’ll never hear another album like “It Takes A Nation Of Millions…” with so many different samples all crashing together in just one song because financially now it would be impossible to make an album like that with all of the clearances you’d need.”

On the subject of sampling, how did you go about choosing the samples you used on “Return Of The Hype Era” and its follow-up “Back 2 Work”? You used some very well-known samples on each release, so was it a case of you picking samples that were used on some of your favourite records from back-in-the-day and seeing if you could flip it a little differently or make a track that could stand next to those same golden-era records?

“That’s almost exactly how I did it. I mean, when you listen back to the music of that golden-era time period, a lot of the same samples were used over and over for different records. It seemed liked people really didn’t care about how many times a particular sample had been used, it was more just about, ‘Okay, I want to rap over this.’ So I worked on “Return Of The Hype Era” with that same mindset, as if I was actually making that release during that time period. So I didn’t go into it worrying about if the samples had been used before. I just used the music that I wanted to use. But moving forward, I think I will be using different samples that haven’t necessarily been heard before because I think I’ve made the point that I set out to make with “Return Of The Hype Era” and “Back To Work”.”

Have there been people who’ve been confused by your music when they’ve heard it?

“Yeah, a few people have definitely thought it was something that was old, and then they’ve gotten confused when they’ve heard some more up-to-date lyrical references and then they’ve realised it’s actually something new (laughs). But to me, that’s a massive compliment if someone does hear the music and thinks it did actually come from that late-80s era because that means that I did my job.”

Playing devils advocate for a moment, what would your response be to people who might criticise your music and say you’re holding on to an era in Hip-Hop that’s never coming back?

“I would point to someone like a Mayer Hawthorne. I mean, he’s pretty much doing the same thing that I’m doing with Hip-Hop but in an R&B format. When you listen to his music you can’t really tell whether it was recorded in the 60s or now. I think that artists like myself or a Mayer Hawthorne are needed in our respective genres because there are people out there who do want to hear that sound that I’m making. There are people out there who still love that sound and someone has to do it. But also, I’m not trying to bring that era back as such. I mean, I know that era has gone (laughs). But I also think a style of music can never really die. You can’t kill a particular style or sound. I mean, artists might stop making a particular style on a massive level, but that doesn’t mean that it no longer exists. When you look at rock, it’s changed on a huge level over the years, but that doesn’t mean that someone can’t go into an old studio like the Beatles would have used, pick up all of their old instruments and make an album today like they would have made back then.”

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Given the number of different golden-era influences that can be heard in your music, what prompted you to focus so heavily on the Juice Crew in particular for last year’s “My Dedication” single?

“I was obsessed with the Juice Crew when I was younger. They were really the first crew where everyone involved was just dope. I don’t think that had really happened in Hip-Hop before the Juice Crew where individually everyone was just great on their own. Not only that, but they were hugely influential at the time. I just felt that if I was going to do something to show respect to the Juice Crew, I really needed to accentuate it. I mean, me and my buddies, we were just obsessed with the Juice Crew. They really were like a phenomenon to us.”

The recent clip you dropped for “Get Hype” features footage from a long-list of classic Hip-Hop videos. Are there any videos in particular that stand out to you from that late-80s era?

“Let me see. I loved that Big Daddy Kane video for “Lean On Me”. I remember when that came out, everyone was just so hyped about that video and I really think they took the dancing to the next level with some of the moves they were doing. I loved MC Lyte’s “Paper Thin”, which was always just a classic video to me. Also, Gang Starr’s “Words I Manifest”, EPMD’s “You Gots To Chill” and I can’t forget Kane’s “Ain’t No Half-Steppin'”. I could really just watch those videos all day long (laughs).”

During that time-period there were so many different styles co-existing, from the gangsta rap of N.W.A. to the politics of a KRS-One and the humour of a Biz Markie, but it all fell under the banner of Hip-Hop and was given equal attention and exposure by the Hip-Hop media at the time. Do you think we’ll ever get back to a place where there’s such a balance in terms of the music that’s being presented to the public?

“I don’t think so. I think the music and the industry around it has just grown way too much for that to happen again. I mean, back then, Hip-Hop was a counter-culture artform and I think that was something that helped it because it was something that was out of the ordinary. I mean, you had your mainstream, but then you had your counter-cultures. Today, rap isn’t the counter-culture anymore, it is the mainstream culture now. There isn’t really that sense of community that you had back in the day. I mean, because Hip-Hop was on a much smaller scale back then and there was only a relatively small amount of people involved in it, it made it feel that much more special. But now? I’m really the wrong person to talk to about rap right now because it can get real dark (laughs). I mean, the last person I was really paying attention to was Joey Bada$$ and that whole movement, but they’ve even become very disappointing in terms of where I thought they were going to go when they first came out.”

With that in mind, do you think we’ll ever again see another universally acclaimed classic album that really captures the attention of everyone within the culture in the same way that a Run-DMC or a Public Enemy did back in the 80s?

“I mean, every generation has their classics but I don’t think the albums that are called classics today will still be considered classics in years to come or celebrated in the same way as the classics from our generation. I mean, in terms of what’s coming out now, I don’t see there being an album that’s considered a classic by everyone.”

So the fourteen-year-0ld kid listening to Drake’s “Nothing Was The Same” or a Rick Ross release today isn’t going to be celebrating those albums in twenty-five years time in the same way that thirty-something fans from our generation still cherish albums like De La Soul’s “3 Feet High And Rising” or Big Daddy Kane’s “Long Live The Kane”?

“It’s actually a very good question and, thinking about it now, one of the reasons why I don’t think that will happen is because I don’t think the respect level is there from the fans.  I don’t think today’s fans have the respect for the music that people are making today, regardless of whether they actually like it or not. I mean, you look at someone like a Drake, people have labelled his albums as being classics, but in ten or twenty years time, are his albums going to be mentioned or cherished like the classics from back in the day are by us? I really don’t think so. Which is partly down to the mentality of today’s so-called fan and also because the music that a lot of these artists are making doesn’t stand on anything. It doesn’t really have any substance to it. But when you look at the albums that we consider classics today from the 80s and 90s, even at the time, there was a respect level for the artists, the music and the culture around it that made us really consider what people like Rakim and Kane were doing  as something that was special and ground-breaking. So some twenty years later, we can have these anniversaries and still celebrate those albums because they’ve stayed with us for all this time. But twenty years from now, I don’t think a fourteen-year-old kid today is necessarily going to be celebrating a Drake album in the same way, because I don’t think the music has that type of staying power.”

jw hype pic 4

If, as you say, the level of respect that today’s younger fans have for current artists has declined compared to the past, do you think that also has something to do with the fact that, aside from the quality of the actual music being made, so many fans today are also aspiring artists themselves?  

“I think that’s definitely a part of it, but I also think that the audience that listens to the music today isn’t the same type of audience say, from our generation, who have the same level of expectation from artists today as we did back then. I think the audience that today’s mainstream rap attracts is the lowest common denominator of individual. Back in the day, the people who were attracted to Hip-Hop weren’t your typical crowd of kids. It was a smarter kid, a more eclectic kid, a kid who willing to step outside of the box. Whereas today, nothing about the music is really outside of the box. So there’s no respect level towards what these kids are a part of, because they’re actually not a part of anything in the same way that we felt that we were part of a culture. We felt like we were a part of Hip-Hop back then and it gave us a sense of identity, but the music today doesn’t give kids that same sense of identity like it did for us because a teenage kid today listening to Rick Ross, their mom is probably listening to the same thing when she turns the radio on in the car (laughs).”

Would you say the music today is almost just an accessory to an image-driven fantasy lifestyle that’s being pushed by many popular current artists?

“No-one’s really truly invested in these artists. There’s no bigger picture culturally around what they’re doing. The music that’s considered popular now, so much of it isn’t even really attached to the culture of Hip-Hop. I mean, when I hear some of the music today, I don’t think deejay, I don’t think break-dancers, I don’t think the Bronx. It just doesn’t embody that spirit of Hip-Hop, and if I can’t feel that spirit of the culture in the music then to me it’s just rap music. I mean, I wonder sometimes today if the people listening to this stuff are actually music fans. I think there’s a small number of people out there who’re genuinely into the music and everyone else is just here for the show. They want to know who’s beefin’ with who and all of that kinda stuff. I don’t think they’re even really listening to the music they’re saying they’re fans of.”

So what’s next for JW Hype?

“My goal is really just to continue putting out projects. I mean, I’m not looking to make any money off the music I’ve been putting out because I couldn’t possibly clear all of the samples. So I’m just putting it out for free and hopefully it’ll grow to a point where I’m able to do shows. What I’d also like to do is involve some of the older artists from that golden-era period and get them on-board as well. I just really want to keep making music and having fun. I haven’t decided if the music I make moving forward is still going to be under the same name, or if I’m just going to keep the JW Hype brand for that old-school flavoured material and figure out a way to perhaps put out some other material. But to be honest, I think I’ve only really just scratched the surface with the music I’ve put out recently and I think there’s still a lot more people out there who would appreciate what I’m doing if they heard it. It’s just a case of getting more blogs and websites on-board with what I’m doing to really be able to penetrate the audience that I’m trying to reach. So I definitely think there’s still a lot more work to be done.”

Ryan Proctor

Follow JW Hype on Twitter – @JW_Hype

JW Hype – “Get Busy” (JWHype.BandCamp.Com / 2014)

But It Sure Is Funky… – Kid ‘N Play

I don’t care how hardcore you think you are, if you were listening to Hip-Hop in the 80s you probably had some Kid ‘N Play in your headphones and no doubt tried to replicate their infamous kick-step dance routine at some point as well.

This week the duo made a rare live appearance together on “The Arsenio Hall Show” to perform “Ain’t Gonna Hurt Nobody” off 1991’s “Face The Nation” album and the 1988 single “Rollin’ With Kid ‘N Play”.