Tag Archives: 80s Hip-Hop

Let The Funk Be Your Guiding Light – A Tribute To Shock G

Attempting to write about an artist who has passed away can feel like an overwhelming task. It feels that way now as I sit here looking at my laptop screen. Where do you start? How can you adequately condense a life and career into paragraphs? How can you fully convey what that person meant to you? What they meant to others? The truth is that you can’t. Not completely. All you can do is hope your admiration and appreciation comes through in the words you decide to use. So I’ll jump right in and try to start flowin’ on the D-Line.

Gregory ‘Shock G’ Jacobs was special. That much was evident the first time any of us heard Digital Underground, which for me, like many, was when the group dropped their “Doowutchyalike” single on Tommy Boy Records in 1989. But at that point I didn’t know exactly how special Shock G was. I didn’t know he was playing multiple roles within the group under different aliases. But it was clear that Shock G was Digital Underground’s leader. Their guide. A keeper of the same funk that had been beamed down to our planet years before via George Clinton’s supergroovalistic Mothership.

Hearing Digital Underground’s “Doowutchyalike” for the first time on the radio here in the UK was as much a memorable moment for me as when I heard Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message”, Ultramagnetic MC’s’ “Ego Trippin” or Public Enemy’s “Rebel Without A Pause”. It was so unique. The sounds. The rhymes. The voices. The humour. The creativity. The sheer brilliance. That moment happened on Jeff Young’s Friday night Radio 1 Big Beat show. If my memory is correct I believe I then heard it again the following evening on Tim Westwood’s Capital Rap Show (with Tim taking full advantage of the opportunity provided by Digital Underground for deejays to announce their “station identification” about three-and-a-half minutes into the track).

Having been introduced to Hip-Hop in the early-80s, I, like many other heads, was used to constantly hearing the new new throughout that decade. Lyrical styles and production techniques had been consistently changing and evolving. The speed at which the music had been developing was breathtaking, exciting and to some degree, by 1989, expected. Yet with all that being said, hearing Digital Underground for the first time felt like a different type of new. It was hard to pin down. “Doowutchyalike” tumbled out of my speakers on that particular Friday night with gleeful abandon, hinting at what a Kool Herc jam may have sounded like had he settled in the Bay Area rather than the Bronx, or what might have happened if Prince had been a b-boy. And Shock G was in the middle of it all, sounding like he was having one huge party, but making sure we all knew that everyone was invited.

I distinctly remember thinking how free and uninhibited Shock sounded on “Doowutchyalike”. He was clearly of Hip-Hop, but at the same time seemed to be more than Hip-Hop. Larger than life but with a down-to-earth coolness suggesting that if you met him you could talkhowyalike and he would kick it with you for five minutes. I was an instant fan and needed to own that record.

Shortly after hearing “Doowutchyalike” on the radio I found the 12″ single in my local music shop, Kriminal Records. I walked home inspecting the brilliant cover art by Rackadelic (another Shock G alias, unbeknownst to me at the time). That artwork further fuelled my intrigue around the group. I pulled the record from the sleeve, placed it carefully on my turntable (no fingerprints on the vinyl!), gently lowered the needle and proceeded to have my mind blown all over again for eight minutes and fifty-four seconds. Then I heard “Hip Hop Doll”. Damn! Still to this day one of the flyest tracks ever recorded. Some schmoove Oakland playa s**t mixed with cartoonish exaggeration and a dirty groove. The game is meant to be sold not told, but Shock dropped so many slick one-liners throughout that song that certain lyrics became catchphrases amongst my circle of friends.

Then came “The Humpty Dance” single. A huge bass-heavy chunk of slapstick Hip-Hop comedy that if attempted by a lesser artist would have seemed ridiculous, but in the hands of Shock G just seemed right. In hindsight, that was a brave track to release given that it could have led to people simply writing Digital Underground off as a novelty act. Some probably did. But most of us were too busy laughing at punchlines about getting busy in Burger King bathrooms, debating whether the person behind the fake nose and glasses was actually Shock G, and marvelling at Humpty’s fashion sense in the video. The record further connected Shock and DU to the P-Funk legacy, with George Clinton and Bootsy Collins often introducing different characters in their music. It also made it very clear that Shock G wasn’t interested in playing it safe or adhering to any supposed Hip-Hop rules. Here was a group yet to drop an album, attempting to establish itself in a rap world dominated at the time by the likes of N.W.A. and Public Enemy. But there was Shock G as bold as could be asking girls if they were ticklish whilst wearing a cheap party disguise. Individuality, it seemed, was everything to Shock, Money B, DJ Fuze and the rest of the DU collective. I wanted more.

Around this time I remember a good friend of mine, Cory, describing Digital Underground as being like a West Coast version of De La Soul. In 1989, Plugs One, Two and Three had released “3 Feet High And Rising”, an album rooted in the idea of simply being yourself. It was okay to be different. Not being obviously cool could also be cool. Messages which very clearly came through on those early Digital Underground singles. So I could see why the De La comparison was being made, but I didn’t agree with it completely. To me, De La Soul came across as a group of close friends who were letting listeners in on the conversations and jokes they would have shared whilst chillin’ at each other’s houses. Digital Underground on the other hand, thanks largely to Shock G’s imaginative vision, appeared to be on the verge of letting listeners into a kaleidoscope world of outlandish personalities and psychedelic experiences, blurring the line between fantasy and reality. Speaking of which, where’s the Packet Man?

1990’s “Sex Packets” was (and still is) a towering work of mischievous ingenuity. Even if that had been the only album Digital Underground had ever released, Shock G’s name would still deserve to be in the Hip-Hop history books. Word to MC Blowfish! The hallucinogenic drug concept was masterfully executed, sparking endless ‘Can you really buy those?’ conversations. The album also fully showcased Shock’s talents, including his inspired used of live instrumentation and ability to pick just the right sample, whether familiar or obscure. (On a side note, “Freaks Of The Industry” contains some of the greatest chemistry you’re ever likely to hear from two emcees, with the back-and-forth between Shock G and Money B sounding totally fluid and effortless).

I was fortunate enough to interview Shock G back in 2004 when he dropped his excellent solo album “Fear Of A Mixed Planet”. I was pleased to have the opportunity to tell him how much his music meant to me. We talked about “Sex Packets” at length. Shock told me how, prior to the album release, the group distributed leaflets around the Bay Area, mainly leaving them on public transport and in medical centres. These leaflets presented info about the fictional sex packets as if they were a real drug and were made to look official. Which obviously caused some confusion. I thought that was hilarious and also a testament to Shock’s determination to push his idea as far as he could. I wondered then, and still wonder now, how many people read one of those leaflets whilst sat in a waiting room and what questions may have been asked once those same people walked into the privacy of a doctor’s office for their appointment?! (During that same conversation Shock spontaneously played the piano parts from “Doowutchyalike” over the phone to me, which was definitely ‘a moment’).

1991’s “Sons Of The P” is my favourite Digital Underground album. It took me somewhere else. It still does. It was the album I reached for on Friday morning after waking up and learning of Shock G’s passing. The playfulness and humour of both “Sex Packets” and the subsequent “This Is An E.P. Release” were still to be found in abundance, but for me “Sons Of The P” is the DU album that seemed to connect to something deeper with the music working on numerous levels. It was both the future and the past. Just listen to the title track. That’s the sound of spirits moving.

The Digital Underground house party was still very much in full swing on “Sons Of The P”, but it was clear that whilst Humpty Hump was busy chasing girls around the garden as a deejay played the Commodores’ “Brick House”, Shock G could be found hanging out in a backroom surrounded by Black Panther Party memorabilia discussing social issues with community activists and academics (see “Heartbeat Props”).

“Sons Of The P” was also the album that saw the circle becoming complete, with George Clinton himself appearing on the record. Can you imagine how Shock G must have felt seeing his hero and inspiration Dr. Funkenstein shining a flashlight in his direction to give his work an atomic seal of approval? Amazing.

Plus, I guarantee that if you mentioned “Kiss You Back” to my mother right now you would see an old lady smile. She used to hum the hell out of that song.

October 1993. I had started my first year as a student at Luton University and had been there for a week or so. Digital Underground had just dropped their third album “The Body-Hat Syndrome” which I had purchased on my way to class one day from the great (but sadly now long gone) Soul Sense Records. I’d only heard “The Return Of The Crazy One” prior to the album being released, but that didn’t matter. I was a dedicated Digital Underground follower. I would have bought the album on sight without hearing anything from it. I get to the Uni building on Park Street and make my way to the lecture theatre. It’s locked. I’m early. So I make my way back to the reception area and take a seat. In walks Vanessa. She’s on my course but we haven’t really spoken yet. A naturally attractive girl who seemed to always be wearing a Nirvana or Guns N’ Roses t-shirt under her denim jacket. She smiles politely as she walks past. I tell her the lecture theatre is locked. So she sits down. The awkward small talk begins. After a couple of minutes Vanessa notices my Soul Sense bag. She asks what I have in there. The new album from Digital Underground I tell her. She isn’t familiar with the group. I babble something about her possibly knowing “The Humpty Dance”, which just further confuses her. She asks to see the CD. I pass it across. She looks at the cover, apparently trying to make sense of what she’s seeing. Then she looks up and asks “What’s a body-hat?!”

Vanessa turns the CD over. At this point I hadn’t even fully looked at the track-listing myself having only just got the album. An expression makes its way across her face which to a passer-by would have suggested she’d just become aware of an aroma that wasn’t particularly sweet. She starts reading out a few of the track titles. “The Humpty Dance Awards”. “Jerkit Circus”. “Do Ya Like It Dirty?”. Vanessa passes me back the CD. “They sound a bit too weird and freaky for me” she says. I laugh and say no more. Even though Vanessa had pretty much just summed up Digital Underground in a nutshell. I’m sure Shock G would have laughed to.

To some, Shock G will always be known primarily as the person who helped introduce both 2Pac and Humpty Hump to the world. But to many of us he was so much more. Hearing and reading interviews with Shock, he made music sound like less of an artistic endeavour and more like an essential process of nature that simply had to happen.

Some people create who they are. Shock G already was what he created.

I can imagine a bleary-eyed Shock waking up at 2am and writing an entire song at his piano after having had a dream involving him, Jimi Hendrix and Rick James racing DFLO shuttles around the rings of Saturn with the cast of “The Mack” cheering them on from the sidelines.

Behind the dark sunglasses he was often seen wearing, I like to think that Gregory Jacobs saw vibrant colours, joyous scenes and a better world for all of us as one nation under a groove.

There is so much more that can (and should) be said about what Shock G achieved both inside and outside of Digital Underground, from his 80s debut to the present day. But as a fan, your relationship with a musician really comes down to one straight-forward question – how did that artist make you feel?

Whenever I’ve needed it, the music Shock G blessed us with has always made me feel good and I will forever be grateful for that.

Shock G was the wide-eyed student who grew-up to become the eccentric teacher.

Shock G was a loyal son of the P who became the proud father of his own incredible musical world.

Shock G was a prankster, a philosopher and a genius.

Shock G was, of course, the one who put the satin on your panties.

Love and condolences to his family and friends.

May Gregory ‘Shock G’ Jacobs rest in peace surrounded by the warm glow of the funk.

Ryan Proctor

Foundation Vol. One Mix Stream – DJ MK

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Veteran London-based mix-king DJ MK takes it back to the old-school here, expertly cutting and blending his way through sixty minutes of vintage breaks and beats.

Rest In Peace – DJ Ready Red

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RIP DJ Ready Red of Geto Boys fame who passed away yesterday from a suspected heart attack – this man had a huge influence on the early sound of Houston’s Rap-A-Lot Records and contributed to some truly classic records.

RIP Lovebug Starski – 16.05.60 – 08.02.18

Footage of the late Hip-Hop pioneer performing his 1986 single “Amityville (The House On The Hill)” on the UK TV show “Solid Soul”.

Memories Of Paul C McKasty…Revisited Documentary – Pritt Kalsi

UK-based Hip-Hop aficionado Pritt Kalsi has just dropped a revised version of his lengthy documentary looking at the life and work of legendary producer Paul C., who worked with the likes of Eric B & Rakim and Ultramagnetic MC’s before his untimely death in 1989.

 

Words From Pritt Kalsi:

Some few years ago I made a film about the legendary Queens Producer and Engineer Paul C McKasty. Although his life was cut short his hands and ears worked on some of the most revered hip hop albums of all time.

He also mentored many including Organized Konfusion and most notably Large Professor. When I made the original film I put it out via my site to get the attention of some people who originally where very difficult to get hold of. Partly to schedule and also that Paul passing has left deep holes in many people’s lives. I’m an outsider making a film about someone that passed on long before his time.

After seeing my film and how I told the story many came forward to contribute. In 2015 I met up with Large Professor in the UK and filmed a piece towards the project. DJ Cool V shot a piece himself and sent it to me, as did Phase from the group Phase and Rhythm not forgetting K Cut from Main Source who I was able to shoot whilst on the Main Source Tour.

I had always intended to revise the film but as I was working on my new film my computer had no space to complete the film. I since purchased another mac to handle other projects, since I never went back to NYC this year I took the time off to work on my projects and deliver a film about a man who the world can benefit from knowing about his contribution to this wonderful world of music.

I would also like to thank Reno from the Paul C Movie project that offered to clean up the audio for me and also allowing me to use some of the pics from there Instagram page.

Note this is a very low budget production that came about as I had accumulated so much footage over the years whilst working on my projects that I took to putting a film together.

Here is the revised version of the film, Memories of Paul C McKasty..Revisited. I would like to thank all those that supported the film – Jim Slice for allowing me to use the footage from his film Skull Snaps. Marc Davis, Lindley Farley and Casanova Rud, CJ Moore and Large Professor for their constant support.

Oldskool Electro Classics Mix Stream – Mark T

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UK deejay Mark T takes it back to the 80s with this seamless mix of lino-friendly classics from the likes of Egyptian Lover, Newcleus, Captain Rock and more.

The Early Sessions EP Sampler – Tuff Crew

New limited edition Chopped Herring release featuring a selection of vintage mid-80s cuts from Philly’s legendary Tuff Crew.

NG83: When We Were B Boys Trailer – NG83 Productions

New 2016 trailer for the documentary “NG83: When We Were B Boys” which captures the stories of various figures from the Nottingham, England Hip-Hop scene of the 1980s.

The Final Unreleased EP Vol. 2 Sampler – Godfather Don

UK imprint Chopped Herring unearth more late-80s / early-90s gems from NY underground icon Godfather Don.

 

New Joint – D-Stroy / Q-Unique

D-Stroy & Q-Unique – “Born In ’87 (Criminal Minded BDP Tribute)” (@iDstroy / @Q-Unique17 / 2016)

The two veteran NY emcees take a walk down memory land and pay homage to BDP’s classic 1987 debut album “Criminal Minded”.

The Boss – A Tribute To Mike Allen

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I was saddened to hear about the passing yesterday of UK radio legend Mike Allen, whom many were aware had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease when it became public knowledge in 2012.

If you know your UK Hip-Hop history then you will already understand why this man and his 80s shows on London’s Capital Radio were so important to so many, with Allen undoubtedly influencing subsequent British radio giants such as Dave Pearce and Tim Westwood.

I was introduced to Mike Allen (aka The Boss) in the mid-80s by a childhood friend of mine, Johann, who used to ‘borrow’ his older brother’s tapes of the legendary radio show and bring them into school. I’d discovered Hip-Hop some years earlier as a wide-eyed seven-year-old, hearing Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message” in 1982, and had largely fed my Hip-Hop appetite with the early Streetsounds “Electro” compilations, but checking out Mike Allen opened up my young ears to a whole new world of music.

Growing-up in Milton Keynes, some fifty miles north of London, I had neither the finances or the freedom at the time as a Hip-Hop hungry pre-teen to make the journey into the Big Smoke to visit places like Soho’s infamous Groove Records. I was also too far away from the capital city to be able to tune into the London-based pirate stations of the time that were playing Hip-Hop. But thanks to Mike and his impeccable musical tastes, I could keep up-to-date with the latest fresh sounds simply by plugging some headphones into my dad’s stereo-system, engaging in some creative radio aerial positioning, and pressing play-
and-record on a blank cassette.

I can vividly recall hearing so many brilliant records for the first time on Mike Allen’s Friday / Saturday night shows, including personal favourites such as MC Chill’s “Bust This Rhyme”, Ice-T’s “Dog’N The Wax” and Schoolly D’s “Saturday Night”. I also remember the excitement of playing a newly recorded Mike Allen tape throughout the weekend, waiting to return to school on a Monday to either discuss the latest releases with friends or boast about what you’d heard if they hadn’t managed to catch the show for any reason.

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Aside from the actual music, part of the show’s brilliance was down to Mike himself, whose warm, traditionally authoritative style of radio-hosting endeared him to listeners and guest artists alike.

Allen might have looked and sounded like your school geography teacher, but his interest in Hip-Hop and passion for the music he was playing could clearly be heard across the airwaves. At times, Mike sounded just as excited to be introducing his loyal Allen’s Army to a new record as we were to be hearing it.

80s favourite DJ Cheese of Profile Records / “Coast To Coast” fame recalled his memories of appearing on Capital Radio with Mike during an interview I did with him in 2013:

“When we were on Mike Allen’s show that was the first time someone had really given me full access to do what I wanted to do at a radio station. That was huge to me back then. Plus, it was big to me to meet Mike Allen. I mean, at the time I didn’t realise exactly how big he was in the UK until after we’d left the station and people were telling me more about him and what he was doing at the time with his radio show. But even before that, I was still excited to meet Mike because that was the first time I’d ever deejay-ed live on a radio station. So I was excited about being given that opportunity. Then when we were on air and I started to see the phonelines lighting-up and saw the amount of people that were calling in, that was another mind-blowing experience for me. Those moments on Mike Allen’s show were some of my best moments in Hip-Hop.”

Mike Allen wasn’t the first person to bring Hip-Hop to the UK. Neither was he the first person to play Hip-Hop on British radio. But what Mike Allen did do was provide a then underground musical phenomenon with a mainstream radio platform, helping Hip-Hop to spread further and faster across the country than it might have done without those important hours of exposure on London weekend radio.

I’m sure he didn’t know it at the time, but whilst Mike was tucked away in a Capital Radio studio playing the latest Just-Ice record, he was also leaving a lasting impact on a generation of listeners, helping to shape our personal Hip- Hop histories, introducing us to artists that would influence our lives and creating his own legacy that would be remembered and treasured by many years later.

Personally, I will forever be grateful for the part Mike Allen played in those early days of my own Hip-Hop journey, entertaining and educating me in equal measures.

Mr. Allen, I salute you – may you rest in peace.

Ryan Proctor

1986 Mike Allen interview with DJ Cheese & Word Of Mouth.

Forever Mackin: The Beastie Boys Mixes Volume 4 EP Stream – Dead Ott

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With today being the third anniversary of Adam ‘MCA’ Yauch’s tragic death, Oxford’s  Dead Ott drops the final part of his Beastie Boys remix series, with the likes of “Shake Your Rump” and “Super Disco Breakin'” being respectfully reinterpreted by the UK producer.

Hyped Up By Hurb… Mix Stream – Kil

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Philly-raised mixtape maestro Kil pays homage to the 80s production of the mighty Hurby “Luv Bug” Azor with this collection of throwback cuts from Salt ‘N’ Pepa, Dana Dane, Kid ‘N’ Play and more.

The Ed Lover Show – MC Serch

3rd Bass’s MC Serch reminisces with Ed Lover on the group’s late-80s beef with MC Hammer.

Funkbox Reload: March Edition Stream – Jorun Bombay & Flexxman

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Canada’s Jorun Bombay is joined by co-host Flexxman for the latest edition of their “Funkbox Reload” show, which this time around features 80s classics from the likes of Captain Rock, Mantronix and LL Cool J being sliced-and-diced on the turntables – f-f-f-fresh!

B Girls Will B Girls Mix Stream – DJ Kil

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Philadelphia’s DJ Kil pays tribute to the ladies of Hip-Hop with this latest mix featuring golden-era favourites from Roxanne Shante, Finesse & Synquis, Antoinette and more.

New Joint – Ice-T / DuckAlert

Ice-T – “Colors – DuckAlert Def Mix” (@DuckAlertUK / 2014)

This latest DuckAlert remix finds the UK producer giving the Iceberg’s gang-related 1988 classic an interesting sonic twist.

Electro Acupuncture Mix Stream – DJ Sheep

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Australia’s DJ Sheep has made his debut 1998 mixtape available for download featuring a blistering selection of old-school electro-flavoured tracks from the likes of Egyptian Lover, Unknown DJ and Shannon – plus, any mix that features Break Machine’s 1983 classic “Street Dance” definitely gets props over here.

 

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

Versus The Continental MC’s Album Stream – Height With Friends

continental mcs cover

The flyer cover artwork above tells you everything that needs to be known about this latest release from Baltimore-based emcee Height before you’ve even heard it.

“Versus The Continental MC’s” is the third project in Height’s old-school-influenced trilogy which has already paid homage to 70s Bronx block parties (“Versus Dynamic Sounds” and early-80s West Coast electro (“Versus Electric Rockers”).

This latest effort makes the listener feel as if they’ve stumbled across an early-80s New York mixtape in the basement of a backstreet Manhattan record store which hasn’t been played for years.

Consisting of authentic synth-driven back-to-the-future flavour (“Hi Voltage”), Sugarhill Records / Spoonie Gee-style story-telling (“Fantasy Rhyme”) and spontaneous live jam routines (“Star Dust Roller Rink ’83”), “Versus The Continental MC’s” is a brilliantly executed tribute to an era in Hip-Hop that was as influential as it was innovative.