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Kurtis Blow Presents: The History Of Rap, Vol. 3: The Golden Age

March 19th, 2015

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Kurtis Blow Presents: The History Of Rap, Vol. 3:

The Golden Age

The History Of Rap series now moves along to the years 1984 to 1989. During this time hip-hop’s sphere of influence expanded greatly. And while Kurtis Blow and Grand Master Flash sold millions of records, Run DMC broke the mold completely.

With the success of their Raising Hell album, Run DMC became the first rap act to cross over into the pop market. The impact of Joseph Simmons (Run), Darryl McDaniels (DMC), and Jason Misell (Jam Master Jay) was obvious: hip-hop now had the potential to consistently sell platinum records. Not since Grand Master Flash’s “The Message” in 1982 had there been a rap record of such significance.

Run DMC’s success with “Walk This Way,” a #4 hit on Billboard’s pop chart, showed how they could merge genres. And on “Rock Box,” my favorite song on their self-titled debut album, they achieved a special fusion of rock ‘n’ roll and rap that made it possible for them to be played on these two diverse radio formats across the country.

During these years hip-hop exploded, its music, graffiti, and clothing turning up in countries as distant and diverse as Mexico, Germany, Japan, and even many parts of Africa. Everyone involved worked at maintaining hip-hop’s image as a positive form of entertainment.

By the mid-’80s a new wave of rap artists had surged out of the depths of the ghetto. With them came a new lyrical content and delivery. Whodini (Jalil Hutchins, John “Ecstasy” Fletcher, and Drew “Grandmaster Dee” Carter) captured the R&B flavor with songs like “Friends” and “Five Minutes Of Funk.” Producer Larry Smith was the mastermind behind the grooves backing rappers Jalil and Ecstasy. Smith also gave Run DMC their rock ‘n’ roll flavor on their first two albums and cowrote “The Breaks” and “Christmas Rappin'” with Russell and me. We later put the Orange Krush Band together.

Disco 3 were a trio of overweight young rappers from Brooklyn. Their manager, Charles Stettler, held a talent contest at Radio City Music Hall, where the group won first-place: a recording contract with Sutra Records.

The release of their first song didn’t do that well, so Charlie asked me to produce their next song. I came up with the concept of “Fat Boys.” It was a natural. The song had a strong bass line that exemplified the “Fat Boy sound.” It also FEATUREd the introduction of the Human Beat Box, Darren “Buff” Robinson, and rappers Mark ” Prince Markie Dee” Morales and Damon “Kool Rock-ski” Wimbley. I introduced the beat box as a musical instrument in this song, and in 1984 it became another national hip-hop craze.

After the success of “Fat Boys,” Sutra Records asked me to produce the group’s self-titled first album. Accompanied by Larry Smith on bass, Davy DMX (my DJ) on guitar, and Donald Blackman on cocktail-piano solo, we created “Jail House Rap.” The lyrics discuss the fat MCs’ compulsion to overeat and exemplify the comic appeal that paved the way for the their film career. I produced their first two albums, and we had a good run, going gold back-to-back. There is also another beat-box solo by Buff on “Jail House Rap.” I must say we got the jump on beat-box master Doug E. Fresh.

UTFO was a group that scored big during this time with “Roxanne, Roxanne.” The song tells the rapper’s story of trying to get a date with this female beauty. Roxanne Shanté came back with a reply (“Roxanne’s Revenge”), and the saga continued. We can’t forget the Juice Crew, with Roxanne Shanté, M.C. Shan, Biz Markie, and Big Daddy Kane. Roxanne Shanté started it all off with Roxanne mania.

M.C. Shan kept it going with “The Bridge,” which refers to New York’s Queensboro Bridge. A big controversy developed as Shan claimed in a lyric that hip-hop started in Queens.

Hip-hop’s political edge emerged with the debuts of Public Enemy and KRS-One. Public Enemy’s Chuck D, who, like KRS-One, is now a public speaker on political issues, was and still is a most powerful lyricist — check out “Rebel Without A Pause,” “Don’t Believe The Hype,” “Fight The Power,” “Welcome To The Terrordome,” “911 Is A Joke,” “Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos,” etc. Public Enemy’s political awareness made them America’s most feared yet respected rap group of the ’80s.

Boogie Down Productions was a hip-hop group that first blasted onto the scene with pseudogangsta lyrics. The words of KRS-One — the group’s only rapper until Ms. Melodie and D-Nice joined — were rough, rugged, and raw, as can be heard on “Criminal Minded.” KRS-One went on to become one of hip-hop’s most respected lyricists. I loved the battles he had with M.C. Shan and Roxanne Shanté.

But the hard-core wasn’t always political. Check out Big Daddy Kane, the highly respected lyricist of the Juice Crew. His boastful lyrics are in full force in “Raw,” an up-tempo track with slammin’ rhythms. Definitely a trend-setting song.

Lightening things up some was Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock — the Harlem-based duo of Rob Ginyard and DJ Rodney “Skip” Bryce — who scored big in the spring of ’88 with the upbeat “It Takes Two.” The James Brown/Lynn Collins track carries the groove, exemplifying the sample-loop revolution. This song was a gargantuan international dance hit for Rob and Rodney.

Right about that time, Biz Markie hit hard with “Vapors,” explaining how people’s attitudes about you change when you start making money. How true! His follow-up, “Just A Friend,” FEATUREs the Biz’s singing debut. (No comment.)

It is very difficult to explain the second half of the ’80s without discussing how hard-core rap developed into gangsta rap. Gangsta rap was influenced by the images of Run DMC and LL Cool J. Before Run DMC, rap was mostly fun — with the exception of Grand Master Flash’s “The Message” and Kurtis Blow’s “8 Million Stories.” But there came a point when rappers felt compelled to make their image more reflective of the streets from which they came. After Run DMC and LL Cool J, the hard-core trend was set.

While aspiring rappers up and down the West Coast were blowing up back in the day, it was in L.A. in 1981 that the West Coast rap story officially began. Father-and-son team Duffy and Jerry Hooks deserve a special mention with the release of the West Coast’s first rap track, “Gigolo Rapp.”

N.W.A. (meaning “Niggas With Attitude”) FEATUREd Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, MC Ren, and Yella, five rappers from South Central Los Angeles who exploded onto the rap scene with songs like “Gangsta Gangsta.” Their lyrics represented street life like those of no other rapper or rap group before them and never failed to shock censorship supporters. The West Coast rap scene was born with the success of N.W.A., along with that of The Egyptian Lover, L.A. Dream Team, and Ice-T.

In 1981 I judged a rap contest at the Carolina West, a nightclub in South Central L.A. Ice T was a contestant, and he won with his unique style, incorporating profanity and ghetto street lyrics that rocked the house. Astonished at the crowd response, I gave Ice-T a 10, thus inspiring him to continue.

The originators of rap had a code of ethics: never curse and always have fun while projecting a positive image. All that has changed now. The evolution of rap over its 25-year history hasn’t occured without extreme changes. However, record sales have increased tremendously. According to RIAA’s 1996 statistics, rap music now accounts for about a billion dollors of the record industry’s annual revenue. Simply put, rap is here to stay. But at what price?

N.W.A. broke up, with Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, and Eazy-E. all successfully going solo. Then along came Hammer and Snoop Doggy Dogg, who scored with huge, multiplatinum albums. In the early ’90s the West Coast became the dominant force in the rap world. Not since hip-hop’s birth in NYC has there been another city in the world producing more rap hits. The West Coast explosion was a barrage of multiplatinum artists with gangsta lyrics, music, style, and mentality. This gangsta mentality had a crushing effect on our youth and the rest of society. Not only was break dancing, scratching, and artistic graffiti lost in rap’s transition from East to West, but so was its code of ethics. Never have there been so many rap artists arrested or jailed for assault, rape, murder, and other violent crimes.

And what about the people? The fans? Throughout rap’s history, rappers have become heroes and icons of the people — the voice from the street, setting trends within the culture. For example, Run DMC had thousands of kids wearing Adidas and holding them high in the air at the group’s Fresh Fest tour in 1985; LL Cool J had performed for about 17,000 screaming women in a sold-out 20,000-seater in L.A. in 1988.

Gangster rappers must realize that they are heroes — idols in the community — and they are showing the way for our youth. There is a great need for today’s gangsta rappers to bring back the code of ethics to hip-hop.

Here were some of the MCs, groups, and DJs who contributed to the modern development of rap, and they should not go unrecognized.

Chart #1: The Early to Mid-’70s

In the beginning there was rhythm…until something else emerged from New York City’s South Bronx: a rougher, rowdier spin on funk innovators like James Brown, George Clinton, Marvin Gaye, and Sly Stone. Rap. Based on the fundamentals of “beats” (copped off other people’s records) and “breaks” (assisted by a turntable and some discreet crossfading), the MCs’ contrasting delivery styles soon split along two camps: Disco and B-Boys.

Disco: Appealed more to black disco crowd and stressed crowd response over actual rhyming.

Pete DJ Jones — New York’s #1 DJ, c. early ’70s. His mixing style and sound system kept ’em moving with MCs the Disco King and JT Hollywood.

DJ Hollywood — c. 1974. One of the genre’s early top New York DJs; assisted by DJ Junebug, who was murdered in the early ’80s. Key record: “Hollywood’s World.”

Eddie Cheeba — New York’s #1 DJ, c. 1975-77, earning $2,000 a night.

“Love Bug” Starski — Goes back to the days of Pete DJ Jones. His career peaked in the mid to late ’70s. Kurtis Blow: “The only guy I ever saw who could play to both crowds. Nobody could mess with ‘Love Bug’!” Key record: “Gigolette.”

Early Originators:
Grandmaster Flowers (supported James Brown at Yankee Stadium).
All came in Jones’ wake as disco DJs/MCs

Kurtis Blow — né Walker; Kool DJ Kurt, c. 1976.
Felt drawn to both camps for different reasons: “When I saw Pete (DJ Jones), I realized it didn’t have to be one or the other.”

B-Boys: More in touch with the streets than their counterparts. Favored a tougher, rapid-fire rhyming approach.

Kool DJ Herc — “The godfather of hip-hop”; despite his slight rhyming skills, his massive stature and sound system inspired such followers as…


Afrika Bambaataa — Founded modern B-Boy style. Ex-Black Spades gang leader’s 26 record crates made him a topflight DJ.

Grand Master Flash — “Herculoid” who created his own aggressive turntable style. As Raheem notes: “To see Flash at that time, you’d be in awe. He’d catch (a record) in the air…handcuffed!” Accompanied by “Cowboy” Keith Wiggins, one of rap’s first certified MCs, Flash formed Future Players. Often strapped for cash, they didn’t seem strapped for acts, as attested by earlier efforts.

Paul Winley — Issued two Bambaataa 12-inch singles in 1980, including “Zulu Nation Throwdown.”

Bobby Robinson — Enjoy Records (1979-82). Debuted Flash and crew (“Superrappin'”) and Funky 4 + 1, which included future Furious Fivester Raheem, among others.

Sylvia Robinson, Joe Robinson, Joey Robinson Jr. — Family-run Sugar Hill took over when Bobby Robinson of Enjoy Records dropped out of the scene.

Russell Simmons — Then a local promoter (c. 1979-80), just taking it all in….

CHART #2: 1979-’84

Why is it so difficult to sort out hip-hop’s maze of claims, counterclaims, and contradictions? Nobody worried about documenting what remained essentially a local scene, nor the diehard separation between the B-Boy and disco camps, which never acknowledged each other’s contributions. With the success of Kurtis Blow’s “Christmas Rappin'” (1979) and “The Breaks” (1980), along with “King Tim III (Personality Jock)” (Fatback, 1979) and “Rapper’s Delight” (Sugarhill Gang, 1979), the original categories evolved into “just plain ol’ rap!” as Kurtis would have it.

Grandmaster Caz — His rhymes are said to have provided the backbone of rap’s (and Sugarhill’s) first big hit….

Sugarhill Gang — Michael “Wonder Mike” Wright, Guy “Master Gee” O’Brien, and Henry “Big Bank Hank” Jackson. “Rapper’s Delight,” “8th Wonder,” “Apache,” “Funk Box.”

The Treacherous Three — “Feel The Heartbeat”

Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five — “White Lines (Don’t Do It),” “Jesse.” Recruited new members and kept group’s name for two years following the ’83 split.

Sugar Hill Records
Rahiem: “The way they were able to get records on the street — that was amazing! If we cut that week, the record was on the street next week.”

Spoonie Gee — “Monster Jam,” “Spoonin’ Rap,” “Spoonie Is Back”

The Sequence — Angie B, Cheryl the Pearl, Blondie. “Funk You Up,” “Monster Jam,” with Spoonie (well, what else would you call it?)

Grand Master Flash & The Furious 5 — “The Message,” “Freedom,” “It’s Nasty (Genius Of Love),” “New York, New York”
Flash — Went to Elektra with Raheem and Kid Creole
Rahiem — “Reflecting back, ‘Message II (Survival)’ and ‘New York, New York’ should have been on The Message album. That wasn’t in our foresight, and I guess it wasn’t in Sylvia’s either.”
Remained rap’s preeminent group until discontent with their label, and internal dissension, led to court battle, then split into rival camps. Rahiem: “I remember one Christmas ‘The Message’ had been out a few months, and we were expecting some kind of money, and when it didn’t happen, I remember the group pitching a bitch about it. When I say ‘divided,’ we were divided over our decisions, and when I say ‘conquered,’ we were conquered…over money. In the music business, you don’t get what you deserve — only what you negotiate.”

Kurtis Blow — Early successes led to supporting Bob Marley and the Commodores on tour and management by Russ Simmons. Russell’s younger brother Joey Simmons (Run) broke his arm, so he couldn’t DJ for Blow in 1980. No matter; Blow produced Joey’s crew as well as the Fat Boys, who both reaped considerable benefits from Kurtis’ guitarist, Larry Smith, and multi-instrumental DJ, Davy DMX!

Run DMC — “It’s Like That,” “Sucker MCs,” “Rock Box”

Fat Boys — né the Disco Three, c. 1983. “The Human Beatbox” Darren “Buff” Robinson (died of cardiac arrest in ’95), Mark “Prince Markie Dee” Morales, Damon “Kool Rock-ski” Wimbley

Afrika Bambaataa — “Planet Rock,” “Funk You,” “Renegades Of Funk,” all smashes on Tommy Boy Records.
Mr. Biggs
Pow Wow
Jazzy Jay — producer, “Jazzy Sensation”

“Love Bug” Starski — “At The Fever”/”You Gotta Believe,” 1983

Rob Base & D.J. E-Z Rock — “It Takes Two”

Whodini — “Friends”

UTFO — “Roxanne, Roxanne”

Juice Crew — Roxanne Shanté, M.C. Shan, Biz Markie, Big Daddy Kane. All off to solo careers.

Chart #3: 1984-Present

The mid- to late ’80s marked a new reality: East meets West, with the new, California-based breed seemingly taking their counterparts to the cleaners, businesswise and saleswise. For example, Ice-T’s earliest pressing deal with Macola Records guaranteed him 50 percent for every 12-inch record sold. N.W.A.’s main men, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, have expanded on that capitalism to form their own production companies, labels, and spinoff ventures (has anybody forgotten the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Wu Wear” yet?). Artistically, the genre split into “hard-core,” with political and social commentary versus the in-your-face “gangsta” acts, who have earned razzes from Democrats and Republicans, critics, old-school acts, educators, and parent groups alike. “Music is always a reflection of where we are,” quoth Rick Rubin. Indeed, what else is new?

West Coast

Duffy and Jerry Hooks — Made first inroads with their 1981 “Gigolo Rapp” 12-inch.

L.A. Dream Team
The Egyptian Lover
Toddy Tee & Mixmaster Spade
Kurtis: “They did the first sing-rap, like Domino does…”

Widely regarded as the creator of the “crime rhyme”; early records like “6 In The Morning” and movie roles (Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo) paid off big in the studio. He hasn’t looked back after the rough 1987’s Rhyme Pays and landmarks like 1991’s O.G. Original Gangster.

World Class Wreckin Cru
When Prince-style funk and braids didn’t move the requisite units, along came an alleged drug dealer in Eric Wright (Eazy-E), whose profits helped fund Ruthless Records (thanks to a J.J. Fad smash in ’88), and a new attitude.

Tupac Shakur (2Pac)
One of Death Row’s biggest acts. His acclaimed roles in Poetic Justice and similar platinum sales weren’t enough to prevent his 1996 murder in Las Vegas. His posthumous album, The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory, moved units anyway.


By the ’80s women had made inroads into what had been virtually an all-male preserve, including: Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa.

Eric B. & Rakim — Production wizardry proved no hedge against personal hassles. Key record: “Paid In Full”

N.W.A. (Niggas With Attitude)
Only two albums — 1988’s Straight Outta Compton, and ’91’s Efil4zaggin (read it backwards!) — and both were hugely successful. The group fell apart in ’91 due to business hassles, but they left their mark!
Dr. Dre — Successful solo/production career. After N.W.A. split up, Dre established Death Row Records in 1992, where he recorded his solo album The Chronic, which sold three million copies and spent eight months in the Billboard Top 10. His first artist signing was Calvin Broadus, whom Dre rechristened Snoop Doggy Dogg, yielding the multiplatinum Doggy Style album along the way. By 1994 he’d rapped on or produced albums selling nearly 28 million copies.
Eazy-E — d. 1995 of AIDS complications
Ice Cube — Like Dre, Ice Cube (né O’Shea Jackson) has expanded his provocative stance into an awesome multimedia profile, including music production, a movie production company, movie roles, and of course a string of solo work, including 1990’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted and 1991’s Death Certificate, which Entertainment Weekly called “20 tracks of the most visceral music ever allowed in public.” Despite protests from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference over his material’s inflamatory stance, Cube seems hardly about to tone anything down for anybody. Why should he when his 1992 album The Predator topped Billboard’s pop and R&B chats simultaneously — the first album to do so since Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key Of Life (1976)?
DJ Yella
MC Ren
(Solo careers)

East Coast

Run DMC — Lost steam after failure of 1988’s Tougher Than Leather movie and lawsuits against their label, Profile Records; came back strong with 1993’s Down With The King album.

LL Cool J — “Rock The Bells,” “I Can’t Live Without My Radio,” “I Need Love”

Slick Rick
Two more successful parts of Russ Simmons’ and Rick Rubin’s Def Jam empire. Cool J grew into mainstream success (at last count, two possible versions — clean and X-rated — of his forthcoming autobiography are being discussed), while Rick went to prison for attempted murder (which yielded the aptly titled I Shouldn’t Have Done It album). Two different stars, two different tales! Kurtis: “(Rick) definitely acted that way…off the record!”

Public Enemy — “Miuzi Weighs A Ton,” “Don’t Believe The Hype,” “Welcome To The Terrordome”
Chuck D and Flavor Flav — Rappers
Terminator X — DJ, cuts   Professor Griff — Minister of Information
Picked up political direction when other Def Jam earners lost ground. Yo! Bum Rush The Show (1987), It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988), and Fear Of A Black Planet (1990) set a higher, socially conscious standard. Flav’s string of drug busts and Chuck’s growing multimedia profile (Slam Jamz Productions) have put the group on hiatus, though a new album is rumored for this year.

Boogie Down Productions — “Stop The Violence”
Begun by KRS-One and DJ Scott La Rock (killed, 1987) along similar lines as Public Enemy. By Any Means Necessary (1988), Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop (1989), and Edutainment (1990) raised the genre’s political consciousness and added D-Nice along the way

— Researched, compiled, and designed by Ralph Heibutzki
— Graphics: Lisa D. Quinlan

There are many MCs, DJs, groups, and hip-hoppers who lay claim to a share of the genesis of rap music. Pick your favorite. As for me, I love them all. Because in the final analysis, we’re all in the same gang, pieces of the same puzzle — The History Of Rap puzzle. I did my best to include everyone, and I do apologize in advance if I forgot anyone.

— Kurtis Blow

There is no holiday season without “Christmas Rappin’,” and there was no 1980 without “The Breaks,” thanks to B-Boy, disco DJ, and old-school rap pioneer Kurtis Blow. His first five albums helped launch the international rap attack that revolutionized the music industry. His creation of the sample loop changed the way rap records are made.

Blow’s seminal hit “The Breaks” was the first certified-gold rap record. Another of his major hits, “If I Ruled The World,” was recently covered by star rapper Nas. Kurtis currently hosts a weekly old-school hip-hop radio show on KPWR (Power 106-FM) in Los Angeles.

kurtis blow – the history of rap 3

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