BB! Presents: Rap Music History #1

I’ve lately talked about how I don’t much understand the present state of rap music. My lament for the old school is not to say there isn’t plenty of phenomenally talented rap artists working in the world. On the contrary, my beef is that these talents aren’t promoted as the face of rap music in the new century. I’m quite aware that popular music is never definitive or exhaustive of the varieties of music being created. Having said all that, however, I’m still unimpressed by the pop rap artists promoted today.

Given that 2005 is supposedly the 30th anniversary of rap music, given that yesterday I listened to Terry Gross inverview Ice Cube, given that today I read The Onion’s interview with Rick Rubin (thanks, Jon), and given that I spent most of my formative years with headphones on my head and a rap tape in my walkmen there seems to be no better time than the present to start a new feature here at Badda Boom! Badda Bing!: a weekly excursion into the history of rap music complete with an .mp3 sample of the artist/song featured.

BB! Presents: Rap Music History won’t be arranged chronologically or by record sales. More often than not the series will be heavily laden with anecdote and personal impression. Consider this series the rap version of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.

How this works:
Each Tuesday night I will present for your consideration a classic rap track in .mp3 form along with a bit of written commentary. Each .mp3 will only be available until the following week (provided I don’t get hassled to remove the file sooner) and the commentary will be archived under the “Rap Music History” Category. For the purposes of this series, I’m considering as “classic” any song recorded pre-1994. That may seem somewhat arbitrary (and it is) but it represents the year I fell out of touch with what was going on in the rap (and hip-hop) world. For future reference, “hip-hop” is a term that denotes the culture that rap music grew out of: that of young, urban, mostly Black and Latino youth. Often “hip-hop” and “rap” are used interchangeably. Finally, please comment often, recommend artists to other BB! readers, and encourage other rap fans to pay a visit, especially younger rap fans.

I’m doing this because I love rap music and I’d like to see it return to a state of innovative entertainment and expression – Nelly and Tim McGraw, I’m looking your way.

Enough yapping.

Lesson #1:

“Jam on It” (7.4MB)
(big file, I know, but you’ll thank me.)

One of the first great gifts my parents bought for me was a dual-deck boom box. I quickly became a music-recording fool. I would listen to the FM radio for hours at a time taping songs I liked and, once I amassed a nice collection of contemporary tunes, I would pay attention for songs played that I hadn’t yet recorded. Every night I’d listen to the radio for new songs, determine whether I liked them, and listen further to record those new songs the next time the DJ played them.

One night, in 1984, I heard coming from my boom box a sound unlike any I’d heard before: a simple, synthesized sequences of notes followed by an overdone laugh, a steady hand-clap, a couple of Alvin & The Chipmunk sounding voices, one of the most addictive basslines ever, and a rhyme that said, “I don’t need no grass to cool my ass, I just use my super breath.” The song lasted 8 minutes, which is an insane length for a radio track, and once it was over, I stayed up three more hours determined to hear that song again.

I listened from 5pm until 10pm the following two nights before the radio station played “Jam On It” again. I had my finger on the record button the entire time and thankfully managed to tape it. I spent the next week listening to the song over and over all the while trying to write down the song’s lyrics in my notebook. I was obsessed with “Jam On It” but funnily enough, never paid any more attention to the artists behind the music, Newcleus. Little did I know at the time that they were pioneers of electro music and, had rap not been changed forever by Run DMC, might have had more of a popular impact than they did.

At school, I bragged to all my friends about memorizing the lyrics to the song and one of them brought in for me a copy of Electric Breakdance, which included “Jam On It” and a host of other rap songs, most notably perhaps, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s “White Lines”.

This tape didn’t leave my boom box for six months.
And that was me – 9 years old and hooked on rap music by a group whose popularity and style of rapping would fade shortly thereafter my obsession with one of their most popular songs.

Thank you, Newcleus, for giving me an early lesson on how funky rap could be.

(The following disclaimer, stolen by me from Zombie and by him from Bob Mould, slightly modified to my purposes, will be standard for the BB! Presents: Rap Music History series unless otherwise stated.)

MP3 files are posted for evaluation purposes only. Availability is limited: one week from the day of posting. Through this series, I’m trying to educate, share my passion for good music, and promote that good music to others, who will also hopefully continue to support these artists. Everyone is encouraged to purchase music and concert tickets for the artists you feel merit your hard earned dollars. If you hold copyright to one of these songs and would like the file removed, please let me know.

BB! Presents: Rap Music History #1

Sock it to me

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