Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hypestyles' Top 25 Hip-Hop LPs
(circa 1980 – 1995)

In a recent Rolling Stone article, there was a feature with Chris Rock’s Top 25 hip-hop/rap albums of all time. For whatever reason, it inspired me to come up with my own.

I usually try to avoid ‘Top (fill in the blank)’ lists. For one thing, I’m usually at a lack for words to defend my choices other than to say "I just dig it". I’m not the best debater, and when it comes to my own personal tastes, I have little interest in trying to be. As the saying goes, I may not know art, but I know what I like. I’ve tried to select LPs where I’ve tended to listen to them all the way through, or at least 90%. I’ve also tried to keep things to one LP per artist, wherever possible, though a few double-entries may have slipped through. I’ve also put a specific time frame on the entries. Hip-hop’s ‘golden age’ varies from person to person. For my purposes, I’d place it from roughly ’84 to ’94, as my own tastes in hip-hop were pretty much cemented by ’95 came around. Sure enough, there have been albums and artists I’ve enjoyed since then- Jay Z, Nas, DMX, and Eminem come to mind—but for whatever it’s worth, I feel that this earlier stuff clearly helped set the foundation for the rap to come from ’95 – 2005.

This was the cassette-in-a-boombox-or-Walkman era, so tapes were the default way that most people my age tended to listen to music, unless you were a neighborhood DJ of some kind. At the time, I had a small but functional boombox, and by my senior year in high school had a double-cassette deck stereo. I didn’t have the money to just buy LP tapes on a whim, though—most often, I tried to get copies dubbed from friends or my cousin Scott in Detroit, who was usually up on newer stuff before I was. I spent most of my summers up there, while my school years were in Gary, IN- about as far from New York or L.A. as you could get, and almost totally off the radar as far as hip-hop concerts were concerned. We just didn’t have the promoters, and for the most part, the venues- the much-vaunted Genesis Convention Center, which opened in 1980, was regularly criticized for bad acoustics; in years to come, a local rental hall, McBride’s, seemed to be the main/only hip-hop dance event in town.

So here they are, in semi-alphabetical order. In the years since these records have come out, I’ve moved on from cassette copies to CD copies. Who knows what’s next, but I’m hoping it’s not expensive.

Addendum: All of these albums, especially the original studio LPs, need to be re-released as deluxe editions. Unfortunately, most of the major record labels have not yet seen fit to treat their hip-hop catalogs with as much respect as their backlog of recordings for various other genres (pop, jazz, rock & roll, etc.). I'm convinced that plenty of the higher-ups at these labels just don't care about their older rap catalog. Another concern is that when much of this material was first released, sampling laws were not as clear as they are now-- The labels are scared silly at the notion of any retroactive lawsuits pertaining to any uncleared samples, so classic albums are allowed to languish out of print (or at best, the original unrevised album may remain, while a bevy of potential bonus material, i.e., 12-inch alternate takes, remixes, live tracks, remains uncollected).

Bigger and Deffer- Ooh. I don’t know how much I was hip to LL Cool J when his first LP Radio came out. Again, my street-radar wasn’t that far-reaching; but I remember seeing the movie Krush Groove with my mother (this was our second movie of the day, at a time before the megaplex when you could pay to see one film and more or less sneak into seeing a second; in any case, Mom fell asleep about halfway through), and I was feeling somewhat cool that I was seeing an R-rated film at age 11 (such films were normally off-limits for me, though my peers enjoyed a regular cinema diet of slasher/shootout films well before we hit high school). But I digress- LL’s cameo was cool- though I had no idea who he was at the time—I think a few months later I saw an episode of Soul Train where he performed "Rock the Bells"; between that, classmate gossip and skimming through fanzines like Right On!, I finally got in the know; I was getting ready to graduate 8th grade when I heard "I Need Love" on the radio, and LL did a cameo at the 1987 Soul Train Awards where he did a rap about the voting process ("Price Waterhouse put the ballots in, now you can’t get mad if you don’t win"). Heading up to Detroit a week or so after school got out, turns out Scott already had the 'BAD' album (as we called it), and I dubbed his copy before I left for home at the end of August. I really wanted "Go Cut Creator" to be a single & video, after seeing him perform it on American Bandstand and Saturday Night Live.

Criminal Minded- KRS One’s (and Scott La Rock’s) first classic LP. I wasn’t aware of the group when they first came out, though. Its exact release date escapes me-- I guess it had to come out in late ’86 or early ’87. I remember being up in Detroit for Christmas vacation, and Scott was like "There’s this rap group with a guy with my name!" I don’t think he had their tape yet, though. They weren’t really on the radio near us, unless it was one of those ‘late night weekend mix’ shows. I have a dim memory of seeing a Criminal Minded poster in a record store, but I don’t think it was until the summer of ’88, when By All Means Necessary came out (I can remember a radio jock misidentifying "Stop the Violence" as being an Ice-T cut), when I really got hip to BDP. Of course, by this time, Scott LaRock had been killed, but the fact that the two lead guys were named Kris and Scott had become a source of pride for me and Scott, and we informally adopted their stage names. The LP became notoriously hard to find after a while, and I didn’t get around to copping my own cassette copy until ’91, when Sugarhill Records (!) somehow picked up the catalog rights. I’ve since bought maybe two or three CD copies (including when one got stolen), including the instrumental version of the LP. Traffic Records has the catalog rights now- there’s a double-disc version with the vocal and instrumental versions together, and there’s a Best of B-Boy Records version which has the original LP plus the now-obscure 12" singles that preceded it.
Fat Boys (self-titled)- When it comes to props for "old school" acts, the Fat Boys are rarely mentioned, for some reason. These guys were my favorite rap group for several years, until Public Enemy and BDP became prominent. As a big kid, I guess I identified with the idea that it could be me up there. Actually didn’t own any of their CDs until 1987’s Crushin’, and as much as I enjoyed that at the time, it was clearly their most pop-friendly effort. I copped a vinyl copy some time in the mid-90’s; the first LP, produced by Kurtis Blow, had most of the key early hits; it was only seven cuts deep, but several songs went on for 5 minutes and beyond, with extended verses and instrumental breaks. The title cut, "Human Beatbox pt. 1", "Don’t You Dog Me", "Jailhouse Rap"; you can’t beat it. Between them and Doug E Fresh, they had everybody trying to beatbox. I never got to see them in concert, though, and of course, Buff is deceased now. Their three album run on indie Sutra Records has been out of print for well over 10 years now (I’ve seen foreign import editions on Ebay going for $40 or more—forget it), and their 3 LP run on Mercury is only slightly easier to find. Rhino Records has a greatest-hits CD that’s now out-of-print, though it’s limited to the radio edits. I also feel compelled to mention that Markie Dee put out two solid but underrated solo LPs in the 90’s, and Buff & Kool Rock put out the new-jack-swing heavy Mack Daddy in ’91.
Amerikkka’s Most Wanted- I can remember a few album cuts being played on late-night radio on the Chicago-based stations I listened to. Everybody was buzzing before this came out; I think NWA’s 100 Miles & Runnin’ EP beat it to stores by a few weeks, not to mention Above the Law’s Livin’ Like Hustlers; but it was over when AMW dropped. The ongoing beef between Cube & the Ruthless camp added to the mystique. The album was fire from start to finish, though you might be led to think it was just mellow, based on "Who’s the Mack", which I think was the one video that the LP birthed. The intro was like a movie, with "Switch!" segueing into "The Nigga You Love to Hate" with a version of the bassline from "Gangsta, Gangsta". The Bomb Squad, Cube & Sir Jinx collaborations continued a tradition of East-West cooperation that sadly got derailed a few years later. My favorite cuts were "You Can’t Fade Me", "The Bomb", "A Gangsta’s Fairytale", "Turn off the Radio", and of course "Tales from the Dark Side" with Chuck D; the locker-room raw "Only Out for One Thang"—with Flavor Flav would never have gone over on a Public Enemy LP, though.
The Geto Boys- I figured I had to include a Geto Boys record, somehow- this 1990 release seems to fit best. Apparently, Rick Rubin heard their 1989 LP Grip It! On That Other Level, signed them to Def American, and remixed the LP for a self-titled re-release. I know that 1991’s We Can’t Be Stopped was their crossover breakthrough, but I think the previous album really set the template for their future work. I have dim memories of hearing the Making Trouble LP on a bus trip with a bunch of other kids—of course, that album had a lineup that involved rappers Johnny C and Sir Jukebox, and Bushwick Bill was just a dancer for the group back then. I remember seeing the revised version of "Do it like a GO" on the Video Jukebox back in ’90; I think that was the first time I realized they had a midget in the crew. In Gary, there was a local high school basketball team (led by future NBA star Glen Robinson) and the "Geto boys, Geto boys!" refrain from "Assassins" became their unofficial theme song. In the summer of ’91 I saw Willie Dee’ s first solo record, Controversy, in a store for cheap and I copped the tape: it had the original version of "Do it Like a GO", and other hard cuts like "F*** the KKK", "Put the F’in Gun Away", "Trip Across from Mexico", and "Welfare Hoes".
Great Adventures of Slick Rick- When I went to see the Run-DMC movie Tougher than Leather—by myself—my mother, who had planned to see another film at the theater, ended up coming here, maybe about 20 minutes in; shortly afterwards, there’s the nightclub scene where Rick is performing "Treat ‘em like a Prostitute"; between that and the rest of the film, ‘aghast’ would probably be an understatement to describe her reaction. But Rick's album was great, from start to finish-- with production by the artist, his DJ Vance Wright, Jam Master Jay, and the Bomb Squad, from start to finish it had something good to offer, in spite of the occasional diversions into juvenilia and sex-themed narratives. "Children's Story" offers a cautionary tale about a juvenile delinquent, "Teenage Love" is a self-explanatory ballad about youthful lovers, and on "Hey Young World" Rick tells his audience "get ahead and accomplish things".
Fear of a Black Planet- I didn’t have cable at home, so I think the first time I saw the video for Public Enemy's "Brothers Gonna Work it Out" was on the Fox-TV rap show Pump It Up. "Terrordome" had already made noise back in the fall of ’89, and I was hyped for this. During a radio station call-in, I won a copy of it, but—well, we had no family car, so I had no way to get to Chicago. Dang! So, I just enjoyed listening to the singles and watching the videos on Pump It Up. Anyway, I was definitely feeling the album when I eventually copped it on my own about a year later. "Burn Hollywood Burn" was of course, the joint, with the Ice Cube cameo and Big Daddy Kane. I was disappointed that Griff ended up leaving, but hey, he dropped an album that year, too.
Iceberg/Freedom of Speech- I don’t know when I first heard an Ice-T record. If Scott had his first LP, Rhyme Pays, I never got around to hearing it. I do remember us looking at the album cover in a record store, marveling at his girlfriend Darlene. When I spent a week at a basketball camp one summer, I remember a couple kids—some white cats—down the hallway at the dorm I was staying in had a bunch of rap tapes—Ice T, Just-Ice. By the time this third album came out, I would listen to the singles played on Chicago’s WGCI FM on their weekend rap shows. "Lethal Weapon", "You Played Yourself", "Peel their Caps Back", "Freedom of Speech". I ended up copping OG before this, but I think this one really solidified Ice’s sound and themes.
In Control, Vol. 1- Hey, one of the first DJ/Producer-centered hip-hop albums. Marley Marl's airplane-captain themed cover was certainly different. Again, it would be a few years after its 1988 release before I got the chance to cop it, but it was well worth it. I can remember seeing the video for "The Symphony", and being amused by the cowboys-in-a-saloon motif (except, of course, for Big Daddy Kane, who I guess was too smooth for that). Just about all the cuts are fly here; the great LP opener with Heavy D and Biz Markie, where Biz sings Barry Manilow; Tragedy’s early fire can be witnessed here, as well as Craig G and Master Ace; "Duck Alert" has some out-there Star Trek samples (Marley’s a Trekkie? Neat!). Among the lesser cuts are when Roxanne Shante’ disses JJ Fad on her showcase here, and MC Shan’s "Freedom". I still get goosebumps when I hear that classic "Symphony" piano riff.
License to Ill- "Indiscreet". That was the word that earned me 2nd place in the county-wide CYO spelling-bee competition in 8th grade (I spelled it ‘indiscrete’). Anyway, Mom said she’d do something nice for me, so we went to K-Mart and I got a cassette of License to Ill. I’m not sure when I found out they were white guys, but soon after it wasn’t a big deal, as they and Run-DMC were the kings of rap. "Paul Revere", "No Sleep Til Brooklyn", "She’s Crafty" were all the joints, but my favorite was "Fight for your Right". In retrospect, clearly this was something meant for rock-pop radio; I don’t know how many kids in the hood bothered to listen to it, but I was open for it. Those guys seemed to be having so much fun, I think I probably fantasized about hanging out with them more than even Run-DMC; I think King Ad-Rock had most of the best lines, and his wacky voice probably helped. Circa 2000 I came across a bootleg of the ‘Def Jam Master Demos’ which had an extended version of "Fight.." and other cuts not on the official album.
The Very Best of Big Daddy Kane- It was the spring 1988 issue of Word Up! magazine (I think it was a quarterly at the time) where I saw an ad for a rap LP, Long Live the Kane, from a brother calling himself Big Daddy Kane—decked out like an ancient Greek—with the added gold chains—and being offered fruit by a handful of pretty girls. A blurb read ‘The Freshest Rap Album on the Planet’. Vainglorious, but anyone who listened would probably find it hard to disagree. Marley had been producing cuts for MC Shan and Roxanne Shante’ early on, but really hit his stride with Kane: "Ain’t No Half-Steppin’", "I’ll Take You There", "Raw" kept the party jumping. The ladies used to debate whether he or LL was cuter, and the guys debated whether he or Rakim was the top God on the mic. Still, I never got around to copping a Kane tape until 1990’s A Taste of Chocolate—on here, Kane was drifting further into smooth-R&B territory, and had the pioneering duet with Barry White, "All of Me". I also got the two follow-ups (Looks Like a Job For was mad underrated), but The Best of.. is, for me, a must-get since it covers most of the key Kane tracks, most heavily from the first LP, and also from It’s a Big Daddy Thing, with "I Get the Job Done", "Smooth Operator", and "Rap Summary (Lean on Me)". The only thing really missing here is the first "Symphony".
Mama Said Knock You Out- I bought this at a Deroit area Musicland while in town for Thankgiving vacation, my senior year of high school. Walking with a Panther had hit stores the year before (and I had copped an edited version from Zayre's, a K-Mart-type store—hey, edited was all they had), but LL was being dissed by urban fans as well as other artists at this point. I didn’t quite understand it—I would have killed to see him perform (I’ve still never seen him live). Apparently he felt a makeover was in order. I listened to it from start to finish nearly every time I put it in my walkman or stereo. Mama ended up being his most enduring work in terms of radio singles. Marley Marl was definitely the producer to get at from the East Coast at this point- the remix of "Jingling Baby" and new song "Illegal Search" started the momentum going. The radio version of "Boomin’ System" lifted the same James Brown loop as was used for En Vogue’s "Hold On"; it was received as a fly move rather than blatant biting—and the album version featured a slightly altered reworking. I especially dug "To da Break of Dawn", which first appeared on the House Party soundtrack—LL laces into Kool Moe Dee, Hammer, and Ice-T, and it was clean enough for the radio. And of course, the title track was the bomb, though one version of the video’s a little confusing with the spliced-in footage of the Michael J. Fox movie "The Hard Way".
Nation of Millions- I was asleep at the wheel during the initial run of Yo! Bum Rush the Show. I may have seen it in stores, but I probably wasn’t paying attention. Chicago radio wasn’t pushing any singles, either. What finally got my notice was in the spring of ’88, when I had bought a copy of Word Up with Run DMC on the cover. It had a picture in there of Professor Griff of Public Enemy. The caption beneath said "Flavor Flav", but I would eventually find out who was really who. Griff’s paramilitary outfit had fascinated me, and I found myself drawing lots of pictures of it (I was an aspiring artist/animator at the time). I still had no idea what songs this guy did, though. Early on during summer vacation, I asked Scott who Flav was. He played me "Rebel Without a Pause" which he had taped from the radio. From that point, it was on for life. Since then I've copped all of their albums, plenty maxi-singles, and other ephemera-- but for P.E. beginners, definitely get this first.
Paid in Full- Eric B. got first billing, so at first, I thought he was the shorter dude that was rhyming. I found out better by ’88, but back in the summer of ’87, I had a good dub of about 60% of the Paid in Full tape—you see, I had recorded LL’s Bigger and Deffer on all of ‘Side One’ of my blank tape, and part of ‘Side Two’. I squeezed in what I could of Paid..., including "I ain’t no Joke", "I Know you got Soul", and my favorite cut by the duo, the slow-flowing "My Melody". Rakim's slow-as-molasses flow fit the beat perfectly, and I really wish they had done a video for this song. The 2-CD deluxe edition with the remixes is probably the best buy.
Paul’s Boutique- I remember seeing this in record stores in the spring of ’89.. also, the Chicago-area weekend radio mix show I listened to was spinning "Shake Your Rump" for a little while.. But beyond that, I remember there was virtually no buzz when this album dropped. The rap-friendly pop station in Detroit I was listening to that summer was pumping some of the jams, but by then almost everyone in the "Rap Class of ’85 - 87"- seemingly all the Krush Groove artists—were persona non grata in hip-hop. 3rd Bass had become the white boys of choice—on Def Jam, no less—and of course, they were dissing their predecessors. Ah, well. Of course, this LP caught fire as a cult hit, and I finally copped a tape in ’96, after renewing my Beastie license with Check Your Head a few years earlier. It’s probably correct that all the sampling done here likely couldn’t be done today. "Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun" is probably the sole nod to hard-rock here, as the rest relies on heavy funk, soul, and psychedelia. "Shadrach", "B-Boy Bouillabaisse", "Droppin’ Science", "Hey Ladies"; all gems. All too bad that the guys had a falling out with Rick Rubin—and Russell Simmons—and left for Capitol records, who apparently under-promoted the album—and I don’t think they bothered to tour that year, either. In the short run, it cost them, but now some people—especially younger fans—say it’s a better LP than Licensed… I disagree, but definitely cop this if you’re Beastie-down.
Road to the Riches- I agree with the folks who say that Kool G. Rap came off the best on Marley Marl’s posse cut "The Symphony", with Kane, Craig G, and Master Ace. In the summer of ’89, somehow Scott had a dubbed copy of this LP, and I dubbed it from him. The title cut, "Poison", "Cars" (with the Gary Numan sample!), "It’s a Demo", were really classic stuff—It’s too bad that Kool didn’t really get on the radio at all until "Streets of New York" the next year, and of course, the Live and Let Die LP got the boot from Warner Bros. after the "Cop Killer" scandal, and ended up being an indie release. In any case, I think this is his best showcase; he had plenty of street rhymes while rarely cursing, and his ‘ghetto Giancana’ persona hadn’t become the dominant theme of his LPs yet.
Rock the House- So Bow Wow thinks of Will Smith as a ‘bubblegum rapper’ (in a recent interview in XXL Magazine)? isn’t that a case of the pot calling the kettle metallic? In any case, he’s not the only younger person who probably thinks Mr. Smith’s rap career didn’t get started until after the TV show. 1987’s Rock… was just a great hip-hop debut, full of solid production by the duo—if memory serves, much of it was recorded in the UK. Jive Records owes a big part of their legacy to Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince. I couldn’t get over the I Dream of Jeannie sample on "Girls Ain’t Nothing but Trouble"; it was so left-field it was genius; I don’t think it got much radio beyond the regional level, and the album didn’t go gold until it was re-released in ’88 after He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper became a smash. Fresh Prince was a great storyteller on "Girls Ain’t Nothin..", and "Just One of Those Days", and the title track had Ready Rock C beatboxing "Sanford & Son". He even had the ‘answer’ record to "Girls" on this LP. This was at least a 3rd generation dub I had made from Scott’s copy in the summer of ‘87, so the sound was hardly the best, but still funky. "A Touch of Jazz" remains my favorite cut here, one of the first ‘DJ spotlight’ records that has virtually disappeared from rap albums today. A lot of people assume that He’s the DJ... was their first work, but they should check this out first.
Sex & Violence- This was apparently a turbulent time for KRS-One when he dropped this LP in February of ’92. West coast rap was gaining momentum, and had become a legitimate rival to the New York-centric rap scene. The gangster-rap genre which he inadvertently helped to co-inspire was quickly becoming the default worldview reflected in rap records. Soundscan had taken effect back in ’91, and so you saw some rap LPs debut high, but then fall sharply. His lectures were polarizing affairs, inspiring charges of hypocrisy, and new beefs came to a head when his New-Age inspired humanist views were critiqued by black nationalist-leaning rap acts. Then of course, was the infamous confrontation with PM Dawn at a birthday party for MTV’s T-Money. On the personal side, he had apparently gone through a divorce from Ms. Melodie, D-Nice stepped to do his own thing, and a former manager sued him, alleging he deserved half the group’s fortunes. KRS took vague swipes at them in the liner notes, and on the album further venom was obliquely directed at Ice Cube, X-Clan, and Poor Righteous Teachers. I just know I really enjoyed this record, from "Duck Down" to "Drug Dealer" to "Build & Destroy", "Who are the Pimps", the title cut, and especially the "We in There" remix, which I tracked down for years. "13 and Good" had a great twist ending, but KRS caught flak for allegedly sympathizing with the guys when it comes to statutory rape.
Sex Packets- It was late summer of ’89, Scott and I were on a family trip to an amusement park when we heard Digital Underground's "Doowhatchalike" on the radio. We thought it was cool, but the DJ must have been playing the extended mix, which seemed to go on for like, eight minutes. By that fall, I forget what the next single was, but when "Humpty Dance" dropped, it was bananas. "Packet Man", "Underwater Rimes", "Freaks of the Industry" were all tight. It almost seems hard to imagine now, but this was a west coast group who weren’t really gangsta-oriented. Of course, ‘Pac hadn’t gotten his time to rhyme until "Same Song" from This is an EP Release.
Straight Outta Compton- I thought homeboy’s name was Ice-Q. when I first heard this. I’m thinking it was December of ’88, and I was already familiar with Eazy E and his first LP; I vaguely knew that he had a crew, but I hadn’t heard any of their early singles. When NWA dropped this LP, Scott and I were at a friend’s house, and he had a copy. I can remember high school classmates debating witch each other on who in the group actually participated in gang warfare—of course, none of them did, but the idea of it added to the mystique of the group. These guys were cursing more than any rap act that I had ever heard before-- though, to be honest, I didn't even own that many studio cassettes back then; my frame of reference was mostly radio singles, which I would tape. I can remember getting a classmate, Dave, to dub a copy for me, and I enjoyed the album tremendously, even though I had to only listen to it at low volume or with headphones. Ice Cube was my favorite rapper in the group, and at the time I think there was a genuine debate over whether Cube or MC Ren was the best. By my senior year in high school, I approached the same classmate to simply buy his cassette copy from him (by then he had drifted into heavily listening into alternative-rock) He sold it to me for $2. Barely a few months later I ended up lending it to another classmate, but we had already graduated and lost touch before I could ask for it back (enjoy, Joe!).
Strictly Business- EPMD's first LP was ten cuts deep and this was definitely one of the must-have LPs of 1988. I can remember people remarking that Erick & Parrish rhymed kind of slow, but in any case, they had mad respect by the end of the year. "You Gots to Chill" set off a never-ending stream of records that sampled "More Bounce to the Ounce". "Strictly Business" may have been the first rap to sample Bob Marley and Eric Clapton at the same time. "It’s My Thing" was, what, six minutes long or better? Hip-hop records weren’t afraid to go for length at this time. My favorite record was "You’re a Customer", with the slow, simple bass riff (lifted from ZZ Top!?) and the vocal snippets of Steve Miller and Kool & the Gang.
The Low End Theory- I had just started my freshman year of college when this album dropped, and this was all over the campus—all the jazz-driven rhythm tracks "(We've got the) Jazz", "Scenario", "Check the Rhime", and the thoughtful rhymes that didn’t depend on thug swagger. I don’t know if it officially went platinum, but it should have.
Tougher than Leather- I was enthralled with Run-DMC along with every other rap music fan. I’m thinking Dee was my preferred MC, if only because he wore glasses like me (though I’m sure I couldn’t afford Cazals). I didn’t own Raising Hell until about two years after it came out; a classmate sold me his tape. By this time, Tougher... had come out a few months ago, and I remember being amped when I first saw it in record stores. Scott wasn’t as enthused, though- I think his response was a cool "Yeah, its about time they finally put it out". That summer, the Run’s House tour was in effect, and I remember we were in downtown Detroit, and people were passing out flyers about the show. Scott made a remark about people not really wanting to just go see Run-DMC anymore, but gave props to EPMD and whoever else shared the bill (Public Enemy?). I spent a week at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor for a basketball camp, and one of the kids at the dorm room next to me had a copy that they were playing almost every day, and there were a few other kids who had it as well. Despite going platinum, heads seemed to feel they threw a brick with this one, which I didn’t understand. It would be over 10 years before I got around to getting my hands on it—in 1999 when Arista bought out Profile and re-released all the studio LPs. Song for song, I felt this had aged better than Raising Hell- at least in my mind. The guitar-driven records like the title track, "Soul to Rock & Roll" and "Miss Elaine" are top-notch (though I’m thinking most of the brothers were fast-forwarding); they did a nod to reggae and ragtime; as a Monkees fan, I was all into "Mary, Mary"; I still hit ‘repeat’ upon listening to "Beats to the Rhyme".
Unfinished Business- This was just a great album from start to finish. "So Whatcha Sayin’" (the slowed-down Funkadelic sample), "Get the Bozack", "Jane II", "Please Listen to my Demo".. the video for "The Big Payback" had NWA guest-starring. "Knick Knack Paddy-Whack" had the dope introduction to K-Solo where he kept rhyming until the track faded out. I really enjoyed the rock flavor on "You Had Too Much to Drink", and of course the video had a cameo from LL Cool J.
Whodini’s greatest hits- As much as I enjoyed Whodini’s records on the radio, I never got around to copping any of their studio LPs. Plus, they had rolled snake-eyes with the Open Sesame LP back in ’87, and more or less went MIA for years after that. One of my first CD purchases was their greatest hits compilation in the summer of ‘91, and it’s got all the essentials: "Freaks…", "Friends", "One Love", "Escape", "Haunted House of Rock", and some unreleased stuff that’s still worthy. Coincidentally, they had an attempted comeback LP that year, Bag-A-Trix, released on MCA, that basically bombed.
Rise of the Dirty South & are Hip-Hop 'Girl Groups' a Thing of the Past?

Watching this year’s Vibe Awards, I was reminded of something- I really don’t relate very well to the current generation of rappers and R&B singers.
Most of the rappers in attendance- Mike Jones, Paul Wall, Young Jeezy, Lil’ Wayne, etc., were from the south. After years of neglect, southern hip-hop can claim dominance over both coasts. It’s great that hip-hop’s regional diversity hasn’t stalled. Still, I can’t front, I really don’t buy much southern rap at all. As much as I love the now old-school Geto Boys, they’re almost the only southern rap act I’ve really latched on to over the years. Fellow southern rap pioneers 2 Live Crew had any number of street hits, but I never bought a record from them—but I do have a copy of Luke’s Uncle Luke CD that I literally found discarded on the streets. Out of all of Outkast’s LPs I only have Speakerboxx/Love Below. If Goodie Mob has a best-of set, I might cop that.
David Banner has a college degree, but during his set he has all the dancing girls in aerobics leotards (like a certain Mr. West’s "Workout Plan") while he runs through "Play". Dave—unlike Kanye, you’re the college graduate—you don’t need to ape his routine!
On the R&B front, as cute as Keyshia Cole and Ciara are, I’m not really into their music that much. When it comes to the current generation of teen-idol type guys- Omarion, Mario, Marques Houston, etc., I’m generally under-whelmed. The older, ‘neo-soul’ leaning guys- Maxwell, D’Angelo, Kem, Musiq, are fine enough to listen to on the radio, but I’m just not a neo-soul dude in terms of being interested in buying their records.
So what is it that I don’t like? Is it the southern twang? Maybe partly—but in all fairness, plenty of Midwestern and West coast rappers have a similar semi-country cadence, only more pronounced. On TV, to hear some of these guys talk in interviews—gah! I’d like to think if they took out the chandelier fixtures in their mouth they’d sound better, but who knows (I was at one of Russ Simmons’ Hip-Hop Summits last year—please, no one put Lil’ Scrappy on a roundtable panel ever again!). On top of that, most of southern rap—like rap in general, really—has focused on themes of the thug-player-hustler lifestyle, with guns, haters, strippers, gin, juice, weed, syrup and rims in tow. I’ll have to remind myself to check out Little Brother, since it’s said that they’re a step above the average. I still don’t think I’ve heard them on the radio, though.

according to All, Florida rapper Trina has a sitcom confirmation on the Black Family Channel. As attractive as she is, I’m not really a fan of most of today’s female rappers. I think the last LP of original material I got from a female rapper was Lauryn Hill. In one of Chuck D’s recent Terrordome editorials, he laments the lack of female rap groups in today’s scene. I feel the sentiment, though I’m not sure exactly how many genuine female groups were doing their thing back in the so-called ‘golden era’ of the mid-80’s to the early 90’s. Chronologically, I guess the short-lived Sugarhill Records act Sequence counts as the first to do hip-hop on wax; then there was Sha-Rock in the first multi-gender crew on wax, Funky 4+1 More. Fast forwarding to the mid-80’s, obviously Salt N Pepa were the first female group to hit it big on the urban radio and pop charts and have enduring success. But if memory serves, most of the female acts to come out in their wake were basically solo. Roxanne Shante’, Real Roxanne, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, MC Trouble, Isis/Lin-Q, etc. There were only a handful of lady groups I remember having impact:
To start, JJ Fad and Oaktown’s 357—I think the Supersonic LP may have gone gold on the strength of the single, but I don’t think the follow-up LP went anywhere, and I think JJ Fad broke up shortly afterward. I enjoyed all the early singles from Hammer’s girls 357- "wild & loose", "juicy gotcha crazy", "here we go", etc. But I’m thinking when the 2nd LP came out, it didn’t catch on with radio & video like before. I do have some threadbare memories of the Cookie Crew- at least, seeing some of their 12" singles in stores- some other female rap acts, like Wee Papa Girls, She-Rockers, I have no audio/visual memory of at all. Ooh, a few more just came to mind- Silk Tymes Leather, who I think were the first group that Jermaine Dupri produced; I think they came and went after their first LP; and then there’s the gangsta-bi*ch groups, who its fair to say are the thematic predecessors to, well, most of today’s female rappers- BWP and HWA.
The Bi*ches With Problems made one album (on Def Jam!) and the Eazy-E affiliated Hoez With Attitude made one album and an EP. In the case of both acts, they failed to get any mainstream urban radio attention, and the thug-broad & strip-club chick aesthetic lay in direct contrast to the more balanced female rap portrayals of the time. In the mid-90’s, I don’t remember there being much out there in terms of female rap acts- I do remember seeing an LP from some Ruthless act called MenaJaTwa (or something to that effect), and seeing what was I guess their first video on The Box. Oh, and there was this Motown (!) signed act, 69 96. UNLV- Unfortunately No Longer Virgins (hello!) came out on Ichiban circa ’94 (this is not to be confused with the early proto-Cash Money group of the same initials- but presumably a different meaning). Paris came out with the Conscious Daughters in ’96, and it looks like they’ll finally come back sometime next year on his label, as well as having a guest-spot on the Rebirth of a Nation LP.
around '97, there were two girls who did a cover of "The Breaks", Nadanuf; around the same time, there was this Southern Bass cut, "Shorty Swing My Way", by KP & Envy.. Oh, and Columbia/Sony briefly had a similar group on their hands, Dis N Dat. I think the one hit they had was "Freak Me Baby"..
As I’m writing this, I may very well be missing out on various regional acts that have cropped up to drop singles, EP’s and LPs over the years- scholars on those scenes can feel free to chime in.
I’m not sure of all the reasons why there are not really any female groups representing now. Of course, the music biz has been traditionally a boys’ club, and usually there’s some type of male producer/manager in the mix whenever a solo or group female act comes out. So that’s one obstacle. Lack of female label execs with the power to greenlight female rap acts is another problem (of course, depending on their personal/professional philosophy, many might not consider it ‘their job’ to bring out a female rap act for its own sake, and just seek to stay afloat by following current trends—but alas, that’s hardly a gender-specific trait). Another issue, and at the risk of stereotyping- nowadays, would a female rap group even get along well enough to maintain a career? Judging on certain interviews, plenty of today’s female MCs are quick to say that they don’t really hang with chicks too deep or roll with a female crowd on the regular, for the usual jealousy/hater concerns. Going for dolo is kind of the default steez for any double-X chromosome party looking to spit rhymes for a living. Also, just look at how many male rap groups splinter after one or two LPs. And looking at the R&B/pop world, it is rife with female acts splitting up, for various reasons, external and internal. Not everyone’s meant to be a Diana Ross, but damn it if they ain’t gonna try.
I do know that Jean Grae is much lauded in underground circles—over the years, I’ve been somewhat neglectful in picking up indie rap—I’ll have to check her out.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

At Least it Didn't Happen during the Playoffs:

WNBA star Sheryl Swoopes just came out as a lesbian. Whoops, so much for dynamiting the stereotype about female athletes.

Her achievements speak for themselves. Several gold medals, WNBA team championships and individual awards. She's a great athlete, and God bless.. Hmm... I wonder will there be any backlash.. especially from the 'hood... Black communities have yet to publicly embrace any openly gay public figures (okay, E. Lynn Harris sells a lot of books, but it ain't the same thing as your kid's sports hero stepping up to a podium and saying she likes girls).

Obviously, up until now I'm sure she's done her share of charity appearances and participates in community service and any number of photo-ops. I wonder will the brakes be put on those endeavors. I notice she's got an ex-husband and child.. There's all this lingering hand-wringing over 'down-low' men.. and now....?!??!?

``Do I think I was born this way? No,'' Swoopes said. ``And that's probably confusing to some, because I know a lot of people believe that you are.''
This particular comment is mildly troubling for me. In part, because it only fuels the fire for those who contend that gay/bi tendencies are a "curable" condition unnatural to all humanity and implicitly gives credence to the damnable but popular Recruitment myths. On another level, it begs the question of whether she's fully comfortable in having gay romantic leanings.

..Of course, if she is bi, then that's her business.. But now there's gonna be a whole lot of 'speculation' and sound the alarm roundtable discussions and cash-in books: "How to Tell Your Woman is Gay" and the like. Probably more locker-room fights between girls over allegedly giving someone "the look".. Probably more knucklehead men slapping around their significant others because they think they're in the "chicks over (censored)" club.

I wonder does she have any endorsements... if so, I wonder will they stick with her or will they front.. Hopefully the WNBA will not turn their back on her as one of the main "faces" of the sport, in terms of promotional attention.. I'm also curious as to how other players are reacting to this.. and to circumvent a follow-up question, I don't think this will have any affect at all on the NBA; nobody from that world is coming out, until they retire..

egads... this is too surreal.. The white Sox are actually in the World Series.. and they're leading! It is not a dream, not a hoax, not an imaginary story.. as a former citizen of Northwest Indiana, the Sox and Cubs were the teams to root for-- partly because Indiana has no Major League baseball teams.. maybe a farm team or two.. Game 3 was FOURTEEN INNINGS, lasting over 5 hours... exhausting to watch, let alone play.. If the Sox win game 4 in Houston, it won't be the same as if they won in Comiskey-- er, US Cellular Field (how in the hell did that deal take place, anyway?).. All the same, i'll take a sweep regardless....So far, no crazily stupid stunts have happened, unlike Game 6 in the '03 playoffs when the overzealous Cubs fan tried to grab the foul ball and... well, sports heads know the rest.. Ozzie Guillen deserves major props as the manager, he should get manager of the Year.. Jermaine Dye should have his gear boost in sales soon.. ...Regardless of where I'm living now, I'll be looking to cop some Sox gear if/when they pull off the Big One.. I already have two caps..

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Supporting Military Families
by Christopher 'HypeStyle' Currie
U.S. Military units have been spread across the globe in support of the War on Terror (whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or other countries) as well as many personnel engaged away from home in homeland security initiatives. Americans are looking for methods in which they can help out a military family while Mom or Dad is away. In particular, the families of reservists, who tend not to live near or on a military base, would be in need of assistance because they may not have the immediate support network that usually exists between families that are on military bases. Here are some things to consider if you decide to help a military family-
Be proactive with offers to help:
Call the family and say that you’d like to bring a dish for dinner, and suggest a date.
Offer to take the children for an outing.
Assisting in the care and well-being of children is usually a major help:
If you have children, offer to ‘swap’ kids one afternoon out of the week with your friend--one week you can watch both sets of children, the next your friend can watch them.
When something is scheduled on a recurring basis, parents can count on this "sanity time."
This can help the remaining parent/caregiver with their daily routine, as their spouse’s deployment is bound to cause some disruption. Suggestions don’t have to be in the form of ‘big favors’; even little things help.
For those of you who have older children, they can participate as well:
A child who is not old enough to be a caregiver can volunteer to be a playmate for a younger child, which would give Mom (or, sometimes, Dad) a respite (though, they should stay near).
The deployment of a parent can be particularly uncomfortable for the children; giving them some extra attention will help in the emotional transition.
Older children whose parent has deployed may appreciate having a mentor:
You can offer to take a child to a museum, some informal sports play, or just a walk in the park.
Taking the child to their extracurricular activities (organized sports, scouting, dance, etc.) helps to ease the parent’s burden from these necessary, though time-consuming, trips.
Take time out to visit, even if you are related to the deployed parent. Also, make sure to keep contact via the telephone, letters and/or e-mail. Care packages are a nice surprise on occasion. A brief note inside a happy card will probably perk up a parent’s day; children love getting mail, too, and such gestures make the absence of a parent easier to bear and help reassure children that people love and care about them.
Some other Ideas:
Call the family when you’re heading out to buy groceries (or any common errand); they may need just an item or two, and this helps save them another trip.
Get friends and relatives of the family together to buy gift cards for retail stores, restaurants, amusement centers; in particular, you may even give certificates for services regarding chores that the deployed parent used to do, like lawn care, leaf-cleaning, snow-cleaning, etc.
Your offers of help will likely be useful for many months to come—perhaps longer. These assorted gestures encourage the spouse and children at home to feel that they are supported and well-thought-of, and this can only help them to get through these circumstances.
Adapted from "Active Duty: Helping Military Families Cope" by Sarah E. Creel.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Michigan Senate Seat Up for Grabs in 2006

One of Michigan's two senators (both Dems), Debbie Stabenow, is up for re-election in '06.. the two primary GOP contenders include two pastors, one white, one black.. one's from Grand Rapids, michigan, the other from detroit.. Keith Butler, along with Andrew Merritt of Straight Gate, Wayne T. Jackson of Great Faith Ministries, Glenn Plummer of Ambassadors for Christ Church & CTN TV ministries and Marvin Winans of Perfecting Church have been among G.W. Bush's strongest local supporters (both vocally and $$$) since Bush became the GOP frontrunner for prez in '99.. I've been to Butler's main church (he has like, 7 total) a couple times.. mostly to humor female friends (and no, I didn't get any).. huge place, seats 20,000 easily, but I guess typical for such mega-ministries.. almost like going to a basketball game.. guy has a curiously southern accent for someone who supposedly grew up here.. one sermon, shortly after the Asian Tsunami, included an aside about The Last Days, and the cheery thought, "..and you all know, the Last Days started in 1948 when Israel (became a state), Amen?"..

Did I just hear..? Nahh.. couldn't be.. then again, the auditorium has several giant video screens 15-foot speakers and Surround Sound... oh-kay.. anyway... I'm not sure if he's a card-carrying NRA-er or not, but supposedly he has African safari trophies in his church office-- I have to admit, I'm no trophy hunter (I'd rather just take pictures), but I've known folks who go hunting and I don't hassle them about it.. Still, this strikes me as kinda corny, but I guess when you're the boss you do what you want, & maybe the wife doesn't allow them in the house.. which reminds me.. Oct. 1 starts bow-hunting deer season in Mich.. Nov. 1 allows for gun-hunting.. and chaperoned kids get a 2-week head start.. I'm not kidding.. ..I'm sure I know where he stands on some of the standard hot button issues, of abortion (against), gay rights (against), prayer in public schools (for) and unrestricted gun rights (for, though it may be kind of redundant since Mich. passed a Concealed Weapons Act that makes it easier to get a license to hide a Desert Eagle in your jacket.. not that most folks in the 'hood deign to bother with such formalities)..

I predict a heavily "Family Values"-driven campaign, eventually highlighting past administrations' alleged ties to homosexual plots-- in the form of lobbying for money to go to support schools like U. of M & Mich. State, who are known to have Gender/Sexuality classes that deal with gay culture and the like.. In the hood, there is lingering "alarm" over the presence of "dyke gangs" in the public schools, a phenomenon which totally flies over my head.. people should be wondering more about why there haven't been infrastructure improvements with money that presumably comes from the casinos and state lottery.. why many schools have made toilet tissue only available when you ask for it.. why schools are still overcrowded, despite record de-enrollment in the past 10 years, which continues.. why schools are still "under-booked" as in, not enough books to pass around.. Detroiters got their right to elect their own school board again (a state-appointed takeover began in '01), so let's see if folks can really push to get involved and make school officials accountable. far he hasn't taken any public stance on what to do about Michigan's economy, whether or not to encourage foreign companies to set up shop here.. They might as well.. K-Mart corporate HQ is already bolting to Chicago, and more stores will close soon.. A&P Corporation is scuttling their Farmer Jack grocers chain, one of Metro Detroit's most long-standing grocery chains.. clothing retailer Mervyns is closing all Michigan stores.. Northwest Airlines declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy recently-- in the midst of a mechanics strike.. they've indicated if/when they re-emerge, those jobs probably won't be there..

.. I'm not sure where he stands on the Affirmative Action debate-- in Mich., of course, there was the big debacle when a white female didn't get into U. of M. law school right away-- which led to the Supreme Court decision in '04 that severely altered how Mich. schools conduct their recruitment.. Ward Connerly is leading a new proposal to get on Michigan Ballots in '06, to universally ban aff. action in Michigan period.. ...he's been relatively silent concerning most Detroit-centric issues of recent years, despite having served on city council for a brief stint in the 90's.. offering no comment on the AfricanTown proposal.. or glaring accountability issues in the Detroit Public School system.. or issues of Insurance Redlining (the country's worst!!) and Racial Steering in real estate.. or addressing child care issues in labor, especially as it relates to the working poor-- Welfare recipients are required to work at least part-time (20+ hours), and these jobs are typically bottom-end stuff service industry initially, with shifting hours weekly; which puts the single parents (read: mothers) in binds to find caregivers--

the State has comparatively lenient rules on licensed child care-- there is an option that allows relatives & friends chosen by the parent(s) to get a small stipend for care, but the system is administered by a moderately complex computerized system where people have to enter in data through telephones or the internet in order to receive bi-weekly checks-- Most urban black detroiters esp. the grandmas, aren't on the web, and about 45% of the city is functionally illiterate, which leads to confusion across the board.. Mich. needs better rules for recruitment & retention, as the day care business is pretty low-paying for the average day care worker.. Tragedies have marred the image of the business (last year a deranged dude invaded a home day care, shot several people, and killed his 3-year old daughter because 'he didn't want to pay child support' (uh, no, Michigan doesn't have the death penalty-- moving on); and this past week, a suburban site had a crib death where an infant got wrapped up in blankets and strangled itself..

There are a lot of abandoned and semi-abandoned buildings in and around downtown (a few even have vultures roosting-- naturally!), including Old Tiger Stadium-- old man Mike Ilitch (godfather of Little Caesars' Pizza and the Red Wings & the Tigers teams) might as well not have built Comerica Park(with an assist from city money), considering their record so far (of course, even if the Tigers were good, would black people finally start coming to the games, instead of just selling food and T-shirts there?). IMO, too many of these (mostly suburban-dwelling) property owners are waiting for pie-in-the-sky deals where they can make money hand-over-fist, and thus are simply content to have hulking, decayed eyesores lingering for what is at this point, decades on end (and the 3 casino owners are still looking for 'permanent' sites to build newer facilities plus adjacent hotels).. In my ideal world, they would all be strung with dynamite and razed immediately (the buildings, not the owners-- then again..), but that's not gonna happen anytime soon. So, my idea is that some of them should be converted into large-scale day care/early child development schools.. they could also house after-school programs for school-age children.. with the right people behind it ($$$), it could work, but urban Detroit is notoriously flip-flopping on redevelopment projects, manyof which tend to stay in limbo..

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

class continues, in Africana Studies: History of Work & African Americans.. Had a big debate in this class, concerning Madame CJ Walker & her cosmetics/beauty empire, and what it means/meant for black communities who participated in working for her and/or using her products. What did this mean, in comparison to American/White beauty standards? Did her entrepreneurship exacerbate self-image problems for African-Americans, or did it help to enhance self-image? Consider also the well-documented philanthropy of Ms. Walker.. Does that mitigate the 'issue', for those who think she represented a reinforcement of European-derived standards? Or does that even matter at all?

In class, things really got out of hand, as the discussion wavered from discussing the time frame of Mme. Walker, to discussing today's society, which is of course, still deeply affected by European derived standards of beauty, law & morality. The discussion went further to discuss rap music, and whether its current form is too negative in its relationship to the condition of today's black communities. More fun to come, I'm sure..

Thursday, September 15, 2005

school daze, '05 style--

back to school at WSU this semester; taking a course in African-American History 1865 - Present: "The History of African-Americans & Work": more or less looking at the history of African-Americans within various industries that have come up since the end of the Civil War. Right now I'm reading On Her Own Ground, a biography of Madam C.J. Walker by her granddaughter, A'Lelia Bundles. A very good read so far.

Looks as if the course is going to be reading-intensive, we'll be reading about a book every other week. Naturally; as if I didn't have enough things siphoning my money as it is. But, I guess that's just par for the course for your higher education: But-- $128 for 6 books? Egads! All the hustler-types out there need to leave the weed, crack, meth and heroin alone and start selling college textbooks! Stores are making a killing, and it's all legal, and the bad thing is, if the books you use are "unique" to your particular class, i.e., your professor probably isn't teaching the same class next semester, you may end up having a hard time getting rid of them by the end of the term.

Tuition went up this year in all Michigan schools, over 10% average. Students are put in even more of a bind, and it's even more important to scour the Web for scholarship information. I still have old loans from my days at U. of Michigan-Ann Arbor hanging over my head, and I've been avoiding paying it back with hardship deferments for years now, since I just don't have the cash-- I wish I could hit the lottery or something so I could pay it back in one lump sum. Of course, I don't play the lottery, so that's not likely to happen.

...Of course now, G.W. Bush signed that new law some months back that revises personal bankruptcy laws; not that he'll ever be in a position to care about such things, one way or the other.

...John Roberts' Senate hearings are starting now, for his nomination for the Supreme Court (boooo... hsssss). I suspect that the Democrats will put up an opposition as solid as cooked spaghetti, and he'll end up getting in. Of course, he's up for Chief Justice now, which I suspect is a shock for many who presumed that Thomas or Scalia would get the nod for that position. But who now is going to replace Sandra Day O'Connor? Hmm. A Latino? A woman? I think there's maybe a 15% chance of that happening. When it comes down to it, I just don't think a person of color and/or woman is going to get in there, period. "Sorry, next time" will be the credo-- of course, it'll probably be another 15-20 years before one of the rest of them decide to check out..

Rehnquist: Rest in Blazes!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Return of the Legends Part II--- September 3, 2005
Hey, I told you this was a two-night show, right?
If you missed part 1, it's right below this blog- go ahead, read that one first, I'll wait here 'til you get back:
hmm-hmm-hmm... (taps toes)..

Back already? Cool beans. So here we go:
Earlier that afternoon, I headed downtown to the annual International jazz festival- big chunks of downtown streets were blocked off, and several stages were set up between Compuware headquarters and Hart Plaza on the riverfront. Street vendors were set up along the lower Woodward strip (T-shirts, purses, jewelry, oils/incense, African art, etc.) and you had to buy tickets to get food from all the various food outlets selling stuff. Mingling around the festivities, unfortunately I missed the Ford Field Football Classic that’s been happening this past couple of years, finally bringing some HBCU football—and their bands—to Detroit.
Close to show time, I finally made my way down to Chene Park. It was again hosted by Serch, the show tonight started a little late, but was set off at first by old-school Detroit rap act Detroit’s Most Wanted/DMW. They performed like three cuts and they stepped—then Chubb Rock, came out, and Chubbster performed two of his songs, including "treat em right" in between a DJ-assisted medley of old-school funk/soul & hip-hop cuts.
Next up were Brand Nubian- Puba, Jamar and Sadat set it off nicely with all their signature cuts, including post-breakup/solo and reunion songs, like "Don’t let it go to your head", "slow down", "360", "I like it", "brand Nubian", "love me or leave me alone".. during Brand Nubian's set I got a call from Pvt. Militant (, but the noise was too deep to hear-- I had to run to a less noisy part of the stadium and call him back-- turns out he's in town, and I got to talk to Chuck for a minute who explained I had some free passes at the service office.. I had already bought my tix, but I definitely could use the backstage pass--
After some technical difficulties, Digital Underground were next, repped by Shock G and Money B, and introduced DJ NewStyles, from Milwaukee. They ran through a short set of "do whatcha like", "humpty dance", "kiss you back", "oregano flow", and led the crowd in a singalong to Tupac’s "I get around" and "So Many Tears", before closing with "Freaks of the Industry" (but not before inviting all the ladies up on stage)..
Naughty By Nature was next- Treach and Vinnie took the stage (KayGee apparently left some years ago) and started off with "OPP" then went into their other hits including "guard your grill", "it’s on", "uptown anthem", "everything’s gonna be alright" and eventually closing with "hip hop hooray"..
Then at last, Public Enemy took the stage, starting off with "prophets of rage", "black steel", "shut ‘em down", "can’t truss it", "public enemy #1", "911 is a joke"; Chuck took time to shout out Mayor Kilpatrick for pledging several hundred hotel rooms and other assistance for families affected in New Orleans. He also gave props to Kanye West for putting Bush on blast in his unscripted tirade on NBC’s relief telethon. The band finally closed with "fight the power".. it was a shorter set than usual—city union/teamster type rules insisted the show be over by 11:30 or they start charging the promoter for overtime, so it had to end there. For the concert, anyway— Several peeps from the Impossebulls were in town, getting footage for future dvd releases.
For the uninitiated, the Impossebulls ( are a rap crew hailing from different parts of the globe that came together through mutual love of Public Enemy through PE’s website- initially sharing beats & rhymes over the web, they’ve produced an album and dvd that’s put out through Chuck D’s Slam Jamz indie imprint. Group member Pvt. Militant from Flint, MI hit me up on my cell, and let me know where the Enemy Board/Impossebulls crew was hanging—I swung by and saw him, and finally go to meet several other members of the fam- C-Doc (who hit me off with Slave Education), Marcus J, and Tirade (and two significant others—whazzup, ladies). We headed to the backstage dressing area, but hold it—I had been confused on where to pick up my backstage pass, so I never got one—and the security chick held me back.. Tirade was gracious enough to hang with me in the interim, then Rapstation journo-photog and longtime Enemy Boarder Old School 76 pops up and lends me his pass to let me over the barrier (which Tirade and I had temporarily moved to let an SUV pass by, no less, helping out the guard; which earned me no sympathy, alas)..
So anyway, we all start chatting outside the Chene Park business office/changing rooms area, then after a few minutes, the Omni Hotel vans are ready to take us back to the hotel several blocks away. Arriving at the hotel, we see various PE crew hanging out in the lobby, as well as Brand Nubian, who just arrived—Grand Puba looks a little bored as he chats with some peeps—
We spot the reality TV star himself, Flavor Flav, who has a couple of girls with him, and one of them’s holding a bucket of KFC..
We headed upstairs in the elevator with Flav; apparently CDoc/Tirade’s room was on the same floor, and we all headed in the same direction down the hallway—but it was clear that Flav’s party was strictly on the solo tip, and he abruptly turned to enter his room with the chicken & the chickenheads (damn, share the wealth, Flav!) We didn’t see him again.
After a few minutes of hanging in the ‘bulls room, Pvt. Militant, Tirade and I took a walk out to a nearby CVS pharmacy—apparently CVS doesn’t sell beer, but Ti got his cigarettes; and as we walked back to the hotel, Ti regaled us with the story behind Afrobeat music star Fela Kuti’s "Expensive Sh*t" (I’m glad we hadn’t eaten yet). When we got back to the hotel we hollered at Chuck, who was going to head out to the afterparty and/or visit relatives in town. We headed back to the hotel room, where Marcus had decided to call it a night early, as he and his girl started out on their drive back to Xenia, Ohio— Hope you got that case of Red Bull, Marc..
It took some extended cajoling from Ti to convince Pvt. Militant to roll with us to the nightclub. P.M. let us know that he was cooling off the club scene after nearly getting robbed at gunpoint and literally dodging a bullet the last time around. Eventually, Pvt. Militant, Ti and I then headed out to the Stinky Rose (is that a reference to the Outkast song?), a new nightclub that was hosting the afterparty.
We got in free: "We’re rolling with PE and we ain’t payin!! What!!" was the phrase in the back of my mind that was never uttered, thankfully. After our, ah, credentials were established we made our way through the joint (uh, the establishment that is), which had been turned into a semi-block party with blocked-out streets on either side. But things were apparently winding up. Money B was in the house—tipsy (Shock, where you at?), as was Brand Nubian. Drinking gin on the rocks with lime (thanks, Ti) in the VIP area, we observed that it wasn’t as rife with willing groupies as we might have wanted. Once the bar service started shutting down (except for $3.50 cokes—yikes) we headed back to the Omni.
PM decided to call it a night and head back to Flint (or "Fly-N.T."; heh—um—guess you had to be there)...On a solicited tip from the head of security (the dude looked like he could be Johnnie Cochrane’s younger bro), Tirade and I headed to room 125, still hoping to find some active partying going on, preferably with several women who’ve imbibed several drinks. We knocked on the door. Two shirtless brothers answer, and it’s clear that they’re wasted:
"Who is you?"
After explaining that we’re just looking for wherever the party’s at, they graciously let us know that there’s only two chicks in the room. Dang. They let us know if it was a better chick-to-guy ratio, that we’d be in—especially if Tirade had his video camera. So the brothers give us a pound and we head back to the waiting room, trying to figure out what to do next.
Tirade and I head out to a 24-hour IHOP and get to chop it up quite a bit on the way there, as well as during our time there—before we got seated, we had to submit to a search (hey, I went through it twice tonight already, so I guess I should be used to it). Apparently, this IHOP—which used to be owned by Anita Baker—has had problems with the late-night crowds and instituted the search policy a few months ago. Just for the 10 pm.- 6 am crowd, naturally. Did I mention that Ti and I got to talk quite a bit? The food certainly didn’t get in the way, as it took about a ½ hour for someone to come by to take our order. In the midst of waiting, we both observed all the typical celebrity photographs framed and mounted on the walls—iconic former mayor Coleman Young; 93 – 01 mayor Dennis Archer; and current mayor Kwame’ Kilpatrick. One of the biggest was a concert photo of Ted Nugent. Why anyone would want a 36" x 48" of a shaggy-maned Nuge staring at them while they’re eating their strawberry pancakes & western omelets I don’t know—at least he wasn’t holding a severed buck’s head in his hands.
As our chat continued, Ti and I noticed one of those customer survey cards, and considered giving all ‘zeroes’ (or whatever their rating system was) but apparently we forgot about it after finally getting our grub. We headed back to the Omni, where apparently CDoc and his girl had went to sleep. Ti slipped me the Impossebulls’ Slave Education cd/dvd that I had left on the dresser and I started on my trek back to the hood.
..I didn’t drive that night, so I had to wait for our wonderful (ahem) Detroit bus systems to get me back to the home base. In the evenings, most bus routes here cut back severely, many stopping service around 11 p.m. Even with the continuing routes, after midnight it’s murder to wait—sometimes literally (I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist). After I left Ti, I walked back to my job’s office building, which was barely 10 minutes away. I’m glad our entrance cards work after hours, because I had to do #2 really bad. I half-considered simply sleeping at my cubicle, but I figured I might as well head home.
It was a little after 5 a.m. by the time I left the office building to the bus stop right in front of it. I had a two-pronged bus trip ahead of me. I ended up waiting until 6:30 to catch my first bus, hoping that my sleep-derived stupor would not manifest in quasi-drunken chattiness. With luck, after I got to my half-way point the bus I needed to transfer to was just taking off—but it got caught by a red light (yes!). Hopping in, I head up Grand River Ave., which leads all the way into Lansing if you’re driving. Anyway, the chilly air from an open window helped to keep me awake a little longer, and by the time I got off my 2nd bus, it was 7:15, and I still had about a 15-minute walk back to home base. When I finally got in, a pleasant surprise waiting for me. No, none of the chicks from the afterparty followed me home. But apparently when the mail came that day (usually our postal person doesn’t hit our block until late afternoon), one of my latest E*Bay purchases had come in, which, up until now, I had forgotten about. A promo copy of the "Shut Em Down" maxi-single with the Pete Rock mixes. Ooh. Talk about karmic.
PS- shout out to enemy board’s Double A—he saw me right before PE’s set, but disappeared during.
Return of the legends, part 1:
Friday, September 2, 2005:

Well, alrighty then.. At last, the concert is here. As I was representing Northwest Indiana for the vast majority of my youth, I never really got the chance to see any hip-hop glitterati during the so-named Golden Age heyday of the Reagan/Bush pt. 1 era of performers (see the archives- So when these 'Return of the Legends' showcases started up last year, I was definitely down. Last year, the two-night lineup included Slick Rick, SugarHill Gang & Melle Mel, Special Ed, Nice & Smooth, & more.

This time, there were over 10,000 people packed in at Chene Park, just east of downtown Detroit, situated on the Detroit riverfront. Boat owners set anchor near the outdoor amphitheater and got to see the show for free.
The first act started promptly at 8:10 p.m., as MC Serch served as the host, introducing all the artists, and providing a running commentary in between sets, with longtime WJLB radio fixture TJ the Trouble Man.
First up was X-Clan—Brother J was joined by one of the new members (I forget the name), who served as a hype man. The DJ replacing Sugar Shaft I did not recognize. Giving a shout-out to Professor X, Bro. J ran through the hits like "grand verbalizer", "funkin’ lesson", "heed the words of a brother" (?), etc., and maybe two newer cuts, from a planned 2006 comeback LP in the works.

The next artist to perform was DJ Quik. People—especially women—were really screaming now. Quik popped open two bottles of champagne on the crowd up front (though one was a dud..) and went on to do a shorter set, including "born and raised in Compton", "just like Compton", "tonight", "dollaz N sense" and "SBP"… Quik jumped on the speakers at one point, and went in the crowd a few times.. one of the more raucous moments was when he invited a crew of white girls in the front row up on stage during "tonight", and they all surrounded him to grind-dance, some of them singing word for word.

MC Lyte was next (mmmm... Lyte), a repeater from last year’s Legends concert. the luscious Lana gave a shout out to K-Rock, who she said was somewhere in Alabama, helping family, then set into her routine, starting with "Paper Thin", then alternating with a cappella and DAT-backed renditions of "stop look listen", "10% dis", "roughneck" "keep on keep keepin’ on", and brought an audience member to sing her part of "self destruction".. she also dropped a few freestyles and closed with some excerpts from a new cut, maybe a new LP next year. Alas, no "cappuccino", or "cold rock a party".. close as I was to the stage, I wish I could’ve gotten a hug from her.. all female MC’s should age this well (Lil’ Kim, take note..)

My favorite part of the night was next—and totally a surprise for me.. Last time I read a blurb about the show, Big Daddy Kane was supposed to be next, and I had seen another flyer where he wasn’t even listed.. so I wondered—Serch’s introduction lingered for a minute, then finally touched on that this next cat was a mentor for him, from the South Bronx.. could it be—nah—could it be..? It is!!

KRS-ONE was back in Detroit at last, less than a year after a lecture (that I went to) and performance (that I missed) in October of ’04. Busy Bee was his hype man, and his DJ was a young cat named Cochise.. Cochise was the first DJ to rock vinyl tonight, others were rocking cd’s or it was a DAT cue.. The teacher started off with "MC’s act like they don’t know", and proceeded to preach and teach with partial renditions of "black cop", "outta here", "underground", "Sound of da police", "illegal business 2004", "south Bronx", "I’m still #1", "the MC", "step into a world", "hip hop vs. rap", and a few freestyles, before an encore encouraged (staged?) by Serch, closing with "My Philosophy" and "the bridge is over".. Finally, after buying over 12 albums (most in cassette form at first, then CD, sometimes twice due to theft), I finally get to see Knowledge Reigns Supreme in concert, albeit a non-headlining set.
Random KRS Quotes: "When you lose your job, you find your work.. What is your true purpose?" "All of y’all with boats out here should be in New Orleans!" "respect yourself. Be good to yourself. Love yourself!" "It should not take a disaster for me to help my brothers and sisters!"

When KRS stepped (Teacher! Come back!), it was time for Whodini inside the joint, who also co-headlined last year’s show. Grandmaster Dee appeared first, teasing the crowd for several minutes with a medley of assorted R&B 70’s jams, before finally Ex and Jalil took the stage, joined by Doctor Ice of UTFO as a hype man (Doc is Jalil’s brother?). They started off with "big mouth" (rapped to the instrumental off Tony Yayo’s single), then "Friends", "Funky Beat", "I’m a Ho", "Freaks…", "One Love", and closing with "Five Minutes of Funk", allowing throngs of people up on stage..
Then DJ Quik CAME BACK, this time, with a half-empty bottle of Remy in his hand, and then did an encore performance of "Tonight".. heh-heh..

Apparently, the show had a strict end time of before 11:30.. which is screwy, to me—I mean, we’re all adults here, I didn’t see any younger kids in the crowd. But them’s the breaks with the city.. Union rules and what not.
The afterparty was right afterwards at a nearby nightclub, but I’d had my fill for tonight.. Serch says that part of the proceedings are going to a relief fund..
To Be Continued---

Friday, September 02, 2005

Make Politicians Pay Attention:

a sample letter that i've been emailing to various elected officials, those near me as well as national-- every little bit helps. a lot of these folks are running for re-election circa '06, so keep that in mind:

To whom it may concern:

I would like the federal (regional, local) relief efforts to be steppedup to help New Orleans and the other areas affected by the disaster:

Some suggestions-
For transportation-- appeal to corporations-- get bus companies like greyhound, trailways, etc., to donate buses for evacuations. similar things can be done: charter moving groups like U-Haul, etc. at the various temporary shelter sites, donated food can come from restaurants and food distribution services. All these companies can get tax credit for their donated resources.

The Army, Navy, and Marines should be brought in tohelp get people out. Military helicopters can be usedto lift people in groups, and Navy and Coast Guard ships can be used to transport people on water.

You should propose a bill where all the victims of the disaster should get amnesty from income taxes for this next coming year.

Thank You

city, state
citizen, taxpayer

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Disaster for the South-
Hurricane Katrina has devastated a big stretch of the U.S. Gulf Coast. Louisiana. Mississippi. Alabama. Even northwest Florida. By now, over 80% of New Orleans is underwater. Thousands are feared dead throughout the path of the storm. Cities are in states of chaos; water engulfing entire homes and neighborhoods. Clean water, toilet facilities are at minimum. Power is out most places. The bottom-feeding frenzy has already started, with some desperate folks turning to violent means to get what they want. I can empathize with most of those who are scrounging to get sustenance and shelter. Seeing folks grabbing food, drink, basic clothing, blankets, etc. is one thing—a TV set or car rims is another—where the hell are you gonna plug in the TV? What the hell are you gonna put those rims on? A bicycle? You’re flooded out, your neighbor’s flooded out, too. So even in the midst of this great disaster, some folks have their priorities twisted, by some unseen force.
Just looking at the TV/newspapers, it hits home that a great many/majority of those affected by this natural disaster are black. Of course, regardless of color, Americans in general are suffering as a result of this, and all deserve equal attention. But to paraphrase a folk saying, if something good happens, black folks have to fight for their share; but when something bad happens, black folks end up getting more than their share.
...I don’t understand the rationale for those who "chose" to stay, initially, once the warnings started to come out. Obviously, many people have lived where they've lived for all of their lives-- sometimes in the same neighborhood. Obviously, emotional attachments are made to neighbors/family, friends, family possessions, etc. I imagine a great many of them simply assumed that the storm wouldn’t be that bad. How grievously wrong they were, unfortunately. And many others, for their economic circumstances, obviously didn’t have vehicles of their own and had little money for multiple bus/train/other tickets out of town, to stay for who knows how long. From there, who knows what opportunities they may have had to carpool or something else along those lines. At the risk of being stereotypical, it seems it seems that poorer black folks are regularly uninformed about local community services, both public and private. I hope that these agencies are getting the word out for regional assistance to take place. One possible roadblock in applying for assistance for many of these services is the paperwork that it normally takes, to ensure proper follow-up, etc. The sheer amount of homeless out there now may make this process maddeningly difficult. And whatever the illiteracy rate is for New Orleans and surrounding communities, this is going to make the process even worse. And people who’ve lost everything don’t feel like filling out a bunch of papers just to get aid.
…Just thinking about some of the related problems to this. Schools shut down. From elementary to college, where do young people go? Would other school districts accept them? Would home-schooling and/or ad-hoc group schooling have to take place in some communities? Would they just have to sit it out and end up behind their peers for this year?
…Identity theft. it may be worse than the regular theft going on. Lost credit/debit cards, mortgage papers, car titles, etc. Will mortgage companies, banks, car dealerships give people a break on these disaster-related losses, or will they insist on getting their cheddar and squeezing folks when they’re down?
…I wonder how many people will permanently leave, and try to start a new life elsewhere? Will other communities around the US be prepared for such a mass exodus? Will they be generally welcoming, or will there eventually be some kind of 'cap' put on hurricane 'refugees', especially if/when many start seeking public aid?
…For the children who have been lost, there is a danger of kidnapping. And for children who have lost their parent/guardian(s), what now? The foster care systems of various Southern regions may find themselves overwhelmed even more than they probably are already.
…I hope that religious clerics—from all backgrounds—lay off the "God’s Revenge" rhetoric (especially seeing as how N.O. is a long-time notorious ‘sin city’), and just focus on being good neighbors and helping out in whatever way they can. Of course, I suspect that for many agnostics/atheists/lapsed believers caught up in the midst of the disaster, this will be their turning point where they want to get ‘saved/born again’. I just hope they get some practical assistance and aid along with whatever religious guidance they’re seeking.
…I see that several hip-hop personalities have stepped up and are starting relief efforts, including Master P and some other Gulf Coast rappers, who reportedly lost ‘everything’ in the disaster. I hope that these efforts get some press coverage. Not that helping isn’t its own reward (or should be), but because so much of hip-hop media coverage tends to focus on arrests, shootings, fistfights/stabbings, or extravagant lifestyles, and little attention is paid to community investment and charity efforts that many hip-hop folks participate in. If nothing else, it would help show that hip-hop is not all about the thug/thief aesthetic, and that it is humanitarian at its best.
…Not to be cynical, but this situation has graphically shown that people’s material stuff can be gone like that. So when it comes to hip-hop’s preferred spoils du jour- fur/leather coats, jewelry, ultra-tricked out cars & trucks- all of it is just as vulnerable to being fodder for pawn shops and garage sales as everyone else’s stuff. Bling-related items offer little in long-term value, and have virtually no value in terms of emergency needs. Oh, I suppose a Hummer or similar truck is valuable to go over rough terrain at a time like this. But if you’ve got rims that make your tires thinner than they should be, then getting through mud & slickness is going to be worse than it should be; and then of course, there’s that pesky low gas-mileage thing. I wonder how many of these machines are just sitting if only because the owner really couldn’t afford the gas it would take to drive away and keep going.
obviously, this is just really the beginning of this particular saga, the effects of which will for sure be felt for years to come. Again, to risk being political, as the resources are tapped to help out with this situation, I hope that the America public takes a harder look at what's going on with these military efforts in the Middle East, and how so much money & manpower could be better used domestically.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

My review of the Power to the People & the Beats release from Public Enemy-

Artist: Public Enemy
Title: Power to the People & the Beats: Public Enemy’s Greatest Hits
Label: Def Jam/Universal
Release Date: 8/2/05
Behind Enemy Lines: Public Enemy’s Best of LP shines.
By Christopher 'HypeStyle' Currie
Power to the People & the Beats: Public Enemy’s Greatest Hits arrives in stores over a decade after the band’s zenith, but perhaps there was no better time than this for it to come out. What can be said that hasn’t already been said about arguably hip-hop’s most influential band? Well, first of all, this isn’t the first best-of PE set to hit American shores. The first was part of Universal Music Group’s ongoing 20th Century Masters series, in 2001. Designed as a budget-minded sampler of various artists’ work, it was a nice attempt, but far from comprehensive. Entire albums were overlooked, and several key singles were bypassed in favor of lesser album cuts. Power to the People attempts to correct that oversight, and they succeed in a major way. Unlike the previous hits set, Power was personally overseen by Public Enemy frontman Chuck D, as well as Hank Shocklee, the producer who co-founded the band. The cuts are culled from the band’s entire tenure at Def Jam Records, from 1987 – 1998. The 18-track set has all the key singles are here, like "Public Enemy #1", "Fight the Power", "By the Time I Get to Arizona", "911 is a Joke", and the band’s late 90’s comeback single, "He Got Game", with Stephen Stills.
For those who need an FYI dose, Public Enemy started off as a loose congregate of college radio DJs and party promoters in the urban Long Island community of Roosevelt (which, perhaps incredulously, also helped shape the formative years of shock-jock Howard Stern—go figure). Adelphi University’s WBAU featured a hip-hop mix show hosted by Carl "Chuckie D" Ridenhour and a few cohorts, including William Drayton, aka MC-DJ Flavor Flav. Spectrum City was a traveling DJ service run by Hank Shocklee, and in between getting his degree in graphic design, Chuck worked the parties along with Hank. Not so much actively rapping as he was simply giving an MC flavor to the proceedings, Chuck and company eventually started recording promos for WBAU, which caught the attention of producer and Def Jam co-founder Rick Rubin.
At the time of their signing, rap had gained a foothold in urban pop, and a toehold in the Top 40 mainstream, thanks in part to releases from Kurtis Blow, Whodini, the Fat Boys, LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, and of course, Run-DMC. The fact that most of these acts had a relationship with pioneering hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons certainly helped. But with the possible exception the Beasties, none of the aforementioned acts saw or promoted themselves as agitators; certainly not as revolutionaries. Public Enemy dared to give themselves the title of "the Black Panthers of Rap", issuing forth a blatantly confrontational image that compounded with hip-hop’s vaguely "threatening" ethos to all those who considered themselves the Establishment—both inside and outside urban Black communities. Rubin already saw rap as black pop’s analog to punk rock, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch when Public Enemy set out to be hip-hop’s answer to the Clash.
The late 60’s and early 70’s gave birth to a wealth of direct social commentary from artists as diverse as the classy soul of Marvin Gaye, the beat-heavy funk of James Brown, and the psychedelic-fueled rock-funk fusion of Parliament/Funkadelic. But by the close of the Carter administration, Afrocentric, angry, and/or political themes in black pop had long-since become dormant in the aftermath of the disco movement. By the time of Public Enemy’s debut, Michael Jackson and Prince were arguably the biggest pop/rock stars in the world. Not just one, but two black men, ya heard? Still, many fans had to privately chuckle at the spectacle of these two slight, vaguely effeminate brothers sporting spiky leather, adopting tough stances and spouting tougher talk in their videos. Public Enemy reflected a toughness that you could actually buy into. With Chuck and Flav dressed largely in black, with backup dancers the S1W’s decked out in paramilitary uniforms, Public Enemy may have scared as many people as they attracted, early on. Most recording acts, including within the rap world, tended to downplay directly opining on the urban condition, let alone contemporary world issues. The most you could hope for would be generic We-Are-The-World sentiments that didn’t really push anyone’s buttons. Not that most mainstream journalists of the time felt that rappers had anything substantive to say—or would even be around long enough to say it.
Public Enemy defied the assumption that black men had to be disinterested and de-fanged to be viable recording artists. .Public Enemy’s logo declared that young black men (and by that extension, black youth in general) were walking targets, and the band boldly stated one of its early goals was to raise "5,000 black leaders" for the future. They flaunted a quasi-gangster image, but with a message that went above and beyond the get-money-get-laid aesthetic that rap would eventually get swamped by in years to come. They didn’t apologize for having a harsh words about racism, black apathy or accomodationism. For as far as Public Enemy was concerned, the conditions affecting the inner-city and blacks in general were even harsher.
Sonically, the band had virtually a punk approach to creating its music—for as much as it was steeped in soul, funk and other modern strains of black pop, the Bomb Squad—including Bill Stephney, Hank Shocklee, (and his brother Keith), Eric Sadler, and ‘Carl Ryder’ (a pseudonym for Chuck)— created soundscapes that defied traditional notions of rhythm and melody, even for most rap of the time. Most rappers had a palpable desire to get on the radio. Public Enemy, seemingly, didn’t give a damn. Their records raced at ultra-high tempos, with purposely-used feedback and fuzzy breaks that made it sound like someone had bumped your stereo and kept doing it. They pioneered the use of archived speeches in their recordings, citing figures both familiar and mainstream (Jesse Jackson) as well as those who were clearly outside of that particular box (Khallid Muhammad).
Their debut, Yo! Bum Rush the Show, was the most sonically spare and unadorned LP the group recorded, but then the ante was upped with each subsequent release that featured multi-layered samples galore, that sent a generation of milk crate-diggers searching for the original sources. Before sample clearances became a major source of revenue for established acts, the Bomb Squad took full advantage of the audio collage-making that the newer drum machines made possible. It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold us Back is now considered one of the great pop masterpieces of all time, alongside Fear of a Black Planet, the latter of which was just recently archived in the Smithsonian. For these landmark recordings, and even their follow-ups, the band continued to be the head anchors for what many considered as the urban CNN.
The band’s approach to live performance is virtually unprecedented. Their earliest touring jaunts had them as a supporting act for Run-DMC, Whodini, the Beastie Boys, and Doug E. Fresh. Taking cues from their contemporaries, the group has always made sure that videos weren’t the only way that fans could see them perform. The advent of video stardom became a semi-pacifying tool for rap acts, who were already going up against the corruption of fly-by-night promoters and the apprehension and/or hostility of venue owners who looked at rap shows as headache money. But Public Enemy weathered these storms, taking the initiative to tour internationally as often as possible. While the language differences and wildly varying accomodations proved too much for many a rap act to stay long (which illustrated how staunchly American even the most disaffected cats from the ‘hood were, once they stepped off that plane), Public Enemy soldiered on, sometimes sleeping in their own tour bus instead of a hotel. As years went on, the band proved itself to be flexible enough to go on tour with metal and alternative bands, expanding their audience and proving that live hip-hop could be just as engaging as a rock show.
As the 90’s expanded the commercial viability for hip-hop music, geographic diversity in rap expanded tremendously, while thematic diversity, ironically, began to narrow. Rappers from the West Coast, the Deep South, and the Midwest began to inundate the scene, and admirably pushed their own brand of hip-hop for all to enjoy. Social commentary in rap was de-emphasized, and the party ethos of rap’s earliest records came back in focus. Which, by itself, seems innocuous enough. But on the flip side, rap records focusing on the inner-city underworld "gangsta" lifestyle started to become even more mainstream, to the point where "thug life" became the default voice among rap’s most accessible faces.
Rap’s pioneers from the "golden era" late-80’s started to drift further away from having a radio presence, and in some cases from recording entirely. But Public Enemy has endured, still making records, and still touring, whether radio, BET, VH-1 or MTV are asleep at the wheel or not. You can call it cult status, but how many other rap acts can still command an audience of thousands, whether or not they have a hot single in rotation? And with elder-statesmen status comes a certain degree of nostalgia; Flavor Flav’s reality show stints have helped to make him a household name, perhaps even more so than when the band were at its zenith. Plus, the 80’s are hot again anyway, and if Aerosmith weren’t too old to make a comeback and have impact, why not Public Enemy? The rampant disengagement of urban audiences is one of the reasons that rappers struggle with longevity. Most heads who were taken aback by Flav’s canoodling with Brigitte Neilsen probably hadn’t listened to the band since Apocalypse ’91, and probably had no idea about Chuck’s radio show at progressive talk network Air America.
Many of those who criticize current hip-hop tend to ask, "whatever happened to…?"; but when a veteran act releases a project, you can almost hear the moans of "Oh, them again?" Well now, people have no excuse if they want a convenient compilation of some of the best hip-hop ever. They shocked America & the world before it was considered trendy to do so. For heads who want to relive the band’s best moments, or for others who are curious about the old-school when it was, well, new-school, Public Enemy is already a timeless act. Power to the People & the Beats makes sure you don’t forget it.