Monday, February 28, 2011

Another early 80's article about rap music: "Music Makers: Not What You Say, But How You Say It"

Another early article about rap music, this time from The Associated Press. It's dated August 28, 1981.

Music Makers: Not What You Say, But How You Say It

Hey, baby, have you heard? The word is the rap and the rap is the word. It's a party kind of music, a tres hip thing, Any number can play, and you don't have to sing.
All right, it's admittedly a crude effort. But in rap music it's not so much what you say as how you say it, and with the right rapper and a good get-down disco rhythm track, there's a fair chance even Mother Goose could make it to the Top 40 these days.

There are rap records on almost every subject and, apparently, a market for almost every rap. Although rap music -- basically rhymes that are spoken, not sung, over a bare-bones dance beat -- typically is played anywhere people gather to dance, at least one radio station, Cleveland's WDMT-FM, features rap to rev up by every morning in a "Toothbrush Beat" spot.
All 120,000 copies in the first pressing of Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rap" sold out within a week last December. New York comedian Russ Mason's strings-backed "Prep Rap" ("We don't wear designer jeans. While they fit rather well, they look like hell. We get khakis from L.L. Bean.") earned him a spot on Tom Snyder's "Tomorrow" show.
For the occasion, Mason says he wore an alligator shirt, khaki pants and Topsiders, "but I committed a grave faux pas by wearing socks."
A soap-opera inspired rap, "General Hospi-Tale" by Afternoon Delight, is a popular new entry, Teena Marie's "Square Biz" is a certified hit, and Record World magazine's resident rap authority, Nelson George, says that somewhere in his collection is a "Jewish Rap" by Steve Goodman and the Kosher Five.
And then there are the big commercial successes. "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugar Hill Gang, which was credited with launching the rap rage when it came out two years ago, has sold 2.5 million copies domestically, and untold millions more overseas.
Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks," became the second 12-inch single to be certified gold, after the Donna Summer-Barbara Streisand smash "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)." And rap went white and mainstream in a big way with the 1.4 million-selling, No. 1 Blondie tune, "Rapture," Deborah Harry and Chris Stein's tribute to the form and the black New York-area disc jockeys who developed it by delivering their rhymed patter over instrumental tracks from disco hits.

One of the interesting things about rap music is that it's become a musical meeting ground for two traditional enemies: disco and new wave rock.
Miss Harry, for example, recently released a rap-laced solo album, "KooKoo," produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic fame. And Britain's The Clash rapped out socio-political commentary in "The Magnificent Seven" from the "Sandinista" LP.
"This is like street music to them," says Record World's George of the attraction of new-wavers to rap. "If they feel it's genuine black street stuff, they're willing to accept it."
Although accomplished rappers -- mostly DJs who go by such flashy sounding stage names as Kurtis Blow (blow being a slang term for cocaine), Grandmaster Flash and Deejay Hollywood -- make their rapid-fire delivery sound spontaneous, raps require as much if not more work than regular songs.

"You have to get a concept," says the Sugar Hill Gang's Master Gee, an 18-year-old whose given name is Guy O'Brien.
"Then after you get the best possible concept you start forming it into the lyrics which are the rhymes. Then when you have the most possible material and cleverness you apply it to a musical track. You edit, polish up different things with production staff and when push comes to shove you have a record."
O'Brien, who developed his craft working as a mobile disc jockey, was brought together with fellow Gang members Mike Wright (Wonder Mike) and Hank Jackson (Big Bank Hank) by Sylvia and Joe Robinson of Sugar Hill Records, an Englewood-based independent that has become the big name in rap records.
The Robinsons came up with the idea of using not one but all three talented rappers over the instrumental track from the Chic disco hit, "Good Times" for "Rapper's Delight."
"We didn't know each other until the night we made the record," O'Brien says. "We just applied what we learned on the streets."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

NY Times, 1981: 'Rapping is probably familiar to most New Yorkers as an intrusive noise on the subway or in the park'

Another early article about rap music, this time from the New York Times. It's dated March 13, 1981. A lot has changed in 30 years.


By Robert Palmer

RAPPING, a kind of rhythmic versifying with skeletal instrumental or unrecorded accompaniment, began in Harlem, the South Bronx and other black communities in the New York area. A white rock group, Blondie, has carried the rapping style into the national Top 10 with the hit single, ''Rapture,'' but the champion rappers are the Sugar Hill Gang, Grand Master Flash and the Fabulous Five, and other groups that have sold large quantities of records but seldom perform for white audiences.
Rapping moved downtown for a night on Wednesday when the Ritz presented a cavalcade of rappers. The Sugar Hill Gang, whose ''Rapper's Delight'' was one of the first rap hits, headlined the show. The three men who do most of the group's rapping took turns declaiming rhymed couplets and chimed in as a unison chorus on key phrases while a tight band laid down funk rhythms that were heavily accented on the first beat of each measure. The band also accompanied Sequence, three women in glittering costumes whose raps were as fast and funny as those of the men.

Grand Master Flash and an assistant accompanied the Fabulous Five with a virtuoso performance on two turntables; Flash constructed bass and drum parts by repeatedly playing the first few bars of records by Queen & Chic; he created extravagent special effects by stopping records with his hand while they were playing, while they were spinning, a technique that resulted in a regular, percussive skidding sound. ''What you've just beared witness to is seven men and two turntables,'' one of the group's rappers told the predominantly white, enthusiastic crowd. ''Think about it.''

The Funky 4 Plus 1 provided even more food for thought. The group's five rappers chanted in crisp unison and traded phrases in a kind of whiplash call and response. They were able to inject some personality, and some new rhymes and couplets, into what has already become a fairly standardized idiom, and they were as disciplined as a crack drill team. Their lone disk jockey provided minimal accompanyment by repeating bass figures and drum parts from various funk and disco records. Basically, the Funky 4 Plus 1 provide a kind of rhythmic noise. Melody and harmony have no place in their music, which rides on an irrestible dance beat and various cross rhythms.
The evening featured several surprise guests, including Andy Hernandez from Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, who rapped over the instrumental track of his latest recording, the delightful ''Me No Pop I.'' The Coconuts, who are Mr. Hernandez's associates in the group Kid Creole and the Coconuts, also performed a short set of their own and demonstrated conclusively that they are not spectacular dancers.

Rapping is probably familiar to most New Yorkers as an intrusive noise on the subway or in the park - the noise that comes out of blaring cassette players and portable radios. But as the Ritz show demonstrated, rapping has a much broader appeal than one might have anticipated. It's an intriguing test of the performer's verbal ingenuity and rhythmic exactitude, and its fine.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Earliest article about rap music? 'Recording the Rap: Jive Talk at the Top of the Charts', The Washington Post, 08-31-80

This blog is all about preservation of old school hip hop culture. Besides radio and live tapes, you find some movies and also a bunch of flyers. I think it's nice to post 1 or more newspaper articles from back in the days too. So in stead of mp3, lot's of text. Please let me know if you find this interesting enough.

The next article is from the Washington Post and it's the oldest one that's about rap music i came across. If someone has an earlier article (not a hit chart or a general piece that only briefly mentions a rap artist), please let me know!

Recording the Rap: Jive Talk at the Top of the Charts
By Leah Y. Latimer

"The rap is hot. It is the newest craze among the 14-to-21-year-olds, the record-buying majority who are putting rap records on the national charts and making money for the nightclub disc-jockeys capitalizing on a bit of New York City party culture. Rap records are big among young adults too, those in the 21-35 age range who bop into the disco on Friday night ready for good music and fast talk.
Rapping started in New York clubs about five years ago when deejays began trying to outdo each other -- while spinning the most popular instrumental tracks -- by talking over them, always in outlandish rhymes that slid off the lips in syllabic precision, always in perfect time to the beat. Now the competition is in the recording studios, where deejays are putting their raps on tape for play on radios and in discos across the country.
Kurtis Blow, a 20-year-old New York nightclub deejay who floats from club to club, is the best rapper around, according to recent sales. "The Breaks," his seven-minute humorous lament about life's ups and downs, is the second 12-inch extended-play disc to be certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. (The first was the Donna Summer/Barbra Streisand teamup on "Enough Is Enough.")
"The Breaks" rose fast through the black-oriented single charts, hitting No. 1 in Billboard two weeks ago and currently at the top spot in Record World. And more: "The Breaks," on Polygram's Mercury label, is also No. 4 on Billboard's Disco Top 60. It's even bubbling under the Hot 100 at 101. "It's premature to say it's a crossover," Polygram/Mercury Records president Bob Sherwood says, "although it has in Miami and, of all places, San Diego."
Locally, Waxie Maxie reports that in a single week one of its outlets moved about 35 copies of "The Breaks" after its April release. That's the kind of popularity that got Blow booked into the Capital Centre last night, along with another rap group, the Sugarhill Gang.
Not bad -- considering that, according to his publicist at Mercury Reocrds, Blow "is not doing much that any other deejay in the clubs isn't doing." "He's just got that flair," the publicist says of the Harlem native who is also majoring in communications and speech at Brooklyn college.

Guy O'Brien of the Sugarhill Gang outlines the essential elements of a good rap: In addition to a distinct speaking voice, a good beat and some slick verbal gymnastics, O'Brien says, you need: one or more characters; a good, short story line; and lyrics that make the listener sing along and follow the rapper's instructions. "Rapper's Delight," the initial rap single by the three-man Sugarhill Gang, has it all.
Each rapper introduces himself, not forgetting the qualifications that makes him the "baddest brother." Then, once the listener feels like he and the rapper are old friends, the rapper can make the listener do anything:
Now you're feelin' the highs and you're feelin' the lows
The beat starts getting into your toes.
You start popping your fingers and stamping your feet
And moving your body while you're sitting in your seat
And then JAM -- You start doing the freak
I said JAM/Right outa your seat
And then you throw your hands high in the air
You're rocking to the rhythm
Shake your derriere
You're rocking to the beat without a care
With the sure-shot MCs for the affair.
From "Rapper's Delight" -- lyric copyright 1980, Sugarhill Records Ltd.

The first rap record sneaked into stores in September of 1979. Sylvia Robinson, president of Platinum Records, says she realized the commercial profitability of the rap after first hearing a typical New York nightclub "rap session." She recruited three deejays in their teens and early 20s -- Henry Jackson, O'Brien and Michael Wright -- and formed the Sugarhill Gang.
The group took the musical track from a top-10 hit by Chic called "Good Times" and "We threw down most violently on it," Jackson says, meaning that they rapped over the music. But the recording was not ad-libbed: It was carefully scripted, while maintaining the spontaneity of a line at a singles bar. "Rapper's Delight" went triple platinum in less than a year.
Meanwhile, Blow had been trying to convince Mercury Records' Sherwood to record a rap with a theme for the 1979 Christmas season.
"Sugarhill was almost a deterrent," Sherwood said. "I was a doubter, worried about a copycat situation." Bill Haywood, Mercury's vice president for special markets, convinced Sherwood to let Blow record "Christmas Rapping." The 12-inch disc sold 100,000 copies during December -- but sales continued well past the holiday season. It peaked in June with sales of 350,000. Sherwood became a believer.
And the rap is still adding new names to the pop charts. Besides Blow and the Sugarhill Gang, Sequence, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five are less successful but popular rap groups with their first releases on Platinum Record's Sugarhill Label. Blow Fly, Crash Crew, Zooloo Nation, the Treacherous Three, Fat Back Band and King Tim, III, and Star Child have recorded less well-known rap records on small, independent labels such as Enjoy and Weird World.

"There's a difference between the Sugarhill Gang and other rappers," says "Big Hank" Jackson, 23, of his group. "They are stuck in a trend where they can only be an opening act. But now we have a band and we can sing."
Jackson may have been referring to Blow. At the Capital Centre and at a concert set for Madison Square Garden on Sept. 19, Blow's act involves setting up a disc jockey on stage who plays records on a portable stereo connected to the house sound system. Blow then raps over the pre-recorded instrumental music, looking like the winner in a high school talent show. Studio musicians were used to record "The Breaks."
"It costs as much to break [introduce] a gimmick artist as it does to break a legitimate act," says Sherwood, who points out that Mercury Records is concerned with developing Blow as a "total artist." In the meantime Sherwood is worried that signing other rap artists to record on Mercury might "dilute" Blow's style. He compares it to having two Donna Summers on the same label.
Blow, whose voice is the rich and animated deejay type you hear on the radio (and can never quite imagine belongs to a real person), is widening his repertoire. His next album, to be released at the end of September, will contain a love ballad, a rock rap, a western rap, a typical funk rap and even an inspirational rap.
Sherwood thinks Blow can make it as a singer. "We're very leery of gimmicks," Sherwood says. "Who can tell? Rapping could last for 10 years. On the other hand, we're thinking about a total career situation."
Both Blow and the Sugarhill Gang acknowledge that the rap may be just another passing fad. But for now, there are the money and connections that can help them down other paths. Jackson wants to get advanced degrees in oceanography. O'Brien is interested in producing records. Blow wants to make movies.
"Rapping got us to where we are now, but that doesn't mean we're gonna stay here," Jackson says. The Sugarhill Gang is already trying an artistic detour with its recent release, the 12-inch "Hot, Hot Summer Days." "We sing and then rap for about 16 bars," Jackson says, "and then sing, and then rap some more."
Blow, who studied voice and dance at New York's High School for the Performing Arts, is reluctant to talk about his plans and fears that his ideas may be stolen. "Sugarhill was first and they capitalized on what we originated," Blow says, referring to "Rapper's Delight," which hit the stores three months ahead of his "Christmas Rapping." But, he adds charitably, "at least they opened up the door for me."
They certainly did. Blow's publicist, Ken Reynolds, says, "Do you know all the people out there who are great singers and never get to cut a single? Here Blow is, talking on a groove, and now he's making an album."