During the early to mid ’70s

28 Jun

During the early to mid ’70s, visionaries like Kool DJ Herc introduced new ideas to the way music was played. Like some other music-loving ‘bredren and sistren’ along with myself, Kool DJ Herc was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Following the footsteps of Jamaicans that came before him, he relocated to the Bronx, NYC and took root. With a sound system like no other, there was always a party when Herc spun records. Folks from all city boroughs showed up, and brought their friends. Most of them had never experienced anything like Herc’s thunder in the clubs or at ‘block parties,’ where he was a hometown favorite. There’ll be more on these unique, social gatherings a little later. Kool DJ Herc was one of those cats that was thinking outside the box for a long time, and inspired other DJs to follow suit. Everywhere Herc touched down, he left a distinctive mark imprinted in the minds, bodies, and souls of music lovers in and around the vicinity.

Afrika Bambaataa was homegrown in the Bronx. He is best-known for taking the radical, independent factions of the Hip-Hop lifestyle and organizing it all into an urban music society…and for being the first rapper, ever. In 1984, he worked on the song “Unity” with the recently departed Godfather of Soul, James Brown. (We’re gonna miss ya, ‘Soul Brother #1.’) By mixing block parties with DJs and break-dancers, he synergized all the varying entities of Hip-Hop through his Zulu Nation. The Zulus educated inner-city youth about their history and empowered them to be productive citizens. His ears were open to all types of music as he became a catalyst for blending rhythmic styles from Africa with Funk, Go-Go, Jazz, Reggae, Rock, Salsa and Soca for the first time in music history.

Bambaataa’s affiliations included the Rock Steady Crew and Double Dutch Girls. There was also a spray-painting graffiti artist who parlayed his love for ‘visual art’ into being the host of a popular show that engaged the minds of America’s Black and White youth. It ended up changing Rap music history all over the world. Now with a ‘retired’ can of spray paint, Yo MTV Raps’ Fab 5 Freddy was also a key player in the classic film, “New Jack City.” There’ll be more on that captured moment in time a little later, after we finish up with Afrika Bambaataa (& friends), and dig further into the chapter: there’s some real meat in thar! That’s what’s up.

Afrika Bambaataa became a major music producer in his own right. He spent a lot of time logged in at Tommy Boy Records between 1982 and 2005. While there, he produced a huge hit for the New York club and radio scene, 1982’s “Funky Sensation.” To me, that song defined a new era of music for both myself and the City of New York. “Funky Sensation” helped to establish a path that many dance music producers followed, well into the new millennium. Another historical Rap label that Bambaataa put some time in with was Profile Records.

Profile was the home of a trio that made music history: Run-DMC and the late Jam Master Jay. Their chronicles defined the next wave of Hip-Hop and fashion by way of brimmed Fedoras, leather pants, blues jeans, and unlaced, Adidas sneakers. During the winter, they sported snorkels with fur around the hood. In New York winters of the 70s, we sported hats like Kangols (still popular) and ‘Robin Hoods'(with side feathers) on the dome. Some folks liked toboggins and ski light up baseball hats for their ‘masking’ feature. Brooklyn later picked up a pseudonym–Crooklyn. Our 70s fashion also consisted of colorful silk shirts (Versace predecessors), polyester pants with stitched pleats running down the sides called Swedish Knits, and bell-bottom blue jeans with zippers at the foot.

Squares (L-7’s) wore no name ‘rejects,’ but our popular footwear included Converse All-Stars, red, black and green Pro Keds, Pumas (my favorite were rust-colored), PONY’s, and shell-toe Adidas. We had interesting acronyms for the latter two brands. “I could tell you, but…” you know the story. Looking back now, I notice that Adidas kept the same body style longer than the Ford Explorer did! My New York winter-wear included snorkels, sheepskins, leathers, ‘Maxie’ and ‘Cortefiel’ coats with soft fur on the collar; they were the rage. People got stuck up (ganked) for them, too. I once witnessed someone grab a friend’s hat right off his head – as the train doors closed (this guy was quick!)

Some of my ‘classic’ garments are still intact: a black Robin Hood hat with a now-wilted side feather, a colorful, winged (big collar) polyester shirt with a Disco theme on the front, my sky-blue high school graduation three-piece suit, ‘Mack’ full-length Maxie coat (it looked good; mom made it), and black Cortefiel coat are all stashed somewhere around Area 51. Don’t ask me what I’m going to do with them, but my coats still have fur around the collar. Does “E.T.W.” (Extra Terrestrial Wear) sound catchy to you? Let’s check in with ‘Rush’ (Phat Farms), ‘P-D’ (Sean John), ‘J to the Z’ and ‘Double D’ (RocaWear), ‘Fiddy’ (G-Unit), and WTC (Wu Wear) for the final answer.

I’m being told to nix the trip down memory lane and stick to the script, so it’s back to the original ‘bad boys’ of 80s Rap. Run-DMC and Jam Master Jay opened up Pandora’s box with their classic hit “Rock Box.” I got a premonition of what was around the corner for Rock and Rap early on: sampled ‘guitar crunches’ fused with ‘dem phat Hip-Hop beats, boyee!’ Then the crystal ball revealed something else to me – up jumped Def Jam Recordings, LL Cool J, Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys, all using overdriven guitar sounds riding along with the big, deep 808 beat that caused car trunks (and the inside of your body) to vibrate.

Run-DMC and Jam Master Jay un-laced their Adidas and went on to re-make Rock group Aerosmith’s classic “Walk This Way,” then invited the original rockers to get in on it. Along the way, Run-DMC sold a ‘few million’ records. In the background was one Russell Simmons, pushing buttons on his remote control. Then he got a cellphone. But before groups like Run-DMC made it to the game, there was one of the first major league rappers–Afrika Bambaataa. Oh yeah; along with his group The Soulsonic Force, Bambaataa fired off a ground-breaking shot remembered as being ‘most strategically launched’ from the annals of New York’s urban jungle.

When the classic “Planet Rock” hit Billboard’s charts (it hit the year 1982 in a BIG way too), the song considerably changed music history. It used a similar robotic, vocoder-like sound as the one found in Kraftwerk’s smash “Trans-Europe Express.” “Planet Rock” was a smorgasbord of cool electronic sounds and Hip-Hop beats. Meshed together with samples from other records, it captured the attention of music lovers caught dancing to the non-stop, funky sensation of this incredible new beat. Afrika Bambaataa’s Electro-Funk style went on to influence the sound of music styles like Dance, Electronic, House, and Techno. If a sound system exists anywhere in the galaxy, I predict that “Planet Rock” will rock it. In the meantime, you can listen out for this classic hit on Internet radio, satellite radio, broadcast radio, clubs and dance parties everywhere. ‘Nuff said–next!

Creative minds of legendary pioneers such as Russell “Rush” Simmons, Eddie Cheeba, Spoonie G, Lovebug Starski, The Juice Crew, Marley Marl, MC Shan and D.J. Hollywood are also among those credited as being key leaders in the surge that brought Rap music and Hip-Hop culture to mainstream society. Many people may think the Sugar Hill Gang was one of a few initiating forces in Rap, but there were actually many other hot acts out there grinding to earn their dues
–like those affiliated with Rush Productions. Rush was building a name for itself as a music promotion company to be noticed. I’ll expound upon the meteoric rise of the dynamic institution which followed this event shortly thereafter.

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