New York in the eighties was wide open and dangerous it seemed as though anything was possible. Marauding crack dealers turned neighborhoods into war zones and built empires. Trigger happy policing unjustly claimed the lives of innocent victims of color all too frequently. Tension between various ethnic groups errupted into violence several times during the decade. Homelessness was at an all time high.
It has often been said that creativity flourishes amidst chaos. This was the backdrop that lent itself to the inspiration for Spike Lee’s late eighties masterwork Do The Right Thing. Lee was just one of many creative voices that had been influenced by hip hop, and attempted to make sense of the pain, suffering and stuggle of the period.
Diverse talents came to and fromThe Apple to get their work off and rival the profits of the crack lords. Madonna mined the traditions of Black dance styles, gay fashion, performance art and Hollywood glamour to good effect. Keith Haring tapped into the exploding graffiti art scene and took his illuminated infants across the globe.
The Great Grandmaster Flash cut and scratched a path out of The Boogie Down that led to a radio near you. Harlem born writer Barry Michael Cooper plied his trade in alternative and rock press by following the interconnected worlds of the hustlas, music biz and playas of the period. His seminal work resulted in his writing the uptown cinematic trilogy New Jack City, Above The Rim and Sugar Hill.
Seeds of the unorganized elements of the rap business were laid in this era and showed signs of the global beast that it would later become. In advance of rap records, clubs like The Fantasia, Charles’ Gallery and Harlem World serviced the needs of the early rap consumer with fresh to def performances by the mystics and masters of this new art form.
A black market arose around live performance tapes of pioneers like; Cold Crush, Busy B, DJ Hollywood, Kurtis Blow and others doing their thing. Those in possesion of these tapes, or the knowlege of how to get ’em were thought to be in the know.
At this time, out in Queens, in adddition to a growing underground druge trade fueled by crack sales there developed a fertile hot bed for star rap talent.
Hollis Queens natives, the Simmons brothers, Russell and Joey combined their skills to form a railroad to economic and creative freedom.
Russell went to City College, where he discoverd and mastered a unique entreprenurial instinct. He created Rush Promotions, a party promotion company aimed at the developing rap market and teamed Flash, Kurtis Blow and others for performances in front of gatherings of up to 2000 rabid fans. Joey was a dope MC and caught the stage bug. First, as a young teenager he performed as The Son Of Kurtis Blow. Later, he formed a trio that included elemetary school friend Daryl McDaniels, neighborhood buddy Jason Mizell, and experienced world wide success as Run/DMC.
Along with Rush, Run, D and Jay came producers Davey DMX, Larry Smith and teen rap sensation, LL Cool J. Later on, Irv Gotti, Ja Rule, and 50 Cent all broke from around the same way and became impact playas in the rap game.
Two members of another group, A Tribe Called Quest came from this laboratory. Phife Dog and Q-Tip. They met in church at age four and became family. According to Tip, Phife was ready to spit at the age of 9. Tip was a little reticent, and didn’t get with the program until he was 12.
The release of Fatback Band’s King Tim The III, the first recorded rap jawn sparked it. Tip was already combustible, he had been exposed to a diverse mixture of musical styles through his father’s jazz habit and collection; his mom’s blues recordings and his sister’s live rap tapes and funk 45’s.
Other influences came from; the jazz fusion collection of an aunt, the soul and dance hits that played at the house parties of extended family members, the deep and diverse New York radio scene of the mid 70’s to the mid 80’s, and a healthy dose of church singing. All of this combined with the pain and stuggle of a youth that included his father’s untimely death from emphysema when Tip was 16.
Heartbreak caused him to run away from home. This time was spent sleeping on the A train and at the Harlem apt of New York radio legend Kool DJ Red Alert whenever he could. This prepared the young hip hop star to spit lava. Music was a release from tensions at home and a way to both kill and express the pain of growing up Black in a Regan era innercity.
While struggling to find his way into the New York game, he stumbled upon a few like minded MCs and cliqued up. They were named, The Native Tounges. As has been documented many times before, they flipped the game on it’s ear.
Tribe had the biggest impact of them all. They made the most adventerous recordings, had the most commercial success and kept it hot for a decade.
And then it all ended. The market changed. Afro-centric and progressive hip hop’s bubble burst. Kids wearing leather medaillons of Africa were not in vouge.
Easy, Dre, Snoop, Diddy, Biggie and Pac became the flavor. Tribe broke up. Tip went solo. He signed a deal with Arista that I guided him into. He dropped the uneven recording Amplified. The project contained the smash Vivrant Thing.
Arista founder and chieftan, Clive Davis was fired in an extremely public fashion and was replaced by Black Pop overlord, LA Reid. LA and Tip didn’t quite see eye to eye on creative direction and they parted ways.
THE AB & THE RULER
That was eight years ago. It got a little interesting after that. He recorded enough music for 4 albums and signed to Dreamworks and Geffen. He didn’t release any of these recordings. One of them has created a legendary buzz around the game and he was prepared to release it under the name, Kamaal The Abstract. You can learn more about it at http://www.myspace.com/kamaaltheabstract.
While working with Jayson Jackson as his manager, he was signed to Motown by Sylvia Rhone. He spent 3 years cutting his Motown debut. It was time well spent.
After nearly a decade’s absence from the charts, The Ab is about to release a brilliant new collection of hip hop songs entitled The Renaissance. His love letter to the crazy circumstances of his youth, New York and the golden age of the ol skool.
Shit is banging. The project is written, produced and arranged by, The Ab. All except the party jam, Movin a heat rock performed in the style of seminal hip hop duo, Supa Luva Cee and Casanova Rudd and rocked just so over a loop of The Jackson 5’s Dancing Machine and credited to deceased Abstract discovery, J Dilla.
Many of the styles, influences, collaboraters and feeling of the journey are represented. He appropriates and channels the personality and flow of Rakim on the title track. A peek into the time before he formed Tribe and was rhyming for survival while sleeping on the A Train. The Sergio Leone influenced music bed casts our hero as a pasta western desperado, taking out all rivals in rap showdowns all over his hood and on all stops before Far Rockaway.
The greasy, nasty, funky, Man Woman Boogie ft, Floetry ex-pat, Amanda Diva’s singing cameo is sneaky. There’s a little bit of the feeling of Stevie Wonder’s Black Man, Weather Report’s Jaco Pastorious’ bass playing, Level 42’s synth funk and 80’s after hours dance clubs all blended into a left field burner.
Dancing on Glass is a showcase of verbal dexterity. Kid flaunts the ill willy and drops a beat from some long forgotten loop of, Alphonse Muzon and Larry Coryell’s that was jacked from one of his aunt’s fusion records. He taunts the obsession that has gripped the game with, “what da hook gone be.”
Also featured are D’Angelo and Raphael Saadiq. On a pair of breezy midtempo offerings. D’Angelo sings the chorus on, Believe, a churchy and smooth encouragement to stay at it. Ray blesses us with a pop slick rendering on, Wefightwelove.
If you haven’t heard the begging jawn, Getting Up, last summer’s single, don’t worry it’s included.
The contender to make this a classic Abstract project? A track called, Life Is Betta a reference to the style of British soul bohos, Loose Ends that features Norah Jones and name checks the greats; LL, Love Bug Starski, Busy B, Kool Herc, Mastardon, Run, The Get Fresh Crew and on and on and on. It let’s us know how improved the world has been since we all first heard hip hop.
Motown is struggling to get this record exposed and positioned. Apparently, records with Norah Jones, D’Angelo and Rapahel Saadiq don’t fit in as easily as they once did. That is neither here nor there because this is a welcomed return to the game by one of the most special talents that hip hop as ever produced. Get one and see if I’m telling the truth.
RIP Johnathan Davis II, Shaka Malik, Dilla
1 love to Phife Diggity, Leyla Turkkan, Glen E, Capt. Pissy, Baby Bam, The Zulu Nation, The Ostins, Red Hot Lover Tone, Drew, Nick Martinelli and….The Wirk