The tennis playing Williams sisters are on and trying to decide which of them will be walking away from the Wimbledon Women’s Singles Championship with the victor’s trophy; the same trophy they’ve passed between them for a decade. They’ve got the shine and the paper so, at this point, history is what it’s all about. Venus is attempting to catch the standard bearer—the great Billie Jean King—in overall grand slam singles titles, and Serena’s aim is to win for the first time in six years while exacting revenge for last year’s defeat in two sets at the hands of her older sibling. While putting this down, the playa has witnessed Serena dominate her sister and win the title in less time than it has taken to properly finish his blog.
KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY
In the world of other defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers are on the verge of upsetting the NBA summer free agent marketplace by acquiring Ron Artest, the “True Warrior,” the nickname that he answers to during Harlem’s legendary summer tournament: the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic. The standout Queensbridge Projects product is an often troubled but gifted bare knuckles competitor who incited a riot after a Detroit Pistons fan threw beer on him. He is the best one-on-one defender in the NBA and a legit 20-point-a-night scorer; thus making him the rarest of breeds: a big time scorer who will do the dirty work at the other end of the court. His arrival in Laker land was made possible when emerging star and NBA Finals hero, Trevor Ariza’s agent miscalculated the amount of leverage their position held in their free agent negotiations with Laker GM Mitch Kupchack. It is worth noting that My Knicks drafted Ariza, traded him and passed over the hometown product, Artest, the year he came out of St. Johns. On another Laker note, my old friend Laker lead scout Rasheed Hazzard caught his first world championship ring with last month’s Laker defeat of the Orlando Magic. Get ’em Sheed! Stay focused! And congratulations to his brother and sister-in-law, Jalal and Shalott on the newest addition to the squad, Marley. Mother and child are both at home resting comfortably.
LAKER DON MITCH KUPCHACK
If you’re not a friend on my Facebook list, you’re missing out. We just had a celebration of some of the finer moments in the history of Black Music which is currently experiencing a worldwide resurgence, courtesy of the music of The King. Steaming portions of soul, funk, jazz and hip hop were served from the insideplaya’s You Tube archives all month (you can find my FB address on my blog roll.) Jazz fusion icons Weather Report were featured, and made us recall a time when shit was just a little bit funkier. The music of the visionaries Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff was represented by posts from Archie Bell & The Drells, The O’Jays, Teddy Pendegrass and MFSB. Minneapolis hat wearing hit men, Jam and Lewis were acknowledged, as well as the late Luther Vandross. Of course, the recently departed King was remembered too.
Black Music is a river that has flowed on and on, and on through the years. You can observe it safely from the shore, or you can jump in. I’m a swimmer, and have kept up with the currents for over a generation. I was especially blessed to have been at ground zero for New York’s hip hop explosion. The New York of Grand Master Flash, the Zulu overlord/DJ Afrika Bambaataa, Fab Five Freddy, Nells, The Red Parrot, Bentley’s The Roxy, Danceteria and The Fever. Funky Town USA was deep and rich in the feeling, and the beat was strong then. You could hear the urgent sound of hip hop in the parks, on car stereos, spilling out of boom boxes, and filling the ear drums and souls of restless kids who had been battered by supply side economics. The damage that had been wrought by exclusionary practices was assuaged by the intoxicating medicine of two turntables, a mic and funky individuals with extremely mad flow. The rhythm was airborne, and in the wake of “Thriller”, it seemed that just about everyone I knew was creative in some way or another: break dancers, graffiti artists, MCs, DJs, actors, comics and entrepreneurs were all getting their grind on to the fresh sound of the come up.
At the time all this was going on, I was a radio promotion executive for hire. In what was then a tightly knit business community populated by a handful of mom & pop operators, word of my prowess traveled fast. Because I had access to airplay at then powerhouse Urban, 98.7 KISS-FM, and the pioneering Black FM Heritage outlet, WBLS I was in demand. Good friends touted my skillz to the independently distributed record label community. The late Steve Salem, third generation Black Music exec, and SRC and Loud Records mogul, Steve Rifkind, and legendary Jive creative executive turned filmmaker Ann Carli (Tokyo Rose) all helped to put the playa in the game.
STEVE RIFKIND AN EARLY SUPPORTER
Success in music circles, and especially in New York music circles leads to increased access. Increased access leads to influence, and influence is courted and feted. As a result of this, I often found myself mixing with more established executives in the wider community. In the summer of ’86 I was invited to a party on a yacht that was thrown by the then small independent upstart Jive Records to celebrate the 3 X platinum success of their British (West Indian) Black Pop breakthrough sensation, Billy Ocean. In attendance that Friday night were some of the real and future playas in the game. Jive was then being distributed by Clive Davis’ Arista Records, so he was in the place to be. Additionally, then Arista promo don, and future Sony chair, Donny Ienner was present. A & R man Ed Eckstine was in effect. New Jack swinger Andre Harrell was on the list. My hostess Anne Carli was on board as was a young 19 year old NYU coed, Faith Newman. I should have known then that she’d make history of her own. Faith came to the party with an attorney, and we struck up a conversation that continued once we were back on shore. She was Jewish and from Philly, and was crazy about Black Music. She was current on all the latest hot twelve inches, radio cuts, mix show jams, club bangers and ballads. She was also capable of passing the acid test for flava, she could do any Black teenage dance that came out. You may scoff, but there were many a young Black adult who could not credibly do the “wop.” Faith had a lot of soul.
FAITH AND A FRIEND
Night life was of major importance to the fledgling hip hop business because club jocks played your record first instead of waiting for it to be on the radio. It was this fact that gave the night world the edge that comes with being experimental. I had access to all of the important jocks and all of the important clubs. Faith became a club hopping buddy during that summer. She was living in a small Greenwich Village apt. and was ready to rock at a moment’s notice. As a summer of clubbing began to turn to fall, Faith needed to go back to school. She wanted to further her music business education and she was looking for an internship. I had contact at CBS Records and recommended her for an internship in the dance department. She flourished, and would eventually leave NYU early and land her first paying job in the game, a coveted A & R spot with Def Jam Recordings. Def Jam became her graduate program in hip hop. In the early ’90’s she bounced from Def Jam and took a position with it’s distributing label, and she joined the company where she first began to intern, Columbia Records, as an A & R executive. The gamble that she’d taken to leave NYU early was beginning to pay off, and would have a bigger payoff still. An artist/hustler/utility playa from her Def Jam days gave her a call about an artist that he was shopping. The hustler was MC Serch and the artist was another product of the Queensbridge housing project, the ill lyricist Nas who was then referring to himself as “Nasty” Nas.
3RD BASEMAN AND UTILITY PLAYA SERCH
A deal was struck for the young MC’s services and Faith got started making a record with the wunderkind. I had moved on to the A & R ranks myself and was busy making a bit of history with the signing of a young Virginian with a little talent of his own, and Faith and I were not in contact on a regular basis. When you become immersed in making a record, you are living, eating and breathing that project until you get that first record on the radio. Then you’re only breathing it, as you begin to fight with the rest of the departments in the company for their budgets, energy and contacts in support of your initial vision. This part of the game was made harder, as record companies at that time were primarily staffed to exploit rock and pop records. Even executives within the Black and Urban radio departments were not steeped in the vibrant street/club and business culture that was producing A & R executives like Faith Newman. But she was undaunted and proceeded to collaborate with her young charge and together they would not just make a record, they would make a hip hop classic, “Illmatic.”
Nas had appeared on the influential “Breaking Atoms” by Main Source and spit lava on a guest spot on “Live At The Barbecue.” I’d had the album, but at the time of it’s release I was immersed in compiling the soundtrack to the crack classic, “New Jack City.” The Nasty one’s debut went without notice by me. Serch and Faith had not been similarly distracted.
I first became aware that the Nas era was about to begin on an autumn night in ’93 in Brooklyn. I’d been playing basketball at the Eastern Athletic Club with the Simmons brothers, Rush and Run. The chauffeur driven black sedan that had been the vehicle for many a club runs was waiting for us after the run, and the driver Kenny Lee was accompanied by a friend, the young producer/MC/DJ/ trendsetter and Tribe frontman, Q-Tip. Our eventual destination was Cafe Tabac – the downtown model magnet of the moment.
We were listening to DJ Red Alert’s mix show on KISS-FM and the party starting “Gangasta Bitch” came on and blazed. Tip said, “I made this shit.” The radio was turned up past rattling so the bass could be felt just so. As was his habit at the time, Tip asked me, “What’s the hottest record in the street right now?” As many times as he’d asked the question, you would think that I’d be prepared to answer, but he ambushed me again. Mercifully, Red Alert came to my aid and distracted him by playing “Halftime” the debut setup jawn from Nas.
IN THE LAB GOD’S SON & FAITH SURROUNDED BY MEMBERS OF THEIR HIT SQUAD L-R, PREMIERE LARGE PROFESSOR Q-TIP AND L.E.S.
All I can remember of my impression of that first listen was a furious lyrical intensity that seemed to reach out of the radio, grab you by the throat, and force you to listen. I remember snatches of lyrics and punch lines, “Nas why did you do it? You know you got the mad phat fluid when you rhyme” “I set it off with my own rhyme/’cause I’m ill as a convict who kills for phone time.” He was aggressive, clever and inappropriate. He was mad B.
The CD that followed several months later contained 9 more examples of excellence produced by a squad of young hit men including, Large Professor, Premiere, Q-Tip, Pete Rock and L.E.S. All through the spring and summer of ’94 “Illmatic” was top 5 in my crib. It was an essential collection of beats and rhymes that served as a window to what was going on in the streets of New York. The album has been lauded by publications like The New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Source, XXL, and others as one of—if not the best—hip hop album of all time. No true hip hop collection is complete without it. After its less than enthusiastic initial reception at retail, it eventually went platinum in 2001.
The former NYU coed left Columbia Records, and Nas struggled with an ever increasing desire for mainstream acceptance on the part of his label, and his handlers without her guidance. Despite this, he became the voice of his generation and eventually left Columbia to sign with Def Jam. It is worth noting that when MC Serch first began to shop Nas’ demo he played it for my old basketball playing buddy Russell “Rush’ Simmons who passed on the chance to sign him. Faith Newman is now married to a nice Jewish doctor, living between New York and Pittsburgh, and involved in building a publishing company. We don’t do the clubs anymore, but we’re in touch.
Peace to Steve Kopitko, Clive Caulder, Gail Bruszewitcz, Pete Nice, The Latin Quarter, The Underground, Kool Lady Blue and Chuck Chillout