Posts Tagged ‘Hip Hop’


Glen E. Friedman has been a friend for nearly thirty years. He is a world class photographer with a new coffee table book out on bookshelves right now. I have written the afterword for the book. Here it is…

Game Recognize Game

For many of the players found in these pages, a Glen E. portrait, magazine shoot, publicity photo, album cover, t-shirt photo, or poster coincided with the moment when the subjects were breaking through from one level of the game to the next. From a singles deal to an album, club act to arena opener, from an opener to a headliner, from gold to platinum sales status, from releasing a string of important recordings to booking their first film role, from hanging with their clique to being outta here. Whatever the next level was, Glen was there with his vision to present them as they were precisely at that moment: ascending.

Because more often than not, Glen was there when their demo was moving around the hands of the few tastemakers who were empowered to sign them or when their first 12-inch single dropped and he heard it. He was there early because he was not merely an outside observer or on an anthropological expedition—he was a member of the movement and the community that he captured so dynamically and promoted relentlessly.

That’s how we met. I was there too, and, like him and many others, I was engaged in the day-to-day struggle of building the small but tight hip-hop nation into the international hip-hop culture and global business force that it has become. We were both living in New York and we’d see each other around campus. I had been the head of promotion for Def Jam, moved on to work at several other companies but kept close ties with my man Russell “Rush” Simmons. Because you could generally find Glen where the action was, he rolled with Rush too, and we were all friends and members of each other’s extended families.

In fact, “Rush” had a four-hundred-square-foot “mini” duplex, a walkup apartment in the dead center of Greenwich Village that Glen and I had keys to, crashed in, and where we all operated as unofficial roommates for a time. The place had a sky-blue facade with illustrations of pigs and elephants descending to the ground via parachute. Man, if those pigs could talk.

I made a living by putting records on the radio for labels that were cool enough to sign dope joints, but had no clue about how to get them any exposure. These small indie, mom-and-pop labels that were the first to develop hip hop and turn it into a cultural force, before multi-national corporations turned it into an economic one, were also the ones that consistently hired me and Glen. I got their records played, and he directed and shot their artwork.

So we weren’t only members of a community that was still getting most of its juice from the underground—a movement that had yet to be fully recognized by mainstream media, and a culture that at the time, very few referred to as such. We were also part of a loose network of young folk mixing shit up every which way we could, hustlers who made their way in Ronald Reagan’s America and Ed Koch’s New York, who attempted to instigate change in the status quo and use art to improve our lot in life.

Hustling times call for moves to be made, so while I was on a mid-’80s business trip to LA for a Black Radio convention. I ran into Glen, who was still based in Cali, and looking out for Def Jam and Russell Simmons’s acts when they were in town. I was there networking, raising my profile and looking for checks. Glen was passing through with Lyor Cohen. Glen and I didn’t know each other well then, so I hit him with it, “Where you from?”

Homie told me he grew up in LA, but started school in Englewood, NJ, and was born in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Later, he told me he really was a bicoastal kid who shuttled back and forth to see his dad on the east coast. He said living in Englewood at a young age really opened his eyes to racism and discrimination. He relayed a story about his best friend, who was two years older than Glen and Native American, and who was assaulted in a barber’s chair when his mom took him to get a haircut from white barbers! They fucked his hair up, and when they cut it all off, it left a mark on Glen that he never forgot. He also was living in Englewood when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, which also left a huge impression on him.

Pinehurst was my own mother’s birthplace, and Englewood—less than a mile outside of Manhattan—was home to the first fully integrated school system in America. The city has produced artists like John Travolta, Brooke Shields, Richard Lewis and Karen O. It is the place where Sugar Hill Records was based when they signed Grand Master Flash, and got the hip-hop ball rolling when they dropped “The Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. It is a place where creative freedom flourished, and many artists who benefited from it called it home. It is the place where jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan once lived and Thelonious Monk died. Soul Man, Wilson Pickett lived there along with Rock & Roll Hall of Famers, the Isley Brothers. I know the town well; I was born there, grew up there, and broke into the record business by working at Sugar Hill. I was actually a classmate of Glen’s Native American friend from grade school. But Glen and I would not discover how closely we were tied together through our shared background until much later.

It is in that background where you may find clues as to why Glen, a kid of Jewish descent with a vegan diet, and far-left-leaning political tendencies; a kid who was already a graduate of the nascent skateboard and American punk scenes, rolled so easily with black folks on the come-up. It may explain why he relentlessly promoted the demos of eventual Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Chuck D and Public Enemy to countless tastemakers with the following prediction: “These guys are going to do for hip-hop what The Clash did for rock & roll.” Why he was the one to put me up on the first double sided De La Soul 12-inch, “PlugTunin’”/”Freedom Of Speak.” And why on the night after he first played the record for me, we went to see Queen Latifah’s first show ever, in an abandoned junior high school gym that on weekends doubled as a space for an underground party called “Amazon”; and why he walked around in the dead of winter with a self-recorded cassette of the De La joint with the hopes that he’d run into someone with a tape recorder and he could put them up on it too.

Glen was also the guy who shopped the first A Tribe Called Quest demo to that small group of cutting-edge labels that comprised the early rap business. And the one who first played Ice Cube’s Amerikka’s Most Wanted for me, with its early example of east-meets-west collaboration between Cube and the production team that laced the Public Enemy records with all that heat, the Bomb Squad. He dated beautiful black girls who wound up as doctors who graduated from Ivy League schools, and this may have been where he first learned that talent has no color and can never be held back by arbitrary boundaries.

With the exception of his confusing and misplaced love of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Glen has always been on point, but if you dig a little deeper, more facts can be unearthed. Pittsburgh was the team where MLB executive Branch Rickey landed, after he brought Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers, thereby breaking the color line. Rickey continued his progressive and contrarian ways when he built an organization that not only signed the Hispanic legend, Roberto Clemente, but would eventually be the first Major League team to start an all black lineup. Of course, to Glen, this was baseball like it oughtta be.

The late Dock Ellis was the pitcher who took the mound on the day the team sent that first all black lineup on the field. The legendary right-handed pitching rebel and malcontent threw smoke. Ellis would evolve into a symbol of black rebellion and a counter-culture hero who confounded the front office and baseball’s image-makers with his unwillingness to adhere to the status quo. By chance, Ellis met a loud mouthed, eleven-year-old Pirates fan yelling for an autograph from the stands at a game in Shea stadium. This resulted in Dock developing a friendship with young Glen Ellis Friedman. He was probably the first of many fuck-you heroes to cross paths with my man.

Like the artists that he photographed, Glen E. Friedman was a product of the underground and his commitment to youth culture, progressive politics, art, artists, and artistry is unparalleled among my collaborators, peers, associates, and friends. He is my Senior Vice President of Artistic Integrity, my comrade in arms, my man a-hundred-fifty grand, my Nigga. He made a home among talented outsiders, and by using his talent, his gifts, his contacts, and his power without discriminating, he lent credibility to the efforts of others, and thus greater access to the larger world. He became an advocate for hip-hop at the time when it was most in need of advocacy. He trafficked in authenticity, as well as conceptualized and documented images of rebels at work. He served it fresh daily.

And now you’ve made a move, you picked this book up, and you’re reading an essay in a publication filled with portraits that depict pioneers, legends and stars at important times in their lives and in their careers. You’re one of the smart ones, huh? You know what’s up? You’re probably a leader in your field and a top shelf player in your chosen area of expertise.

A top dog, a don. If not, then you have a book filled with images of people who are and were. And if you’ve got a combination of the right hustle, gifts, and skills, and the time is right, then maybe this book will help close the gap between where you are now and a spot at the top of the heap. Or maybe it will serve to remind you of what it was like when you were last there, and help you to recall the required swagger to get you back.

But remember this: the players in these pages, were not in it for the shine. They did it because they could. Their ethos was art for art’s sake, because it was not apparent that you’d get rich when you put your thing down back then. It was more likely that you’d put out a record that no one but your friends and family would ever hear. These players did it for love. If you got rich or famous, that was a result of a lot of sweat, more than a few tears, and the stars properly aligning in your favor; it was not the objective. They grabbed a mic, spit a rhyme, rocked the party, or dropped a joint because they needed to, wanted to, had to. They got on a roll, and used all of their heart, all of their training, and all of their skills to blaze that moment, and the next one, and the next, until they caught fire. And when they got just hot enough, Glen E. Friedman took their picture.


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In the late ’70s, I had a good friend and upstairs neighbor who was adventurous. Like many of us who’d grown up during the height of the Soul era, he was the type who wasn’t quite content with the Disco thing that had all the kids dancing, at the time, so he searched for more.

He listened to the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and Blondie, leaders of the Punk and New Wave movements, and began attending underground parties, in Queens and Manhattan, at unsanctioned and obscure locations that featured something called rapping. He had great stories. Seemed like he was having fun.

High school days ended all too quickly, and I went on to Boston, to college, and to make new friends in the local dance, radio and record communities. In the summer of ’79, my classmate, Jay Dixon, the current PD of New York’s Hot 97, invited me to join him on the air at WRBB-FM, Northeastern University’s 10 watt radio station. I played Jazz/Funk and Fusion records four days a week – the sort of stuff that Premiere and Q-Tip would eventually sample.

Time passed, and that fall, Steve Rifkind’s father and uncle’s diskery, Spring Records, released “King Tim III” by New York Funk clique, the Fatback Band. The record featured an MC in the break and change was in the wind.

The next month, a Soul music company, All Platinum Records that had fallen on hard times, and was located in my hometown, reorganized as Sugar Hill Records and released the game changing “Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. The change that Fatback promised came quickly, and through attending college parties, I began to see and experience what my upstairs neighbor had already known about.

Three years later, I was working in the promotion department of Sugar Hill Records, and I entered the Hip Hop community for life. My journey led me to cross paths with my mentor Russell Simmons, and I joined him and his partner, Rick Rubin in launching their Def Jam Recordings company.

Today, over thirty years later, I am Special Advisor to the Zulu overlord, Afrika Bambaataa, in his effort to erect a Universal Hip Hop Museum, in the Bronx, the place where it all started.

To do what must be done, we need to raise funds. Through the I’m In campaign, our initial objective is to design and build a virtual online museum, in advance of breaking ground for a physical space. To help us reach that goal, we have launched a Rockethub crowdfunding campaign at http://www.rockethub.com/projects/44101-i-m-in-support-the-universal-hip-hop-musuem We intend to raise $50,000 in the next 90 days, and $500,000 by years end.

This Saturday, in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, along with our partners SoBro, we are hosting a Living Legends Of Hip Hop Block Party that will feature; Video Music Box legend, Uncle Ralph McDaniels, Kurtis Blow, Melle Mel, Grandwizzard Theodore and the planet rocker, Afrika Bambaataa and his Soul Sonic Force.

Join us if you can, donate if you can’t. Doing both would be the best choice. It should be fun.

Hip Hop has grown up in ways that were inconceivable on that day when I first heard “Rappers Delight” not all of them good. The time has come for serious and reverential curation, protection and presentation of this thing of ours. We intend to do it. Please help us in our cause.


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New from Common, Kingdom.

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Fresh New Speak From De La Soul x J Dilla = The Smell Of The DA.I.S.Y. Age

Plugs 1, 2 and 3

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New Music From @JayElectronica and Jigga

Jigga and Jay Elect

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Happy 74th Birthday To @smokey_robinson

@UncleRush & @smokey_robinson

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Last weekend, I was scanning my Twitter feed and several posts indicated that the great New York hip hop radio legend, Kool DJ Red Alert was celebrating 30 years in the game. That caught me by surprise. For 29 of those years, we have known each other. Where did the time go?

When we first met, I made a living getting records exposed, and he exposed ’em. We ran in the same circles but there was a difference between us; I worked as both an independent operative, and a staff member for important but small record labels where hip hop was taken seriously. Red was a DJ for a few hours every weekend on the powerhouse New York Urban outlet, 98.7 Kiss-FM and because he was one of the guys who could give your record airtime, DJ Red Alert became one of the most important figures from the golden age of hip hop.

In addition to getting my records to him at the station, I’d see him everywhere; shows where new artist and stars were performing, the multi leveled new wave, dance and hip hop smorgasbord at Danceteria, the spot where Madonna was discovered by in house DJ Mark Kamins, and the girls had purple hair mow-hawk haircuts, body piercings and combat boots, but they loved to shake it to U.T.F.O.’s “Roxanne Roxanne”. I’d see him at the shabby chic cavern of The World where I caught the DC go-go band Trouble Funk play “Drop The Bomb”, where I hung out with Coati Mundi from Kid Creole and The Coconuts and I watched Andy Warhol look on in stoic fashion. I’d see Red at the rotating art instillation with bars and booming system that doubled as the club called Area where the downtown mix master Justin Strauss spun hip hop, new wave and disco to good effect. Boy George and Grace Jones were frequently seen there and pioneering filmmakers Darnell Martin and Kate Lanier worked there too.

I would hear Red spinning at the B-Boy headquarters of the Roxy, the roller skating rink in pre-gentrified Chelsea where the rock and roll swindler, Malcolm McClaren’s cohort, Ruza Blue promoted a party that catered to adventurous European dancers, b-boys and girls and the members of the emerging hip hop business. It was the place where Afrika (Bam) Bambaattaa, the Zulu overlord first held sway on the 1 and 2s, and formed a small beach head in the alternative rock world and began to slowly introduce members of his Zulu Nation clique to the untapped and unsettled region known as Downtown. Along with Red’s cousins Jazzy Jay and Afrika Islam, Bam sponsored each of them as DJs at the Roxy. Around the same time, Bam released the anthemic smash “Planet Rock” and a young visionary radio programmer named Barry Mayo was hired at 98.7 Kiss FM to challenge the hegemony of the “Chief Rocker” Frankie Crocker at WBLS-FM. Red Alert was central to Mayo’s strategy to unseat Crocker and BLS as the primary outlet for Urban programming in New York.

Crocker and WBLS were enjoying tremendous success as the number one overall station in New York by programming a mixture of independent Black Dance and corporate Black Pop releases that he chose, and New Wave and crossover pop records that were chosen for him by a transplanted young Chicagoan named Beth Yenni. He also added hip hop records that he was forced to play but he never fully embraced the music. This created an opportunity for Mayo, and he elected to play any and all records that appealed to 12-24 year old Black and Latin kids, and in the New York of that time that meant hip hop.

Mayo formed an alliance with clubs, labels and retailers who were catering to the tastes of this 12-24 demo and built his growing powerhouse by playing any “bangers” that would appeal to them. He reached out for Bam, the planet rocker for recommendations for a weekend mix show that he was launching. Red’s cousins Islam and Jazzy had gotten shots but weren’t feeling radio. Tommy Boy record exec, Monica Lynch recommended Red and history was made.

Red grew up in Harlem and went to school in the Bronx, he also had a brief but important career as a basketball star at the All American factory, Dewitt Clinton High School, alma mater of Nate “Tiny” Archibald. When I met him, he hadn’t become a hip hop legend yet, but he had the juice to make his name ring out. He was on the rise.

As I have detailed previously, I grew up in a small town just outside of the northern tip of Manhattan and slightly south of the Boogie Down that I now call Soul City, around the same time that Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Grandmaster Caz and others were inventing our thing. The heat of the moment was making its way across the Hudson River and infected Soul City with the fever too. Like many who pioneered in our thing, Red put in some nonspecific type of work in the street that could easily be described by the catchall phrase “hustling,” before he started spinning. The citizens of Harlem, the Boogie Down and Soul City all flowed freely through each others communities and hustlers and their aesthetic permeated these districts.

Red went back to the earliest days of hip hop and caught the feeling early, I spoke with him recently and asked, how it all began? He replied, “When I was in school, I played ball, but I used to go to all the hot parties in New York,” he said, “I snuck downtown to Negril, I went to Kool Herc’s parties in the Bronx, park jams, and all the rest… and I just paid attention. At that time, I didn’t care about girls, drinking or anything else, it was all about music. I would go and stand in front of the booth and just peep what the DJ was playing.” He paused and continued, “My family background is Caribbean, so I heard a lot of different kinds of music because of the culture and because of my older brother. I heard the reggae, ska, funk, soul and disco and I loved it all.”

Along with a few other spots, the Roxy formed the world that we affectionately referred to as Downtown, the area of town were the fewest restrictions were enforced, unfettered creativity was allowed to flourish, freedom of expression was valued most and the place where we operated with comfort. Mainstream Black culture and Black owned media outlets held us at arm’s length. Our path toward wider acceptance began through alternative White media, clubs and rock press. You were more likely to read 3,000 words written about one of us in The Village Voice or Spin Magazine, than you were to read a paragraph about any of us in Ebony or Essence. Early on, Afrika Bambaattaa was the primary force and conduit for access. When I asked, if at the time, “Was Bam running an underground railroad from Uptown to Downtown?”

Red said, “Yeah, he was the Harriet Tubman for that time.”

Even though he may have had the methods of a monastic record collecting nerd, by the time I met Red, he conveyed a different image all together. He played the smooth Uptown hustler chic. He wore flavor jogging suits with color coordinated track shoes and rocked whatever the official bomber, shearling or label promotion jacket that was in vogue that season. His jewelry game was basic and tasteful; one thin chain, no medallion, no ice. Casual, neat, trendy and understated. No flash, his vibe said, “player at work.”

While we talked, he mentioned corporate record execs who treated our thing with disdain and didn’t take him seriously because of his gear. Class based discrimination was rampant in the record business of the New York of the ’80s and ’90s, and his beef echoed experiences of my own. He recalled a particular regional rep who worked for Motown, who didn’t quite get it, “Yeah, I used to make it my business to get as many different records from different labels as I could. I went by this guy’s office and he handled me crazy, he treated me like I was a piece of shit. Tony Gray, my PD, called him up later, and cursed him out like crazy. After that, I never had problems getting records from him again.”

Subsequently, Red has had few problems in the game at all. New York’s Hot 97 hosted the Red Head and Funk Master Flex made way one more time for the legend. These days, the legend is based in Atlanta and is a family man working on his Prop Master clothing line. He does the occasional gig with Chubb Rock and we recently collaborated when I helped him get on the EVR.com website with the help of my old friend Mark Ronson. Red played a few classics for the storefront East Village online radio station and rocked “Pump It Up” by Trouble Funk while setting Twitter on fire for a bit. If I closed my eyes and imagined, I felt like I was transported back to the late ’80s Downtown when Red Alert held sway and the Zulus ran the motherfucker.


For Monica Lynch, Tony Gray, Chuck Chillout, The Awesome 2, The Latin Rascals and Super Rocking Mr. Magic R.I.P.


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