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Posts Tagged ‘Rick Rubin’

The Ab is the abbreviated name of The Abstract Poetic, another fly pseudonym for the player more widely known as Q-Tip, the leader of A Tribe Called Quest. We work together on Apple Music’s Beats 1. He spins and I announce. We’ve got chemistry that we’ve developed over a period of nearly thirty year’s time. 
He called yesterday. Hearing from him is not the most unusual occurrence in and of itself, but he’s been busy lately – mad busy. Monday he and his fellow band mates shot a video, Wednesday night they had a listening party in Queens, and yesterday he was rehearsing for an appearance in support of Dave Chapelle’s first shot at hosting Saturday Night Live. The SNL gig jumps off tonight.

While he was on the phone, he had to pick up another call from Jonah Hill, and he’d already heard from Bradley Cooper. Rick Rubin texted his congratulations. Nas checked in, Alicia Keys and L Boogie checked in. Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Rev. Run of Run/DMC checked in. All of this uptick in activity and interaction with these film, comedy, soul and Hip Hop headliners has been prompted by yesterday’s release of the sixth and last album from A Tribe Called Quest “We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service,” the band’s first record in nearly twenty years. And the first one since the heartbreaking and sudden death of Tribe cofounder Phife Dawg, from complications due to Diabetes last spring.

“We Got it from Here… ” is on fire, and showing early signs of penetrating the public’s consciousness by receiving commercial acceptance in a way that is rare for records in these times. In an earlier era, you could easily track the success of a new release through radio air play and retail sales. Now, the online radio community, Soundcloud, You Tube, streaming, unauthorized downloading, file sharing and the rest have diminished the ability of record companies to quantify the success of their product. Even so, early indicators are that the record is already top ten in sales in eighteen countries (without the availability of a physical CD), and may possibly enter next week’s pop chart at number one. Epic Records chieftain and Black Pop overlord, L.A. Reid has got a left field smash with significant cultural importance on his hands.

The current political climate has upended the American status quo in a shockingly definitive fashion by unearthing an ugly underbelly of hatred that had been previously held in check. In an effort to reclaim economic and political power, working class whites and a large portion of voting Latinos elected an immature and bigoted political novice to the Oval Office. Blacks, Latinos with sounder political views, Muslims, women who want to maintain the right to choose, gays and people in need of affordable health care all feel less secure than we did at the beginning of the week. In uncertain times the need for solid, dependable ideas, concepts and institutions increases. A Tribe Called Quest is one of those durable brands that we can count on in times of distress to soothe our souls with the healing power of Black Love.

Yesterday at an impromptu retail pop-up promotion in New York’s Chinatown, a line of eager Tribe fans, that went totally around the block in both directions, and met itself at the beginning, began to form six hours before the doors opened. While attending the event, Tip encountered a young woman who was despondent about America’s recent choice for president. She confessed that she’d been considering suicide because of our national folly until she heard “We Got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service” and now she has the hope to go on.

The young fan is not the only one who has been feeling a little down lately. The record has been giving me life too. It’s dope, game changing and badly needed.  I’ve been hearing bits and pieces of WGIFHTY4YS in various stages of completion for nearly a year. The intensity of the production and performances far outshines anything else in the marketplace right now – Tribe is playing chess while the rest of these kids are playing marbles.

When I visited Tip in September at his home in Soul City, he played a relatively complete version of the project for me over the course of three nights. The majority of the record was recorded in the Ab Lab in the basement of his crib. Based on that first night’s playback, I was so overwhelmed by what I heard that I had to excuse myself and go to sleep. I didn’t have the required stamina to hear that level of sophistication and fury. Subsequent listens inspired tears.

Sonically this record is somewhat undefinable but it is rooted more in a slick Pop/Funk thing that can only be described as the Q-Tip sound. He’s been digging in the crates where the rarest of grooves can be found, but has incorporated. a good deal of live playing that fits his overall concept well. With this record, Q-Tip, the master conceptualist, DJ and MC has stepped forward to the elite ranks of record producers working in music today.

They’re all on it. All the Tribesman; Tip, Busta Rhymes, Jarobi, Consequence, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Phife. A few friends helped out too; Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Talib Kweli, Marsha Ambrosious, Jack White, Elton John and a new voice on the record’s tribute to better living through chemistry “Melatonin,” Abby Smith. The group addresses hot topics in the intellectually conscious, insightful, humorous and funky way that has made the band one of Hip Hop’s best of all time. Tip, Jarobi and Phife set the pace from track one on “Space Program,” a demand for the listener to wake up to the pervasiveness of the affects of wealth inequality among other things. Other standout tracks include ; “Whateva Will Be,” a proud display of human and lyrical identity; “Dis Generation,” a tight freestyle with pop potential; “Lost Somebody,” the tribute to a fallen comrade and the b-boy workouts; “Möbius” and “The Donald,” a couple of joints where Consequence, Busta, Phife and Tip rock steady.

It’s been a long journey from the beginning for Tribe. It’s been a path laden with success, disappointment, defeat, death, healing and triumph. A lot of life was lived in the eighteen years that passed in between now and their most recent record. We are reminded that creating great art requires sacrifice and pain. Without it there will be no joy. This record sounds like all of that took place and got poured into its creation. Those eighteen years were time well spent because this is the best Tribe record ever. Get one right away. You can thank me later.

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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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I’d been to Florida on a business trip, and right before that, to New York for the pre-party stuff for that year’s MTV Awards. Def Jam was still being run by Lyor Cohen and Russell Simmons. Rick Rubin had returned to the fold via a label deal, and The Bowery Bar was a location where they held a welcome back Rick launch party. I went with a date, and the Hollywood billionaire, Ted Field. On the way in, we stopped and chatted with an exiting Chris Rock who mentioned that the party wouldn’t have been real if I hadn’t shown up – nice guy that Rock.

We stayed briefly, and then jumped into the back of a limo and headed to a party that Diddy was throwing at Tao, the Asian fusion joint on the East Side of Manhattan. They were all there; Pharrell, Ice-T, Sylvia Rhone, Dame Dash, Rush, Gary Gray – a strong slice of the Urban entertainment player community. If a bomb had gone off in that room that night, Jim Jones would have run shit for a decade. Just another night of fun and networking in the Apple.

I had to get up and catch a plane the next morning. I went to Orlando to meet with the soon to be disgraced kiddie mogul, Lou Pearlman and signed an act that he’d developed. The next day, I took a train to Miami and signed a couple of Dirty South MC’s called No Good. I spent the night on South Beach at The Tides, woke up and got a plane home.

I was living here in Charlotte, and preparing to move to New York to run the East Coast office of ARTISTdirect Records. I slept well, and early the next morning, I got a call from a friend in New York who told me to turn on the television, “A plane just flew into the World Trade Center.”

I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, followed her instructions, and turned on the TODAY Show. I was barely awake, but I saw one plane jutting out from the building it had attacked, and smoke coming from the hole it had created. Moments later, another plane crashed into the other tower and the in studio announcers lost it. So did I. Tears streamed down my face as I watched in disbelief and horror. It’s been thirteen years, but I will never forget the day that terror became more than something that you watched on television. It became a reality show that changed the city I love forever.

For Rebecca, Sylvia, Summer, Caress and the fallen

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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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Adam Yauch was an energetic, intelligent and humorous kid of 20 when I met him almost 30 years ago. Along with Adam Horovitz and Mike Diamond, his two band mates in the Beastie Boys, I caught him playing the Roxy on 18th Street in Manhattan. He did a laughably bad parody of rap and hip hop while wearing a doo rag and a sweatsuit. It was their first gig at the old headquarters for hip hop and their ridiculous attire made them look like they did part-time security at a Times Square porn shop. At the time, it did not appear that they would have much future as serious players in the hip hop world. It just goes to show you that greatness can come from inauspicious beginnings. History has proven that I could not have been any more wrong. 

I was a young promotion man with access and taste who loved hip hop. I had arrived at that point in my musical journey by using a path that was paved by James Brown, Sly Stone, Aretha Franklin, Stax, and jazz fusion. Adam Yauch had arrived there byway of the well documented connection between punk and early independent hip hop. That first night we met, Yauch and the other two gave me and their then manager (Russell Simmons) a ride (in a rented limousine) from Manhattan to a party that some successful drug dealers were throwing out in Queens. 
 
At that time, the region in Manhattan south of 23rd Street was an unsettled wilderness of abandoned factories, apartment buildings, lofts and unrented retail space. The sort of barren, desolate wasteland that provided a perfect setting for creativity to flourish without interference. It was also home to a network of clubs where an eclectic menu of alternative, punk, synth pop, new wave, rap and underground records filled dance floors on a nightly basis. Artists, models, actors, musicians, writers, socialites, music execs and anonymous aspirants of all types blended to make up an exciting world where hustle fueled their desire for fame and turned dreams into reality.
 
The Beasties were fortunate to have met Russell and his young partner, Rick Rubin when they did. Simmons and Rubin had hit with a few of their independent productions, but had been stiffed by the labels that they’d released the records through. As a result, Rubin approached Simmons about partnering in a label and together they formed Def Jam Recordings. The Beasties were the first act signed, but the first record released was “I Need A Beat” by LL Cool J. 
 
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A little more than six months after the night I met Yauch, I joined Def Jam as their first head of promotion, and I was given two records that featured the young MC that were virtually impossible to get played; “The Party’s Getting Rough” by The Beasties and “Drum Machine” by Yauch. Let’s just say that they had yet to crystalize their blend of humor, shock and frat boy lewdness that would allow their “License To Ill” project to be the first rap album to grace the top of the Billboard Album chart the following year. And that they were recordings that were still too rooted in the punk aesthetic to connect with the core rap audience. Fortunately, neither he nor his band mates were discouraged. They kept scratching and came up with a real rap record called “Hold It Now Hit It” produced by Rubin. 
 
Simmons was imbued with the spirit of P. T. Barnum, and Rubin was a young mystic who tapped into the deep dark pools of misogyny, sexism and ill male behavior that wrestling and heavy metal depended on to drive sales. He blessed his young charges with the benefit of his knowledge. They took it to heart and went on tour to support their record with chicks who appeared on stage in cages, and danced in leather bikinis with big ’80s style “Working Girl” hair. Their was a good deal of suggestive writhing to the beat and they presaged the booty music and dirty south based videos that would become popular in the next decade. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the inflatable penis shaped balloon that they used as a prop.
 
In response to these hijinks, there was tremendous controversy and outrage from just about every responsible adult corner. There were threats to keep the band from performing in England, voices in the Black American music community accused the band of reverse minstrelsy, feminists found their whole act to be reprehensible, but kids dug it. Black ones, white ones, females; all kinds. They represented youthful rebellion like no other band of their era. 
 
The decadence and excess led to a dark period that led to the band nearly breaking up and leaving Def Jam after one album. It is still the biggest seller in the label’s history. Out of that, something more important than sales happened: Led by Yauch, The Beastie Boys became a voice for tolerance, anti-discrimination, religious freedom and progressive causes of all types. They became the conscience of hip hop.
 
The last five times that I saw the formerly raucous college party band perform were all for humanitarian or progressive causes. In ’97 and ’98, I went to the Tibetan Freedom Festivals that were held in New York and DC. At the invitation of The Beasties, the worlds of hip hop, alternative, and cool were brought together in football stadiums to bring attention to the struggle of the Tibetan people to remove the oppressive foot of the People’s Republic Of China from their necks. I ran into Adam while he was skateboarding a block away from the old Roxy and he connected me with a contact to get VIP treatment.
 
The Foo Fighters showed up, Sonic Youth rocked, Radiohead, Tribe, De La, Herbie Hancock, Beck, Wyclef, R.E.M. U2, Gang Star and many, many others did their thing. Backstage was heat; Minnie Driver, Ben Harper, Laura Dern, Guy Oseary and a new couple out for their first public date; Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston all took in the music and good vibes. The former sweat suit wearers were using their power and influence to bring the international creative community together to raise their voices to fight injustice.
 
In the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11, when outright racist propaganda disguised as patriotism filled the news cycle, the Beasties decided to protest the coming war by throwing a show in New York’s Hammerstein Ball Room that featured a joint performance by Bruce Springsteen, Michael Stipe and Bono. The headliners who’d used an inflatable penis as a prop had raised a middle finger to the unholy alliance of Bush, big oil and the military industrial complex and foresaw the fallacy of the decade long mistake that lay ahead of us all.
 
In 2002, I went to Las Vegas to the House of Blues to see the Boys who became men, perform at a benefit to raise money for the family of their slain mentor and our old friend, Jam Master Jay. I went backstage to say what up to the crew and was received warmly. The jokesters lent their weight to an effort to ease the pain of our extended family members and set an example of how to turn your sorrow into action for the rest of us.
 
In 2008, they came to Charlotte, NC to play for Rock The Vote and help Barack Obama become elected president of the US, and in the process, swing the previously red state into the blue. Oh we had a time that night. I spoke with them all, but had a lengthy private chat with Yauch about his film directing and a potential project that we could work on together. We weren’t able to agree on terms, but if we had, I’m sure it would have been dope. Adam had a totally different take on the project than I did, but his ol skool flava was still apparent.
 
He came a long way from that first night in ’84. And in the wake of his untimely death, it has dawned on me that they became the most successful artists that I have ever worked with and represented the golden age of our thing to all corners of the globe. I am proud to have known them all and especially proud to have known Yauch, he showed us all how you can positively use power, even if at first, it doesn’t seem like you deserve it. RIP
 

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I wasn’t quite 25 years old yet, but I was deeply in the mix of the New York music community when her first single dropped. I was promoting records to NY Urban powerhouse 98.7 Kiss-FM and the historically important WBLS-FM. They were cool records by unknowns named LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys. Dangerous bits of rebellion concocted by a NYU student named Rick Rubin. I spent time in a world below 14th Street in Manhattan-an area of town that was affectionately referred to as Downtown. I was pioneering.

I’d grown up on a steady diet of Soul, Funk, Jazz/Funk, Fusion, Jazz, New Wave, Rock, Pop and Black Dance records that bubbled up from the underground. MTV held sway over what really jumped off, and I thought that I’d understood where they were coming from. Prince had just broken through on the strength of his 1999 and Purple Rain records; Michael Jackson had completed a two-year reign of terror riding the video releases from Thriller into the stratosphere; Nile Rodgers’ production chops had set it off for David Bowie, Duran Duran and Madonna. Run/DMC was poised to make history and bring Hip Hop to the suburbs, and a thin, ex-model from New Jersey sang a ballad that lit up Black Radio called “You Give Good Love”.

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RIP

Because of how and where I spent my time, I was positioned to dislike Whitney Houston’s music immensely. Her sound was corporate Black Pop, and to my ears, not quite as soulful as that of Luther Vandross. Corporate Black Pop was the soundtrack for the empires that were being built inside the halls of the major labels in the ’80s. In those days, I was an advocate for Hip Hop and that made me and my collaborators uninvited guests to the party that major label Black Music departments and Black Radio were having with one another. Hip Hop was relegated to a network of mix show jocks, clubs and local video shows like, New York’s Video Music Box and New York Hot Tracks. We worked on the margins.

I’d heard a good deal of slick Black Pop and I wasn’t opposed to it on principle, I was opposed to it because it presented an obstacle to my growth. But, there was something a little different about Whitney; she had a pure instrument and a sweetness that had undeniable appeal. By the time MTV added the video for Saving All My Love For You, I was in; the cute young girl from Jersey got me. I wasn’t alone, her innocent interpretation of a chick on the side who wants it all, connected in a massive way. We should have known then that there was a darker side to it all.

The drugs, the erratic behavior, domestic discord, ill advised interviews and unkempt and disheveled appearances have all been documented elsewhere, and we won’t be going into any of that here. The voice, perhaps the greatest voice that America produced in the post civil rights era lives on. Predictably, iTunes is shifting downloads of her Greatest Hits package like President Obama sang a medley of them on the stage of the Apollo.

I met her a couple of times, hung out at several of her recording sessions and attended her wedding reception. 19 1/2 years ago, on that scorching day in July, she was hotter than the month itself. Her greatest triumph, simultaneously starring in The Bodyguard, and the monstrous single from the soundtrack, I Will Always Love You, engulfed her in an aura of success that was felt on a worldwide basis.. She was young, regal, radiant and the undisputed queen of pop. It seemed like she would live forever.

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Shouts to Gerry Griffith, Pam Lewis Rudden, Nelson George, Dr, Jeckyl, John Leland and Tony Anderson.

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Hip Hop, the New York based culture that began in the 70s, gathered steam and creative potency in the ’80s and became the dominant popular culture of the 90s, and beyond; provided economic opportunity to those with entrepreneurial spirits in its early days. It gave us Rap Music-the voice of the voiceless that infused the moribund, early 80s record business with a dose of the beauty of the streets.

On the whole, poor, working and middle class Black people along with Jews with vision, combined to create a new industry that would shape all that it touched, and resulted in playing a huge role in Barack Obama being elected to the US Presidency.

Several recent developments have given me reason to look back on where we were then, and how we’ve gotten to where we are: Jay Electronica, the lyricist to beat in the current game, has teamed up with Mobb Deep to give us the heat rock, “Call of Duty”. The intro features an excerpt from a speech by Winston Churchill that’s used to good effect, Jay shouts the recently departed Steve Jobs out and makes a plea for international unity in his guise as the “Chosen One”. This is Jay Elect’s strongest effort since his “Exhibit C” shook things up, started a bidding war and landed him on Jay-Z’s Roc Nation imprint.

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JAY ELECTRONICA

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MOBB DEEP
Speaking of Jay-Z; he and protégée, Kanye West’s “Watch The Throne” project has had much-needed new life breathed into it by using the recently freed, T.I. on a guest collabo on their “Niggas In Paris”. Def Jam will have great fun using this one to set up the Watch The Throne Tour.

While en route to Memphis University’s Midnight Madness jump off for the 2011-2012 basketball season, Def Jam hustler Rick Ross has experienced two seizures, and been admitted to a Birmingham Alabama area hospital for the second time. Details are murky.

Jive Records was finally laid to rest by RCA; the last brand standing. Corporate maneuvering has resulted in the old home to Whodini, Blastmaster KRS-1 and Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince finally being put out to pasture along with Arista, and J Records, the two labels started by Clive Davis.

Jive’s greatest Hip Hop signing, and former RUSH Productions management client, A Tribe Called Quest were the subjects of a Sony distributed documentary that played better theaters everywhere over the summer. I served as the music supervisor on the project. The film, “Beats Rhymes And Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called” will be released on DVD on 10/18. Coincidentally, this year is the 20th anniversary of the release of, “The Low End Theory” project, the game changer that set the Native Tongue movement off for real.

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All of this Def Jam/RUSh related energy has made me look back. I met the late George Jackson, the Hollywood film producer who hailed from Harlem when I was the National Director of Promotion for Def Jam, the tiny independent that was partially based in the college dormitory room of co-founder, Rick Rubin. The other base of operations for the little label that could, was the office of RUSH, the production and management firm that Russell Simmons headed.

At that time, Jackson and his producing partner, Doug McHenry were producing,”Krush Grove” the fictionalized disaster that was loosely based on Def Jam.. We had plenty of opportunity to get to know each other. Jackson & McHenry enlisted me to convince Simmons that a then little known Blair Underwood would be ideal to play the starring role in the film. Jackson remembered that I had decent film instincts, solid music chops and mad contact when 5 years later, he was looking for a soundtrack home for another project of theirs.

This is the twentieth anniversary of the release of the film “New Jack City” the crack epic with the tight screenplay penned by the noted journalist and author, Barry Michael Cooper. Blaxploitation scion, Mario Van Peebles directed and Jackson and McHenry produced

The film made stars of Ice-T, Chris Rock and Wesley Snipes. The soundtrack made an overnight success of racially mixed new jack swingers, Color Me Badd by introducing their smash, “I Wanna Sex You Up” to a hungry film going and record buying consumer base, and Giant/Warner Brothers Records became players in the early 90s Black Music business. I had a large hand in curating the soundtrack, and you can read a more detailed account written by Tamika Anderson in the current issue of Juicy Magazine that’s on newsstands now.

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FORMER DEF JAM CEO LYOR COHEN AND CO-FOUNDERS RUSH & DJ DOUBLE R

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Last night, Rubin and Simmons held a joint lecture at the New York Public Library to publicize the release of a somewhat historically truncated coffee table book that’s been curated by the label’s former publicist, Bill Adler and it’s art department head, Cey “City” Adams. The recently released book takes a look at the first 25 years of the label in this, the 27th year of it’s existence.

Tweeting live from the event was Andre “Dr. Jeckyl” Harrell, the former head honcho of Motown founder of Uptown Records, mentor to Diddy, Mary J.Blige, Heavy D and Al B.Sure, former VP of RUSH Nd the progenitor of the world view know as Ghetto Fabulous. It was in his capacity as an executive at RUSh, that he convinced Russell Simmons to hire me as the first employee of the label that initially recorded The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J.

During Rick and Russell’s talk, Harrell began to Tweet about the late Sylvia Robinson, who along with her husband Joe, founded Hip Hop’s first dominant label, Sugar Hill Records, and how he’d inadvertently crashed his car while we were riding down the tree-lined street where the Robinson’s lived, when I pointed out the home of my former boss. Harrell was a kid from the Boogie Down and was overcome with excitement when he got his first glimpse of how much comfort a Hip Hop mogul’s money could by.

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A MORE SEASONED ANDRE HARRELL

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THE LATE SYLVIA ROBINSON & FORMER TOMMY BOY PREXY MONICA LYNCH

Sylvia and Joe’s oldest son, Joey, picked me off of one of the basketball courts in Soul City, and gave me my first shot in the record business by making me the head of college radio promotion for the label. I spoke with him on Monday, and conveyed my condolences on his mother’s passing.

Mrs. Robinson’s funeral was last Tuesday in Soul City. She was brought to the Community Baptist mega church, in my old neighborhood, by a horse-drawn carriage, reaffirming for one last time that there was truth in the title of her last hit as an artist; “It’s Good To Be The Queen”. RIP

I met Harrell in the VIP of the Roxy, the Money Making Manhattan based, roller skating disco that turned into Hip Hop central every Friday night in the mid 80s. It is the place where I first met Rick Rubin, Kurtis Blow, Rev. Run, saw Madonna perform to a track in a half empty club, and heard the Zululu overlord, Afrikaa Bambatta spin breaks, beats and classics for Hip Hop’s first crossover audience. Russell “Rush” Simmons woke Harrell from a sound sleep so that we he could be introduced.

A friend from Soul City was the son of one of the earliest Black card holders in one of the stage hand union’s for film. As a result, he was grandfathered in, and was working on Hollywood film sets in the early 80s. He’d been working on “Beat Street”, Hollywood’s earliest attempt to cash in on the Hip Hop heat that was based on the goings on at the Roxy.

My man had a lot of access, and had copped a couple of tickets to a break dancing and rapping contest that Coca Cola was sponsoring at Radio City. He came by my crib, scooped me, and we hopped on a bus and the A Train to mid-town. Inside the hall, a trio of overweight MCs called the Disco 3 won the rap contest. They would eventually rename themselves the Fat Boys, and would be positioned by Russell Simmons in conversations as the Monkees to Run/DMC, his little brother’s more serious band, who he viewed as Hip Hop’s Beatles.

The evening of the contest was a beautiful Spring New York evening. It was 1983 and the night that I met Russell Simmons, the man who along with Joey Robinson would be most responsible for my being embraced by the Hip Hop community. It is ironic that Joey’s mother, whose creative success inspired an industry was laid to rest the same week that DJ Double R and Rush were reminiscing about the label that picked up the baton that Sugar Hill passed on, and took it to a place that Jay-Z and Kanye are still running with. I love Hip Hop. This was a week that reminded me.

Shouts to Rush, Dr. Jeckyl, The Beasties, James Todd Smith, Glen E., Heidi Smith, The Ab, Tokyo Rose, Barry Weiss, Karen Durant, Chrissy Murray, Nelson George, Joey Robinson, Iris Perkins, Leslie, Sharon and Ruby, Flash, Master Gee and…The Wirk

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