Hip Hop Got To Stop 3: Beast From The East
Sometimes the greatest flowering of an art form happens under terrible peril.Hip Hop, or "rap" had exploded into pop culture nude, lewd and rude before becoming just another brood to be pumped, dumped and ripped off by the recording industry. In the foam of the mainstream, The Beastie Boys came to save the genre courtesy of a visionary manager, Russell Simmons, and a hard rocking producer, Rick Rubin. I couldn't believe it when I learned years later that in 1985 they toured with fucking Madonna. That gives you a sense of the desperate cynicism of The Man, trying to break a new genre into the suburbs and charts.Licensed to Ill dropped in 1987 and changed everything. The original proposed title of the record was "Don't be a Faggot", which even in closet, fear and hate infested times seemed rabidly homophobic to the Beastie's label, Columbia. They pushed Simmons to release the LP himself under a less disgusting title. It combined frat punk attitude with a clever, hip hop based retread of hard rock stadium staples, and evolved the call and response sing along thing into a burb metal shout machine.For better and much worse, Licensed to Ill demonstrated that "rap" was worthy of tolerance, consideration and investment by the majors. As they do whenever they are sad, broke or confused - the big labels signed, bought or distributed a lot of fine artists and a lot of chancers, by accident. On one crucial occasion, Warner Brothers stepped up to defend a very controversial artist from a racist, rapacious lawsuit. The loss of this case holed Hip Hop below the waterline in the mainstream, but we'll take on that tragedy another time.While the majors gambled on product, the minors made magic. Cheap but good enough recording technology, such as the Tascam Portastudio and the fact double cassette boom boxes had mic input, as well as handy Record/Pause buttons led to an explosion across the underground. Increasingly idle vinyl pressing plants, loose enforcement of copyright, and the need for organised crime to rinse its cash clean added heavy ammunition to the fight.Rap was mainly an East Coast thing, as local labels and areas had established ecosystems in place. Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five debuted on Sugar Hill Records, part of the shifty New Jersey Mob linked All Platinum group. Record labels were ideal front businesses for the informal economy. Who was going to argue with studio time bills for sessions that never happened, or receipts for records that were never pressed?Not the countless artists and would be stars that took advantage of the situation. Between 1985 and 1990 thousands of rap records were cut on the East Coast alone - most only heard once if at all on local radio before ending up being repurposed and rhymed over on a mixtape, or another record which might well be dissing the first.This was not your Mother's rap music. It was fast, funky, frustrated and firepower heavy. It was not about having parents that just don't understand - it was about loose women, neighbourhood shout outs, weapons, the drug economy, and what the latest designer label offered as tribal insignia. So not accessible to suburban ears, and in no way socially constructive as the soft left liberals wanted rap to be. The only thing "conscious" here was the pride of the artist, the need to move a crowd, and make a fast buck before the police arrived. This was hyped as new and dirty, but of course is as old as the Blues, Rock and Roll and R&B - which usually in reality riffed on similar territory.I only had a vague idea this was going on. Schooly D I dug because he sometimes got played on the radio and was referred to on Yo! MTV Raps, which was a crucial early fertiliser of my mind and soul. Ultramagnetic MCs sometimes shocked my system too. But the major mainstream filtered out the "hard core" East Coast sound in favour of stuff easier to understand and friendlier on female ears. Kool Mo Dee, LL Cool J, Stetsasonic, Special Ed, Beastie Boys and friends were the main players. But a tiny part of the game. The real thing was under the radar, off the radio and hand pressed or taped in tiny numbers.The best way to recapture a sense of the energy of this lost "hard core" East beast is through modern mixtapes. Sloppy White, a Chicagoan crate demon, made three CDs a decade ago packed with the rarest and best from artists and places I never knew existed. Fat Tape. The Way It Was. Get Some. Download them all, now, and play as loud as possible. Then move on to Edan the DJ's Fast Rap and Sound of the Funky Drummer. Feel the ratchetjaw cadence and verbal invention millenia from Nas or Biggie or whoever the fuck you like. Nottingham veteran DJ Ivory's track list free fest of the best, whether Volume 1 or 2, is not to be missed.This is what Hip Hop was before the right to sample was lost, and Dre alchemised pop funk weedsploitation karaoke. It was like a stellar moment of ignition in an enclosed space, echoing mainly in on itself before blowing out in the cold commercial winds to come. A spark of this ended up in the UK, by the way, evolved a lot and can be enjoyed to this day.