16.Tall Dark and Handsome
About this playlist
As part of Napster Hip-Hop Week, please welcome guest essayist Freddy Fresh, a DJ/producer/author who's been in the music industry since 1983, DJ'd in more than 35 countries, and worked with (and remixed) everyone from Grandmaster Flash to Eminem. Check out his books on rap records and samples here.
So Napster asked me to make a mixtape of classic, N.Y.C.-centric hip-hop -- what I like to call "random rap." I felt these songs represented an accurate example of what I would have put on a master mix in 1987 or so; in fact, I have done many a mix using them. Although I am from Minnesota originally, I spent many summers in the South Bronx from 1984 to 1992 listening to Red Alert, Chuck Chillout, Marley Marl, and Mister Magic and the Awesome Two (not to mention the amazing Latin Rascals and Shep Pettibone's mastermixes as well). If it weren’t for KISS FM and WBLS, my life just wouldn’t have been complete.
Back then we couldn’t stream radio, of course, so I had to drive 17 hours one way just to get close enough to New York to tune in and use my portable cassette player to record the master mixes they would play on weekend nights. Those were the days! Radio just doesn’t seem to have that magic anymore.
Here's a track-for-track breakdown of my picks.
MC Shan, "The Bridge" (Bridge Records)
In 1986, Shan came out with "Beat Biter," a dis to LL Cool J produced by Marley Marl, but this killer jam on the B side ended up getting much more airplay. It explained how Queensbridge was influential in the birth of hip-hop and sampled The Honey Drippers' "Impeach the President," for starters. Pretty sure Marley used the famed SP 1200 for the loops. This song kicks ass even when dropped today; in fact, I’ve yet to hear anything with this ruggedness in today's plastic world of clinical beats.
Boogie Down Productions, "The Bridge Is Over" (B Boy Records)
This was KRS-One and DJ Scott La Rock's answer to “The Bridge," a classic dis that Red Alert played regularly on KISS FM in New York. I had the pleasure of being a grassroots B Boy Records rep and distributor, and also remixed songs on Scott's 1988 album A Man and His Music. Their office was under a bridge in the South Bronx. Good times.
Ultramagnetic MC’s, "Ego Trippin’" (Next Plateau Records)
After picking up a copy of "Make You Shake" in 1986, I was an instant fan of Ultramagnetic. "Ego Trippin'" rips into it with a sample of Melvin Bliss' "Synthetic Substitution" and just blasts the listener for a full five minutes. Such a jam with Kool Keith, Ced-Gee, TR and Moe Love trading thought-provoking lyrics. Songs like this just don’t happen these days.
Jungle Brothers, "Because I Got It Like That" (Idlers Records)
Red Alert family members the Jungle Brothers came out hard in 1987 with this banger, which samples Sly & the Family Stone. You couldn’t go anyplace in New York without hearing it. I got to tour with this talented group through England and Scotland in 1999.
JVC Force, "Take It Away" (B Boy Records)
Sampling Vaughan Mason’s "Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll," the trio does some serious funky damage with this tune, which was originally released on 12-inch opposite the incredibly rare "Strong Island Blue Mix." It was a Strong Island anthem that catapulted them to fame. Their entire Doin’ Damage album is worth a listen, if only for the mesmerizing "The Move."
Levi 167, "Something Fresh to Swing To" (B Boy Records)
Levi 167 was one of the original members of Boogie Down Productions; this record just has an unusual sound, very raw and rugged, with super-powerful beats and a lazy bassline that pulsates throughout. "Comin' out your face for no apparent reason."
991 Volts, "991 Volts of Noise" (B Boy Records)
I regret that I no longer have original copies of this now very rare release. It was one of those one-offs that just had its own sound. Not that popular upon its initial release, it did get the attention of Mercury Records.
Main Source, "Just a Friendly Game of Baseball" (Wild Pitch Records)
This is such a jam, talkin’ about the cops and how ruthless they were in the 1990s to blacks in the New York area. The beat is as dope as they come, and it was on a legendary album, Breaking Atoms.
Monyaka, "Go Deh Yaka" (Easy Street Records)
Although this is not hip-hop, it was a jam played constantly in the New York area in 1983, and it's such a fun reggae vibe that it's perfect even today for summer barbecues.
Marley Marl and MC Shan, "Marley Marl Scratch" (NIA Records)
Sampling Marley’s very first record, "Sucker DJ’s" by Dimples D, this record absolutely destroyed New York City in 1985. There was not one park jam, shopping center, radio station, boom box or car system that wasn’t blasting it out at full volume at all hours from 1985 though 1986. This is also his cousin MC Shan’s debut; he later became a member of Marl's Juice Crew and went on to do a 1987 full-length called Down by the Law. (Check the stellar track "Living in the World of Hip-Hop.")
Strafe, "Set It Off" (Jus’ Born Records)
This Brooklyn group came out swinging in 1984 with a New York anthem that wasn't exactly rap but needs to be mentioned, as it was revered by most area hip-hop heads and was played constantly.
Masters of Ceremony, "Cracked Out" (Strong City Records)
Jazzy Jay’s Bronx label was responsible for this amazing tune; Omar Santana did the multi edits that blaze on this release. A very funky tune that just works. It was around 1986 when multi edits got hot -- a mixing technique where reel-to-reel tape was spliced together to form machine-gun-style stutters. Masters of this technique included producers like The Latin Rascals, the late Chep Nuñez, Charlie Dee, Carlos Berrios, Shep Pettibone and The Blade Runners, among others. These producers not only made mastermixes for late-night radio, but also worked on productions for record labels, freestyles, and so on.
Frick and Frack, "Who’s on Mine" (Diamond Records)
This record was originally only a test pressing, but it did eventually get licensed to a U.K. compilation, which is the only way to obtain the song on vinyl commercially. This is a fantastic cut. Frick and Frack should have been the next Salt-n-Pepa.
Kurtis Blow, "AJ Scratch" (Mercury Records)
“Up in the Bronx where the people are fresh/ There was one DJ who had to pass the test …” This is my favorite Kurtis Blow record. The intro a cappella is a fabulous DJ scratching tool to cut up over beats. I opened for Kurtis a few years back when he performed here in Minneapolis, and he is still a very talented performer and all-around nice dude.
Tall Dark and Handsome, "Tall Dark and Handsome" (B Boy Records)
This song just kicks ass. Hear it for yourself. These guys were kind of slept-on and had a great self-titled album in 1988. This one samples The Jackson 5’s "Darling Dear" to great effect.
N.W.A., "Dope Man" (Ruthless Records)
Taking a strong influence from original gangster rapper Schoolly D, this is just incredible, and opened up a whole new world of followers. Block-busting beats and hard-edged lyrics that sold records like pancakes.
Latee, "This Cut’s Got Flavor" (Wild Pitch Records)
The fact that this compilation fails to mention the artist on this superb song is an embarrassment to Latee. An amazing 45 King production, it samples Fatback Band's "Put Your Love (In My Tender Care)" to amazing effect. It's one of my all-time favorite hip-hop songs ever recorded.
Twilight 22, "Electric Kingdom" (Vanguard Records)
A breakdance anthem from 1984, this song is just one of those electro-rap classics you never forget. With its Arabian-sounding riff and storming electronic cutting-edge sound, its still sounds fresh and new today.
Lavaba & E. Mallison, "A Game of Life" (Heavenly Star Records)
One of the countless records released on Peter Brown's New York labels, this track from 1982 is super rare and darn near impossible to find on 12-inch single. I sold my copy for over $250 years back. Another one to look out for is "Fly Guy Rap," which recently sold for over $1,500 on eBay. It's a funky sound, using a backing band as opposed to drum machines or samples.
Family, "Family Rap" (Sound of New York)
A real funky number, also from Peter Brown’s stable of labels, this one just works. From 1979-1980, it's very early rap.
DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince, "A Touch of Jazz" (Jive Records)
This is like a well-crafted jazz medley courtesy of legendary Philly DJ Jazzy Jeff. Smooth, funky and catchy, it was extremely popular at the time of its 1987 release, and still sounds fresh today.