Kings of the Old School: Grandmaster Flash (fist up) and the Furious Five.
I consider myself the world’s first wigger as well as the world’s first ex-wigger, which I feel gives me a unique perspective on the state of modern hip-hop.
The first hip-hop 12-inch I bought was 1983’s “Break Dance-Electric Boogie” by West Street Mob on Sugar Hill Records, followed shortly afterward by Run-DMC’s “It’s Like That” backed with “Sucker MC’s.”
I used to listen to a hip-hop show from Drexel University by a black student who called himself Jam Master Jay (no, not that Jam Master Jay) and one early Saturday morning while driving my cab after buying a nickel bag of coke and a nickel bag of weed (yeah, you could get $5 bags back in the early 80s at the corner of 5th and Jefferson in N. Philly at 7AM), JMJ pretty much blew the lid off my skull when he played “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel.” I still don’t think anyone ever came close to Flash as a DJ, nor do I think anyone has ever matched his primary rapper in the Furious Five, Melle Mel, as an MC.
As a lifelong fan of drone music and rampagingly gay-ass concepts such as musique concrète, I was fascinated by this new form of music that took the best eight seconds of music that had already been recorded, looped it, added sound effects and beats that sounded like gunshots, and then tossed in some angry guys from the NYC boroughs (it rarely seemed to be Manhattan) speaking—rather than singing—over it all. Even though most of the people—at least the white ones—I knew at the time dismissed rap as a stupid fad, I knew it would be the next big thing in music because it was a huge innovation in the way music was made.
I remember reading the lyrics to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” in a copy of the New York Rocker and being impressed that the words went on for what seemed like a dozen pages, whereas you could fit the lyrics to an entire Circle Jerks album on a strip of fortune-cookie paper. Not only could GMFF5 kick the living shit out of the Circle Jerks in a street fight (a very important indicator of musical quality), but they were also far more skilled with words.
I wiggered my wonderful way through most of the 80s as a naive young white-male journalism student and then a naive white freelance journalist, interviewing such old-schoolers as LL Cool J (possibly the biggest asshole I’ve ever met), Kool Moe Dee, Big Daddy Kane, Melle Mel, Kid Frost, KRS-One, Ice-T, Ice Cube, and Public Enemy—three times (Chuck twice, Flav once).
I think things started going sour when the beats slowed down and the lyricists got lazier—the first time I heard an EPMD song, it sounded like they were on Thorazine. And then came the humorlessly corny black-nationalist tripe such as X-Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers, and Intelligent Hoodlum, which didn’t exactly make me feel welcome, but I could have handled it if they were anywhere near as lyrically proficient as, say, Big Daddy Kane was on “Set it Off”:
(When I interviewed Kane, I asked him if I was a devil, and he said he couldn’t tell for sure.)
I loved early NWA and the Geto Boys, but then gangsta rap became little more than a ball-grabbing Tard Contest. The last rapper I heard that I thought was lyrically talented was Suga Free.
And then came Southern rap, which with very few exceptions (Outkast, Ludacris, and, of course, Bling Daddy Caddy) was the final stage in hip-hop’s lyrical atrophying. Whereas a Grandmaster Flash song might have 5,000 words, a typical Southern rap song has 10 words chanted 500 times. Way back when, it was all about the lyrics—at any given time, at least half of a rapper’s lyrics were about how good his lyrics were and how he could battle any other MC to death with his rhymes. These days the few lyrics that are left are plodding and dinosauric and dumb-diddy-dumb-dumb. Even worse, hip-hop songs now have lots of singing in them, for fuck’s sake! Back on LL’s first album in 1985, he started one track saying, “Look girl, I’m not gonna sing ’cause I just don’t do that.” I thought the whole not-singing thing was a given. I thought that was part of the agreement. They’ve broken the contract.
Worst of all is any hip-hop not created by full-blooded sub-Saharan shrieking Bantus. White people should be permitted to enjoy hip-hop, but it should be unlawful for them to create it under any circumstances. So no, I don’t want to check out your art-school friend’s new rhymes, especially if he or she sunburns easily. I honestly think these pale, clueless neo-minstrels are far more insulting to black people than anything I’ve ever said or done. The only gifted white rapper from here to eternity was always, and always will be, Vanilla Ice. Period. End of discussion. Point, set, match. Shut your mouth. Stick a tampon in it and make me dinner.
So I’m mildly depressed that rap became more and more retarded over the past 25 years, but so has American culture, so fuck all of you—as well as all o’ y’alls—I’m-a go bump some T. La Rock and Chill Rob G while lifting rusty steel weights and softly blowing kisses at myself in the mirror.
New School: Soulja Boy says “duh” for the camera.