This is the second of the two part Amoeblogs remembering long-defunct Berkeley music store Leopold Records. Part 1 focused on the Leopold's Amoeba connection, while this one is about the hip-hop history of the store. Included are an interview with former Leopold rap buyer Daria Kelly and an essay by Amoeba Brady who, like many, worked there before joining Amoeba. I highly recommend you read both of these insightful windows to another time in Bay Area music history. Also included in this Remembering Leopold Amoeblog is one of the final Bay Area Top Ten charts issued by the store before it closed, from early 1996, and a video of Saafir performing live at the store from late 1994.
The live Saafir performance is of "Just Riden" (video above), the song originally from the artist's Boxcar Sessions album released in September 1994 on Qwest/Warner Brothers. The footage iis from an in-store that was technically an "out-store," since the Oakalnd emcee did it right outside the store doors of Leopold's on Durant in Berkeley, CA.
Look closely at the video above for the quick crowd camera pan and you will see Del (in Hiero T-shirt) puffing happily on what looks like a blunt. Around that same time in East Bay hip-hop history you would usually find members of Saafir's extended rap family Hobo Junction right outside Leopold and around the streets of Berkeley selling, or as they called it "dirt hustlin,'" their lo-fi but tight homemade rap tapes.
INTERVIEW WITH LEOPOLD RECORDS' RAP BUYER DARIA KELLY.
AMOEBLOG: When did you work at Leopold and what was your job?
DARIA KELLY: 1985-1989 then 1992-1996 (closing). I can't really recall exact dates, except that the store was number one in the chain the week that it closed due to sales of Tupac's "All Eyez On Me" [street date: Feb 1996]. I was hired as the singles buyer but since I was so into the rap scene at the time, I was allowed to separate out a little area in the soul section to create a separate rap section, and along with Andrea (Andy) Moreno, became the [hip hop] buyer. Obviously it blew up!.....During the time I was employed there it was owned by Wherehouse Music.
AMOEBLOG: I remember the hip-hop section being well stocked. Was it one of the most comprehensive hip-hop inventories around back then?
DARIA KELLY: I'd like to think so. I picked up whatever I could wherever I could, LP, cassette or CD, be it independent distributors or straight from the artist. Eventually the majors got on board too...Funny Note: we were the first outlet for the Source Magazine on the West Coast.
AMOEBLOG: How important was Leopold to both local and national rap artists?
DARIA KELLY: It certainly was a destination spot to be sure. Every nationally touring act made a point to stop by, and every local artist wanted us to carry their music. The management and the staff were entirely supportive of the rap scene. This nurtured a solid community of customers and artists who repeatedly made pilgrimages to the store.
AMOEBLOG: And how about to the average rap fan?
DARIA KELLY: There was no such thing. Being so close to UC Berkeley, we had folks from all walks of life, with varied tastes -- from local thugged out joints to French hip hop. The "scene" wasn't as segregated as it seems to be now. The same people who purchased Public Enemy would buy Ice T and the 2 Live Crew. We'd buy whatever rap records we could get our hands on!
AMOEBLOG: Who were some of the Leopold staff that you remember working there, including folks people might know?
DARIA KELLY: Del certainly. That was a bit odd because fans would sorta stalk him. Sadiki and Tamu from KALX, Sleuth (manager of Digital Underground). Heck, the management/buying staff of Amoeba Hollywood used to run Leopold's! (Karen, Roxanne) Also: [current Amoeba employees] Jon Garcia, Mark Beaver, Barbara, Craig, Stacy (I know I'm gonna forget a bunch here...). Davey D and Beni B used to stop by before their radio shows to find out what new came in.
AMOEBLOG: What is one of your best rap stories you remember from the Leopold days?
DARIA KELLY: Oh my god, there are so many. I would say the one day that we had a big promotion and MC Hammer, Too Short, Tony Toni Toné, and Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince all came in. It was nuts! Or the day that the electricity went out during a storm when the Jungle Brothers were there and we had to kick everyone out of the store. There was a line in the pouring rain around the building, but we still managed to get everyone an autograph. Or the day that Notorious BIG was sitting outside in front of the store and no one would walk up to the table until I started yelling to come visit him. Then there was a line for a couple of hours...so, so many memories.
AMOEBLOG: As far as you know, was Leopold featured in any album art or in any music videos?
DARIA KELLY: Yo! MTV Raps came into the store and filmed with Fab Five Freddy when Digital Underground were the special guests. That's all I recall.
AMOEBLOG: Anything to add?
DARIA KELLY: Trust me, it wasn't all fun and games either, but there certainly is a warm spot in my heart for that store, and for many others who remember it too.
Leopold Bay Area Hip-Hop Top 10 Jan 1996
1) Askari X Message To Black Man (Slow Motion)
2) The Click Game Related (Sick Wid' It/Jive)
3) V/A Bay Area Playaz (Anonymous)
4) The Dangerous Crew Don't Try This At Home (Jive)
5) Spice-1 1990-Sick (Jive)
6) C-BO The Best of C-BO (AWOL)
7) The Click Down and Dirty (Sick Wid' It/Jive)
8) 3-X Crazy Sick-O (Str8 Game)
9) Luniz Operation Stackola (Noo Trybe/Virgin)
10) J. Dubb Game Related (Relentless)
AMOEBA BRADY'S LEOPOLD RECORDS RECOLLECTIONS:
"There was a place called Leopold where all folks came together for the music and no one played any gang bullshit in them walls. Why not? Not totally sure. Could it happen today? Prolly not. Ten years change a world. Ten years can erase a street....Point is, man they had a lot to say about life. Really pure. Digital Underground's "Kiss You Back" video had some wonderful Leopold staff in it. Also a shout out to Daria who brought in Hammer when it was tapes in his trunk for commission, and even more so on the long term Yeh Yeah: bringing in the Digital Underground and help blowing them up as well.
Good times, friends. Good times. For those new to the Bay, the scene, whatever you want to call it? Coolest thing was, when Amoeba Berkeley opened up a few blocks from Leopold? It was all love, baby. No sense of competition or us vs. them. How rare is that? Now, chunklets of us work at Amoeba (woot, wooooooot!) and maybe even own a piece. (Not me, baby!) Kisses to the joynts that do it all for the right reason, including a little shout out to a store in Austin, Texas!
Daria Kelly? The rap buyer? Wow, there's nothing I could tell you that she can't. She was a huge influence on getting it out there in box lots. Before anyone heard of 'em, Daria had 'em stacked and ready to go! I was blessed to be there to watch the times unveil as the '80s flipped into the '90s... and have a booming Saturday night from Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers to what all.
I was just a baby in the mix, but I will tell you this: my first week out in California back in the 80's? My brother was living in San Mateo and there was that Tower Records, bigger than most of the ones back east -- I was used to things like Tape Hut; anyway he was like, you need to go to a real record store ... and off to Berkeley we went. And kept going.
Everyone came through, see. I wasn't there for the Michael Jackson instore, but I remember for Bobby Caldwell, women whispering behind their hands: "That man is *WHITE*?" It was hilarious. The Jungle Brothers instore when we lost electricity, and they weren't about to let down the hundreds that showed up, they just moved the tables over near some windows so that they had some light, you know?
Eazy E and that's part of the story too; tracksuit, Jheri curl all up and notifying his shoulders. Barely a wink taller than me and Paula Abdul (bless her soul) was shorter, and you know I don't hit 5 feet. Dana Owens, The Queen, was the quintessential and graceful professional before her first album ever dropped, and she never changed, never put on any airs. When Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis came through? Tears were in people's eyes.
Del, Raw Fusion from Digital Underground (DU), they were working there. Sadiki and Tamu are still keeping music alive while creating beautiful new lives together -- babies, man. DU was always up in there, when they did that dance contest -- when Tupac was in the group? Oh My God. I was working the door because everyone was so cool it was fine. At certain points the doors seemed to be bowing in from the outside, glass curving and I'd get scared...but then when Yo-Yo showed up to watch, everyone just parted like a sea, nobody tried to run in on it. They just wanted to see the action.
Before he was famous Hammer was bringing his tapes in on consignment with Daria -- then he'd be double parking his Lamborghini on Durant. Too Short would be in there shopping. MC Lyte. They all came through. One way or another.
But when The Sounds of Blackness came in 1991 to promote The Evolution of Gospel some 40 deep and filled the whole front of the store, outside, singing a capella, the incredible Ann Nesby leading...when they got around to "The Pressure," I don't believe there was a dry eye in the audience. I just sat there with tears running down my face: the first time I had ever cried in public.
Anyway, thing is, we're talking about the late 80s, early 90s... and that record store started in 1968. I was blessed to work there, but I have only a sliver of the picture. Leopold was for the black community, not just hip-hop, and not just a record store. Even as crazy as Oakland got in the 80s, it was like...you would have rival gang members from all over the East Bay shopping at the same time in the damn store with my little 20 year old silly white ass running it on a Saturday night -- and it was like...a place where everyone just set aside their differences and came to get the music. It was for the community and people would come far and wide knowing that Leopold would have what they needed. And yeah: there were thanks in liner notes on records, you'd see the staff in the videos for Digital Underground and sometimes I'll pull them up out of sentimentality.
But the place was magic, the place was crazy and the place was the staff and the customers. They made it what it was. It was the People's music store in the truest sense. For me it wasn't a job: it was community service. To this day I look back and know I was blessed to be a part of it."
- Amoeba Brady