Last night hip-hop lost another legend when Rodger Clayton, co-founder of LA's legendary Uncle Jamm's Army, passed following a heart attack. Uncle Jamm's Army was an extended collective of LA promoters, DJs, producers & emcees that Clayton (aka Mr. Prinze), along with Gid Martin, took to wide fame. Back in the early 80's they would stage huge DJ parties at places like the Los Angeles Sports Arena where they would pack in five to ten thousand people. During the 1980's Clayton and the Army reigned supreme on the West Coast, even beyond playing hip-hop -- they specializing in electro-hop, a direct descendant of New York's electro old school hip-hop (a la Afrika Bambaataa).
Officially active during the years 1984 to 1988, the nexus of the group dated back to 1978 when Clayton and Martin initially formed Unique Dream Entertainment. Five years later the Clayton-led group had morphed into the regionally popular Uncle Jamm's Army with the music mastermind wisely enlisting many talented up-and-coming hip-hop emcees and DJs to flesh out the ranks and ensure popularity with a growing audience for hip-hop. This extended lineup featured such notable members as the pre-gangsta rap Ice-T, his DJ partner Chris "The Glove" Taylor, the Egyptian Lover, the Unknown DJ, and many later LA rap luminaries including DJ Pooh and DJ Battlecat.
Uncle Jamm's Army "Dial A Freak" (1984)
Big fans of funkateer George Clinton, the name Clayton and company chose was a direct nod to Funkadelic's 1979 album Uncle Jam Wants You. And, like the typically flamboyant Clinton led P-Funk ensembles, known for their wild onstage attire, Uncle Jamm's Army would also wear costumes onstage, although usually not as brightly colorful, instead favoring green army fatigues. Tapping into Clayton's promotional skills and wisely bringing name rap acts out from New York like Kurtis Blow, Run DMC and Whodini, the Uncle Jamm's Army parties became a phenomenon, attracting thousands of people to large auditorium and stadium scale venues like the Richmond Auditorium up north in the Bay Area. Luckily, I caught one of their gigs there, around when the crew's Egyptian Lover's "My Beat Goes Boom"/"What Is a DJ If He Can't Scratch" was a big hit. In the early days their LA parties were typically roller skate events, sponsored in part by stations KGFJ and KDAY, where the DJs would spin funk records like Zapp's "Doo Wa Ditty." By a certain point, Uncle Jamm's Army's name alone was enough of a draw. Of course, having their own records out that were radio hits only helped increase these crowds.
Uncle Jamm's Army "The Roach Is On The Wall" (1985)
Via their own Freak Beat record label, Uncle Jamm's Army released a series of singles beginning with 1984's "Dial-A-Freak," which personified their Cali development of the electronic hip-hop sound that originated in New York. That record was basically a Clayton/Egyptian Lover production collaboration with Clayton doing most of the beats and Egyptian Lover, while sharing some of the beats production, handling all the mic duties in a unique style that he would continue after going solo shortly thereafter. His sing-songy rap style mined Prince's sexually fueled freaky banter and also lyrically referenced Egypt and the Pharaohs.
LA community activist and longtime hip-hop community member General Jeff, who was a member of Uncle Jamm's Army, credits the man with being, "responsible for various radio station mix shows which featured rap music on KGFJ, KACE, KJLH and, of course, paved the way for now legendary KDAY." He says that Clayton was also the first to go from record promoter to recording artist & producer and that he "never got the true recognition he deserved." Rest in peace, Rodger Clayton.