Upon digging in crates of early eighties hip-hop today, I was pleasantly reminded of just how socially aware and outspoken so many of those early era hip-hop records actually were. It wasn't all "party over here, party over there, say hey" structured escapist rap, at least not from this period of the early 80's onwards. Of these 12" records, I picked out three to pop on the platter and listen closely to and present here via their YouTube clips: Divine Sounds' "What People Do For Money," Kurtis Blow's "8 Million Stories," and Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel & Furious Five's 1982 Sugar Hill single "Message II (Survival)." As the title of the latter implies, the record was the sequel to the pioneering hip-hop crew's hit "The Message" from earlier that same year. [Both are found on the group's Best Of collection CD]. An international hit, it held a mirror up to the decay and neglect of the inner city told in catchy memorable rhymes on the stark reality of living in poverty in urban America. The antithesis of a rap party anthem, "The Message" was a cold slap in the face forcing all to look at the everyday struggles of living amidst poverty and violence. On the record Duke Bootee and Melle Mel traded such famous observatory rhymes, "Rats in the front room, roaches in the back. Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat. I tried to get away but I couldn't get far. Cos a man with a tow truck repossessed my car." "The Message" and its widespread success is regularly cited as the original "conscious rap" record and held responsible for kick-starting a sub-genre of hip-hop that would play a key role in the genre up to the present. However many over the years have protested this label, citing it as too limiting and restrictive a pigeon hole to fit an artist into. Most notable of late is talented hip-hop star Vince Staples who has vocally and mockingly rebelled against and dismissed the term "conscious rap" that he protests has been unfairly applied to his work.
With this week's release of the latest Open Mike Eagle album Hella Personal Film Festival, Mello Music Group (MMG) continue their role of curating some of today's best and most progressive hip-hop. Last year the Tuscon, Arizona-based indie label unleashed hip-hop gems from such artists as Semi Hendrix (Ras Kass and Jack Splash), L'Orange with both Jeremiah Jae and Kool Keith, Apollo Brown, Oddisse, and Open Mike Eagle. That was 2015's A Special Episode Of Open Mike Eagle: Split Pants at Sound Check. However Mike considers his just released album, that was recorded in London, to be a continuation of where his critically acclaimed 2014 Mello Music release Dark Comedy left off. With this new album, which will be celebrated with an Amoeba Hollywood in-store on April 5th, both the record label and gifted LA based wordsmith knock it out the park. For that thanks go to Mike's always impressive clever wordplay and the rich production of the new release.
"You on point, Phife? All the time Tip! Well then grab the microphone and let your words rip!"
- from "Check The Rhime" classic hip-hop vocal interplay between A Tribe Called Quest's
Q-Tip and the late great Phife Dawg who just died at age 45.
Hip-hop fans awoke to some truly tragic news this morning with the announcement of the death of rapper Phife Dawg of renowned hip-hop crew A Tribe Called Quest (ATCQ). According to an early morning post today to DJ Chuck Chillout‘s Twitter feed, consequently confirmed by several other noteworthy sources, the beloved golden era hip-hop artist passed away yesterday at the young age of 45. Although no exact cause of death has been announced so far, the hip-hopper born Malik Taylor reportedly had been battling Type-I diabetes for more than half of his lifetime. In an interview in the excellent 2011 Michael Rapaport directed documentary, Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest, Phife Dawg (aka Phife Diggy, aka The Five-Foot Assassin) addresses his diabetes and dependence on sugar calling it "a sickness" and likening it to "straight-up drugs. I'm just addicted to sugar." Part of Phife's ongoing battle with the disease included receiving a kidney transplant from his wife eight years ago.
This month Too $hort, the Godfather of Oakland rap/hip-hop, will be playing two concerts at Oakland's Fox Theater at 1807 Telegraph Ave. in the Uptown district. After quickly selling out the original sole scheduled hometown show, taking place this Saturday March 26th, a second Fox Theater date was added at the same venue for next week, Thursday March 31st. Both are 8pm shows. Buy tix here: $39.50 and $49.50 + fees. Both Oakland concerts will feature a live band backing Too $hort, along with opening acts Zion I, The Grouch & Eligh and DJ Fresh.
The two Oakland concerts by the consistently active rap artist born Todd Shaw are part of the veteran hip-hop artist's ongoing celebration of thirty years in the rap game. These have included recent concerts in Las Vegas and last week in Austin during SxSW. But of all his recent concert dates across the US, it's $hort's hometown shows that have gotten the overwhelmingly best response. Clearly Too $hort fans in Oakland and the greater Bay Area outnumber fans everywhere else, even in LA where he was born, and currently lives, or Atlanta where he had previously relocated to for a period. In Bay Area hip-hop circles both fans and fellow hip-hop artists, from hardcore rap to conscious hip-hop and turntablism, totally love their Too $hort! They not only love his music but also his rich legacy as a West Coast rap pioneer. That includes his early days primitive but profitable "custom made" tape recordings, and his (and manager Randy Austin's) trailblazing "out the trunk" approach to grassroots distribution. Plus the fact that, in a genre that most artists are lucky to make to ten years in their careers, that he's into his third decade as a relevant hip-hop artist. More importantly he's done it all on his own terms.