For this week's Hip-Hop History installment we rewind back to wonderfully vibrant year of 1988. It was a time when hip-hop still constantly growing, with exciting sounding new artists constantly unfurling new lyrical and musical sounds. To me '88 was part of the third wave of hip-hop - with the first wave being the (original) old school artists of the 70's/early 80's, who were eclipsed earlier in the 80's by Run-D.M.C. who ushered in the "new school" - but who themselves in turn were eclipsed by this newer third wave of hip-hop. It often seemed (and more so in retrospect) that every record released in '88 was a good record. Of course, as with any music in any time period, there were hip-hop duds released in '88 too. However overall it is fair to say that 1988 had a larger percentage of quality, diverse-sounding, influential, and timeless hip-hop releases than many other years in the genre's four-decade history. And no wonder; it was part of the time frame known as the "golden era" of hip-hop that is widely considered to be the artistic pinnacle of the art form. I think part of the reason for this, along with the lyrical aspect of the artform still being relatively young and still being explored by new emcees like Rakim, was the fact that sampling was at its creative peak. Remember this was in the period before the infamous 1991 landmark Gilbert O Sullivan vs Biz Markie copyright case that essentially brought an end to free range sampling, and would end up in hip-hop being a little less adventurous sounding due to all the restrictions placed on it regarding sampling.
This has been one of those weeks when hip-hop news and mainstream news have repeatedly overlapped and melded together with stories on Vanilla Ice, Nicki Minaj, Afroman, and the state of hip-hop today as seen through the eyes of Geraldo Rivera all made front-page news - albeit all in a sensationalist way as per the course of mainstream news' reporting on the genre. The difference between now and say 1989 or 1992 when stereotypical "Violence At Rap Show" styled TV and newspaper headlines were the norm is that nowadays mainstream news reports tend to call it "hip-hop" rather than "rap" and that they (correctly) assume that the general public knows the names of the artists they are reporting on. Mind you, in terms of delving deep into said artist's music beyond a mere mention of their biggest pop hits, nothing has really advanced much in lazy mainstream reporting (editorializing?) on hip-hop in which the music typically is judged on negative generalizations.
Mainstream reporting and editorializing on hip-hop tends to be based on the music and behavior of the most visible pop-rap artists of the day - rather than a realistic look at the rich, varied, and incredibly diverse genre that is hip-hop in 2015. This lazy type of journalism, that paints a picture of everything about hip-hop falling under its most negative stereotype of being nothing but a soulless music filled with nothing but shallow imagery of misogyny and violence and debauchery, was most evident with Geraldo Rivera speaking to HuffPostLive this week when Rivera shared this insightful gem of his: "Hip-hop has done more damage to black and brown people than racism in the past ten years" due to, in his eyes, it been "very destructive culturally" and blaming the music of hip-hop for young fans/followers of the genre wearing "pants around their ass" and sporting "tattoos" and being ready for only "entry level jobs" when they actually go look for work. Say what! Of course coming from someone at FOX News (a place where the blame for police violence against minorities is placed on the victims) this biased, narrow-minded point of view should not be a surprise.
I first heard Eazy-E back in 1988 when I was in junior high. Even before I heard him, I'd heard of him. Back then, new music was still mostly disseminated by word of mouth and the trade of mixtapes. Our computers were Apple ][es and the internet was still just one of Al Gore's fantasies. The only rap they played on the radio was harmless (but fun) stuff like Whodini, UTFO and the Fresh Prince & DJ Jazzy Jeff. But just looking around the school hallways it was obvious that there was more to the hip-hop world than what got played on the air. Kids wore enormous clocks around their necks like Flava Flav of the airplay-denied Public Enemy. When teachers distinguished me from another Eric by referring to me as "Eric B.," the question "where's Rakim?" often followed-- uttered by a savvy classmate. The rap that most people listened to as far as I know (with the exception of Ice-T, Too $hort ) was either from the East or South Coasts. Then, seemingly overnight, kids started wearing Raiders and Kings gear. A wind picked up from the west...
One day around that time, my younger brother Evan and I were out riding bikes down past Bill Wolf's property. Bill Wolf was kind of a big man out in the country who built a lot of homes, owned a lot of land and used to shoot copperheads-- plus he claimed to have seen panthers in the woods behind our house, long before they were officially verified to have returned to the area. I remember the tar on Old Mill Creek Road used to bubble in the heat and pop under my Schwinn's deliberately swerving tires. There was probably the loud buzz of cicadas in the air. Down by Mill Creek (where I used to try to catch crawdads) Evan (riding our sister's orange 3-speed) found a chewed up, discarded cassette by the bridge. He said that the tape was unraveled and draped across some weeds. It was labeled "Eazy Duz It." I got excited at the opportunity suddenly afforded us to listen to something we probably wouldn't otherwise hear. Evan wound the tape back up with his finger and took it back to the house.