Hip-Hop History Tuesdays: Los Angeles Rap/Hip-Hop, The First Decade (Pt. I)

Posted by Billyjam, October 8, 2013 10:14am | Post a Comment
Back at the time of their release, hip-hop's earliest major hit records by New York City rappers the Sugarhill Gang (“Rapper’s Delight”  in 1979) and Kurtis Blow (“The Breaks” in 1980) were considered novelty records by some with the genre itself similarly dismissed by many as merely a passing fad in music. But at the same time those records were taken seriously by both fans of this new genre and aspiring rappers across the land including out on the West Coast where the seeds were being sown for what, over the following decades, would blossom into today's vibrant, prolific, and diverse West Coast hip-hop scene.  This new wave of pioneering rappers up and down the Left coast, from Seattle to Oakland, to Los Angeles, were instantly bitten by the rap bug and inspired to get busy recording their own interpretation of this New York City born  urban youth music (and culture) that, like punk rock, offered an accessible DIY approach. You didn't need to know how to play an instrument or how to sing. All you needed was records and a mic to DJ and MC respectively. Similarly all you needed was a spray can to do graffiti, or a strip of cardboard to break (dance) on.

The first wave of West Coast rappers  drew influence from what they had heard out of the East Coast: adapting its style but infusing their own flavor. As a fan/collector of West Coast hip-hop from its inception and also as a part of the compilation series - West Coast  Rap Volumes 1,2,& 3 compilation series of 80's rap on Excello/Rhino that was produced by D.J. Flash and released in the early 90's with research and interviews and liner notes done by me - I became familiar with a lot of this great early West Coast rap (note that the music was called "rap" more than "hip-hop" back then). So for this Hip Hop History Tuesday installment I am going to retrace that first decade in Los Angeles rap that began at the beginning of the 1980's. This is part one of the two-parter on the first decade of LA rap. Next week's second half will include more history of 1980's LA rap artists/releases plus an interview, conducted recently, with both DJ Flash and fellow West Coast hip-hop pioneer Captain Rapp.

Record producer Cletus Anderson and the father/son team of Duffy Hooks and Jerry Hooks deserve dspecial mention in this LA rap story. Duffy and his father, a 40-year veteran of Black music whose credits included producing Billie Holiday, were two New York transplants determined to build a West Coast counterpart to the successful New Jersey- based Sugarhill Records. After forming the Rappers Rapp Disco Record Company record label they set about releasing their first act. That premiere rap act would be the duo of Disco Daddy & Captain Rapp whose 1981 “Gigolo Rapp” was the LA first rap release. Up the coast in Oakland in that same year there were two other pioneering West Coast rap releases from both Motorcycle Mike and Steve Walker

The LA rap record was well received locally and even got airplay on L.A. radio station KGFJ. It’s important to note that for the most part, West Coast rap was ignored by radio in its early days. In later years, the 24-hour-a-day, primarily rap format of L.A.’s KDAY played a vital role in promoting numerous West Coast rappers.    But in the beginning, the L.A. rap scene was a grassroots affair, with clubs and record stores as its main boosters. DJ Flash remembers that he’d “get about a thousand copies of a record pressed up, get on a bus, and go directly from the pressing plant to record stores to sell them.”  

Flash was a member of the premier West Coast rap unit known as the Rappers Rapp Group, a six-member act modeled after Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five that the Hooks put together in Hollywood. The RRG’s first record was the bouncy “Rappin Partee Groove” in 1982. After a year of touring under the updated name Dark Star they disbanded, but members Flash, M.C. Fosty, Lovin’ C., Mr. Ice, Macker Moe, and King M.C. had not given up on rap. M.C. Fosty and Lovin’ C. resurfaced as a team with 1983’s most popular street rap, “Radio Activity Rapp,” an infectious jam that packed dance floors from L.A. to the Bay Area. Since most of the music’s support came from clubs, the records tended to be tailored for the dance-floor, with many of the rap records utilizing music from already established hit records. Take “Erotic City Rapp” by King M.C. & D. J. Flash, which utilized the music of Prince’s then popular “Erotic City.” “Club DJs preferred them because they could mix them with the originals,” Flash recalled. “And with ‘Erotic City Rapp’ record stores placed large pre-orders based just on the name.” 
Back in 1981 and 1982, with the occasional exception of KGFJ, L.A. radio didn't support rap  so the music's popularity grew based on word of mouth.  Fans would hear the latest West Coast rappers on a friend's boombox or car stereo, or at a party, or in a small club.  Despite these obstacles though the momentum for these early releases built rapidly.  Don McMillan, owner of Macola Records, remembers how when he first got into the rap music business in '83, "we had a pressing plant and the kids off the street were coming in to have 500 or 1000 records at a time pressed up.  Soon after they'd come back for more and more so I finally said, 'Where the hell are you guys selling these records?'"  It turned out that they were selling them in Compton and other local hip-hop hotbeds.  What they hadn't considered was distributing these records outside of the L.A. area.  So McMillan stepped in with his expertise to help them in this next step. McMillan considers 1985 into 1986 as the real turning point for L.A. rap music taking hold because that "was when they were all starting to get things really happening; Ice T, King T, The Unknown DJ, Bobby Jimmy & The Critters....".  He also acknowledges another very important factor; KDAY.  It was at this time that KDAY went to a nearly exclusive rap format 24 hours a day.  KDAY was almost single handedly responsible for propelling the careers of numerous West Coast rappers. 

KDAY's demise in '91 (it would in later years again resurface but not in the same way as these formative years) was sorely felt by rap fans and artists across the country.  Queen Latifah's bold-typed "TO KDAY WE WILL MISS YOU..." on the liner notes of her Nature of a Sista' album pretty much summed up how everyone in the hip-hop world felt after the station dropped their rap format.  However in its heyday it was a happening station with even the DJ's getting involved directly in the rap scene.  Most noteworthy was DJ/music director Greg Mack who was largely responsible for taking the station from R&B to rap.  He was introduced to many outside of the L.A. area for his participation as the DJ on the fictitious radio station K-E-Z-E on Eazy E's song "Radio" in 1988.  He even set up his own record company, Mack Daddy Records, and is responsible for compilations such as "What Does It All Mean" (Motown).

Another KDAY DJ who got into the recording end of Rap was comedian/morning man Russ Parr.  Under the moniker of Bobby Jimmy and his band The Critters, he has put out a steady flow of comedy rap records such as "We Like Ugly Women , "Roaches" (a parody of Timex Social Club's "Rumors"), and "Big Butt",  each infusing comedy into rap.

Uncle Jamm’s Army was a group of DJ’s who put on giant dances throughout the L.A. area, attracting thousands at a time to venues like the Sports  Arena and the Coliseum. There, with their huge sound system, they would showcase the talent of previously unknown rap acts such as Run-DMC, Whodini, and
Ice-T. Uncle Jam's Army was the name that the group of DJ's, featuring the Egyptian Lover, chose for their travelling roadshow which earned a reputation for putting on huge dances throughout the L.A. area in the early eighties.  These mega events drew thousands at a time to venues such as the Sports Arena, Coliseum, and Veteran's Auditorium.  These big parties, which faded out partly due to the advent of gang violence, featured the turntable wizardry of the Egyptian Lover who has been credited as the first DJ to introduce scratching to Los Angeles.  In fact the Egyptian Lover was the driving force behind Uncle Jam's Army and was responsible for most of their finest output such as "Yes, Yes, Yes" in '83, which was the B-side of "Dial a Freak". Meantime a dream come true would be one way to describe how the L.A. Dream Team formed.  Rudy Pardee had just moved to L.A. from Ohio to pursue his deejaying/rapping talents.  To make ends meet he got a job at a Wendy's fast food joint as a manager.  One day a certain Chris "Snake Puppy" Wilson of Watts applied for a job there.  He not only got the job but soon joined Pardee to become a co-founder of the most popular West Coast Rap act of the day, The L.A. Dream Team.  Their first single, "Calling On The Dream Team", was released in January '85.  They followed it up with two even stronger hits that same year; "Rockberry Jam" (on Volume I) and "In the House."

Although from back East, New Jersey transplant Ice-T will always be associated with West Coast rap where at a big jam session in an L.A. park one day that his rhyming skills were first noticed. The artist's vinyl debut that followed was 1983’s “The Coldest Rap” which paved the way for his long and lucrative music and movie & television career. An interesting side note about “The Coldest Rap” is that its final mix featured the studio handiwork of work of none other than Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. This was right after they had exited The Time and before they had started their collaborations with Janet Jackson. Ice T has always been an innovator, brave enough to do his thing.  He proclaimed his unabashed love of metal when he fronted the hard rock band, Body Count, in '91.  He also was the original gangsta rapper  and the first one to speak out on the evils of the LAPD. He made reference to the LAPD’s batterram in "6 In The Morning" in which he established himself as the Original Gangster (O.G.) with rhymes like; "Looked in the mirror what did we see?/Fuckin' blue lights L.A.P.D./Pigs searched our car, Their day was made/Found an Uzi, 44' and a hand grenade".  This single first came out in '86 on Techno Hop Records and resurfaced a year later on the album "Rhyme Pays" (Sire).  Perhaps it was Ice-T's insightful lyrics coupled with their sinister delivery over sparse beats that won him acceptance with New York's Rap peers before any of his other West Coast brethren.  Whatever the reason Ice-T has always been a strong spokesman for all hip-hoppers from this salute to hip-hop culture in 1984's "Body Rock" to the countless panels he sat on following the whole Body Count/"Cop Killer" controversy in the early 90's to defend the basic First Amendment rights. 

Just as Ice T made reference to the LAPD’s use of the batteram, Toddy Tee entitled a single to it and the general  police harassment by the LAPD.  Years before the highly controversial Rodney King case this song addressed another violent form of brutality by LA's finest, the batterram.  Modeled after a medievil battering ram, an armoured truck with a big ol' telephone pole complete with a steel ball on the end, the batterram was used by the police to smash their way into suspected crack houses.  The problem, as you can imagine was that innocent people's homes were being destroyed. Even worse, citizens were being killed in the process.  It was only after a drawn out public outcry that this monstrosity was finally outlawed.  "Batterram" played a part in exposing this inhumane police tactic. The Egyptian Lover was not only an artist but a promoter.  Through his Egyptian Empire Records he launched Rodney-O & Joe Cooley.  Their lucky break came one night back in '86 when the Egyptian Lover, detained elsewhere, gave his studio time free to Rodney-O.  In that one night Rodney-O, with the scratching aid of Joe Cooley, cut the incredible "Everlasting Bass", a Rap classic that still gets requested at radio.  It wasn't until their second single, "Give Me The Mic," that General Jeff joined the group. 

Miami's 2 Live Crew came to national prominence in 1990 when their album "As Nasty As They Wanna Be" was declared obscene.  Overnight 2 Live Crew leader Luke SkyyWalker was thrust into the role of defender of all censored music and art.  Five years earlier however his role was simply promoting his struggling rap band; something he had to move to California to do where with the help of Macola Records he released singles such as "Revelation". Meanwhile, the seeds were being sown for Compton’s notorious N.W.A. in the form of The World Class Wrekin’ Cru (later known as The Wrekin’ Cru.) Considering how N.W.A. earned much of their bad boy reputation with their provocative “Fuck Tha Police,” it’s a little ironic to see the Compton police being warmly thanked “for  security’ in the liner notes of the Cru single “Juice.” Producer Lonzo Williams founded The World Class Wrekin’ Cru, which featured Dr. Dre, Yella, Cli ‘n’ Tel, and even Ice Cube at a later date. Williams ran Eves After Dark, a club popular with 17 to 19 year olds, where The Wrekin’ Cru were DJ’s. He’d often invite the Rappers Rapp Group to rap. But he wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to get into the rap record business, so he sold the club and used the proceeds to put out “Slice” by the World Class Wrekin’ Cru, which featured rapping by Cli ‘n’ Tel and beats  and scratching by Yella. This record was on Kru’-Cut Records, but was manufactured and distributed by Macola Records. Macola and its owner, Don McMillan, played an integral part in the West Coast rap story, helping many small labels to get their product distributed.  The Cru soon tired of the matching outfits and Temptations styled choreographed dance moves that Williams imposed upon them and they moved on. Dre teamed up with a rapper called Eazy E and some others who wanted to come out with a gangster image. And so NWA, originally a miscellaneous grouping of people from various groups, was born.

Next week's Hip-Hop History Tuesdays will continue this look at the early (1980's) years in LA rap with an overview of various releases (mostly singles) from 1980 to 1985 plus video and text interviews with both LA rap pioneer Captain Rapp and DJ Flash - the first white West Coast rapper and the man behind the West Coast Rap history compilation series as well as the recently released Westcoastin.

AMOEBLOGGER EDIT UPDATE:  In the original published version of this story it stated that Captain Rapp and Disco Daddy were discovered in an LA area night club. According to communiques with Michael "Disco Daddy" Khalfani, who will be publishing the book "WHATEVER HAPPENED TO DISCO DADDY," tentatively in February 2014, this was not the case. Apologies for any confusion.

Relevant Tags

Hip-hop History Tuesdays (44), Billy Jam (40), West Coast Rap The First Decade (5), West Coast Rap (8), Hip-hop History (63), Hip Hop (94), Dj Flash (4), Captain Rapp (4), Hip-hop History Amoeblog (33), Rap (134)