Hip-Hop History Tuesdays: DJ Flash & Captain Rapp Look Back and Discuss New "Westcoastin"

Posted by Billyjam, November 5, 2013 07:51am | Post a Comment
Lee Johnson, aka West Coast hip-hop pioneer DJ Flash who began his illustrious rap career back in the early 80's, has recently returned from retirement along with his old school 80's rap partner Captain Rapp and gotten back into music with a new label and a brand new release that recently arrived in Amoeba (in store) for sale. The new album Westcoastin features Ronnie Hudson with a slew of legendary West Coast rappers including Snoop Dogg, E-40, and Too $hort is a sort of reprise of Hudson's 80's hit "West Coast Poppin" - one that he incidentally reissued back in the early 90's when he compiled the West Coast Rap history compilation series. "A year and a half ago I asked Ronnie Hudson if he would like to re-create his 1982 Classic "West Coast Poplock" aka "California Knows How To Party" that Ronnie wrote it in the 80's the one that Dre and Pac re-did it in the 90's," Flash told me recently. The new record which began as a vague idea of reworking a West Coast classic evolved into all the original guys Ronnie Hudson, Mikel Hooks, Captain Rapp, and DJ Flash getting back together and then recruiting Zapp Troutman, Snoop Dogg, Too Short, E40, Rappin 4Tay, and Celly Cel and some others to make the original song even better  via various mixes include several re-mixes: house, dub-step, electro, and G-funk (featuring Battlecat and Richie Rich) - plus record some other new material. Below is text of a recent conversation with Flash about the new project plus, immediately below, is part of a recent video interview I conducted with both Flash and Rapp talking about their history and the history of West Coast Rap itself.

DJ Flash and Captain Rapp rap with the Amoeblog

Amoeblog: Can you break down exactly what the new project is all about, and what makes it unique?

DJ Flash:  It's the 2013 version of Ronnie Hudson's classic "West Coast Poplock" which was originally released back in '82. Over the years Ronnie's now famous lines "California knows how to party" more or less became the West Coast anthem ... It's probably safe to say that elements of that song have been sampled more than any other West Coast track. In fact the phrase "City of Compton" has been utilized by so many West Coast artist's. that we've lost count Back in the day the east coast was running the rap game everyone was talking about New York, Chicago, The Bronx. The hip hop culture was here on the West Coast, the streets of Los Angeles and the Bay Area were full of DJ's, breakers, and graffiti artists. But we didn't have a rap label like the East Coast's Sugarhill Records. So in 1981 Duffy Hooks, Mikel Hooks, and Cletus Anderson launched Rappers Rapp Disco Co. which was LA's first rap label. The first release was "The Gigolo Rapp" by Disco Daddy & Captain Rapp. Man that record exploded in Los Angeles and it was a wonderful thing to actually hear a local rap record being played on the radio along with all the East Coast groups at the time. It gave so much hope to an entire generation, myself included. The second record was by the Rappers Rapp group of which I was a member. Then Mikel came up with the idea to do a song about the West Coast and mention all the names like Compton, Watts, etc.  And poplockin [dance] was big on the West at the time. At first it was called the Los Angeles Poplock, then Mikel thought we should cover the Whole west Coast so he changed it to the Wes Coast Poplock. Mikel asked his friend Ronnie Hudson who had worked at Stax Records back in the day and was also Issac Hayes' bass player if he could write a song about the West Coast. Mikel wanted to use Zapp's "So Ruff So Tuff" as the music but Ronnie wanted original music. But back then the best way to get a DJ to play a record was to have a popular beat under it so they would mix it with the original. So The West Coast Poplock was the third track recorded by the Hooks Brothers & those first three records were all recorded at the KSR Studios inside the Taft Building on Hollywood and Vine. The song has survived the test of time and in 1994 Dr. Dre & 2Pac blew it up even bigger when they redid it and called it " California Love."

Amoeblog: Who are some of the guests on the new recording and how did they come to be on the project?

DJ Flash: In October 2011 I was having breakfast with Ronnie Hudson and Mikel Hooks at Dennys on Sunset Blvd. and I mentioned that i was thinking about starting up a new label and we should re-do the "West Coast Poplock." It was a crazy idea because It's hard to remake a classic and we could never do it as big as Dre and 2Pac. But I really wasn't concerned about that. I was more interested in doing it on an artistic level. We tossed around ideas on how we could change the lyrics, and update everything. It all sounded good so by the time we finished breakfast we decided it was worth a try. The first thing I did was reach out to Zapp Troutman. I knew together Zapp & Ronnie would kill it. People said "you don't need Zapp just use any talkbox artist" I said "No, we need Zapp!" - for me that was a no-brainer. The next step, choosing the rappers wasn't so easy. I spent days googling and viewing youtube videos new West Coast artists even heard. but in my head all I heard were OG's on the track. We Needed Snoop, Too $hort, Rappin' 4Tay, Ice Cube. But how could We get these huge stars. We been out the game so long and everyone who came after us blew up big. We figured no one would be interested and besides how could we get a hold of these big stars. So I hit the Internet. It's an amazing thing.

Amoeblog: What differences, production wise, went into this new project versus previous ones you've worked on from a production standpoint?

DJ Flash: Our earliest records were usually cut in one studio session and just starting off we didn't have big budgets. You gotta remember Rappers Rapp/ Street People record labels were the very first rap labels in Los Angeles and we had to scrimp and scrap for everything; seems like we only had 4-6 hours to lay the tracks and mix all in the same night. First we tracked the band, then we broke down, set up the mic's and cut the vocals. It was all business in the studio. It cost a lot of money. In fact on our earliest records we even mixed on the same night we recorded. We would have about three hours for the band then a couple hours for the vocals and a couple hours for the mix. I remember to save time and money we would use the same drum tracks from a previous song and just record new bass lines and guitars and make a new song. Later on, after we sold a few thousand records, we could finally track the music one night , take the tape home and practice our raps and lay down the vocals the next night, and mix on a third night. We usually recorded late at night because the rates were cheaper. Today it's all together different: with computers and everything, everyone has a pre-production studio so you can take your time, change things around, experiment with sounds etc. It's a beautiful thing today!

Amoeblog:  What are the other most significant differences you see in hip-hop in 2013 compared to when you first got into the rap game - either or musically and business wise?

DJ Flash: Well back in the day if you cut a record it was a big deal since not everyone had that opportunity. It was very expensive and the major labels had a filtering system: you couldn't even submit your music to a major without an attorney - they called it un-solicited material. The majors were missing out on all the good groups and the indies were there to pick up the slack. But the early 1980's was a great time for independent labels, and for music in general. The indies were running the streets. The club scene was huge and 90% of what the DJ's were playing came from the streets.

Amoeblog: Considering that when you started out - rap/hip-hop was still considered a fad, destined to not last long - are you amazed at how it has not only survived but thrived to become the leading form of pop music on a global level?

DJ Flash: Honestly, yes. I mean I always knew it would have a place alongside everything else. But i never imagined it would be the dominate force that it eventually became. I remember when the first rap record went gold, then the first rap Grammy…it was amazing, almost like watching a baby grow up one step at a time. I remember there was a time like around 1982 when rap was really struggling because the braggadocios, shake your booty, party down type rap was getting played out. Then came "The Message" and it gave new life to rap. And we started rapping about the streets. So '83 was a turning point for hip hop and, in my opinion, it was songs like "The Message" and Captain Rapps' "Bad Times I (I Can't Stand It)" that saved rap. Not only did street raps help the genre survive but just as important were the break dancers and DJ's. Rappin was cool and we were the ones making records but in my opinion the break dancers and the  poplockers always livened up the party and the crowds were amazed by them.

Amoeblog: Have you ever imagined what it would have been like back in the early 80's, as rap/hip-hop was taking root, what things would be like if the Internet had been around - would it have been good or bad?

DJ Flash: If the internet had been around in the 80's there would be no hip-hop game. Just imagine Crazy Legs, Ice-T, Bambaataa, Kool Herc, those Legandary names would have just been code names for some Black Ops mission. Graffiti artists would have been photoshop artists. NWA would have been a group on Facebook (laughs). Hip-hop grew out of young people actually going out and interacting with one another: it gave poor people hope and an opportunity to show off their skills and talents. Everyone was a star.

Amoeblog: Last question. Were you the first white rapper signed to a label?

DJ Flash: I was signed to Rappers Rapp Disco Co. in Los Angeles in 1981 and recorded a string of 12' singles over the yrs including The Darkstar Sexy Baby ep for AVI Records in 82 finally king MC & I launched "Hitts Records" in 1984 where we recorded "Erotic City Rapp" / "State Of Shock Rapp" & "Beverly Hills Cop Rapp" with MC Fosty Finally around 1986 I saw a video of the "Beasty Boys" "Fight For Your Right" I was blown away & I remember thinking "Dam they got a Video To" Back then if you had a video it was a Huge Deal. Videos made Artists Big Stars. Then around 1989-90 came 3rd Bass with "Steppin to the AM" & Vanilla Ice with "Ice Ice Baby" at that time I was working behind the scenes running My own label & taking on more of an executive role in the business. Although Johnny Cash and Blondie put out their novelty raps .. They weren't considered Rappers per say. So to answer the question, yes I suppose I was the first only because our label's founder Duffy Hooks had a vision.

Relevant Tags

Hip-hop History (63), Captain Rapp (4), Dj Flash (4), Westcoastin (1), Ronnie Hudson (1), West Coast Rap (8), West Coast Rap The First Decade (5), California Hip-hop (1)