Hip-Hop History Tuesdays: The Roots of Oakland Rap and The Birth of Bay Area Hip-Hop in the 1980s

Posted by Billyjam, November 26, 2013 06:15pm | Post a Comment

Motorcycle Mike
Today's richly vibrant, prolific, and diverse Bay Area hip-hop  scene, with thousands of artists currently making a broad range of styles, humbly began in Oakland 32 years ago back in 1981. It was early in that year when the very first Oakland rap release (also the very first known Bay Area rap release) dropped: Motorcycle Mike's single "Super Rat." The record arrived in a time when hip-hop or rap music was still considered an East Coast/New York artform that, for some odd (elitist?) reason, could not hail from the West Coast. This belief was challenged with releases like releases like Motorcyle Mike's debut 12" rap single. That record by the artist, who was also known as Motorcycle Mike Dappa, was entitled "Super Rat" and was produced by Gerald Robinson and released on the tiny indie Hodisk Records -- the label run by Nicky Moore that also relToo $hort Don't Stop Rappineased the Numonics.  Born Phil Lewis and influenced by Bootsy Collins as much as the Sugarhill Gang,  Motorcycle Mike was, not surprisingly, a motorbike fanatic. Pro-Black in its message, "Super Rat" featured the early Oakland rapper drawing an analogy between the then much talked about Norwegian "super rats," who could not be killed by poison but instead got stronger, and the underdog black man in Oakland and other American urban areas who could not be kept down. Motorcycle Mike's original Oakland rap record was followed up later that same year from the East Bay city by the 12" single “Tally Ho!” on Walker Star Records from Steve Walker - an artist who would re-emerged some years later to record under the name Biscuit.

It was also around this same time back in the early 80's when a very young but very foul-mouthed rapper named Todd Shaw who went by the moniker of Too $hort and was in his early teens was beginning to make primitive home recordings (one mic and two tape decks) in his East Oakland bedroom with partner Freddy B. Together they would hawk them on street corners and on AC Transit buses, pioneering a whole new movement.  "Too $hort paved the way for me and everyone out there today with the way he recorded and marketed his tapes himself," E-40 told me some years later in an interview in referencing the influence of Too $hort who rightfully became known as "the Godfather of Oakland rap" even though he wasn't technically the first artist out of "the town" to record and release rap records (or tapes as he did for his first three early mid-eighties official releases on the 75 Girls label). In his early rap years Vallejo's E-40 and his family crew The Click (who began their rap careers in the late 80's) successfully adapted Too $hort's DIY "out the trunk" approach to street level rap distribution.

Steve Walker "Tally Ho" (1981)


In 1985 Too $hort released his first single, "Girl," an anti-crack song which defined his characteristic slow, bass-heavy sound designed for listening to in the car. The song also appeared on the 75 Girls Records & Tapes album Don't Stop Rappin' and as a later year reissue on the In-A-Minute Records 2CD Too $hort 75 Girls collection Greatest Hits Vol I: The Player Years. After a series of releases through 75 Girls, $hort, along with manager Randy Austin, formed his own label, Dangerous Music, on which he released the legendary Born To Mack album. 

In 1988 he released a Dangerous Music compilation that included, among others, the then unknown East Bay and Frisco rappers Spice 1 and Rappin' 4-Tay respectively.  That same year Too $hort landed a deal with Jive Records in New York. Meanwhile, another Oaklander, Stanley Kirk Burell, who went by the name of MC Hammer, was enjoying much success with his self-produced 1987 debut album Feel My Power and its single, "Ring 'Em," on Bust It Records.  Hammer got signed to Capitol Records who would release his major label debut Let's Get It Started the following year and his breakthrough smash hit Please Hammer Don't Hurt Em three years later and would go on to become a phenomenally successful crossover international pop rap star. 


Sir Quick Draw "Rapaholic" (1987)


Cassadine Man Hander At the time when MC Hammer got picked up by Capitol Records, those within the local rap community finally believed that they could be taken seriously at a national level. Note that up until this point only the Berkeley based Timex Social Club had scored a hit nationally with their 1986 pop/rap hit single, "Rumors" (see video below).

Other talented acts to emerge from Oakland in the late eighties and who helped pave the way for today's thriving rap scene all over the Bay include female rapper Cassidine (whose 1988 album Man Handler was released on cassette & LP on the 75 Girls label when she was known as "the female Too $hort"), North Oakland's APG Crew,  the "Arabian rapper" Mac Mill, Sir Quick Draw (currently known by the hip-hop name Naru Kwina), pioneering Bay Area 'gangsta' rap group 415 featuring Richie Rich, and the P-Funk fueled Digital Underground, whose debut single, 1989's "Underwater Rimes" on TNT, led to their deal with Tommy Boy Records and the worldwide success of  "Humpty Dance."  

Timex Social Club "Rumors" (1986)

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Hip-hop History (63), Hip-hop History Tuesdays (44), Timex Social Club (1), E-40 (42), Too $hort (44), Hip-hop History Amoeblog (33), Mc Hammer (7), West Coast Rap The First Decade (5), West Coast Rap (8), 1981 West Coast Rap (1), Too $hort (44), Too Short (8), Motorcycle Mike (1), Billy Jam (40), Hip Hop (93), Rap (134)