Thursday, December 16, 2010

neglection as a result of touring infection

As a tide-me-over, here is a recommendation:

consider this my Christmas gift to you.

GDP is a young man from New Brunswick, NJ who has captured the essence of the golden era and created something, in my opinion, all his own. I first got exposed to him through playing his basement (where some of our wildest shows have occurred. All rules a burnt to a crisp, just the way we like it.). Dude is extremely nice and an all around great guy. He was nice enough to pass on his last full-length "Realistic Expectations", which I popped in the van on an overnight drive a few days later. Cue: jaw dropped.
Seriously, I fell in love immediately and spun it about five times in a row. I won't keep gushing, I'll just tell you to check out his tour diaries and order you to buy his stuff and support him on his neverending touring cycles. When they say "Keep hip-hop alive...", they're talking about this dude.
I fucking pray that this is the future of the genre.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Friday Was My Day pt.2

To further my earlier post about YO!, I think it's necessary to break down a few instances of my the program was so important to that era. I think YO! had the same problem as Headbangers Ball ran into, which was MTV controlled what was played and the selections were, mostly, never left for the host to decide. Between Ed Lover in the first hour, and Fab Five Freddy running the second, I hold MTV in question as to why they didn't think these guys knew what they were doing. I mean, I get it....the network needs to make money. Therefor, they're going to run videos where the label invests a lot of money into the channel.
Luckily, that age was almost void of untalented MC's, so even the MTV selections were quality. I could have done without seeing shit like Positive K, Triple X Posse and K7. On the other end, the surge in popularity of hip-hop, and specifically NYC affiliated artists, made every week a must watch. The weekly countdown was actually something that I'd considered my personal lottery, hoping to have another chance at watching such gems as DAS-EFX's "They Want EFX", or EPMD's "Headbanger" remix video.
These were played on the regular. What was always the most important part of each hour was whatever premieres of new videos were aired. More times than not, it was your one chance to see that video before it fell into oblivion forever. Luckily, as DVDs started to raise in popularity, a lot of these forgotten pieces of hip-hop history have been unearthed, cleaned up, and put on compilations of some sort. Some artists have bootlegged all of their videos that were both aired and unaired. For those of us that loved a song that we thought should have had a video, it turns out there was one and it just never saw the light of day.

This post will mainly cover a selected few videos, both popular and not, that I remember vividly watching. Some ended up being huge, propelling the artist into platinum status. Some suffered crib death and the artist had to settle with wood in the hood. Either way, this was when hip-hop videos were videos and not episodes of Cribs, or a five minute journey into self obsession and arrogance.

In no order whatsoever, here's a bunch of awesomeness:

Pharcyde "Otha Fish"

First off, how perfect is the "Passin' Me By" video. Fuck! Fatlip hanging upside down, the entire video filmed gritty and dark. It was the epitome of what that song needed visually. I loved this group. It seemed like it was that song and then, poof!.....nothing else.

I remember being tired as all hell, fighting to stay awake through both hours. I dozed off about 45 minutes into the first hour, dead to the world. As my sleeping pattern has been for as long as I can recall, I groggily wake up off and on, half coherent.

My ears heard it first, without my eyes being open, that chorus, "There's otha fish in the sea, that is....There's otha fish in the sea...". My eyes popped open, blurry as all hell, and there was this psychedelic freakout blaring from the TV. My sight focused in and out over the next few minutes, knowing I HAD to see the whole video. I just remember it being totally bizarre, which was typical of The Pharcyde's personae back then.

I woke up the next day and cursed myself out, knowing I missed my chance to witness it in full. Sure enough, by the following week, it was gone. Never to be seen again.

Miraculously, about nine years ago, I found a Pharcyde VHS bootleg, that contained a ton of their videos from over the years and some pseudo-documentary tour and studio footage.

A lot of people turned their backs on these guys once Labcabincalifornia came out, not liking the r&b influence that found it's way into most of the songs, but I think the album is pretty damn good. It's no Bizarre Ride..., but it'd be pretty hard to repeat that one.
Fatlip, man.....where the hell are you?

Kurious "Walk Like a Duck"

This dude should have blown the fuck up. Seriously. A Constipated Monkey is a bonafide classic, in my opinion. The Beatnuts produced a lot of this record, if remember correctly. I thought Jorge's voice was badass from the moment I heard him on the Prime Minister Pete record. Dude was great.
The record itself had a good handful of songs that could have been video-worthy singles. "I'm Kurious"....which actually did have a video:

Also "Nicole".....something about that song, man. It was perfect. Just a hysterical tale of a dude being scorned. The best part was as the music trailed out, one of Jorge's friends shots something along the lines of "Ayo, Jorge, man, don't worry about it. Skins come a dime a dozen, man....let's go grab some chicken wings."
I laughed my ass off.
But, unquestionably, "Walk Like a Duck" was the jam. One of the beats beats to ever come out of NYC.....thundering, crisp snare, horns.....all the essentials.

This video was my favorite type.....the crew video. A bunch of dudes hanging out on a basketball court while Kurious busts a rhyme, walking back and forth giving props to everyone, including cameos of a ton of top MC's in the 1992 era. This shit is just awesome.

Notice the fashion accessories? This was an era that I can identify with.....slightly over sized hoodies of pro sports teams. Backwards fitted caps, leather jackets, sprouting, non-ironic 'fros.

.....and almost no vision whatsoever of shiny diamond watches.....actually, nothing shines at all in the video. It's grit, it's uplifting, and it's pure hip-hop. Bless the early 90's.

Gang Starr "Mass Appeal"

Just because you're an amazing and trailblazing duo armed with, arguably, the best DJ of all time and an MC with one of the most recognizable voices ever, that doesn't mean you'll get a shit ton of airplay. I heard this single first, bought the 12", and then waited for the chance to buy the album. I bought it when I was a sophomore(?) in high school. A friend and I went down to visit someone we knew in DC. The first day I was there, I made her drive me to a record store. I found "Hard to Earn" immediately and bought it with Milk's "Never Dated" LP (c'mon...."Get Off My Log" was the shit!).
We got back in the car and I begged her to let me hear it. Now, you have to understand....I knew I was white, but I wasn't white bread. The moment the intro into "ALONGWAYTOGO" came on, you would have thought someone let off a stink bomb in that packed car. It lasted for three songs before I was cut off. The tape was ejected and I was stuck listening to shit 80's pop.
Didn't matter. I had a walkman.
So, when I finally saw the video, I flipped out. It was great to have a visual to the audio. Simple video.....Guru walking and driving around with Primo. It was very.....Gang Starr. It was so laid back, but you know so much went into it, much like every song this group put out. I saw it once on MTV and once on BET.

Funkdoobiest "Bow Wow Wow"

Son Doobie. This fuckin' guy. I was hooked on this group the moment I saw this video. I was on summer vacation and was at a friend's house for the night. After a day of playing pick up and an evening of watching the Red Sox and the NBA Draft, we got our fortress of snacks and soda ready and planted our asses in front of his TV. YO! came on and "Bow Wow Wow" proceeded to steal the show. I kept thinking, "'s like a bizarre version of Cypress Hill...". Then I found out that Muggs produced most of the "Which Doobie U B?" LP and that they were part of the Soul Assassins. My ears were good.

The debut LP was great....even the songs Ralph M was allowed to hold the mic on. But, their second LP, "Brothas Doobie"? Unfuckwithable classic. I know it wasn't as popular as their first, but this record is golden. I bought the first single, "Dedicated" on a cassette single at Strawberries.

If, for some chance, you never gave them a shot, do yourself a favor and buy the first two records and go watch a ton of videos up on youtube. Specifically, "Rock On".

Tha Alkaholiks "Daaam"

Such a good song. Such a criminally underrated record. "21 & Over" was a good debut.....not a great one, but it was pretty solid. If you ask a lot of hip-hop enthusiasts, it was their best. I, shockingly, disagree and think "Coast II Coast" blew it away. This video pretty much sums up the overall feel of the record...much darker than the party album they stormed out of the gates with. It was matured, the production was insane, and every MC was given enough time on the record.
The video had minor success on YO!. I saw it a few times, shoved into the last fifteen minutes. This wasn't where i remember it from, though. I used to subscribe to "Rap Video Monthly", a VHS 'zine that would send you a new tape once every two or three months. There would always be like 7 videos of the worst hip-hop artists to ever exist, and then 4 or 5 videos that were awesome, the kind you never got the chance to see on TV. This was one of them. I didn't even know the record had come out when this little 4 minute bastard showed up in the mail. I fast forwarded right to it.

I think that's all for now. If I dive into every video I remember seeing, this post would take until 2012 to put up.
Much more sooner or later.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hip-Hop is Read

Over the past few months, I've found the time to read some pretty amazing books that are dedicated to the subject of this blog. Some extened farther back into the late 70's and early 80's, and some caught up to mid 2000's and modern day. All of them had great bits and pieces that further solidified this era as THE definitive era of hip-hop.

To help promote literacy, I've attached a hyperlink to the title of each book that will take you straight to it's page on Amazon, where you can buy most of these, used, for extremely cheap.
If anyone is about to tell me how "evil" Amazon is, then here's my response: Life is evil. Try boycotting that.
I've also left out the author's names....mainly because if you're interested enough, you'll have to click the link anyways for more details. Then you buy the book and read it. Then you lend it to a friend and they read it.
Here's the shit:

And It Don't Stop: The Best American Hip-Hop Journalism of the Last 25 Years

I was curious as to what this would detail, seeing as if I were about to read twenty articles on Master P, the east coast-west coast rivalry and Eminem, as told through the eyes of some dipshit that worked for the New York Times, I'd throw the book in the trash. Turns out, the book was focused on everything but the negative, which made it alot more digestible.
Starting in the early 80's, the articles were spread over every sub-genre of hip-hop, highlighting artists you would hope they bring attention to.
80's graf artists, Afrika Bambaataa (the best article in the book....the stories told are legendary), Naughty By Nature (s/t -19naughty3 era)....shit, they even made Diddy look impressive again, even after I had given up on him.
The great thing about collections like this is that you can skip around....there's no cheating, no peaking at the back page to see what happens. You KNOW what happens, and now you get to see why and HOW it happened.
It's worth the read.....some articles do drag, but the others make up for it.

Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies

Amazing. Simply, and utterly, perfect. If you even remotely like the golden era, you should read this. If you're like me, and you love it? You HAVE to read it.
Liner notes in hip-hop records are void.....they never exist. No back stories, no lyrics, no explenations for anything....nothing. This book is the answer.
36 classics given the chance to tell the back stories that deserve to be heard.
Want to know the samples Pete Rock used on "Mecca and the Soul Brother"? It's in there.
Want to know Cypress Hill's original name? In here.
Why The Pharcyde let everyone know, "Quinton's on His Way"? In here.

This book is like a bible.

Some of the information that's thrown out is just plain awesome. One example: Onyx did the entire Bacdafucup album on acid. Really. That explains so many things.

Nas' Illmatic (33 1/3 series)

One hundred plus pages devoted to one of the most perfect hip-hop records ever made? Yes, please. The real selling point for me was realizing the book was going down every avenue I hadn't expected it to. I wondered how the author was going to spread this over 128 pages. Every song was given a story, every growth in the early career of Nas was told, from his first breaks, his first appearances, even the first attempts at rhyming. By the time you finish, Illmatic breathes a whole new breath. It's like a documentary through words, and it left me fully satisfied.

Beastie Boys' Paul's Boutique (33 1/3 series)

Another in the series, but with the same result. I never liked License to Ill. I tried....really hard, but it was too corny for me. Rhymin' and Stealin' was the only song that I enjoyed. Maybe that record was the reason I had never really given Paul's Boutique too much of a chance until maybe a decade ago. Now, I am under the opinion that it is absolutely fucking bonkers in the best of was. The Dust Brothers, man....The Dust Brothers. What they did on this record was brilliant. And, consequently, the Beastie Boys are brilliant for letting them do it.
The story surrounding this record is fascinating.....what led up to it, why they made it as fucked up as it was, and the aftermath. Reading how pissed Capital was with them is hysterical, as is finding out what the three dudes were doing with their money. A landmark record for a group that has lasted around three decades, and it's given proper treatment.

Yes Yes Y'All: The Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hop's First Decade

While not a book surrounding the golden era at hand, it spends all of it's 350+ pages focusing on the first era itself. Learning the roots of an artform that has blossomed into what it has become is something I've always enjoyed doing. Reading about early battle raps and DJ wars, about the competitive nature of house parties and shows throughout the five boroughs, it all seems so primitive compared to modern dayhip-hop. The birth of scratching, of sampling, of ghettoblasters....all of it has a story, and all of those stories are in here.
The book is filled with old photos and flyers that had probably been buried away until the perfect time to reminisce.....which happened to be around the time Jim Fricke and Charlie Ahearn decided that this book was necessary. I agree.

Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists

Okay, remember a few lines up where I said Check the Technique was an absolute must? Same here, multiplied by a billion.
I don't even know where to begin, and I'm not sure I really need to very much. The contents within the front and back cover live up to the title. Every list you could possibly think of is in here, and about another fifty that would never even cross your mind.
Biz Markie's list of favorite toys he owns (he has two to live in, and one for collectibles.)
Stuff like worst follow up record, most disappointing debut, top b-sides, the best song titles mentioning food......everything. There's not one page that isn't entertaining.
Ego Trip was one of the best hip-hop magazines to ever exist (I'd throw old volumes of The Source, and every issue of Mass Appeal and Wax Collective in there as well. I'm sure I'll think of more...). The was an air of no bullshit and unapologetic bluntness that those pages held. Like many things that underappreciated, the mag folded after thrirteen (or fourteen?....maybe fifteen) issues. Evidently, if they ever get their shit together, there's a website on it's way, along with a new book devoted to white rappers. Oh, how I can't wait to see how that'll more than likely be like everything else they've done.....classic.

Reading list for the immediate future:

Ego Trip's Big Book of Racism
Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation

Wish list if anyone has extra holiday money and wants to make me happy:

33 1/3 series:
DJ Shadow's Endtroducing...
Public Enemy's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
A Tribe Called Quest's People's Instinctive Travels And the Paths of Rhythm (Why is there not one for Low End Theory or Midnight Merauders instead? Are you kidding? This is the Tribe album they choose?)

Everything else:
That's the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader
Hip Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture, and the Struggle for the Soul of a Movement
Where You're At

I've been distracted lately by making my own music, but these records found their way into rotation quite a few times when the distortion became unbearable:
Redman - Whut? The Album
House of Pain - Same as it Ever Was
De La Soul - Dead
Stezo - Crazy Noize
Nas - Illmatic
Public Enemy - Fear of a Black Planet
Del - No Need for Alarm
Gang Starr - Hard to Earn

Up next (or at least, very soon.......or as soon as I can):
Cinema......where lines such as:
"You got the juice, now..."
" A-yo....anybody want a cheeseburger?"
"Money talks, bullshit runs a marathon."
etc., ......yeah, they blew my little white boy mind.

....and we'll discuss the pajama jammy jam, because I fucking love the shit out of House Party 2.
I love you, Martin Lawrence:

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Friday Was My Day pt.1

I'll start this from the end and then work my way all around, Tarantino style. I wasn't exactly sure of the date, so I had to look it up to keep this as accurate as possible.

In the summer of 1995, I was celebrating the fact that by fall, I would be a senior in high school. This meant, of course, barring an extraordinary act of idiocy, that nine months after that, I would be a high school graduate and able to pursue.....whatever the hell I decided I wanted to persue.
That summer I had a large group of townie friends that I hung out with most nights. Every night was mostly the same routine. If I wasn't working at the local grocery store, I would walk downtown (with my headphones....) and see who was hanging out at the corner bench on Third and Main. Saying, "on the corner of Third and Main" makes it seem cooler than it actually was, though. Truth be told, it was the only place that had any life to it. There was a coffee shop behind it, the movie theater down the street, and a Store 24 a block away. Yeah....crazy times, I know.
I'd meet up with anyone who was down there, and we'd figure out what shit we were going to get into for the night. Lots of walking, wandering, visiting people with their own apartments....all the dumb shit we could do. If I had the car for the night, we'd drive around instead of using our feet, which gave us more distance to cover. There were occassional parties that we ended up at, which soon resulted, on those nights, in me dipping out early, due to complete lack of social skills and fully developed panic-inducing paranoia.
Whatever. We did dumb shit. We were kids. To correct: not dumb shit that I should be ashamed of. I was still scared of the world and the small town power-trip ladened police officers that just loved to attempt to instill fear in high-school boys. This dumb shit was more of the boring variety.
It was either this, or I went down to the local schoolyard and played pick-up until it was so dark we couldn't see the ball or the rim. Sometimes, just to squeeze an extra hour, anyone of us with a car would take turns putting on our headlights and directing them towards the court. Out of anything I did with my free time that summer, I think this was the thing I enjoyed the most. Once in a while I get the urge to try and do this out here in Seatlle. Even though I'm only thirty-two, I still have that feeling I'd be ran around in circles, and the first kid to call me "old man" would probably cause me to drop my head and walk off the court, Charlie-Brown style.
With all of these things involved, I filled up my days and nights pretty damn good. I found ways of making my summer a personal success. Every Friday night, however, my outside world would come to a screeching halt. No matter what I was doing, at 11;15 I headed home. I'd stop by a corner store on the way for a Mountain Dew or Barq's two liter, and some sort of snack....these were the non-vegan days, so most times it was a cornucopia of Little Debbie peanut butter chocolate wafer thingies and Doritos or Fritos......basically, I bought myself stuff that, once consumed, should have been my calorie intake count for the next three days. Yeah. Fat kid.
I'd get to the house by 11;30 or so and plant my ass down, straight in front of the television. I'd have a brand new VHS tape unwrapped and already labeled and would put it in the VCR to prep. At 11;55 I would press that little red "record" button.....and at midnight, I turned to channel 23, and I went to my church. The holy wonder of YO! MTV Raps.

Over the years, there would be, of course, a few times that there was no way for me to be home. I'd have the occassional date, which happened so rarely that it actually was an occassion. There were friends' birthday parties (also to be considered a rare occassion, based on my limited amount of acquaintences) or instances as simple as a long day of school followed by a long night of work....sometimes the sandman slapped the shit out of my by 11. You really can't fight the sandman.....that is, until I discovered coffee.
My saving grace in these situations is that, in one of my isolated moments of conquering electronics, I was able to figure out how to set the timer on the VCR. This meant that if I were to miss that weeks YO! sermon, I could watch it the next morning. I'll never figure out TiVo or DVR, so the timer on the VCR is my crowning achievement, which is fine by me. I had to do this once or twice, that summer of 1995. Attempts to come out of my social shell made me sometimes force myself to sacrifice my Friday night ritual.

The night (that is taking me forever to get to.....sorry) in question was August 17th, 1995. I had a date......yes, the rare occassion had happened. It was the dinner-and-a-movie type of date. I was pretty sure I'd be back by 11;30, but, just to be safe, I set up that timer. I picked her up early and we headed off. I don't remember the dinner, but I'm pretty sure it was chinese food from somewhere. It was always chinese food from somewhere. It was easy date food. That is, until the grease hits the bottom of your stomach and ten minutes later, you're about to pull a looseyes (DAS-EFX reference, anybody?........anybody?).
I do, however, remember finishing the date watching Species, a perfect date film if she showed up in a gold bra and called me her Han Solo. This was not the case, so Species helped make my first date become my last. Thanks, Species. The one redeeming part of the night was that I dropped her off at 11:45, which still left me time to get home and only miss a couple of minutes of YO!. We said our goodbyes and awkward glances, questioning whether a kiss goodnight was needed (it wasn't), and then I drove off, trying desperately to get home in time. Remember earlier when I said small town cops are power hungry? Well, they're also bored, and nothing cures boredom for them like catching someone going six miles an hour over the speed limit and then pulling them over.
Blues on and full swagger headed towards the car, I already had my mouth zipped and my license and insurance ready. It should have taken no more than five minutes to either write me a ticket or send me off with a warning, but this bored and sad little prick grilled me for twenty minutes, flashing his light in the back seat, asking where I was coming from, where I was going, where I lived, where I thought I'd be in fifty year, etc. He gave me his speech on how fast I was going, how unsafe it was, all of the usual. I just sat and nodded, trying to wrap this up as soon as I could. He walked back to his car and proceeded to let me sit there for another twenty minutes, and there is no doubt in my mind he had a shit-eating grin on his face the whole time. When he came back to the window, he handed me my license and insurance information, gave me a yellow slip and said something along the lines of, "Hope you're late for curfew...", got back in his car and strolled off. I looked at the ticket, realized it was just a warning, and hauled ass home the opposite way of the cop.
I made it home at about 12:45, made a dart for the bathroom to piss and then went straight to the livingroom. I had to be somewhat quiet, as my parents were already in bed, and waking them up would just distract my focus.
I turned on the television and immediately recognized Erick Sermon doing a freestyle in the YO! studio. As the camera moved around, I spotted Redman, KRS-ONE, MC Serch.....everyone seemed to be there. The green-eyed bandit passed the mic to Chubb Rock, who then passed the mic to Serch. All of a sudden, it occurred to me that maybe I was going to see all of these artists freestyle in one show, and that I missed almost all of it. As I was thinking this, Dre and Ed Lover jumped in front of the camera for a commercial and said, "Seven years of history...." and my over-reacting jaw drooooped. This was, obviously, the final YO!. I kind of just sat there looking at the screen, muttering, "...No way...." to myself, over and over. Commercials ended, YO! came back on, and I sat and watched Redman, Method Man, Craig Mack, et al do their thing. At the very end of the episode, holding his kid, Ed Lover said "seventh anniversary", and then those dreadful three words..."and last show."
And just like that, it was gone. I immediately went to press "stop" on the VCR to rewind Except, on this particular night, "record" wasn't on. Out of any Friday in history, I screwed up the timer on that night. I had nothing. I had the memory of the last fifteen minutes of freestyles and no knowledge of what the other forty five minutes that led up to that entailed. The fifteen minutes I saw were enough, but at the same time, they weren't. I was crushed. This wasn't a favorite sitcom or film, that was a weekly dose of an artform, hosted by two colorful characters. Every week, another of my favorites would be the guest, and I was able to have alone time, quietly watching YO! by myself and loving every minute of it. I'd hang out with my friends in the screen, Ed and Dre, for an hour and then hang with Fab 5 Freddy for another hour. Now, it was gone. I literally had no idea. I don't remember them telling their vewers the previous week. And now, the goddamn timer wasn't set correctly and I ruined my documentation of the last show.
So, needless to say, I was pissed. I went to bed pretty much fed up, considering my night consisted of a bad date, a bad cop, and a bad move on leaving the house when my ass should have been in front of the TV at midnight.
Do you want a slight happy ending? Here it is: I woke up the next morning and ate breakfast in the living room. I got up early back then, so I was flipping through the channels, food in mouth and, lo and behold, saw Ed Lover's face on channel 23. It was only a few minutes past the hour when in a split second, I was already out of my seat, running for the VHS tape and shouting, "No one touch the TV for two hours!!!". They were repeating the last episode at like eight in the morning. Who cares? I was up. I had the VCR on "record". I watched the whole final episode. I. Fucking. Win.
I watched that tape an average of once a week for about three years, noticing the decline of the tape started to slow down, it started to shake. Finally, I put the tape in, pressed "play", and heard the snape. Tape=dead. I should have given it a proper burial, but it just went in the trash.
It wasn't until a few months ago, when I thought to look it up on Youtube, that I was able to see part of that episode again. I typed it in the search, and up came those last minutes of freestyles that, even today, are hands down a major part of hip-hop history. I watched the last half of that session over and over. It's amazing to look at the crowd that was there. If you mattered to hip-hop at all in 1995, you were in that crowd. Simply, purely unforgettable. It had been a good ten to twelve years since I had been able to watch this. Now, thanks to the evil internet, I can watch this any time I want.Do you here me, bad date? Do you hear me, shitty cop? Do you hear me, lousy VHS tape? I've found the whole episode again, and I can watch it any time I want. I. Fucking. Win.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Side A

This is all I have left.
It's a shame, really, considering the amount of room my collection of cassettes took up at one point. At it's peak in around 1998, the grand total was around five hundred full lengths, EPs and singles from the golden era. Most were from my weekly excursions to any record store I could get to, whether by bus, car or walking. This was before Best Buys or Circuit Citys had invaded New Hampshire, so I was stuck with the pricejackers elite, such as Strawberries, Record Town, Tape World and a few others that would get away with charging somewhere in the neighborhood of $11.49 - $12.99 per title. Cassette singles were a priority, seeing as most of them were around $1.99 and contained the b-side of the 12" version. I was never really in need of the instrumentals, so two songs (maybe three if there was a remix) for two to three bucks sounded good to me. Granted, when a slab of wax was able to be afforded, that was first on the list. But with not a lot to work with, you had to spend your money in the most conservative way you could find.
The saving grace in my pursuit of finding every possible release in existence was the infamous Newington, New Hampshire flea market, a sunday ritual that I almost never missed out on. A friend and his father went early, much earlier than I should have ever forced myself to get out of bed on a weekend for, knowing I had less than twenty four hours until I had to be forced back into a classroom.
The Newington flea market was where the buried treasures were found, where almost every other visit I'd somehow walk out with four or five new gems to put on the shelf. I was a record hunter before I knew what record hunting was....I was a tape hunter. The odds of finding a 12" there were slim to none, but the cassettes flowed endlessly. In 1992, when I finally got a cd player of my own, the bounties were even more amazing for two reasons: first, CDs would be sold second hand there for anywhere from two to five bucks, and second, once CDs emerged, no one cared about cassettes. No one cared about cassettes except those of us that were smart, and would be able to go through boxes and boxes. It wasn't unusual at that point to come home with ten tapes of gold and to have only spent, at the most, six or seven dollars. Yes, cassettes were the backbone of music loving tightwads in training.
The process went something like this:
Alarm set for 6:30 AM, every day of the sabbath (I seriously don't know what I was thinking....). Alarm would be hit for the next twenty minutes until I realized I'd have to be ready by seven or they would leave without me. I'd crawl out of bed and throw on clothes, looking out the window, knowing that ninety nine times out of a hundred, they'd be in the driveway at exactly seven in the morning.
The drive was about twenty minutes from Dover and would be spent discussing the previous night's basketball, baseball, football or hockey scores, depending on the season we were in. The flea market was year round, such as sports, so the drive was never void of conversation, no matter how tired I was. We'd enter the parking lot and, without fail, my excitement would rise to a boiling point. You have to understand.....Dover, New Hampshire wasn't that exciting to a teenager. There was a movie theater, a Store 24, a YMCA for pick-up basketball games, a sports card shop and.....well, not much else. This being said, a flea market out of town was a sort of utopia, filled to the brim with bizarre characters. It was everything I enjoyed all wrapped up into one large indoor building.
As soon as I would walk in, I'd be bombarded with endless tables of forty year old men selling sports cards, which was the only hobby/love of mine that competed with hip-hop at the time. I would usually have a box full of cards with me in hopes of trading in to random dealers for more packs of whatever new released series were available. This is what I considered my "first round". There was never a hurry. My friend's father could spend hours in there, chatting with anyone and everyone, giving each table a good once-over before moving on and finally making a decision what he wanted at the end of the day.
So, my "first round" would last anywhere from an hour to two or three. As soon as I had nothing I walked into the building with and had exchanged for a mish-mash of new cards, there would be a sort of halftime. My friend and I would go over to the food counter and, being a fat kid, would gorge ourselves. Depending on the day and my hunger level, it'd be either an egg, cheese and bacon sandwich (smothered in grease....I should have had a heart-attack by seventeen) or a maple round.....or sometimes both. For those of you that aren't familiar with maple rounds, it consists of a large, round donut stuffed with the most sugary creme you can imagine and then the donut is topped with a thick layer of maple flavored frosting. The pastry would be usually three to four inches from side to side and about two inches tall. It was, without a doubt, the most sickeningly beautiful "breakfast" treat to ever exist. It's even funnier to think about my diet at those flea markets, considering my present day self eats an almost all vegan diet (except for peanut butter cups.....Reese's owns me for life.). So my friend and I would sit and discuss our scores for the day so far and recharge for the next endeavor.
Immediately after "breakfast", there was a large room adjacent to the food counter and tables, consisting of nothing but VHS tapes. Thousands upon thousands of them. They were usually four for ten dollars, so I would spend about a half an hour hunting down every horror movie I could find and then searching out a few WWF events, considering I'd also argue that the golden age of WWF paralleled the golden age of hip-hop. Wrestlemania, Summerslam, Survivor Series and Royal Rumble VHS tapes also filled my shelves.
Sports cards? Check. WWF and horror films? Check.
And now was the final sweep.
A mental note was taken during my "first round". Every table with a box of cassettes or CDs would be revisited and combed over. I'd take my time, not wanting to miss anything. Some weeks I struck out, but those days were few and far between. More often than not, there would be at least five or six young adults or twentysomethings that would bring their unwanteds in and rent a table for the day. Most of them had a garage sale compacted onto an eight foot table and most of them had grown out of music in one form or another. This is where I'd swoop in and score. Another man's junk was absolutely my treasure.
These tables are where I'd finish my RUN-DMC collection, where I found Paid in Full for a dollar. It was where I could buy soundtracks for films that had at least an unreleased song or two from some of the best artists of the time.....soundtracks for films such as Mi Vida Loca (tracks from Funkdoobiest, A Tribe Called Quest, and Boss), or Trespass (tracks from Gang Starr, Public Enemy, the DITC family....everyone), Who's the Man? (again.....everyone)......the list goes on and on, not even including the soundtracks for movies that were made almost specifically for the hip-hop community (New Jersey Drive, Juice, New Jack City, Menace II Society, Boyz n the Hood, Clockers, The Show, Fresh, One Million Strong (which wasn't a film)....even the House Party films. I know I'm forgetting a ton, but they'll all be talked about in time....I sure as hell listened to them all enough.
There were gems upon gems on a weekly basis. From the flea market itself, I'd go home with a few hours of new music to listen to and a box of cards to look at and organize while the beats and rhymes took me away. Maybe an hour or two of classic WWF as well.

Depending on the week at hand, one of two things would happen at the final conquer of the flea market. We'd either get back in the truck and drive to Dover, or every couple weeks my friend and I would walk down the street to go see a movie. That would be followed by a trip to the mall, where it would be time to flip through all the cassettes and records at any one of the price-gouging holes in the wall. I had no choice other than this. I had no license, hence, no freedom to travel anywhere outside the small provided circle. This was still good enough, though. I had my checklist ready every week, taking down notes on new artists from the once very reliable The Source magazine in the unsigned hype and reviews sections. (This magazine was THE bible at that time for supplied me with quite a bit of reference to track down new artists, etc. If anyone who may stumble on this blog has any back issues from the years 1990-1994, please get in touch and we'll talk deals. I'll have a very full "want list" up on here soon.)
After stumbling around the mall for a few hours (which usually included me having some sort of Burger King feast that was super-super-sized, complete with a shake and whatever the hell else was on the menu.....jesus, I was a pig), I'd make my final decisions. I'd usually keep myself to somewhere around $25 a week, paper route money, and would end up with two full lengths and a cassingle or two. We'd sit outside on the bench until my mom or dad would come pick us up and bring us home. Every Sunday night when I got back to my room, I'd know I had enough new music to tide me over for another week until the next flea market day arrived.
I remember some of the releases I was so happy to finally get on those mall runs, reading about them on a Monday and having to wait a whole week to hear. I remember tearing the plastic off of Kurious' A Constipated Monkey before I was even given a receipt. I remember special ordering Gang Starr's Daily Operation and De La Soul is Dead and having them show up on the same day. Finding Mecca and the Soul Brother on vinyl on the same day as DAS-EFX's Dead Serious came out and being able to buy them both......going to three different stores to find EPMD's "Head Banger" single because them remix was INSANE. I remember all of it and, slowly, more and more keeps creeping back. Pennywise the clown scared the shit out of all of those kids from Derry, Maine and then they tried to forget. In one quick moment it all started to rush back into their minds...all the memories. Hip-hop is my Pennywise, but the only difference is I'm not scared to let all of those memories sink back into me.
It went on like this for years. Once I finally had a license, I took it a step further, hunted down even more flea markets, and made an entire day out of bargain hunting, always eyeball-fucking every table and leaving no stone unturned. I did this up until 2005 when I was around twenty eight years old. My goals shifted as time went on, but any time I saw a pile of cassettes or CDs, you can bet your ass I made a sprint to them. I'm looking forward to fifteen years down the line, where I will revisit my days as a fat kid by turning into a fat older man, still tape hunting. I may start collecting sports cards and rewatching WWF matches just to immerse myself even further into nostalgia.....and maybe I'll find all those Source mags again and finally hold onto them.

Side B

I don't think I can begin to explain how important hip-hop cassettes were to me (and the entire art form, as well). It's not a matter of nostalgia, even though the modern world has seemed to embrace them again for no other reason than some elite attempt to relive the past. Anyone born after about 1986 really has no reason to like was basically a dead format before they were able to embrace them. But, for those of us born in the 70's, it was an amazing gift from the music gods. Yes, there were 8-tracks preceding them, but the comparison between the two is nothing. Welcome to the world of walkmans, of car stereos....of the infinite beauty of MIXTAPES.
Cassettes were giving us the ability to listen to music constantly, wherever we were, which I took full advantage of. There were quite a few times I was kicked out of class in high school because a teacher caught me with my hood up, headphones in place, rocking Redman's Whut? Thee Album, Keith Murray's The Most Beautifullest Thing in This World, or, mostly, Nas' Illmatic. I didn't necessarily want to get kicked out of class, it was more a state of not being able to leave the music alone. Every summer consisted of epic walks everywhere around town, killing batteries every day. I started to equate length of walk to which album to listen to. Headed downtown to a movie? Pharcyde's Bizarre Ride to...., side A, would last the walk down. Side B on the way home, etc., etc.
The walkman became a way of life, a chance to soak in as many beats and rhymes as I could in an amounted time. I'm pretty sure my first walkman somewhere around fifth or sixth grade, and once I had it, it was all over. Around the time of the first walkman, I got myself a paper route. I lucked out and got the route circling my own street and a few connected ones. It was one giant loop that, if I was in a hurry, would last around forty minutes. If I took my time, it'd last over an hour. Most of the time I milked it for all it was worth, considering the job details were walking around listening to music, which I already did, and shoving a paper in a door or mailbox. At the end of the week, I would have anywhere from $25 to $50, depending on how generous my neighbors were with tips. That was $25 to $50 towards new music or baseball cards. I waited all year for Christmas deliveries, where everyone on my route would give me a nice, big fat tip. Sometimes I'd end up with close to $200 in my pocket. The trips to the music store the week after that were a field day.
The routes were where I fell in love with Cypress Hill's debut, with DAS-EFX's Straight Up Sewaside, with House of Pain's debut, with Brand Nubian's In God We Trust (specifically, Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down), with 3rd Bass' Derelicts of Dialect, with the goddamn, motherfuckin' Beatnuts. The list goes on and on.
The routes were where I fell in love with the mixtape. Not the mixtapes you'd find on the streets of NYC, mind you....I had no access to those. I'd read about them in The Source, but I had no way of finding them. The mixtapes I had were of my own personal creation. All the college radio shows I recorded, all the best tracks from every album I had. I went as far as to bring my little stereo into the living room during YO! MTV Raps, set up a table for it to sit on and put the little speaker next to the television to record the entire program. When 80 minute blank tapes came out, I was stoked beyond explanation. Eighty minutes to work with.
Once CDs hit, it took a turn for the better in my eyes. My friends would jump all over them, buying things they already had. I gladly took the hand-me-downs, the "old news". The other thing that happened was that CDs were more expensive, costing in the $13 to $17 range. "CD only" tracks began to show up, thrown into an album as an added bonus for the extra cost. My simple solution to hearing these songs was the obvious: the beautiful, beautiful mixtape. I'd borrow the CDs from any friends that would lend them out, making massive compilations of the "CD only" tracks onto one tape. All in all, I probably had ten of these self-made comps, spanning from the years of 1990-1996. That's eight hundred minutes of music. Granted, when time went on and I had a bit more money from trading up from newspaper routes to grocery store jobs, I upgraded to CDs, but I still converted them to cassette for those long walks. I don't think I bought a portable CD player until around 2001 or so (I've always been late to the game....I just got an iPod in 2009.).
I played basketball in high school. On the bus for those away games, I had the headphones ready, rocking anything that got my blood pumping, like Onyx's Bacdafucup or The Roots' Do You Want More?!!!??!. Like clockwork, every bus ride, someone would ask what I was listening to. I'd tell them and they'd look confused, having no idea who the artist I was referring to was. They'd turn back to another teammate and to a real conversation. I didn't ever say much because I didn't have to. I played basketball because I wanted to. I didn't talk much because I didn't have to. I had music and I had my playing time on the court, with no real need for friends to accompany the two.

The moment I had a driver's license, all I could think about was taking a drive alone and turning up the stereo as loud as it could handle. A few days later, I was granted that wish and went for a little drive. The first tape I ever drove a car to was Public Enemy's Apocalypse '91....the Enemy Strikes Black, followed by Cypress Hill's self titled, followed by Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth's Mecca and the Soul Brother. I milked that ride for all I could. It was one of the most liberating feelings I've ever had in my life. It was an October fall in New England, trees in full foliage. I drove with the windows down, letting the crisp air blow around within the car. I could have had that moment last for days, going through every record I had.
Driving around with new releases (to me or to the world) became an event for me. Within weeks of getting my license, I was able to convince my parents to let me take the car to a Strawberries in Newington on Tuesdays whenever possible. Besides the flea market Sundays, this was the most important music day of the week for me. (just so you all realize the time frame I'm talking's 1993. Gas was EIGHTY FIVE CENTS A GALLON.) I'd head over by myself to Strawberries and would usually be in and out within ten minutes. I had become a seasoned vet and knew exactly what I wanted, thanks in part to my trusty checklist of releases. I'd get back in the car and open the cellophane, taking time to look over the liner notes, seeing who produced what tracks, predicting my favorite songs, searching for guest spots....all of it. Once that was done, the tape went in and I was on my way home.
Two months later, during Thanksgiving break, I took the car on Black Friday for a special trip over to Newington. I had a little extra money and knew exactly what was about to come into my possession. First, I went to the mall. I don't know how I remember this, but I do. I bought a new winter skully, a pair of gloves and a new heather grey thermal shirt. As soon as I was done with this, I walked around the mall, people-watching as insanity took over. I love being in the general public during Christmas shopping season.....people become nutty, which means they become very, very entertaining. I took a drive to the movie theater and watched Judgement Night. My last stop before heading home was Strawberries. I was ready to make a one-two punch of a purchase and I'd be out of the store within five minutes.
Two debut albums were released within weeks of each other by groups that would, in my opinion, proceed to own hip-hop for years. Gritty, violent, abrasive and intense. That day I was able to buy both of those records, those records being Black Moon's Enta Da Stage and Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the 36 Chambers. Shit....I don't even know where to start with these two records, so I'll wait until a later time to ramble on and on and on about them. Anyways, I blasted 36 Chambers... so loud on that drive home, I was worried I'd blow the speakers. But I couldn't stop. Instead of going straight home, I drove to the sports card shop in Dover where one friend was working, and at least one more was hanging out. I parked right next to the door and as I walked in there, I looked around for customers. Of course, there were none, so I looked at my friend behind the counter and simply said, "Come outside for a have to hear this.". We stomped through the snowy sidewalk back to the car and got in. That was when I played him Bring da Ruckus and watched his eyes bulge, just as mine had. For the next three days, I think I played those two records about twenty times each. It's still such a vivid memory. Another life change had happened for both hip-hop and I. My license changed my ability to be a little more free, just as nine MCs from Shaolin were about to change the guidelines of modern hip-hop.
For the next few years, until I graduated and moved out, I took the car whenever my parents offered it for the night. I'd fill the gas tank, pick up a friend or two and just drive, well, anywhere. I'd always have a stack of cassettes with me and I'd always get excited to turn my passengers onto something new. There was a time where I skipped class and brought a couple of people out to the parking lot and played them the first few songs off of Gravediggaz' 6 Feet Deep, another was when I rocked Hard to Earn or Smif-N-Wessun's Dah Shinin' outside the YMCA before they'd let all us boys in to play some pick-up. Each release after October 1993, when I was finally allowed to drive, has a story I can associate with a car and a tape deck.

There was just something about hitting the end of a side, having to press eject and flip the tape over. To work for it. Yes, I understand CDs sound better, that the digital format reinvented the sound quality, but to me it didn't matter. No matter how shitty the speakers were, no matter how close the tape was to being worn out and snapping, the music was always there. Quality of sound didn't was always quality of song to me.

Colored vinyl had been around for years. It had taken over punk and hardcore. Hip-hop never really had colors in mind (though I do remember a few releases I had that, I think, were very pretty to look at. I seem to remember a green House of Pain 7" on Sub-Pop, Redman's first record on red vinyl, and a few other odds and ends. I could be wrong.). There were, however, colored cassettes. I recall having my mind blown numerous times after ripping off the plastic wrapper and opening the jewel case.

The one most referenced is, in my eyes, of course, the purple tape.

Raekwon's solo debut/masterpiece, Only Built for Cuban Linx....The jewel case itself was purple tinted, but to then open it up and have that eye-grabbing transparent purple......shiiiiiiit. The discussion in the halls of high school the next morning revolved around how cool it looked. I had, naturally, brought my walkman with me and made my rounds of showing everyone the new gem. The Wu was smart, alright. Not only did they make bonafide classics, but they were able to make them stand out even more with little things like this. Jay-Z even referenced it on Blueprint 3, which, no doubt, made a lot of younger fans scratch their heads.
Redman's Dare iz a Darkside was another piece of proof that cassettes ruled.

Red case, glowing red tape....the works. The cover art alone was amazing, paying homage to Parliament's Maggot Brain. There was one specific moment that proved cassettes still ruled the universe at that point. Reggie Noble's alter ego, Dr. Trevis chimed in a few seconds after the last song on side A, proclaiming "End of side one, you punk motherfuckers.....turn the tape over.". The first time I heard that quote, my jaw dropped. I'd get super hyped over the little things. It was a simple moment, but it spoke volumes to my ears, Dr. Trevis was commanding me.
There was the green Beastie Boys' tape for Ill Communication, a lot of singles were straight black with white print. Am I getting nerdy yet? Hell yeah I am. While punks and hardcore kids were clamoring for pressing info for the two or three colors that 7"s were released on (before it turned into ten colors per pressing....), I was marveling at those cassettes. I know there are a ton more that I'm forgetting. Any time I stumble upon or remember another one, I'll probably be posting them in an update. Anyone who remembers any others from this era, please let me know. And, if you have pictures, that would be even better.

Just face it. Cassettes are awesome. Period.

Someday I'll get my collection back up to the hundreds. Maybe once that happens, I'll live my teenage dream and finally get one of these:

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gems I: The Genesis

About two months ago, I bought my wife and I a new computer. We had both been in bed for a few days, simultaneously battling a hybrid of strep throat, sinus infections and brutal head and chest colds. We ate a lot of ice cream, watched every horror film we could find and hovered in an almost zombified-like existence. There wasn't much else we could do.
One of these days, I became completely stir crazy. I decided we needed new pillows. When I get sick, I distract myself by cleaning, rearranging and just doing overall interior decorating. The bed was uncomfortable, and my solution was pillows.
I got in the car and headed onto the highway to drive to a discount store. When finally arriving at the savings mecca it was, I wandered aimlessly through every aisle looking for more shit. By the time I reached the checkout, I had boxes of high protein granola, nutrition bars, light bulbs, etc....a cornucopia of products that I wasn't necessarily in need of at the moment, but it somehow soothed my crap-filled head and body for the time being.
This would have been all I had bought that day if I hadn't walked down the stairs towards the car and noticed that big yellow tag. You know the one I'm talking about. It's huge, bright, and in the boldest font possible screams "BEST BUY". So, yeah....I got sucked in. I dropped the pillows and various treats off in the trunk of our car and headed back towards the light. Today was the day to buy the computer we had been so in need of for so long.
We moved out to Seattle with a tower that was on it's last leg. That leg broke and was just dragging itself for the last few years, hopped up on OCs and vicodans. I had bought a laptop within our first few months in Seattle, but, again, I have no computer knowledge whatsoever. I didn't know how to keep it up do date, virus-free.....all the things you need to know or understand, I just couldn't. In our home, we had a dead computer tower and a dysfunctional laptop, and that was it. That would be good enough if it wasn't for the fact that my wife is a talented artist and knows how to use programs such as Photoshop and creates amazing images/designs. That would be good enough if I hadn't finally come over to the beautiful world of iPods. Those two technological problem children would have been good enough if those two scenarios didn't exist. But, they those two technological problem children weren't helping us out enough, or, at all.
I walked through the doors and was immediately bombarded with greetings and smiles. I wanted to laugh, knowing that in fifteen minutes when I finally needed some help or someone to discuss my options with, none of these people would be around. Or, if they were around, I'd be ignored. It ended up being a little of both. I wandered around the computer section for a good twenty minutes, factoring in how much I could spend. I had worked a lot of extra hours the previous months, so money was saved and this purchase was well warranted and wouldn't put me in a hole. I had my limit, which I knew if anyone finally helped me, I would tried to be talked out of.
I ended up narrowing my options down to four different models. After another fifteen minutes of not having one employee ask me if I needed help, I did what I always do in these situations, which is walk straight up to the closest employee I see and, whether he's working with someone or not, I basically look him dead in the eye and say something along the lines of, "So, after about forty five minutes here is anyone going to talk to me at all or do I have to wave a credit card in front of your faces to let you know I'm worth your time? Think about it and make something happen....I'll be standing over here next to the thing I want to spend my money on and buy right now." This is not an exaggeration. This is how I deal with these situations. It may be a dick move, but being ignored pisses me off more than almost anything in the world....especially if I feel like I'm being simultaneously both ignored AND judged by the computer nerd powers that be.
Finally, an overweight dude with a ponytail (shocking....I know) walks over and gives me the minimal help I'm really asking for. I told him what I needed the tower for and that I needed the new Adobe Photoshop. He immediately directs me towards the thousand dollar and up choices. I nix every one before he even finishes his memorized lines. I tell him my limit. He, in turn, gives me a pained look, probably much like his stomach feels after lunch break following two supersized meals. (Yes....right now, I'm being an asshole. Department store workers force me into this position. Unless you look like a wealthy trophy wife or well-off white collar worker, nine times out of ten you will be snubbed and considered not worth their precious hourly wages' time. I say this from experience and not just as a theory.)
Big Gulp takes me to the section for people of my worth, and still tries to shoot fifty dollars over the cap I explicitly gave him. I let it go, knowing he's starting to get the hint. I further dive into my situation, into what exactly this tower will be used for. Basic Photoshop. Emails. iTunes. That is literally it. I explain that I know they have something that will do this for me and for a reasonable budget. I'm not being insulting at all....I'm being firm. He finally grasped the concept and played ball with me. Five minutes later, I had the tower. I had him grab me the Photoshop program and was finally at the checkout. As he scanned all the items, I asked him about ten times if installing everything on the tower can be done by an idiot. He assured me I would be able to do everything worry free and have the tower up and ready in no time. In one of the rare times he broke from computer salesman mode, he actually made a joke and said to me, "I'm positive you'll have no problems. I wouldn't say that unless I meant it, because you look like someone that would come back here and kick my ass if I'm wrong." I laughed, assured him I'm no thug, and that if all works out, I'd probably be back just to give him a high five.

Fast forward about thirty six hours. The tower is all set up and I don't feel like as much of a techno-invalid. Every program was up and running. I even figured out how to install a virus protection program. Cloud nine? Let me introduce myself to you. I'll be staying here for a bit.
The last program, the last hurdle to jump was iTunes. The one thing I made sure of when I bought the tower was that it had an extremely large amount of memory. I wanted to finally have a place where all the music we owned would be able to fit and would be available in one area. iTunes installed, I took the next three days ripping every CD we had in the house. Every demo, every soundtrack, every digital download...all of it. The end result was almost too funny to be true. Here was my lifeblood: every song that was played, that was housed on a format that would fit in this smaller black box, was now in their new home. What made me so entertained was this: the tower had 750GB of memory. My wife and I's entire collection? 40GB. Amazing. Completely and utterly amazing.
My obsession started immediately. For the next week, time was spent categorizing, finding all the artwork, manually typing in all song names/albums/info that Apple didn't have stored in their voluminous big brother music tank. Many days I stayed awake until six or seven in the morning doing this, letting my OCD take control. As CDs were ripping, I was rearranging bookshelves, reorganizing closets....pretty much anything I could do. It was the "sharks keep moving" scenario.
It was, honestly, a great time. When it was all complete, I had a feeling of victory and achievement. Now that the work was out of the way, I could focus on what it was all for, which was to be able to listen to anything I had whenever I wanted while I walk around the neighborhood or to and from work.
I have an 8GB iPod, which has just about enough room to turn every synchronizing time into an event similar to the NBA draft. I debate on what to keep and what to remove. Sometimes it takes me an hour to just decide whether to keep one record over another.
The best part about having these options, is the rediscovery aspect. Throwing an album you haven't heard in a very long time on a playlist so that, at some point, you may just pull it up to remember. Having the ability to trigger lost musical loves is an incredible gift....there's no other word for it.
I ended up having this happen many times within the first month of doing all of this organizing.....within the last three weeks is when the rediscovery point hit it's peak. Sometimes you forget how important certain albums, certain songs, certain artists affect your life. All it takes, at least for me, to bring it all back is one random rough night turns into one amazing flashback.

Interestingly enough, I have inebriated misanthropes and weekend warriors to thank for some of this. If it wasn't for working in a bar that is frequented on Friday nights by only the most unbearable of dimwits, I may have not had the trigger pulled in my memory bank. I work where an offshoot of third rate Tex-Mex food reigns supreme until midnight. This, of course, means that at 11:59 PM, every drunken idiot remembers food tastes good and tries to squeeze their order in before the kitchen is closed. This is a weekly occurrence. Some weeks it's bearable. Other's a frustrated bastard's nightmare.
The night in question was only a bit above the most typical of busy spring/summer work days in that kitchen. It was more the odd frustration of feeling trapped in there that day that was making everything seem like such a burden. Order after order kept pouring through the click-clacking of the ticket machine, spewing more demands for quesadillas and nachos. Five minutes before midnight finally slithered it's way in, followed by a stupid amount of last minute appetizers. When you're slow for the previous twenty minutes, you tend to break things down, start to close shop so that you're not stuck cleaning and stocking back up until one in the morning. Last minute orders are the emergency brake on the road to completion.
So, as much as I could take care of, when you have the domino effect of orders at the last minute, all the prep is for not. Everything gets taken back out, bags are reopened, open faced grills will have to be rescrubbed.....all of it. This is where frustration steps in.
I dealt with it as I always just suck it up and do it. It's your job. Deal with it. For most of us, money isn't handed out.
It was just tiring that night. I wanted to be home with a book or in bed watching a movie....anywhere but still on the clock. Roughly ten minutes before one in the morning I was able to punch my number and make an exit. I was defeated. Not upset, no more was there frustration, it was just a feeling of being drained. My bad knees were throbbing, as was my head. Heavy sighs replaced regular breaths.
I walked out the front door, headphones already in my ears, ready to be serenaded on my eight minute walk home. As the walk started, I had a thought that kept repeating in my head as I scrolled through my iPod, searching for the right soundtrack for my mini-journey down 12th Ave.
"I just don't want to hear anyone scream at me right now...." was all I kept saying. I couldn't handle it. The distortion and rage that usually blared through those buds was not what I needed tonight. I wanted something to let me zone out. I kept going through the names, trying to find something that felt right. My Stax boxsets were too nice. Any somber doom or psych rock would just drain me even further. Then, out of nowhere, the highlighted selection rested on an album I forgot I had even put on there and was, unquestionably, the perfect prescription for my remaining walk.
That album, which I will greatly dive into at another time, was Craig Mack's "Project: Funk da World". Within a minute of first listen, I was brought back.

I was taken to a time that had slipped away. Never completely, mind you....there was still frequent revisits, but when I pressed play this time, the era in question unlocked something inside of me that was, and now realizing again presently, a very important part of my life.
The era in question is still debatable in time frame, depending on who you ask. Ten different people may give you ten different answers. For me, it spanned about a decade, with a few asterisks bookending each side. From the period of roughly spring 1987 until winter of 1997, there was an incredible era of music that, as groundbreaking and void of comparison as it may be through some of our eyes, is still widely undervalued and under appreciated for what it was and still is.
The era in question has a few different names, but is most commonly referred to as the golden age of hip-hop. While I may not be able to give every artist and record their just due, I can, at the very least, show them the respect they both earned and deserved.
This was before mainstream radio subscribed to bottom of the barrel, cookie cutter singles. This was before every video had at least ten strippers, before every person on screen took turns throwing stacks of one hundred dollar bills at the camera to show the money they supposedly make, before everything looked shiny, before the term "bling" was created, before beats were more important than the words played over them.
This was when artists were still broke, still angry, still had something to say. This was when low budget videos were good enough, when those videos didn't try to gloss over every day life and instead focused on the real world and not a fantasy. It was when double albums didn't exist, when a release didn't have to be seventy five minutes long with only ten minutes worth of substance.
I'm going to do my best to cover every single artist/song/album/show/film/book that influenced me and continues to do so. As soon as the floodgates opened, I found myself diving headfirst back into various outlets, trying to remember more. I watched endless hours of YO! MTV Raps on YouTube, seeing videos again for the first time since I saw them premiere. I reread some books I had on the genre, telling certain stories of certain albums. I spent about a hundred bucks on used CDs of things that got away from me over time. I've searched for films I remember. All of these things makes me remember more about that age, about my youth. All of it influenced me greatly into becoming who I am today.
To sum it all up, the following details are why this thirty something punk's first, last and most influential love in the form of self expression will always belong to the golden era of hip-hop.
Drop the beat.

Gems II

In 1987, I was ten years old. This means, by simple addition, I was twenty in 1997. If there is a more influential age to grow up era where hip-hop went from minor commercial attention to a mainstream juggernaut, with grandmothers comically rapping in advertisements, wedding ceremonies consisting of flashy, Sean "Puffy" Combs-produced club hits and the overuse of such words as "balla"....if there was a more influential era to submerse yourself into, I don't know what it is.
It was more important than punk and it had much more to say to it's listeners than any extreme music genre that exists. Rock may not have been dead, but it sure as fuck had no message or meaning behind it, no matter what way you try to validate concerts such as Live Aid, etc. Rock grew tired of itself. Extreme music had already started to gravitate towards it's current state, which involve an unspeakable elitism and jaded opinionism. Hip-hop was speaking TO it's listeners instead of thinking they had the right to speak FOR them. If they did choose to speak for the masses, it was done with a respect and frustration that was understandable. Plus, on top of all of that, even platinum hip-hop artists in that era were still pretty damn broke. Major labels swooped in at this time to take on certain artists. Most had no real manager behind them, just a friend down the street that seemed acceptable for the role. More often than not, I'm willing to bet almost every contract signed was almost 100% in favor of the label and most artists were just happy to escape their everyday struggles, but if just for a moment.

Then again....what the fuck do I know? I'm still who I was twenty four years ago when I was introduced to hip hop: just another white kid from the suburbs. Actually, not even the suburbs, but a town in one of the most bland and unimportant (but, beautiful) states in the country, New Hampshire. Though I lived only an hour and a half from Boston and only six hours from New York City, where this culture I had accepted as my own was thriving, I may as well have been on the moon.

I guess that's my point. Life-changing art forms, soul-speaking inspirations, thought provoking don't find them. They, in turn, find you. Without abusing the tired cliches, hip-hop is absolutely more than music. I don't believe that it's just a lifestyle. I believe, instead, that it is a medium-spanning culture and art form which gives it's listener, reader and receiver the gift of deciding how you want it to affect your life. Hip-hop can be either an escape, or the catalyst towards motivation that would have never been garnered through other grounds.

After hip-hop found and guided me, I took it in then as I do now. It's always with me, and there are moments, such as now, where I am reminded how much of my thoughts and daily life were influenced by it. I never felt the need to carry the official representative flag wherever I went, as when time went by I noticed others were compelled to do. It never became more prevalent as later in these years, once the west coast was being given alot of attention, specifically during the N.W.A. years, followed by Dr. Dre's "The Chronic" and the whole Death Row Records affiliated family, and finally the epic rise and death of Tupac Shakur. Somehow, it even infested the most unexplainable of places. Here I was, Ryan McKenney of small Dover, New Hampshire, a chubby kid with a ghostlike complexion that loved hip-hop, loved the beat, but couldn't quite grasp most of the west coast gangsta rap that was emerging. Why? Because I didn't live that life and no goddamn way was I going to even act like I did. Evidently, some peers of mine disagreed. They wanted their lives to imitate the art that they had now surfaced to embrace. Except, to them this meant moonlighting as the rappers that they listened to. All of a sudden (as ridiculous and laughable as this may sound) red or blue rags were hanging from back pockets of oversized, sagging jeans. Kids were forming what they referred to as "posses"....I'm not joking. I wish I could remember some of the names that were come up with for them. It was hilarious. Hats were being worn every way but to the front. Lanky white kids that had never left the state were dawning leather necklaces emblazoned with the outline of Africa. Fifteen year old kids were walking with a limp and trying to cut their stringy hair into a fade or attempting to have cornrows for no reason other than they saw it in a video......all of these young, naive idiots wishing that mean streets or culture-rich boroughs existed in little Dover, New Hampshire and never realizing how much better off they were that these mean streets weren't there (though, the culture-rich boroughs would have been nice...). In this place, the threat level was green.....and that's why all those kids get this:

Maybe it's judgemental of me. maybe I have no right to have had a problem with all of this, but the truth is I had no choice. After hip-hop found me, I felt as if I owed it something. I felt as if I shouldn't ever do anything to insult it, and watching bored, fortunate kids try to take these very realistic forms of expression and contort it into something of their own, something that they felt the need to imitate, much like the reason school shootings were blamed on Marilyn Manson and demented teenage murders are blamed on television programs like Dexter, watching these impostors (or perpetrators?) just pissed me off...made me disgusted with the identity theft occurring. I think the thing that pissed me off the most was that I knew it was only a matter of time before the culture was completely compromised, leaving us quiet die-hards nothing more than memories.

Gems III

It took a bit of effort to remember certain records in order to remember certain time frames of my life. I bought various books in the last few weeks to help kick start some thoughts. Considering how important the era was for the genre, it's amazing the lack of attention and focus it receives in many publications. Most of them highlight the genesis of hip-hop within the five boroughs of New York City, but stop the story around 1984-1985.....just when it was getting good. The story doesn't end there. The story has never ended. There is no finish line.
The difference here between, say, someone studying every wikipedia page to learn everything they can to be viewed as having a wide span of knowledge on the subject, and the way I've approached my last few weeks of searching....the difference between the two is that I've had all this in my head for decades. I remember all of these releases first hand. I remember the anticipation of every weekend, my version of new release day. The books I've looked at lately and the crawling around the Internet have just been there to help me....they have been there to help me reminisce.
......and YouTube. This may have been the first time in it's existence that I realized how much more than office freakouts and ticklish kittens it both offers and contains. I don't want to dive into it all right here. I'd rather give "YO! MTV Raps" it's just deserve and devote more than a few paragraphs.....much more than a few paragraphs. That show was the reason I'm happy to be antisocial and I'll explain why that is.

This is the first subject in a very long while that I'm truly excited to dedicate my time to. There are only so many pieces of fiction I can write, only so many mundane childhood thoughts from the white bread society that are worth the effort of a campfire tale. I'm not sure how many can or will relate. I'm not sure how many of my peers, my age group, will remember all of this the way I do, which is finding something larger than life, taking it in and then running for it.
I'm hoping there are quite a few of you. I'm hoping that I can speak about all of this in a way that brings it all back in your minds as well. I want everyone that was lucky (and old...) enough to remember that golden, golden era and relive some past inspirations.
I want you to remember the firsts: the first time you heard about Run DMC's Adidas sneakers with no laces, the first time Rob Base's lyrics on "It takes Two" were stuck in your head on repeat, the first time KRS-ONE gave you Edutainment, the first time you saw five mics in The Source, the first time you saw Nasir Jones' video for "Halftime" late on a Friday night on MTV courtesy of Dr. Dre and Ed Lover, the last five minutes of every episode of In Living Color, the first time you saw Juice and witnessed how multi-talented 2Pac was, the first time you entered the 36 Chambers, the first time you were forced to Jump Around, the first time listening to Blowout Comb, which in turn blew your mind, the first time you heard the purple tape.....the first time you realized your addiction to the voices and the words and the music and the films.
For everyone born between 1974 and 1979, we have the privilege of being birthed at the same time as hip-hop itself. We grew up together. We had our rough moments of confusion and feelings of being lost together. We've found ways to be on the right track together. We found happiness and belonging together. The only difference, thankfully, is that when us humans fade away and our hearts beat for the last time, we can be confident in knowing the beat is still infinitely flowing somewhere else.

Gems IV

While I may have heard a few songs before this, I'm pretty sure RUN-DMC's "It's Like That" was the first track that knocked me for a loop. I was somewhere around seven or eight years old when I heard it, which was late 1984/early 1985. It was just immediate, my reaction. This was before my family had cable, so I didn't see it on MTV. I think the clip was on some late night program, and I lucked out changing the channels just in time. It wasn't a music video. I can't exactly remember what it was, besides a few photos while the song played. RUN-DMC was like nothing I had ever heard before. An abrasive, thunderous beat intertwined with a creepy, high pitched synth wailing in the back. So new, so original, so perfect. My eyes were fixed on the screen for that five minutes.
The next day, a Saturday, I went with my mother to go grocery shopping. I ended up in the magazine section, looking at a Rolling Stone article on none other than the (now) Rev "Run", Darryl Mac, and Jam-Master Jay. Just the way they presented themselves was so cool to me. The track suits, the hats, the b-boy stance in the photos. They seemed larger than life.
After reading the article, I wanted to do nothing more than hear the record. The only problem was I had no stereo. I had no cassette deck, no walkman....nothing in my room where I could let the music flow and soak it in. There was a small cassette player and turntable in our living room, but the odds of making a purchase and having the freedom to press "play" in there was null.
So, I did what you do when you feel the obsession starting. I waited. I started paying attention to late night television and to music magazine articles. I knew that at some point, I'd have a way to listen to music on my own, and when that time came, I'd be ready. In the meantime, RUN-DMC kept reminding me of what I could look forward to. New singles kept popping up randomly on late night weekend television, "Rock Box" and "Sucker M.C.s" were heard on the local college radio station, followed the next year by "King of Rock" and "Rock the House".
The college radio station saved me late at night on those weekends. There was a pair of headphones in the living room, and nights where my parents went to bed first, I'd plug them in and listen to a hip-hop show that aired for an hour. I was introduced to Afrika Bambaataa, Kurtis Blow, Funky Four plus One, Fat Boys, Doug E. Fresh, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (whose "The Message" became a song I crossed my fingers I'd get the opportunity to hear every week).
I'd take trips to the mall only for two things: to look for Star Wars figures and to go into music stores and look at the cassettes and records, taking note of the artists I'd heard. I wanted to start filing away in my brain the releases they had....I was taking inventory. When the time came to have a tape deck in my room, I'd be ready to spend allowance and birthday money on the right selections.
RUN-DMC gained more and more attention. 1986 was a huge year in hip-hop for me. Two words: Raising Hell. Where to start with the sound of this LP is beyond me. "It's Tricky" is, to me, one of the most incredible songs of all time. RUN-DMC blew up. Oddly enough, the song that catapulted them into mainstream success was my least favorite. "Walk This Way", a duet with Aerosmith was played everywhere (to this day, I can't stand Aerosmith. Steven Tyler's obnoxious screeching ruined the song for was even worse when I saw the band in the video, looking like ridiculous rock stars). We had just gotten cable, so my music options and gateways had started to unlock and slowly open. The video for the single was constantly in rotation. At least three times a day you could flip the channel to MTV and see it. Once I had heard "It's Tricky", though, I was so hooked, there was no option. It was time. I needed a tape deck.
My birthday fell two months after the release of Raising Hell. I told my parents that all I really wanted was my own stereo. Nothing special, just something that would play tapes. September 26th, 1986 landed, and so did that stereo in my lap. It was no boom was like the dwarf cousin of a ghettoblaster. A small, six inch by eleven inch tape player with one speaker. But, to me, it looked like the holy grail. I don't think I've ever been so thankful for a birthday gift. My parents could tell what was about to happen. With the stereo, they bought me two cassettes to start my collection. The Ghostbusters soundtrack and Micheal Jackson's Thriller.....both are still records I can listen to and appreciate.
About a month later, Raising Hell was mine.....all mine. I was in a department store with my mom, and while she was going through the aisles shopping, I slipped away, bought the tape and shoved it in my back pocket before she could see what I was doing (sorry,'re probably reading this. I had no choice....I figured you'd feel the same about hip-hop as your parents felt about rock and roll...that it would corrupt the youth.). My elation over having a RUN-DMC record in my possession was through the roof. I couldn't wait until I was the only one home, able to press play and listen to Jam-Master Jay on the wheels of steel, while Run and Darryl Mac shouted crazy lines at me though that mono speaker.
The first listen was out of control. Here I was, listening to twelve consecutive RUN-DMC songs in a row. "Peter Piper"? "My Adidas"? Nine years old and my perception of music as a whole was drastically altered. Much later on, as I dove into the world of producers, you realize just how very essential Rick Rubin was to the beginning of the new school of hip-hop. The hybrid of rock and dense, heavy, minimal beats were groundbreaking. He was smart enough to manipulate the mainstream into taking notice of this rising art form.
There was a ton of press for the album. You saw these three guys' pictures everywhere, profiled in a hard stance, Adidas with no laces and the tongues sticking out. Between them and the Beastie Boys, hip-hop was starting to become recognized as a true art form. There are a lot of records that I consider much better, but this would be one of the top five I consider as most important.
I continued to follow them throughout their career. Tougher than Leather was next up for the trio, and like it's previous effort, was just as crucial. Most of the rock was gone. The heavy beats still remained, but was surrounded by a lot of samples. Both RUN and DMC were still shouting, though. And, in turn, were still making impressive, abrasive songs.
They fell off the map, for me at least, for a few years. Down With the King was the album and single that brought them back for me. A classic in my eyes. To be off the radar for a bit and then come back with one of the hardest songs they ever recorded was nothing less than praiseworthy. Pete Rock's production on this song was nothing short of a perfectly executed east coast beat, bass-heavy and driving. To top it all off, C.L. Smooth's verse in this song is, to this day, the epitome of a guest appearance. Short, confident and leaving you wanting more.....just an extra eight bars would have filled me up.
After this album, I lost touch. with them. I ended up seeing them once in 1997 on an "Old-School Reunion" tour, with Sugarhill Gang and a few others. I think Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was there, though I can't be sure. I wish I could remember.
Between Run becoming Reverend Run and DMC losing his vocal cords to a point where rapping wasn't possible the way he used to, we were left with what history they had already made, knowing there would be nothing more that would be considered classic material. The murder of Jam-Master Jay sealed that with a defining key into the lock. You heard the click, and then watched it thrown into the ocean to never be touched again. Occasionally, there's a reunion of sorts, Simmons and McDaniels performing songs individually or together, backed by many of the artists they inspired.
Though they'll always be a cornerstone in my hip-hop memories, their time to truly shine was from 1984 up until 1993. That's the golden era of their own that they created. I still frequently revisit my Raising Hell and Tougher than Leather tapes, and every time I watch Die Hard I get to hear them do a holiday rap. Some day I'll be able to afford all the deluxe versions of these albums, re-released with a ridiculous amount of bonus tracks and material. Until then, I can be one-hundred percent satisfied with the original albums. Why? Because they are fucking awesome.