Funky Vignettes from Rap’s Obscure Early Days
BBE's new compilation Rock It... Don't Stop It! shines a light on pre-'83 hip-hop obscurities
by Andrew Mason
The first rap music ever recorded in a studio and put on wax was an attempt to duplicate the sounds bubbling up from small clubs in dilapidated areas of New York City, places where DJs spun funky disco records and MCs chatted up the crowd with witty rhymes. After Sylvia Robinson took a chance and issued “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979, the floodgates opened as dozens of musical entrepreneurs realized that they too could commit these party soundtracks to vinyl. While the output of prolific independent labels like Robinson’s Sugar Hill, Enjoy in Harlem and the majors who dabbled in the genre (Mercury’s “Christmas Rappin'” and Spring’s “King Tim III”) is well known, there were numerous smaller players in the game who made their own worthy attempts at the new genre.
BBE’s new compilation Rock It… Don’t Stop It! shines a light on ten of these pre-’83 obscurities. With selections from “Brooklyn, Boston and Beyond,” as the subtitle has it, the comp makes available a series of tunes that—aside from the requisite rarity (you would’ve been be hard pressed to find these even when they were originally released)—give a good look at this underdocumented part of rap music.
As for the music itself, it’s naturally all about a funky downtempo disco beat, one that often interpolates a popular club record (Jimmy Williams’s “All of My Lovin” for “To the Max” or Yaz’s “Don’t Go” for “Sweat,” to pick two). The rapping is alternately clever, overblown, nimble, humorous and occasionally clumsy. In other words, not much different than a random cross section of today’s rapping would be, except in style.
As a historical document, Rock It… is essential. The brief liner notes provide enough material to satisfy the casual reader and set the serious scholar on the right path. For DJs, the package (available as a two-LP set as well as in digital formats) provides ten potent ingredients to spice up your sets. And for the listener who is simply a fan of good music, the set is a quirky, enjoyable hour-and-fifteen of fun.
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