It Takes a Nation

 

I'm your pusher

“Yo what’s up man, I need to get high man. I need to get hold of some big time dope man. You know where I can get a key?”

“I know where you can get an LP.”

“LP, man? Have you went crazy man? I’m talking about some dope man I need to get high right now man. Why don’t you hook me up with a 5-O?”

“I can hook you up with a 12 inch.”

“12 inch? Man have you went crazy? You don’t even know what time it is. Out here on the streets and don’t know what time it is. Man youse a fool!”

“Yo homeboy you a fool. You don’t know what time it is. Out here, messing up your mind, you know what I’m sayin’?  This is Ice-T talkin’ to you boy, I’mma tell you what time it is.”

“Aww Mr. Dopeman, I’m lovin’ you man. You got it goin’ on man, what else you got?”

“I got some of that Kool Moe Dee”

“Aww yeah man, I want some of that.”

“Got some Doug E. Fresh.”

“Aww yeah gimme an ounce of that, I want that all night long.”

“I got some Eric B. & Rakim”

“Aww that is some real dope right there.”

“I got some LL Cool J.”

“Nah, nah man, I don’t want none of that. You can keep that man.”

“I got some Boogie Down Productions, KRS-One.”

“Aww now you’re talkin’ man, come on.”

“Public Enemy.”

“Yeah don’t stop, don’t stop!”

“Biz Markie.”

“Makin’ music with yo mouth. I love it!”

 

I’m Your Pusher Man

Ice-T

 

My pusher man saw me coming but didn’t say a word. He just smiled as I walked into his record store and waited for me to hit the vein.  A few weeks back, I’d given the owner of my favorite source of wax a list of the rap albums that would:

(A) help me replace part of my original collection and
(B) set him up to have a good base for a thriving hip-hop selection.

So there I was looking through the rap/hip-hop section which is usually one of the smallest in the store, only to find myself starting a stack that would cost me a tidy fortune. Each pull got better and I’d wave them at The MND. He’d shake his head with each one, knowing that his work was cut out for him.

NWA

I knew the 25th anniversary edition of N.W.A.’s Straight Out Of Compton was going to be there because the movie had been topping the theaters for the past three weekends but I was certainly blown away to find Panic Zone, an album that was released on their own label in 1987. Panic Zone is really just three songs with two remixes of 8-Ball and Dope Man but it was worth getting just for the novelty and rarity. There was a lot of crap talk about Dope Man but it really is about as anti-drug as you can get, including MC Crazy Dee doing a piece right at the end that goes, “Yo, Mr. Dope Man, you think you’re slick, You sold crack to my sister, and now she’s sick, But if she happens to die because of your drugs, I’m putting in your culo (ass) a 38 slug.” I promise it sounds a lot better than it reads.

I wasn’t too surprised by the new release of Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions but was thrilled to find the Beastie BoysPaul’s Boutique. These were both albums I’ve been planning on picking up for a while and the word was that they were both nicely done re-pressings.  Those would have been enough to make my day but I kept finding more.

If you are a fan of Sublime you might remember a song they did called KRS-One. If you are a rap fan then you know that KRS-One is one of the founders of Boogie Down Productions often considered to be the stylistic influences for gangster rap but the artist who is known as the Teacher and creator of Stop The Violence Movement. Finding his work on vinyl is near to impossible these days and I was looking at two of his albums albums, Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip-Hop and By All Means Necessary. It was at that point I had to check my bank balance because I also found LL Cool J’s Walking with a Panther, and 3rd Base’s The Cactus Album.

So I did what any junkie does when he needs to get a fix but he just doesn’t have enough bread, I groveled. Reason number #326 why going to your local record store is the best, Steve wrote my name on a yellow tag and stuck them aside for me. Over all it took me three weeks to buy all of them and it was worth it. I still have to get Run DMC’s Raising Hell but the damn thing is an import and costs an arm and a leg.

Back in the 80’s I had a conversation with one of my coworkers about hip-hop and the status of white MCs. At that time Ice, Ice Baby was hitting the chart and she was pissed that the music she had been supporting for so long was now being co-opted by white musicians. I couldn’t really argue with her point but I did try to offer a couple of white groups who were legit and respected. I pointed to The Beastie Boys and 3rd Bass. She was justifiably resistant to me trying to do the “not all white guys” bullshit. Just because there were artists who weren’t walking over the heads of the hip-hop community to get rich and famous didn’t make her point any less valid. Trying to make the argument that it wasn’t always their fault that it happened, that institutionalized racism caused a lot of the problem was even worse. I consider myself lucky that she didn’t give up talking to me all together. Molly Ivans liked to point out that with holes, when you are in one, the trick is to stop digging. I was using my mouth to dig myself down so far the sky was a dot, just because it was about music and I thought I knew music.

the cactus album

Music and politics are closely linked as The Dixie Chicks found out the hard way. When 3rd Bass put out The Cactus Album (also called The Cactus Tape and later The Cactus CD) it was funny, filled with skits and samples, something that got me a slightly peeved message from The MND. Side note — Doing a needle drop on an album from 1989 is challenging for someone like the Master because he cleans out all the static, clicks and pops that develop over the years. When the artists sample it’s hard to tell if the static is from the album or a ghost from the sample. Then you have the markers for where the skits stop and the songs begin. All of which create a special album but a stone bitch to properly digitize. On an old album like this, The MND had to do them entirely by hand. For a perfectionist like him a 45 minute album can take 4 hours to do a decent needle drop. – One of the songs off The Cactus Album is The Gas Face, which besides Pop Goes the Weasel (about beating the crap out of Vanilla Ice) was 3rd Bass’s biggest hit. In case you don’t have your Urban Dictionary handy The Gas Face is the face you make after someone farts/shits themselves or when they say something incredibly stupid/racist. You might say my coworker was giving me a bit of the Gas Face, while I discovered it was possible to be right and very, very, very wrong at the same time. Their silly song actually took on some serious tones.

The Beastie Boys created an album that can never be made again when they made Paul’s Boutique. One because the laws about sampling have changed drastically when it comes to sampling (Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records Inc., the landmark lawsuit against Biz Markie by Gilbert O’Sullivan) and of course we lost MCA in 2012. The album is a great example of why record companies suck when it comes to deciding if an album is a success. Capitol Records saw it wasn’t selling the way Licensed to Ill had so after a while they quit promoting it and relegated Paul’s Boutique to the back of the bin. What they didn’t understand is the hip-hop audience is steady and loyal. The album went double platinum and is consistently ranked as a must have album. Maybe people weren’t expecting something so complex and layered from a band who had a reputation as “frat hip-hop”. I’ve always wondered what it must have been like to be in a band and have the very people you are making fun of love your stuff. The needle drop is so fine I turned my CD into coaster for my coffee cup, this is music made for wax.

What I found interesting and sad about listening to Straight Out of Compton is that it feels every bit as true now as when it came out in 1988. The misogyny isn’t any different than the Men’s Rights crap I can read in just about any feminist thread on the internet. Even worse is how a young black man still faces a constant risk of getting ganked by the police. On the plus side, it reminded me just how amazing a producer Dre is, how smooth Easy could make it flow, that Wren had the rhymes, Ice Cube wasn’t always a movie star, and that we tend to forget how important DJ Yella really was to N.W.A. The 25th anniversary release is taken from the analog tapes with some extras that are digital. It sounds great and is well worth the investment.

3497-krs-one

My favorite type of rap has always been political based and it was these works that made me a bit more aware of why my comments were so ignorant. KRS-One, Public Enemy and The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy were my favorites. Despite having dropped out of high school and getting a GED, KRS-One does the college lecture teaching the history of hip-hop, black power and philosophy. He was a vegan way before it was cool and is credited for the start of the ‘gangsta rap’ style with his very first album Criminal Minded just by observing the state of his neighborhood. He built a movement in ‘Stop The Violence’ bringing together rap and hip-hop groups from all over the country to speak out against the killings.

The two albums I found were the second and third in his discography. By All Means Necessary has one of his most classic songs My Philosophy and you can hear the heavy influence of the Jamaican music scene in songs like T’cha T’cha. The next album Ghetto Music moves away from challenging other rappers and goes after the education system with songs like You Must Learn and the police, Who Protects Us from You. Both these albums were well worth adding to my collection and yours if you get lucky enough to find them.

It has long been suggested that N.W.A. had the impact on the music scene that the Sex Pistols did when they came out. In an interview Ice Cube said when he heard that he thought, “Damn, these Sex Pistols must be some wild motherfuckers!” As a punk guy it’s kind of sad that it took The MND to point out to me that if N.W.A. was The Sex Pistols then Public Enemy was The Clash.  The one band went for the jugular, ready to shock and scare while the other was more serious, trying to make political points and actually had musical talent to back them up (though not who you might think- check number 5 on 6 Dumb Celebrities Who Are Way Smarter Than You Think) It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back was a serious breakthrough. So many critics had said that rap was just noise so Hank Shocklee the producer decided to show them what noise was all about. There are speeches by Jesse Jackson and Malcolm X along with chunks of Public Enemy‘s European tour book-ending some of the best storytelling on vinyl. The album sounds amazing, just like it did the first time I dropped a needle on it. If you are a student of hip-hop or want to expand your collection, you really must have this album.

Ice T was dismissive of LL Cool J in the song Pusher Man and it wasn’t entirely fair.  LL has done some great stuff and that was the basis for my grabbing Walking With a Panther. Done in 1989 it went platinum and has a some of his early hits including Big Ole Butt, Going Back To Cali, and Jingling Baby. The thing is, like many rap albums of that period they just had to jam sixteen songs on the album and a good number of them just aren’t … worth the spin? They also jammed them on the album so tightly that doing a decent drop was a real challenge according to The MND. Compression does not good music make. I’d forgotten that a little bit of LL could go a long way. I’m not sorry I bought the album, I’ll just remember it the next time.

KRS-One said that rap is too young to have an ‘Old School’ and that we needed to wait twenty years to see what was around, then decide. I can see his point but would argue there are people who built rap and hip-hop as we know it now including him. I do know that there are some artists that you should have in your collection if you are interested in rap and most importantly, they should be on vinyl.

Peter Hill

About Peter Hill

Hunter of vinyl, lover of music, drinker of Guinness, causer of trouble and pounder of keyboard.

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