Saturday, January 28, 2017

R Gratia Artis

Hello, Happy Saturday and dawning of American Fascism. Let's try to occupy ourselves before the SS arrives with the cattlecars, shall we? Today, after all, is the 49th birthday of merely The Greatest MC Ever To Live.
OK, bold statement. Hip-hop is a 40 year old genre now, and surely I exaggerate this gentleman's influence, right? There's other contenders, I hear you say. People say Chuck. Biggie. Kool Moe Dee. Too $hort. There are likely as many candidates as there are luminaries of the rapgame.
None of them, however, would have been what they were without today's Heavyweight champion. You say to yourself, OH COME ON JOSHY, Eminem set the standard of extended bar lines, of rhyming phrases within phrases, of taking the genre to another artistic level. But who was the first to do those things, before anyone had done anything but spit their verses on the 1 and 3 beats, all foursquare and linear? Oops, you guessed it.
It's all to be expected now, as hip-hop rules the world and everything in it. But back 30 years ago, there was a Golden Age, when the genre was so powerful on such a consistent basis, you'd drive into NYC on a Friday night with DJ Red Alert on the radio and end up just driving around Manhattan, because the music was just too compelling and unprecedented to leave the vehicle.
Nowadays, very little of it is compelling or at all innovative. But from 1987-1991, it was like a sledgehammer to the face of puerile pop music, with a record a week coming out to top last week's masterpiece. All killer, no filler recordings that defined the standard before there really was one.
Into this maelstrom of creative output --  the last such period in American popular music to date, by the way -- stepped today's birthday boy and his Hall-of-Fame turntable cohort, the first to get crazy with the James Brown samples that would come to define the Golden Age. The first record they had out is still considered perhaps the greatest single hip-hop record ever made... certainly Top 10 all time, as is their follow-up from 1988, the face-frying mission statement title track of which graces the top of this page.
He started out as William Griffin in 1968, but by the later Eighties he had converted to the Five Percent Nation and taken the name Rakim Allah. Known professionally as simply Rakim, for me he is the alpha and omega of the modern rapper, without whose presence and influence it would not have been what it subsequently became.
Those albums define the genre as perhaps no other, and if there is ever to be a Hip-Hop Hall of Fame first ballot inductee, this is your Babe Ruth/Jackie Robinson character right here. When they came out, we would literally stare at the speakers with our jaws to the floor, wondering how this guy got so many galaxies ahead of everyone around him. To say nothing of the funked-to-death-and-back aural sample-backdrops supplied by his partner  Eric B., as wicked a wheels-of-steel Samurai as ever walked the Bronx.
To honor The R, I spent Tuesday last remastering a short-but-ferocious opening set from FM radio, recorded on the 1987 Fall Def Jam tour in support of Public Enemy and LL Cool J. This is 25 minutes of Big Bang-caliber hip-hop at the dawn of the art form's maturity, and these guys do not disappoint, trust me. The idea that Paid In Full has only been out a couple of months at this point registers little with the Amsterdam audience, who sing along and participate like they somehow knew what was coming.
Eric B. and Rakim
Jaap Edenhal
Amsterdam, The Netherlands

01 introduction by Flavor Flav/Rakim's entrance
02 Move the Crowd
03 I Ain't No Joke
04 Paid In Full
05 My Melody
06 Freestyle
07 Eric B. Is President
08 I Know You Got Soul/radio outro

Total time: 24:19

Eric B. - turntables & samples, vocals
Rakim - vocals

FM master tape remastered by me
This is as raw a document of the Golden Age as exists, so pull it down and get extra busy sampling its pure, unadulterated power. As you do, please wish a HBD to The R, who is as responsible as any single dude for the lasting power of the form, and arguably its Greatest of All Rhyme.--J.

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