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I guess this mixtape was an exercise in keeping myself sane during the dark, bitterly cold Kansas City winter months. Mostly chronicling and processing an extremely serious, devastating breakup, the overall feeling of sadness about loss and aging, the constant struggle we all face with vices and exogenous substances, and accepting emotional, mental and physical damage whether self-inflicted, or done by someone else. North Korean BBQ is for old souls.
The title, however, is a reminder for me and all of us, that no matter how hard life can seem. We are all very fortunate people to live where we live. In Kansas City, when we get lonely or depressed, we go gorge ourselves on delicious, molasses-based BBQ.
In North Korea, they don't get lonely or depressed. They don't choose feelings or thoughts. North Koreans don't eat BBQ. He didn't necessarily revel in the glamorous lifestyle once denied to him, but he wrote the blueprint and Cliff Notes I'm old school, sue me that Sean "Puffy" Combs would utilize and rule with an iron fist down to the last Ciroc drop.
Money was made, dreams were fulfilled, lives were lost, lines were crossed. This single would completely turn hip-hop on its head. The chronic proved greener on the other side — but at what price? If I were given hip-hop's timeline wand and asked to draw the line in the sand that would define the moment that hip-hop stepped into the post-modern age, this song would have to be my choice. Rakim's no-nonsense, straight-laced, non-minstrel, dead-panned delivery is one of the hardest sells in hip-hop. I mean, think about it. Some of our favorite characters in hip-hop are just that: characters.
Colorful, all over the place, full of inflection and humor. Rakim was none of that. Rakim was John Coltrane personified as MC: all cool and steady hand. Rakim was doing the exact opposite — mountains came to him. Just to prove this was no fluke, his every word on the B-side "My Melody" was like the holy scriptures. Damn near the 10 Commandments for any real MC worth his or her weight in gold.
There was no MC from this new Renaissance period that wasn't running for cover when Rakim was within earshot. Remember those old Westerns, when the cowboy dressed in all black comes to the saloon and the tavern gets all silent and even the piano player stops the music? I don't, either, but you get the picture I'm trying to make. Rakim turned MCing into a serious art.
He was no joke. I've only had one pugilistic episode with my older cousin David, back when we were kids. If there was a surefire way you wanted to get my goat? All you had to do was prove that you thought you were a better music expert than I was. Actually, what irked me more was when non-musical experts insisted their word was law. I corrected him the best, most condescending way any year-old critic could: "She doesn't repeat 'Flash is fast' like that, she says it once.
In hindsight, though, I was willing to suffer for Grand Wizzard Theodore's sins. When finally allowed out the house seven days later, I officially got to hear what David was talking about. A five-minute history of what a night in the Bronx musta been like. Remember — live bands were called in to recreate the breaks once hip-hop went in the studio in ' Technology wasn't up to par for turntables to be used in the studio back then. Because I owned every last record that Flash used — I'm still kinda curious what made my parents buy Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache" in a non-hip-hop-DJ context — i spent that entire summer trying to match that mix note for note on two Fisher Price turntables I'd had since childhood.
My dad would often offer his two cents, shaking his head in disappointment with that jigga-jigga-jigga noise he was hearing. He added in that I needed to "spend more time on them drums instead of destroying all them good records," 'cause "ain't no future in these records people done already made. Little did you know.
Classic regionalism tale: I spent the entire summer of '85 with relatives in Los Angeles, California. This was the halfway mark of the first decade of equal opportunity for the superpowers in music — specifically, for black artists to get their fair share of the pie. Michael, Prince and Lionel sustained the decade's first half, and it seemed like the sound of hip-hop was going to claim the second half. Before that, I could never imagine a time when I could hear hip-hop for 24 hours on a station.
Normally you got it on the weekends for three to four hours, recording every second so you could sustain yourself for the week. But out in L. And the anthem for that summer? Toddy T's "The Batteram" —a song about when a knock on your door from the po-po just ain't enough.
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It made sense: Gang violence was at an all-time high, so of course the music was going to reflect how they were living. I mean, you heard "The Batteram" from every ghetto blaster and car no matter where you went. So imagine my surprise to return back to my beloved Philadelphia and brag to my friends about how incredible my summer was, only for them to be like, "Batter what?
Oh boy, little did I know. No one in Philly could help: local DJs, college hip-hop radio formats, roller skating rink cats — nobody had heard of this song! So instantly I thought this was a lie. He assured me it wasn't and told me to make sure I had a tape ready to record at around , when the Power Nine at 9 came on. Sure enough, I sat there, jaw dropped, as the most distinctive voice I ever heard rap held the Number One and Two slots from what I was told was the entire summer.
I felt foolish going on about Toddy T when clearly the future was now, and I was not at the forefront of its discovery. I mean, point blank: Slick Rick's voice was the most beautiful thing to happen to hip-hop culture. He is our Bill Cosby, a master storyteller and deliverer. Don't get me wrong, Doug is no slouch neither. But this was one of those "a star is born" moments in hip-hop. Every last line of "Da Di" has been the anchor of many a hip-hop classic, and it's no wonder. Rick is full of punchlines, wit, melody, cool cadence, confidence and style.
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He is the blueprint. No one bragged like him, no one name-dropped like him, no one sang like him, no one was funny like him. And as this song inches to its thirtieth anniversary, it's clear that no one will ever, ever sound like him. Black America saw itself take a giant leap forward in the Civil Rights period, just to slip 10 miles backwards in Reagan's America.
The first sign of disillusion in the sound of black music came courtesy of Sly and the Family Stone's muddy album There's a Riot Goin' On. Twenty years later, the crack epidemic came and singlehandedly almost wiped us out. Those who used, those who pushed, those who lived with those who used and pushed, and especially those who made it a life mission to avoid those who used and pushed. The elderly and young were prisoners in their homes — thank God for Dad's record collection or I'd have gone crazy.
It just wasn't safe. Public Enemy managed to explain the madness of the crack era in its sound. PE ruled the ''92 crack period because its musical backdrop matched the times: Songs were now bpm instead of the previous fare. Melody was thrown out the window — this was Pharoah Sanders and Rahsaan Roland Kirk in a knife fight, this was your four-year-old sneaking a triple espresso when no one was looking at 10 p. This was music's worst nightmare. Flavor Flav's batshit crazy stance was used as bait I fell for it to attract the unaware.
Once trapped inside, Chuck D's baptist preacher rapid-fire scream was the nail in the coffin. The best sweet and sour combo in hip-hop. Actually, the original contrary duo in hip-hop. I mean, my dad and I had world-class debates on the merits of Public Enemy, but even that one-two punch of Elvis and John Wayne almost made my dad say "Yeah! Trust me. I know. Ronald Isley once told me a story about how he and his singing brothers had to show friends and family their This Old Heart of Mine album with their heads down, because label head Berry Gordy thought it was a wiser marketing move to sell the album with a teen white couple in embrace on a beach as opposed to three, uh, Isley brothers.
Twenty years later, Russell Simmons used a similar tactic. Most of us assumed the Beasties were Puerto Rican, 'cause there was no way humanly possible that three white boys had that much flavor. It wasn't even a "if they were white we'd never have given them a chance" thing. Our minds were so closed and tunnel-visioned that we just knew that hip-hop was a culture that only blacks and latinos appreciated, mostly because we were not rhythmically challenged.
Boy, were we in for a rude awakening. Def Jam used a two-year buzz period to fine effect. For those outside of the New York perimeter, their first real strike on hip-hop radio — Lady B's street beat in Philly — was "Beastie Groove," with its hard-ass drums, double time rhymes, the whiniest and gruffiest voices in hip-hop and a cool slang term that all of Philly has yet to figure out: "Yo, just 'fessin man, I don't even wanna hear it, you just 'fessin.
There was one slight misstep, "She's On It" from the Krush Groove soundtrack — but the Beasties' cameo in the film was so minuscule that their lil' white secret wasn't totally given away just yet. And no real hip-hoppers saw Madonna's Virgin Tour all that much. So the Beasties' first real footsteps in our hearts and radar came courtesy of this song.
Its high position is based on the accidental way that they arrived. The initial test pressings of their "Hold It" 12 inch placed the historic first "Acapulco" version on the A side and its full album version on the B side. DJs instantly played the vocal-only version, which was magically effective. I can't explain how exciting that part sounded. It sounded even bigger and grander coming from an a cappella tradeoff of three jazzy-sounding instruments called Ad Rock soprano , Mike D tenor and MCA baritone. Most crews would go verse for verse or line for line, even. The Beasts were going syllable for syllable with the ease of the Harlem Globetrotter magic circle.
I mean, come on. You gotta love a cat who takes six seconds to say "chef boyar-deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee. So imagine my dismay when I finally got the album version on Licensed to Ill and heard all this intrusive drum machine. Man, I was so disappointed. They didn't trust us enough to just see the magic of the wordplay and the chemistry between the three. I would often make custom Ill records and reinstate the drumless version of the song in its place where it belongs.
Actually, 20 years later, in a freak occurrence, being the historical artifact nut I am, I purchased that very drum machine Rick Rubin used for four years — because I secretly loved it. With a one-two punch, Darryl, Joe and Jason fulfilled their self-proclamation of becoming kings. Run and D were of the people, people who spoke, thought, related and most importantly dressed like they did. Russell Simmons always stressed that his younger brother's group should be stripped down to its barest elements so that the people could relate to it.
As a result, their strongest presentations contained as little music as possible. All drums, vocals and turntable, and in case they wanted to change the face of history, they'd add a guitar line or two. But they wouldn't make the mistake that their Sugarhill brethren made before them: blending in with the rock elite for acceptance. Clearly, the "meet us halfway at the yard line" plea was not acceptable.
Run-DMC insisted that you had to accept them on their own terms. Proof of this demand working? Run tells the entire Madison Square Garden to hold one sneaker in the air, knowing a magic moment and millions were around the corner. Russell Simmons made certain that the heads of Adidas were in attendance to see over 30, people holding up their shell-toes. The eventual endorsement was without question.
This was hip-hop's tipping point.
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No longer just music to annoy your grandparents, hip-hop meant big, big dollars. The gates were open: shows in stadiums, albums going multi-platinum, endorsement deals, awards and accolades. This inch single was the Paul Revere announcement that hip-hop was going absolutely nowhere.
Okay, there is positively nothing I can say about "The Message" that hasn't been said. The world me included absolutely froze in its tracks the week it debuted on radio in June of ' Hip-hop was once known as party fodder, a fad. Being 11, I was as sheltered as sheltered could get. My cousin had to translate all the street terms and jail talk I had never heard before. I just had trouble figuring out why a young girl would need one to make it in the streets.
Even my father had to confess he liked it better than that "hippidy hoppidy" song. And when the last minute of the song came on, my dad saw fit that we should have "the talk. The rules of safety and survival — not with the streets, but with cops. You just gotta understand that the average black man walks around assuming that most people think he's guilty. So the need to make people feel at ease has been instilled in us at an early age. This is to ensure you do not get shot 'by accident.
I'm sorry, y'all. As I'm typing this, I'm shaking my head — because on one hand, it's so degrading to see these words and it's so emasculating to abide by them. Then I think about the night a few years ago when I got frisked on the hood of the car and then placed in a cop car while they searched for whatever it was they were looking for, and I kept praying they wouldn't figure out how to open the trunk, because there was no way in hell they'd believe I was the owner of a deluxe Scrabble game and a bunch of psychology books from Borders.
They told me there was high theft of mini-coops from the dealership I just happened to be parked at, unaware. I told them the irony was, I had pulled over to take a phone call since it was against the law to talk and drive. Of course, driving that type of car in Orange County left me wide open. It was Super Tuesday in , and I was campaigning before the Grammys. I just kept thinking, "Wow, I broke Dad's promise not to ever be a part of this cliche of a scene just like the last minute of 'The Message. I answered questions as best I could, which was working against me because my natural proper English could be seen as "uppity.
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Eventually I was let go when the rental service verified me as the renter. I drove back to my Beverly Hills hotel livid and angry and helpless and about to lose my head. It is like a jungle, still. Chancy and Charles, the bully twins from Addison Street, rolled with their cousin Reggie and terrorized all of us.
If you had all your Pacmen and was on a roll on the 10th keyboard, you gave your game up if they wanted it. I spent most of my childhood in the house listening to records, because to go outside was to risk neighborhood bullies.
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Once we became teens, it wasn't being bullied — it was being shot at that worried me. I was walking home from school and they were on the corner at Pine Street. It was too late to make a detour or act like I left something important at the library. I made myself scarce from year to year, so there was no real pattern or familiarity with me as far as they were concerned. I just wanted to breeze by unscathed, so that I didn't establish a rep that I could be easily got.
Or shot. Of course, dressing how I dressed made me an easy target of getting got. Every step I took got more intense: "Walk like you mean it. Then we were face to face: me and them. Charles started: "Yo!! You look like one of them. I dunno how I was supposed to respond to that. Do I say "Thanks? I had a heartbeat of a second, and without thinking, I said, "Oh, that's my favorite group.
That's my shit, that 'Buddy' shit!!! I can't quite call the time and date, but De La actually made it safe to be me in my neighborhood. So safe, I did more walking around my way in than I ever did in the 18 years that came before. Like that scene in The Wiz when Evilene dies and her minions' skin peels and they start singing, "Can you feel a brand new day?
But at five I was teased for my afro, and at 12 I was teased for rocking pleated Morris Day baggies from the thrift store. I was teased at 15 for cutting holes in my knees like my white friends did at school. Now that De La was in effect, loud colors and loud prints were the norm — and I actually got props! I couldn't believe it. I mean, De La themselves later told me they were in weekly fights knocking mofos out who wanted to test them.
And they were De La!
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I can't call what happened. I once was lost, but now I'm found. Was dweeb, but now I'm. My partner Black Thought and I were complete opposites. Me a sheltered band geek, him a streetwise kid from South Philly. But I knew what I liked, and no one was gonna convince me otherwise. I got familiar with N. I wanted to track the progress of Michael Jackson's Bad album, keeping tabs on it for the three-year duration that it maintained a position. Stream ad-free or Alphabet Insanity. Table of contents. Irish Goodbye Albums See All. Postcards from Kansas City. Irish Goodbye. Blood in the Water Digital EP.
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