Thursday, 16 June 2011

A one, two, a one, two

I find it hard to say I like hip hop these days – as people misunderstand and talk about this artist representing and that artist rockin da club. And all that is shit to me. Now I am not claiming that I was there when Grandmaster Flash played the bloc and Bambaataa brought peace to the streets and the clubs as gangs got down to the sounds of the [future] underground but there is a part of me that has witnessed the rise and rise [might touch the sky] of hip hop and all its associated parts.

I guess like any one of my age – our introduction to the art of sampling and scratching was formed as we watched Malcolm McClaren cutting back and forth, cutting back and forth on The Tube – claiming he’d stumbled across the Zulu Nation whilst riding the C train down to the Bronx. Or Herbie Hancock rockin it with robots and rhythm. Paul and I immediatedly set about cutting records back and forth, back and forth – creating squeals and scratches in upstairs rooms.

Licensed to Ill was duly purchased in the storm of media hype as the beastie boys brought their bad boy bonhomie to British shores. We all owned a copy - as Rick Rubin rocked the spot and the brats of Brooklyn [okay I know one of them is from Manhattan – but let it go for now] unleashed their call to arms as we all partied for the right to fight [or was that the other ones?]

And then somehow the trail went cold – well not cold but lukewarm. Even though Slow and Low was the tempo we wanted to go and Run DMC had been recorded on the Whistle Test – coz they were illin’ something kind of got in the way. All anoraks and fuzz guitars – instead of break beats and rhymes and bars. And the nascent hip hop scene was left to evolve with all its potential without me listening in. And what a scene it was. Each day these microphone fiends would be tearing out new joints and rocking da spot with the best of them - whilst we strummed Byrdsian odes to girls two years older than us. I should have been sporting a cap and gold chain – firming up my b –boy stance and not thinking about industrial romance with the girl from Common Lane.

But these things happen.

So odd purchases happened – a Public Enemy record here or a DMC track there - but the years from 1986 kind of drifted away – in tight canvas and Cuban heels.

And then a reawakening.

Before I left for London the sounds of computers and samples had begun to break into our independent haze. The beats were getting harder all through late 88. Not quite embraced yet but the radar was on. And then Lewisham - all pirate radio, hardcore refrains and well you know the score. De la Soul released an album that crossed over and over and over. I returned to Scunthorpe with a penchant for American Football team hats – Green Bay Packers if you ask and puffa jackets and Nike Trainers and the emerging hardcore techno scene had hit the Scunthorpe Baths Hall as Nik and Danny and Chris dropped breaks that ached. Danny passed on a tape – a hardcore delight of a mix. Three fingered bass lines and breaks.

I listened to that side. But Paul would turn it over.

On the b-side of the cassette was Paul’s Boutique. Freshly recorded from its release on vinyl – no track list just refreshing hip hop. Loaded up on the funk and the funny. MCA. Mike D and Ad-Rock had made a masterpiece and Paul wouldn’t let it go – he’d make you listen to it. High Plains Drifter or the Sound of Science – because things had changed – the beasties had come of age. There is a whole heap of writing about the recording of Paul’s Boutique – of the LA excursion and the basket ball courts and swimming pools – but this was the beasties taking control and mapping out what hip hop was – and is.

And from that moment you know - you don’t stop – you keep on till the break a day.

And then release after release refined the rhymes and the rhythm – there was a hip hop explosion in our house and it hasn’t stopped. It is sometimes hard to say you like hip hop these days but there’s some wonderful shit out there – Odd Futures anyone? But that tape and Paul’s insistence on playing the b-side and not letting it go that the Beasties had made an all time classic means that the rows and rows of records in my cupboard are peppered with beats and rhymes rather than just guitars and howls.

Hearing Paul’s Boutique was good.

And that’s why I like hip hop.

I should be listening to the beastie boys.