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  ...presents...                 Hip-Hop Primer
                                                         by Larry Birnbaum
                                                        and Bill Adler

                      >>> a cDc publication.......1991 <<<
                        -cDc- CULT OF THE DEAD COW -cDc-

"Hip-Hop-a Schoolboy's Primer" by Larry Birnbaum

          "I knew what it was because I was going to the technical school for

          electronics.  I knew that inside the unit was a single-pole,

          double-throw switch, meaning that when it's in the center it's off.

          When it's to the left you're listening to the left turntable and when

          it's to the right you're listening to the right turntable.  I had to

          go to the raw parts shop downtown to find me a single-pole double-

          double-throw switch, some crazy glue to glue this part to my mixer,

          an external amplifier and a headphone.  What I did when I had all

          this soldered together, I jumped for joy-I've got it, I've got it,

          I've got it!"

-Grandmaster Flash, quoted from THE RAP ATTACK by David Toop (South End Press,
Boston, 1984)

     Before hip-hop there was disco, and disco was the product of technology.
Disco was the steam hammer that drove John Henry down: it never missed a
note or dropped a beat, never showed up late, never drank too much, and-once
the equipment was paid for-worked dirt cheap.  It was a club owner's dream, a
musician's nightmare.

     Rhythm-and-blues players were hardest hit.  It was their music, after all,
that had been discofied, but now only a relative handful were required for
studio sessions, and even these few had become mere adjuncts to the recording
process, laying their tracks down separately, one at a time, so that only the
producer knew the configuration of the final product.

     But disco was not exclusively a producers' medium.  Clubs could compete on
the basis of which had the plushest decor, the gaudiest light show, the most
powerful speakers, but they all had access to the same records.  In the long
run, the hard-core dance crowd would follow whoever played the strongest cuts
in the tightest sequence with the smoothest transitions.  The disc jockey
became an artist.

     DJs learned to control the dance floor by manipulating their twin
turntables.  As far back as the early '70s, when disco was still largely an
underground phenomenon, a Jamaican-born Bronx street spinner named Kool DJ Herc
discovered that he could extend the instrumental breaks on disco records-
usually Latin-flavored percussion jams-by alternating between two copies of the
same disc.  One of Herc's listeners, the budding Grandmaster Flash, was
particularly impressed, but he noticed that Herc's segues were awkward, since
he cued the records visually, dropping the needle into a likely looking groove
and hoping it would pick up where the last groove left off.  That's when the
Grandmaster had his flash: with a simple toggle switch and a pair of headphones
-the kind professional DJs already used-he could break as no one had broken

     Black club and radio DJs had often talked over the records they played (in
Jamaica the practice was called "toasting"), but break DJs were just too busy. 
Not only did they transform 20-second breaks into 20-minute cadenzas, but they
learned to intercut between different records, manually sampling a fanfare,
glissando, or shouted phrase for use as a percussive riff.  The master of
ceremonies, who at first simply introduced the DJ, became more and more
prominent-chanting the DJ's praises, putting down his rivals, exhorting the
dancers to greater exertions.  Soon these rhyming, jiving routines evolved into
full-fledged raps, and MCs began chanting their own praises.

     Pioneering South Bronx DJs like Afrika Bambaata broadened hip-hop's
horizons by spinning everything from Bob James to Kraftwerk to the Monkees-
anything with a good break.  MCs began to rap continuously, forming "crews"
of three or four to spell one another.  The performances were often taped, and
the resulting cassettes sold on the street.  In order to safeguard their
sources, DJs soaked off or taped over the labels of their records; sometimes
they didn't know what they were playing themselves.

     The disco boom was fading fast by the time rap finally hit wax in 1979.
The first rap record was "King Tim III (Personality Jock)" by the Fatback
Band, but it was "Rapper's Delight" by the Sugarhill Gang that put rap over
the top.  Although it created an international sensation, "Rapper's Delight"
was not real hip-hop.  Sugarhill Records proprietor Sylvia Robinson, a
veteran R&B performer and producer, had been turned on to rap by her children;
she recruited the Sugarhill Gang from among their friends, then used her
regular studio band-including bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Keith
LeBlanc [now in Tackhead]-to copy the instrumental backing of Chic's disco hit
"Good Times."  The Gang's rhymes were mostly borrowed from established Bronx
crews, and the rhythm track was pure, unadulterated Chic-no breaks, no cuts, no

     Bobby Robinson (no relation to Sylvia), whose career as a Harlem R&B
producer dated back to doo wop days, quickly jumped on the bandwagon with 12"
discs by the Treacherous Three and the Funky Four Plus One on his Enjoy label. 
These followed the "Rapper's Delight" formula, with extended raps over a
Chic-style beat laid down by a studio band-in this case, Pumpkin and Friends. 
The MCs boasted of their verbal prowess, but the sexual rodomontade that made
"Rapper's Delight" so controversial was kept to a minimum.  Enjoy also signed
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, but Flash bolted to Sugarhill, where he
recorded "The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel,"
capturing the collaging techniques of hip-hop on vinyl at last.  Flash also
demonstrated the latest turntable trick-scratching, in which the DJ produced
sharp rhythmic accents by manually jerking a record back and forth with the
needle in the groove.

     Meanwhile new rap groups, and independent labels to record them, were
springing up like weeds.  The emphasis was now on rapping rather than breaking,
and many of the raps were virtually interchangeable, combining sexual
braggadocio and empty bombast in roughly equal proportions.  Kurtis Blow's
nonchalant humor made "The Breaks" an exception, and his manager Russel
Simmons' marketing savvy helped make it a hit, but despite its title it was yet
another example of ersatz hip-hop, with Blow rapping over a studio band track.

     Authentic South Bronx hip-hop finally broke through in a big way in 1982
with Tommy Boy Records' release of "Planet Rock" by Afrika Bambaata and the
Soul Sonic Force.  "Bam" was the most eclectic and progressive of the
first-generation DJs, and his borrowings from European techno-pop caught the
ear of the white downtown set; together with graffiti and break dancing,
hip-hop was suddenly chic.  Bambaata also led the way in the use of
electronics, employing a drum synthesizer, or beat box, as well as sequencers
and samplers.  A host of imitators followed in his wake, and the hip-hop scene
took on the ambiance of a giant video arcade.

     On the heels of Bambaata's "Planet Rock," Grandmaster Flash and the
Furious Five recorded their masterpiece, "The Message," in a very different
style.  On "Planet Rock" the emphasis was on interlocking, overlapping
rhythms, with the human voice featured essentially as just another percussion
instrument; on "The Message," as its name implied, the word was all.  Previous
rappers had improvised or at least pretended to, but MC Melle Mel's eerie,
streetwise poetry-"Don't push me 'cause I'm close to the edge"-was obviously
written and polished to a high gloss.  The haunting, electronically enhanced
background remained just that-background; Grandmaster Flash himself had little
to do with the production and soon left the group.

     Although hip-hop chic evaporated almost overnight, the music kept right on
coming.  But its epicenter shifted from the Bronx to Queens as new rappers like
Run-DMC, the Fat Boys, and LL Cool J came to the fore.  Run-DMC added heavy
metal to hip-hop's arsenal of backing riffs and scored a Top 10 hit with a
remake of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way," while the Fat Boys' Darren Robinson
became the Human Beat box, reproducing electronic effects with his mouth.  When
LL Cool J, the first artist signed to Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin's Def Jam
Records, confirmed the commercial viability of hip-hop with his chart-topping
album, RADIO, major labels sat up and took notice.

     As the hip-hop sound proliferated, both rhymes and beats became more
diverse and creative.  From putting each other down, rappers graduated to
putting down women and, ultimately, themselves.  But the rampant misogyny of
hip-hop-a reflection of the ghetto culture that spawned it-did not go
unchallenged.  UTFO's "Roxanne, Roxanne," in which the rapper disses, or
disparages, a girl who spurned his advances, provoked more than a dozen women's
answer raps.  Similarly Doug E. Fresh's "The Show" drew a tart rejoinder from a
female duo known as Super Nature, who later resurfaced as Salt-N-Pepa.

Helped along by such films as WILDSTYLE, BEAT STREET, and KRUSH GROOVE, and by
the international success of the Beastie Boys, an obnoxious trio of white
imitators, hip-hop spread across the country and overseas, with performers like
Philadelphia's menacing Schooly D, Los Angeles' suave Ice-T, and England's
cheeky Derek B each contributing a distinctive regional twist.  Rap was taken
up by comedians, football players, and Madison Avenue ad-men who used it to
sell everything from hamburgers to running shoes.  Hip-hop's collaging concept
was adapted by such new music figures as Christian Marclay and Nicolas Collins,
who brought a touch of artistic respectability to what had been an outlaw

     Despite resistance from radio stations and record companies, hip-hop has
established a firm foothold on the black music market.  Today the hip-hop
scene is more vibrant than ever: rap themes run the gamut from Dana Dane's
self-deprecating humor to Public Enemy's militant black nationalism, while
digitally sampled rhythm tracks out-break the fastest turntable mixes.  With
the release of such multi-volume series as Paul Winley's SUPER DISCO BREAKS
and Lenny Roberts' ULTIMATE BREAKS AND BEATS, the mixmaster's original source
material is no longer secret; anybody with a pair of turntables, a cassette
recorder, and a big mouth can now produce his or her own demo tapes.

     Thanks to digital pioneers Erik B. and Rakim, the hottest sound in
contemporary hip-hop is James Brown, whose records are being appropriated
almost whole, but Philadelphia groups like the Commodores and O'Jays are
also back in fashion, and anything from Thin Lizzy to Irving Berlin to
Gustav Holst is grist fro the sampler.  Women rappers have achieved
unprecedented popularity, with tough, clever raps by Salt-N-Pepa, Roxanne
Shante (the original "Roxanne" respondent), and MC Lyte riding high on the
charts.  This may be hip-hop's golden age, though according to Def Jam's
Faith Newman, "People are still unwilling to view this as a viable art
form."  But art form it is, and at least for the time being, it's here to stay.
As Newman puts it: "Until now everybody was always saying it was gonna die out,
but it's managed to just grow and change and innovate.  And considering the
current state of pop and R&B music, it's the only innovative popular music out
there right now."

"The History" by Bill Adler from _Def Jam Classics Vol. 1_

     The history of rock 'n' roll is as much the history of the great
independent record labels as it is of the great rockers themselves.  Think of
Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Fasts Domino, James Brown, Little Richard, Stevie
Wonder, Otis Redding, the Clovers, the Drifters, Run-D.M.C. and dozens of other
geniuses: the world might never have been exposed to their music if it hadn't
been for the crapshoot proprietors of Sun, Chess, Imperial, King, Specialty,
Motown, Stax, Atlantic and Profile.

     Likewise, the chances are very slim indeed that the talents of such
remarkable figures as L.L. Cool J, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and Oran
"Juice" Jones would ever have seen the light of day if it hadn't been for the
daring and commitment of Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin as embodied in their
brainchild, Def Jam Recordings.  Indeed, it can be safely argued that Def Jam
-in league with Columbia Records since the fall of 1985-has changed the face of
rock 'n' roll in the eighties.

     Russ and Rick met for the first time in the spring of 1984 at a
trend-setting nightclub in lower Manhattan called Danceteria, one of the few
places in the city where uptown b-boys and downtown rockers mingled
comfortably.  At the time, Russell was the co-producer (with Larry Smith) of
Run-D.M.C., and the manager (as the founder and president of Rush Productions)
of Run-D.M.C., Whodini, Kurtis Blow, Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, Jimmy Spicer,
Spyder D and Sparky D.  A native of Hollis, Queens, Russ had been involved with
these rappers as a concert promoter, record promoter and manager since 1977,
when he was a sophomore sociology major at the City College of New York... a
full two years before the first rap records even came into existence.

     Rick had grown up in the racially-mixed community of Long Beach, Long
Island as a fan of hardcore (Black Flag and X), heavy metal and rap.  "If the
white kids had liked hardcore, I would never have gotten involved in rap
music," he has recalled.  "But the fact that new music is stifled, instead of
embraced, by white teens, is what forced me to like rap.  The white kids in
my school liked the Stones, Sabbath, The Who or Zeppelin-groups that were
either dead or might as well have been.  The black kids in my school were
always waiting for the new rap record to come out.  There was a scene building
up in rap, but not in hardcore."

     It was his affection and admiration for the records of Run-D.M.C. that
inspired Rick to produce "It's Yours" by T. LaRock and Jazzy Jay.  He was a
21-year-old student of film and video at New York University at the time, with
no experience at all as a producer.  But he went ahead anyway, reasoning,
"There is no real way to learn how to produce; you just have to do it.  Jazzy
Jay and T. LaRock didn't come to me; I went to them.  I knew they had never
made a record before and wanted to.  I thought I knew how to do it, and did."

     Russell agreed.  "I couldn't believe it," he remembers of their first
meeting.  "Rick liked all the same records I did-and they weren't all selling
either.  He understood the music better than most of the people making it."

     It turned out the two shared a love for the same basic sound, the sound
of a loud rhyme against a hard beat.  Or, as Rick has put it: "Russell liked
beat-oriented material derived from R&B, like Al Green and James Brown, and I
liked beat-oriented material based in rock, like AC/DC and Aerosmith.  In both
cases, it was dance music that was a reaction against boring disco."

     Rick and Russ got together at the Rush Productions office at 26th Street
and Broadway in Manhattan and immediately started conspiring.  "I never got
paid on the T. LaRock record, and Russ told me a lot of hard stories about all
the records that he never got paid for.  So I knew that if both of us were to
continue to make records, then we'd have to do it ourselves," Rick recalled. 
"That way we could promote our groups the way we wanted to, and use the money
we made to make them bigger-which labels that are only interested in fast money
won't do."

     It was almost no sooner said than done.  Russ and Rick each contributed
$4000.  They then hooked up a manufacturing and distribution system, and by
November of 1984 they were rolling.  A defiant Russell put the music industry
on notice in a BILLBOARD interview around that time: "The purpose of this
company is to educate people as to the value of real street music by putting
out records that nobody in the business would distribute but us."

     Russell knew what the majors didn't: that there was already a large
audience for this music.  A kid like L.L. Cool J, for example, had not only
grown up with rap, he could scarcely remember a time when it didn't exist.
He'd been rapping since he was nine years old, and making tapes in the basement
of his grandmother's house in St. Albans, Queens, from the time he was twelve. 
One of those tapes reached Rick Rubin, who immediately recognized the potential
in the 16-year-old.  The record they made together, "I Need a Beat," was Def
Jam's first.  Released in November of 1984, it had cost $700 to produce and
went on to sell over 100,000 copies.

     A month later Def Jam released "Rock Hard/The Party's Getting Rough/
Beastie Groove," by the Beastie Boys.  Three young white kids, the Beasties had
started out in hardcore bands as junior highschoolers in 1979.  They released
several records in that style, but found themselves-as native New Yorkers-
turning increasingly to rap.  Their first experiment with it, released in
August of 1983 on Rat Cage Records, was called "Cookie Puss."  Formally, it is
a jokey kind of rap record in which a young b-boy makes prank phone calls to a
real-life ice cream parlor in an attempt to talk to Cookie Puss, which he
pretends to think is a person and not an ice cream cake.  The Beasties
discovered that they couldn't easily reproduce "Cookie Puss" in concert, so in
October of 1983 they added Rick "DJ Double R" Rubin to the lineup to scratch up
the record onstage.  By the summer of 1984 the Beasties' show consisted of
nothing but rap.

     Def Jam went on to release of total of seven singles in slightly less
than a year.  In September of 1985 the company aligned itself with Columbia
Records, the largest record company in the world.  Russell was 27.  Rick was

     In the three years since, Def Jam has seen L.L.'s first album, RADIO,
"go platinum" (for sales of over one million copies in the U.S.), and his
second, BIGGER AND DEFFER, go double platinum.  The Beasties' LICENSED TO
ILL, released in November of 1986, quickly established itself as the
fastest-selling debut album in the history of Columbia Records, and has gone
on to sell nearly four million copies.  Oran "Juice" Jones, a former teen
jewel thief from Harlem, scored a Top-10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic
with a sweetly menacing tale of infidelity and revenge entitled "The Rain."
Public Enemy, who began by styling themselves as "the Black Panthers of rap,"
released YO, BUM RUSH THE SHOW! early in 1987... and ten months later found
it chosen the No. 1 Album Of The Year by England's NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS.
earned them a popular following to equal the critical respect they commanded,
as it quickly leapt in to the No. 1 spot on BILLBOARD's Top Black Albums

     What distinguishes Def Jam as it enters its fifth year of life-what
keeps it on the cutting edge-is the operating philosophy of the label's
founders.  "The difference between our record company and everybody else's is
that we do what we like," says Russell.  "We're not trying ot push anything
on anybody: 'It's got a feeling.  It's good.  I like it.  It's probably gonna

     "And that's how we make all our records."

  _   _   ____________________________________________________________________
/((___))\|Demon Roach Undrgrnd.806/794-4362|NIHILISM..............517/546-0585|
 [ x x ] |Paisley Pasture......916/673-8412|Ripco II..............312/528-5020|
  \   /  |Tequila Willy's GSC..209/526-3194|The Works.............617/861-8976|
  (' ')  |Lunatic Labs.........213/655-0691|Condemned Reality.....618/397-7702|
   (U)   |====================================================================|
  .ooM   |1991 cDc communications by Birnbaum and Adler          07/20/91-#179|
\_______/|All Rights Pissed Away.                            FIVE YEARS of cDc|