Raggamuffin Hip-Hop Mega Mix

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

I don’t think I have ever been more excited to share a mix. This one is truly epic and was nearly a decade in the making. Here’s how my co-curator and fellow raggamuffin hip-hop archaeologist Wayne Marshall put it.

Pace and I have been geeking out over these records since we met a decade ago, and we were scheming on a raggamuffin hip-hop megamix well before we even had an outlet for it. Pace’s collection goes deeeeep, especially when it comes to Boston rap rarities and party-break white labels, and of course my “dissertation archive” (as I like to call my CD and MP3 collection) helped to flesh things out.

Other than being far too modest about his side of the collaboration (“helped flesh things out”…indeed), I could not have said it better.

The combination of breakbeats and dancehall-inspired toasting that we capture here (as opposed to the related — and as yet unnamed — sub genre of rap vocals over dancehall inspired riddims) has always been a favorite of mine. I think I first became aware of this style while listening to “Rockers” on 88.9 WERS in the late 1980s. Or maybe it was actually Magnus who turned me on to it on Lecco’s Lemma, come to think of it. Perhaps the first track that really made it clear to me was The Jam (the Shabba Ranks / KRS-One collabo that we ironically do not include in this mix). I know I had registered the “reggae” sound in earlier BDP tracks like “The Bridge is Over” and “The P is Free”, but I don’t think those were the ones that really nailed it for me. Heck, perhaps it was the locally produced hit, Sorry Part 2, by Boston’s own Jr. Rodigan, that caught my attention with its mashup of Tracy Chapman, Soul-to-Soul and that disticntive ragamuffin vocal style that I would only later come to know as Jr. Rodigan’s signature sound.

But I digress. Whenever I first registered the power of this cross cultural concoction of gritty breaks and ragga vocals, it quickly became a passion and I began actively seeking out additional examples, especially local ones, and the earlier the better.

The quest for reggae influences in rap got really crazy when I met Wayne about a decade ago and realized he was panning the same musical streams with a much smaller mesh than I (and watched in amazement as he carefully traced the tributaries of the ubiquitous Zunga Zeng riddim). I was soon sending him micro titrations of reggae influences wherever I heard (and often imagined) them.

As I added this sub-genre to my regular record missions, I found that in the 1990s and early 2000s, these tracks were being overlooked even at even at digger temples like A1 Records in NY, let alone more regional record backwaters. I soon realized that there were both deals to be had in the reggae 12″ bins, and that versions of dancehall tunes sometimes contained precious accapellas and even, once and a while, the holy grail — a previously unknown gritty hip-hop remix. Once I discovered treasure troves like Massive B / Bobby Kondors and started realizing how well mid 90s raggamufin rap tracks held up on the dance floor over the years, I became completely hooked. Indeed, I am still finding golden era raggamuffin gems that have not seen nearly enough light and have included many of my favorites in this mix.

The craziest part of this mix for me is that despite clocking in at a hefty 94 minutes and 48 tracks, we basically only deal with the first decade of this sub genre (from roughly 1986-1994). As we say in the writeup (which is being hosted at the IASPM-US), we didn’t let cut off dates prevent us from developing themes or including some important outliers. And perhaps owing to the almost unfathomable depths of our combined crates, we still had to cut lots of great tracks (from the aforementioned Shabba/KRS collabo The Jam, to Tiger’s rugged Who Planned It which features Q-Tip, and many, many more).

In addition to being happy to finally get this mix out, I am especially excited that we have managed to release it along with two written pieces that provide some important context and may reach some new audiences. The first is a piece by Wayne for Cluster Mag’s special issue on parties that provides “a theorization and historicization of hip-hop and reggae as quintessential party musics.”

>> Wayne Marshall, “When Reggae Roamed the Earth.” Cluster Mag, Issue 4, Oct 2013.

The second co-authored (but definitely Wayne-led) piece has been published at the blog of IASPM-US, which as Wayne puts it: “issued an admirable “call for mixtapes” earlier this year” We could not resist the synergy and opportunity to share this mix — and the idea of “mix-as-scholarship” — with a more academic audience.

>> Wayne Marshall & Pacey Foster, “Hearing Raggamuffin Hip-hop: Musical Records as Historical Record.” IASPM-US / Ethnomusicology Review, Oct 2013.

Here’s the tracklist and the permanent download link for those who want to follow along. I hope you enjoy it, and as Fred would say, yabba dabba doo.

Raggamuffin_Hip-Hop_Megamix_Cover


Pace and Wayne’s Raggamuffin Hip-Hop Megamix Vol 1.

Tracklist

Pace’s 1st mini-set:

Asher D and Daddy Freddy, “Ragamuffin Rub-A-Dub-Apella” (1987)

UTFO, “Pick up the Pace” (1985)

Asher D and Daddy Freddy, “Ragamuffin Hip-Hop” (1987)

Soul Dimension, “Trash and Ready” (1987)

Asher D, “Asher’s Revenge” (1988)

Asher D and Daddy Freddy, “Brutality” (1988)

Boogie Down Productions (BDP), “The Bridge Is Over” (1987)

Wayne’s 1st mini-set:

BDP, “The Bridge Is Over” (1987)

Shinehead, “Know How Fe Chant” (1988)

Just-Ice ft. KRS-One, “Moshitup” (1988)

JVC Force, “Puppy Love” (1988)

Masters of Ceremony, “Sexy” (1988)

Just-Ice, “Lyric Licking” (1988)

Masters of Ceremony, “Master Move” (1988)

Shinehead, “Gimme No Crack” (1988)

BDP, “The Bridge Is Over” (1987)

Pace’s 2nd mini-set:

BDP, “The Bridge Is Over” (1987)

Don Baron, “Young Gifted and Black” (1988)

Longsy D & Cut Master M.C. “Hip-Hop Reggae” (1987)

Sonya Alleye ft. Junior Rodigan, “Sorry Part 2″ (1989)

Prento Kid, “Killer” (1997)

Motion w/ Ruffa “Gangsta” (1995)

Waynie Ranks, “Send Me” (1992?)

Wayne’s 2nd mini-set:

Poor Righteous Teachers, “I’m Comin Again” (1991)

Poor Righteous Teachers, “Easy Star” (1991)

Poor Righteous Teachers, “Shakiyla” (1991)

Fu-Schnickens, “Ring the Alarm” (1991)

Fu-Schnickens, “Generals” (1991)

Poor Righteous Teachers, “Strictly Mashion” (1991)

Fu-Schnickens, “Bebo” (1991)

Daddy Freddy, “Raggamuffin Soldier” (1992)

Pace’s 3rd mini-set:

Unknown, “Sound Bwoys Revenge” (199?)

Cutty Ranks, “Armed and Deadly” (1996)

Lady Saw, “No Long Talking” (1996)

DJ Excel, “Off the Hook” (199?)

Kenny Dope, “Axxis” (1992)

The Filler, “Rockin Mix” (199?)

Kenny Dope, “Supa” (1991)

Jamalski, “Let’s Do It In The Dancehall (TNT Hip Hop Mix)” (1990)

Roxanne Shanté, “Dance To This (Dance To Cee’s Zunga Zunga Mix)” (1992)

Jamalski, “A Piece Of Reality (Your Name Here Mix)” (1992)

Wayne’s 3rd mini-set:

Raw Fusion, “Hip Hip/Stylee Expression” (1991)

Dr. Dre, “Let Me Ride” (1992)

Dr. Dre, “Lil Ghetto Boy” (1992)

Dr. Dre, “The Day the Niggaz Took Over” (1992)

Daddy Freddy, “Jah Jah Gives Me Vibes” (1992)

Jamal-Ski, “Jah Jah Vibes” (1993)

Jamal-Ski, “Texas Rumpus” (1993)

Born Jamericans, “Instant Death Interlude” (1994)

Jamal-Ski, “African Border (Skeffington Mix)” (1993)

Slick Rick, “A Love That’s True, Part 2″ (1994)

It comes from Brockton!

While preparing for a talk this week on Boston Hip-Hop history, I stumbled on a youtube video of kids in Brockton, MA breakdancing in the 1980s. I think I got there while looking for info about Ronnie Ruff, a dope Brockton DJ/Producer/MC from way back.

I could not resist making a little re-edit of the original video replacing the CVS-inserted (yet strangely beautiful) audio with the Ronnie Ruff track, “It Comes From Boston“. Now I loved the original mind you and need to give props to Dennis, all his Brockton (East Side) breakdancing friends and especially his mom, who apparently was handy with the Super 8 (thanks MOM!). But adding the Ronnie Ruff track just seemed too perfect. Apparently, the gods of Hip-Hop agreed. Notice the reference to “frosting” right as the cake comes out? That was complete luck. I just dropped the audio in and it lined right up. I must be doing something right.

Ronnie Ruff

There are so many things I love about this video. Having grown up in Boston in the 1980s, I just love how it looks. Like home.

I also love how it transitions from hanging out with dad in the yard, to a quick dinner shot (mom was probably too busy making, serving and cleaning it up to run much tape) and then right to the impromptu breakdance parties in the street and driveway. Cardboard/linoleum + boombox + dope tapes (probably off the radio…maybe Lecco’s Lemma?) + friends = mini-kid block party. In this sense, the emergence of Hip-Hop was so very local and fractal…every neighborhood had at least one kid who could rhyme, dance, DJ or at least had some dope tapes and a boombox. Some neighborhoods had lots. The little block parties that happened all over sometimes got much, much bigger. Then it went global and the rest is history. But back then, before the big money got into it, it was more about your friends, their moves and who had the better boombox.

I especially love that the length of the video allowed for the shoutouts at the end and find it funny that we don’t get one for his own town…Brockton! (I have secretly considered doing a re-edit of the track to replace all the refs to “Boston” with “Brockton”. If someone posts a good “Brockton” drop, I am on it).

Another amazing aspect of the video (that only became clear after talking to Dennis this morning) is the way Hip-Hop attracted kids like a tractor beam and then mixed them together. When I watched the original video, I immediately noticed the older dudes who make a cameo appearance early on and then disappear. Apparently, these guys were from East LA and were out visiting one of the neighbors and came over when they heard the music and joined in. They were probably in their early 20s whereas the rest of the kids were early teens from Brockton, MA. Hip-Hop apparently bridged the significant differences between them. It just proves that one upon a time, kids loved Hip-Hop enough to forget their differences for a minute and just dance. Some of them still do.

Peace Boston

Pace

DJ Red Alert Tape

DJredalertNYmix

Tonight I will have the honor of being in the studio at WMBR in Cambridge at the Musenomix show for an interview with hip-hop legend Kool DJ Red Alert!! Clearly the man needs no introduction. Tonight, Dana and the dudes at Musenomix will celebrating his industry-defining career from 10PM – 12AM. From an early start as one of Afrika Bambaata’s DJs with cousin Jazzy Jay, to his 11 year run on NYC’s Kiss FM and much much more, this man has literally been there since the start and helped define the music that defined a generation. A true hip-hop legend.

For me, the night has a special personal significance as well. Although I never got to hear Red Alert live on KISS back in the day, my friend Rob used to tape the show regularly and bring these little time capsules of hip-hop culture back out to Indiana with him where we went to college together. Few memories are as sweet as driving all blazed up with Rob through the winding roads of Richmond Indiana late on a warm spring night rockin’ Red Alert’s show. That was back in 1988 or so.

Somehow, I wound up with one of these tapes and it remained a critical touchstone for me long before I ever picked up two 1200 and crappy Gemini mixer to begin my training. I used to listen to that tape and try to imagine the techniques the DJ’s were using cut, mix and strobe those records. Their ability to remix my favorite songs live in real time, literally made me want to become a DJ, which I eventually did.

Back in the late 1980s, I had yet to see any of those things done live and didn’t know any turntablists personally. So, like many aspiring DJs who came up before the proliferation of internet lessons, I tried to learn from the tapes and records I heard, imagining the techniques and slowly training my hands to do what I heard as best I could. In many ways, this tape has served as a goalpost for my own evolution as a DJ over the years. I have yet to make a mix even half as as good.

It remains a prized piece of my audio collection and a fond memory of my long departed best friend, Rob. Here are the first two parts for you. Headed off to the studio now to hear from a legend!

Red Alert Pt.1

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Red Alert Pt.1

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Massachusetts Graffiti History Vol. 1: MAST and SPRAY

MAST_Freight_Train_Graffiti_p102

To celebrate the recent release of the book The History of American Graffiti by local author Caleb Neelon and co-author Roger Gastman, I thought it would be good to share some additional detail on a piece of Massachusetts’s graffiti history that did not make made it into his book. Though I am still waiting for my copy, I did skim the chapter in the bookstore and was blown away by the amount of history they cover. Neelon and Gastman clearly did an incredible job and I offer this as a friendly addition, both to my own chapter and to his, not as any kind of criticism. As I learned when writing my own version of our local history, there is no way to get it all the first time. That’s why we need to work together to get it straight. [Ed note: Caleb emailed this AM and explained that he was the one who connected Freight Train Graf folks with MAST and that both he and Spray WERE in his chapter on Mass. A real honor given how much he had to include. Apparently, its just me that has trouble getting it right out of the gate and he certainly needs no help from me! LOL and sorry to doubt you from a mere skim, Caleb!]

Back in the 1980s, a Lowell MC/DJ/Dancer/Writer by the name of MAST/Def Rock was rockin’ the Shaughnessy Projects and tearing up the train yards. Back in the early days, there was much less specialization in hip-hop than there is today. Def is a classic example of what I call a 4 elements b-boy. In other words, he could dance, rhyme, rock the decks and get UP…all at the same time. Dudes like him are rare (non-existent?) among the up and comers who seem to focus on one, or at most two, main skills. Like all fields, it seems hip-hop has undergone a degree of specialization as it has evolved. (Correct me if I am wrong about this and there are more young 4 elements b-boys/girls out there than I am aware of).

Back in the day, there seemed to be many more who could do it all. He was (and still is) one of those dudes. As such, he deserves our undying respect as a founding father of the art out here. And like many of the best from Mass, Mast didn’t get the credit he deserved. Luckily, he is still at it and still dropping heat (focusing on the music now rather than the less legal forms of the practice). Go check out his shows up at the Stone Church (recently rocked with Just Ice and Lyrical) and get his latest release Progress/Regress! Its free up on Archive.org fergawdsakes people (but you should really send him a check anyway for helping to create hip-hop for you).

Not only was he the mastermind behind monstamind/megabug and the engineer/DJ behind Excalibur’s 1997 Butta Messenga/Les Miserables (with a young MC Lyrical on the mic), he was also a well known freight train graffiti artist writing as MAST. Living near (and eventually in) the Lowell freight train yards, his early train pieces got him enough recognition to appear in the 2006 book Freight Train Graffiti. The picture above is MAST and his partner SPRAY (rip 1994) rockin’ red jackets in their “iron playground”. Note that like many things Massachusetts hip-hop, the title suggests a low status position in “eleswhere USA”. Come on man, it was right up in Lowell. Elsewhere my ass. Dude was all NATION – besting the hardest of the early MBTA bombers in geographic reach at least.

Freight Train Graffit Cover

The book quotes him as follows:

“My house was directly across the street from the biggest freight yard in Lowell. I had anger against the freights because those things woke me up in the middle of the night. I could step out of my house and there I was in my iron playground. I knew every nook and cranny of the freight yard; it was packed tight with trains. You couldn’t even take flicks of most of them because they were so close. The trains would pull out before you could see it too. We had three cabooses we used to hang out in. We brought turntables down and turned it into a writers bench. We had a power supply for the turntables — plugged into the weigh station for the trains. We actually did live in the freights: For a very long time, SPRAY and I were both homeless. We had these three cabooses that we painted, bombed and partied in and brought girls back to and drank wine in. During the cold winter, we stayed inside the engine because they kept it on all night. Graffiti was a big movement; Lowell was crushed out because we wanted it to look like New York.”

Can you even begin to understand having that kind of history in this hip-hop life?! Respect to all the Massachusetts originators out there and peace to my man Def. Give him respect due. Still wondering…go check the Battle Yell video! Underground hip-hop like it always was meant to be. RAWWW!

peace

pace

Def Rock at Beat Research

Thanks to everyone who showed up on Monday for the Beat Research Rep Da Bean Night. Amazing to hang with 7L, Karma, Lyrical, Nomadik, Polecat/Brick Casey, Def Rock and the Megabug crew and many others while we listened to unreleased Lecco’s Lemma tapes, TDS Mob, T-Max and so much other incredible Boston hip-hop! We all agreed we need to do it more often.

We ended the night with a surprise appearance by Def Rock and Dr. Dooriddle (of Megabug/Monstamind fame) and DJ Richie Gambles on the decks. Check them out rockin’ through a hole in the wall using the random breakbeat records I happened to bring along.

Peace to the BEANTOWN MASSIVE!

Hip-hop in the hub

Its finally here. The day the book drops. I am heading over to Beat Research soon to celebrate with the Beantown massive and wanted to put up the article before I do.

There is so much to say about this piece of work that I can’t even really begin. It took longer and was harder than I ever could have imagined. But it was also the highest honor to be asked to write the first real academic piece on Boston’s hip-hop history. What would you say? Its a complicated tale to say the least. Well, this is what I came up with.

A few words of introduction are clearly in order. First, thanks to everyone who opened their lives, collections and memories to me. I could not have done it without you. Second, I know there are certainly going to be some errors, omissions, thoughts about other angles to highlight, etc. I welcome your suggestions (post them up here) and hope I can update this in a second version, later works, etc. This is certainly a first pass at a lifelong project. Finally, you may notice that the article leaves a lot of the recent history (and people) out. That’s not because I see it as less important, interesting, etc. Just that I had a chance here to tell some tales that have not been told, reach some people that are harder to reach, and dig a little deeper into the past. I also wanted to celebrate a scene that I have loved and been around (but not quite in) for my whole life. So, that’s what I did.

There are lots of things I would do differently if I could. But most of it, I would do the same way again. Visiting Rusty and Spice at Touch. The trip to Maine to see/hear the Lecco’s Lemma archives and talk to Magnus my old friend. Checking in with Skippy at his last remaining store and asking him about his first memories. Reconnecting the electro sounds coming out of Boston in the early 1980s to the birth of hip-hop. A lot. Anyway. I hope you enjoy reading it half as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Here it is with respect to all of you who lived it the first time around.

Hip-Hop in the Hub: How Boston Rap Remained Underground

For those of you who can afford the $165 price tag (nah, I don’t get any) its also available in the massive comp Hip Hop In America: A Regional Guide.

Thanks of course to Mickey for all the hard work putting out this massive compendium and inviting me to be part of it.