Category Archives: Rappin’ about Rappin’

A review of various articles in media

The ’87 Sound : “Paid In Full” by Eric B & Rakim

 

 

Eric B & Rakim’s “Paid in Full” album was at the center of musical change in 1987. The musical, densely metaphorical, Black consciousness allusion-filled rhymes of Rakim, along with the rough and ready scratches of Eric B (and Rakim himself we would find out later), combined with the selective and sparse sampling of producer Marley Marl began to set the Hip Hop world on its side in 1986 with the singles “My Melody”, and “Eric B is President.” From almost the very beginning, Rakim’s precise rhymes rapped in his powerful, calm, but razor-edged baritone would introduce a new concept for rappers, the concept of “Flow”, which is rapping in a musical cadence that accentuates the rhythm and melody of the beat. The sound of Rakim’s voice and the peppy, Funky breakbeats that the combination of Eric B, Marley Marl, and Rakim himself chose for their music would also have far-reaching effects on music outside of the world of Hip-Hop, particularly in the world of dance music. In the very same year M/A/R/S would sample Rakim’s verse from the hit, “I Know You Got Soul” for their “Pump Up the Volume.” And the samples they used for this song, “Paid in Full”, would soon become the basis of dance hits such as “Back to Life” by Soul II Soul and “Girl You Know It’s True” by Milli Vanilli. “Paid in Full” itself is a song that has always captivated me since I first heard it on my brother’s cassette tapes in ’87. Even as far back as that time, my basketball playing brother Herman introduced Rakim as “the Jordan of rap”, and that was before Jordan had won a championship! “Paid in Full” consists of one solitary rap verse over a funky, deadly serious rhythmic groove.

“Paid in Full” begins with a conversation between Eric B and Rakim, shouting out their record label and management team. Rakim tells Eric B he’s “trying to do the knowledge” so he can get “Paid in Full.” The phrase “do the knowledge” comes from the 5% Nation of God’s and Earth’s, an offshoot of the Nation of Islam that taught lessons that were to be recited from memory. It’s just another example of Rakim’s influence, as in the coming years, mastery of Hip Hop lyricism would also include the ability to use the esoteric languages of the Five Percenters as a means of both educating the audience while also taking Hip Hop braggadocio to a new, spiritually based level. This monologue takes place over the foundation of the track, a vicious drum break sample from The Soul Searcher’s “Ashley’s Roadclip”, a pre “Bustin Loose” mid ’70s hit for the Godfather of Go Go, Chuck Brown. “Ashleys Roadclip” is one of those classic Hip Hop breakbeats, and it has a unique sound, a strong kick and snare drum combo given flavor by the way the drummer opens the hi hats toward the end of the bar with a little bit of percussion sprinkled in and topped off by an insistent tambourine. It also has a high amount of reverb on the track. Before the rhyme starts, they kick the bass line in, which is a subsonic version of Dennis Edwards & Siedah Garrett’s “Don’t Look Any Further.” It has always fascinated me that they would use such a recent R&B song for a sample, but Rakim has said that was a song he and many other M.C’s always dug rhyming over in the park jams. And its understandable, as “Don’t Look Any Further” has a very unique for its time, deep dub Reggae style bassline. And then, when Rakim begins his rap verse, a flute spins melodies in the background. All of this signified an extreme street level, Ghetto yet global exoticism the first time I heard it, which would only be intensified by Ofra Hazra’s singing on the remix version.

Rakim mentioned that the title of “Don’t Look Any Further” also inspired the rhyme for “Paid in Full”, which was about a person trying to reform from a life of crime to find a legitimate job. He begins his rap with one of the most iconic lines in rap, “Thinkin of a master plan/this ain’t nothin but sweat/inside my hand.” He goes on to rap about leaving his house to look for work. He says he “use to be a stick-up kid” robbing people for a living, “But now I’ve learned to earn/cause I’m righteous.” At the same time that he goes to look for jobs, in the end, rapping is what will provide for him.

The British group Coldcut were commissioned to do the remix and the job they did is legendary and often heard as much as the original version. Coldcut interspersed cuts from James Brown’s “Hot Pants”, samples from other Rakim songs, and most crucially, Ofra Hazra singing her 1987 hit recording of the traditional Middle Eastern song, “Im Nin’a lu.” Ofra Hazra’s melismatic Middle Eastern singing added a special ingredient to Rakim’s dead serious, Islamic flavored rap that made for a true musical masterpiece with a truly new, Ghetto-Global thematic heft.

“Paid in Full” was probably one of the first rap songs I ever learned all the words to, consisting as it does of one verse. Rakim achieves the incredible feat of telling a complete story in one solitary rap verse. The song itself would be very influential with its combination of a breakbeat, the dub style bass of “Don’t Look Any Further”, and the musical instrument that is Rakim’s voice. In its remix form it was a big hit overseas, opening up the possibilities of Hip Hop music that could incorporate the music of the world. This past summer I attended a Rakim show in Oakland, California, and he let the audience rap the verse to “Paid in Full.” Which just goes to show the influence of Rakim, standing tall as a rapper who made rap sing!

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The ’87 Sound: “Rebel Without a Pause” by Public Enemy

“Rebel Without a Pause”, Public Enemy’s breakthrough single, is a perfect example of the changes music, Hip Hop and otherwise, would go through in 1987. P.E released their first album, “Yo! Bum Rush the Show” on February 10, 1987, after recording it in the summer of 1986. By the time it was released, it’s DMX drum machine dominated sound already sounded dated, next to the new, sleek James Brown samples of Eric B & Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul.” Writer Christopher R Weingarten put it this way, “Tempos became quicker and peppy drum licks zipped around the sluggish elephant stomps of 1986’s DMX drum machines.” Bomb Squad lead producer Hank Shocklee said that by ’87 he heard the DMX in so many songs he was tired of it himself. These newer, sleeker beats, which in actuality were closer to Hip Hop’s breakbeat party origins in the days of DJ’s Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaataa, also enabled new, more complex rhyme styles, pioneered by Rakim, KRS ONE, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane. The inspiration for “Rebel Without a Pause” on a musical and technical rapping level came from Eric B and Rakim’s Funkadelic and Bobby Byrd sampling “I Know You Got Soul”, which itself would inspire Chuck to say in this song, “I got soul too!” Chuck and Hank Shocklee speak of going to a party and being dejected by the brilliance of “I Know You Got Soul”, which inspired them to go into the studio and concoct “Rebel Without a Pause.”

A James Brown sample would power “Rebel” the same way it did “Soul”. Interestingly enough, just like Eric B and Rakim’s record, they found their J.B sample, not in James Brown’s catalog, but in his extended catalog of artists he released and produced, this time from The Bootsy and Catfish Collins lead original incarnation of the J.B’s, from the song “The Grunt.” Ironically for those who feel sampling is theft, “The Grunt” itself is an almost wholesale interpolation of an Isley Brothers song called, “Keep on Doin.” But what the J.B’s had that the Isleys didn’t, was the wild, wailing, almost atonal sax playing of Robert McCullough, which The Bomb Squad would utilize as the sound that occupies the high end on “Rebel.” When Chuck D took the record home, his mother wondered if he had a tea kettle going off in his room. It’s interesting that that horn part came from a player Fred Wesley describes as “inferior to any horn player the James Brown band had before him”, but it had a raw vibe that was perfect for the alarming note Public Enemy was sounding in the late Reagen age.

The record itself begins with alarming sounds, first, the strong, southern voice of Jesse Jackson at WattStax, introducing the Soul Children’s record, “I Don’t’ know what this world is coming to”, which he began with a booming, now legendary “Brothers and Sisters!” Which P.E then follows with another alarming sound, the horn hits of James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing”, which had been used before in Boogie Down Production’s “South Bronx.” “Get Up Offa..” is one of JB’s angriest records, made at a time when he felt his commercial relevance was slipping. Also interestingly enough, Jesse Jackson himself was launching his second run for President in ’87. Chuck begins his legendary rap verses with a thundering, “Yes!” He goes on to say in the verse, “They played the music/this time they play the lyrics” which is a reference to how Public Enemy’s first single, “Public Enemy No.1” was rejected by New York Hip Hop D.J Mr. Magic. “Bum rush the sound/I made a year ago” was a reference to the fact that the album P.E had just released some months earlier was actually made in 1986, a kind of apology as P.E dropped this brand new bag. He ends the verse speaking of “Panther power/on the hour/from the Rebel to you”, which is an even more explicit embrace of Public Enemy’s “Black Panthers of Rap” position they’d been slowly cultivating during their time in the music.”

In between the verses, Flavor Flav provides his Bundini Brown, Bobby Byrd, boxing cornerman hype, which was in itself a radical new sound in Hip Hop at the time. Chuck begins the next verse with the classic and often sampled, “Radio/Suckers never play me/on the mix/they just okay me”, which was a clear protest at the way Hip Hop was treated as a whole on urban radio and Public Enemy in particular by the New York Hip Hop elite. Chuck’s goes on to rap in the new style, using shorter sentence lengths and multiple rhymes to lay out the points through which Public Enemy’s whole career would rest on, such as stating he was “old enough to raise ya”, a reference to P.E’s late 20s ages at the time and the older mindset they brought to Hip Hop. He also proclaims them “Supporters of Chesimard”, a reference to Assata Shakur, who is still in the news today as Conservative forces call for her extradition from Cuba.

“Rebel Without a Pause” is a landmark record of 1987 for many reasons. Public Enemy and their producers The Bomb Squad were able to react with almost Internet era speed to the changing tides of Rap music at the time, away from the drum machine sound to the funkier, more supple samples of actual funky musicians playing on wax. Also, lyrically, Chuck and Flav introduced a strong, Pro Black, radical message, through the voice of the young people’s music, Hip Hop, that would provide a touchstone for the Afrocentric explosion of the late ’80s and early ’90s. As we will see as our series on 1987 continues, even older socially conscious musicians like Stevie Wonder and EWF would get back to their commentary as a rejoinder to the Reagen administration, but Public Enemy here does it for the younger set. This song and others like it would basically form the attitude of young Black people from the late ’80s to about the mid-’90s. This was born out of a New York City that was full of racial tension in the ’80s, often times aided and abetted by the man who is President as of this writing, Donald J. Trump. But Public Enemy also succeed here in changing the musical side of the times, taking the innovations of Marley Marl and affordable samplers and grounding the James Brown beat as the foundation of Hip Hop. In fact, when you put “Rebel” and “I Know You Got Soul” with Prince’s “Housequake” and many other records, the late ’80s may be one of the best times the James Brown sound has ever had in the business. This sound would not only be big in Hip Hop but it would also go on to influence the realms of European and American sample-based dance music as well. And this was the first truly landmark, revolutionary record in a career that has taken P.E all the way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Panther power on the hour from the Rebels to you!!!!

* A little bonus material, Public Enemy’s performance of this song on Soul Train, and the diss from Mr. Magic that inspired some lines on this song and much of P.E’s “It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back”

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Liberian News Abroad: Forbes Magazine in L.I.B

cover of Forbes December 2, 2013 featuring Liberia

cover of Forbes December 2, 2013 featuring Liberia

My father started my awareness of Forbes Magazine. It was one of several business publications he subsribed to in order to maintain his base of knowledge on world business trends, knowledge from which he hoped to extract information on new and current business approaches on the African continent. This also included magazines such as “West Africa”, “African Business Times”, and several other foreign magazines who’s subscription prices were prohibitive, but were avaliable at DeLaurers news stand in Downtown Oakland. Very rarely would these magazines however, contain specific information about Dad’s country of expertise, the Republic of Liberia. At that particular time, Liberia was in the midst of years of Civil War and upheaval, a descent that was both rapid and long lasting, and took the country from one of the worlds fastest growing economies to one of the worlds lowliest. With this history in mind, it is hard to express how shocked and delighted I was to find President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on the cover of this months Forbes magazine, joining international luminaries such as Muhammed Yunus, Bono, and Bill Gates. The theme of the article was Entreprenuers ability to lead efforts to reduce extreme poverty in the devloping world. Knowing Liberia, this thinking is particularly fascinating.

The old Liberia, was both relentlesly capitalistic, and intractably politicized. Over his many years in Liberia, Dad launched many entreprenuerial ventures, but most were hampered because his religion precluded his involvement in politics. J. Gus Liebnow’s classic and essential book on the Liberian political system, “Liberia: The Evolution of Privelege”, documented how Liberian Entreprenuers independent of the True Whig Party political system faced a tough road in the old Republic. The governement was commited to a slow pace of societel change that prioritized the stability of the ruling class as it’s primary goal, with development lagging second. They sought development, but not in a manner that would empower opposition to the establishment.

Forbes in Liberia

Forbes in Liberia

The tearing down of the old power structure has left the nation in a unique position, which Forbes documents. The old capitalistic orientation remains, in a country that relies heavily on foreign direct investment, concession agreements, and foreign expertise in order to develop it’s resources, the “Open Door Policy” of President Tubman remains. Liberia was never one of those African states that went in for communist redistribution. However, in the vaccum of skills, services, there is perhaps an oppurtunity for Entreprenuers that did not exist in the old Liberia.

This past summer, Liberia recieved the benefits of being the focus of Forbes Magazine’s second annual Forbes 400 summit on philanthropy, a gathering of 150 billionaires and near billionaires. In October of 2013 year, many of these well heeled individuals took up a three day mission to Liberia in order to survey Liberian business efforts, assist entreprenuers, and leave programs in place to aid entreprenuers in reconstructing the nation.

Several interesting businesses operating in Liberia were featured, and assisted by panels of some of the top entreprenuers in the world. The article mentioned entreprenuer Scott Gilmore, who’s company Building Markets maintains a database on local businesses that connects them to investors. He was advised to go beyond merley compiling information and beginning to bankroll businesses. The suggestion ended in Gilmore actually deciding to partner to launch a $50 to $70 million fund to fund investors, with Building Markets serving as both consultant/go between and investment bank.

The article also featured an entreprenuer by the name of Chid Liberty, a young Liberian in the clothing manufacturing business. Some companies advised him to specialize in designing unique clothes as well as producing them for American companies, while others encouraged him to simply work on attracting more business to manufacture foreign designs. As an example of some of the difficulties in Liberia at this time, Liberty’s production operations in Ghana are successful, while he’s had to shut his Liberian factory down for a year while he plots a way forward, but he was able to secure over $1m investment.

One of the most promising and useful projects in the article, was Raj Panjabi’s “Last Mile Health.” Panjabi is a Liberian doctor, based in the United States, and a faculty member of Harvard U. He’s developed an innovative and severly needed local health initiative, designed at providing health services in the interior, which the Liberian government has struggled to do ever since it’s inception. His program trains people to serve as front line health workers in remote villages and pays them a living wage as well as performance based incentives. To demonstrate how Entreprenuers can do things politicians can’t, President Sirleaf was unaware of the program. He was advised to use mobile technology to bypass the logistical issues inherent to the situation. Panjabi has developed a plan to reach over 150,000 patients at a cost of $10m. This plan has garnerd both the support of the Liberian government as well as attention from the UN. “The Forbes summit put Liberia on the map in a big way”, Panjabi said, and his usage of the phrase “on the map”, was all I needed to know he was a Liberian for true.

Dr. Raj Panjabi's potentially revolutionary Last Mile/Tiyatin Health project

Dr. Raj Panjabi’s potentially revolutionary Last Mile/Tiyatin Health project

For Liberians and friends of Liberia, Forbes December issue is a good outside/worldwide story about efforts to uplift our country. The most immediate positives are the focusing of world attention toward Liberia’s efforts to rebuild herself, invluding the valuable and lifesaving resources being attracted to the country by people such as Dr. Raj Panjabi. The other thing to take note of is the entreprenurial, do for self spirit Liberians continue to display in these rough, frontier like days, in effect, a rebirth or refounding of the nation. All Liberians must accept in some form or fashion at this time, the call to build, or help build, SOMETHING. As Forbes demonstrates, the world is watching, and willing to help, and move past aid into the realms of economic trade.

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Questlove’s “Soul Train: The Music, Dance, and Style of a Generation”

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Questlove’s new book, “Soul Train, The Music, Dance and Style of a Generation” serves as both a celebration of the cultural phenomenon Don Cornelius’ landmark television show has been as well as picks up where his previous book, this summers autobiographical “Mo Meta Blues”, left off. Questo uses here an engaging form that details the history, high points, features and recurring segments, artists, fashions, and dancers of the long running music program, interwoven with his opinions of the artists place within the changes black music was undergoing at the time they made appearances on the show.

Quest personalizes his experiences with viewing Soul Train. Soul Train and Seasame Street were the only two programs his parents allowed him and his sister to watch unsupervised. Just as he does with music in his autobiography, he uses performances and moments on the show to reminisce on the impact they had on him, both as a budding musician, as well as a young man. His respect for Don Cornelius is deep, as is his belief that Soul Train was the best televised chronicle of post-Civil Rights black style, issues, and music. He organizes his book into sections on the 1970s, the 1980s, and the 1990s, the three full decades of the shows existence to this point. There is a top ten list of moments on the show that lists moments that were either musically or culturally signifigant, and it also gives profiles of the people who really made the show work, Soul Train’s fabulous dancers.

“Mo Meta Blues”, his autobiography, was notable for using a song or album to discuss every year of his life up until the time of the writing of the book. These songs, what he was listening to at any particular time, either help to trace his physical, social, emotional and musical development, or provide a soundtrack to his life. It’s an interesting literary practice that stems from the belief that music is the art form most directly related to memory. He expands on this in this book, using episodes of Soul Train either to trace artists career progressions, whether soul, funk, disco or hip hop was the happening black style of the time, or how the sets and choices of dancers reflected either an earthy, grass roots community vibe, the high class aspirations of disco, or the upwardly mobile LA vibe of the 1980s.

The book therefore serves as a users guide to the show, chronicling performances and putting them into a context of late 20th century musical progress, as well as making note of the moment in time Quest’s generations music began to be ascendant in popular taste over his parents. Therefore it’s not only a cataloguing of Quest’s tastes and opinions, but it reflects what a good deal of the Soul Train audience might have felt as well. The book is not only a great starting point to discuss the show, but a great starting point to discuss the history, music, and culture of those three decades as well, making good on the belief that Soul Train is the ultimate TV time capsule of Urban/Black culture. But you don’t have to take my word for it….get the book, and check out some Soul Train episodes on Aspire TV, as well as check out the DVD’s that have been released, and see if you don’t break out dance moves just a tad more often.

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