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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: “How Ya Like Me Now” by Kool Moe Dee

Kool Moe Dee was one of the first rappers I ever knew. This is mostly due to this ’87 song, “How Ya Like Me Now”, and its companion hit from the same album, “Wild, Wild West.” What I couldn’t possibly know at that time, was that Moe Dee is one of the fathers of rap itself, one of the first lyrical technicians to explore many features of rap that later masters like Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, and even late masters like Eminem, would base their styles on. By ’87, Moe Dee was on his second solo LP after years as a member of the early rap crew, The Treacherous Three. He had also graduated from college with a degree in Communications. Moe Dee is from Harlem, New York City, which has long had a reputation of being the stylistic capital of Black America. This was reflected in Moe Dee’s slick leather outfits, knee-length boots, Leather “Golden Child” kufi’s, and Geordi LaForge oversized ski shades. And his old school Soul and Hip Hop orientation were exemplified by the way he hit cool, smooth dance steps while backed up by sharp-dressed dancers. It all added up to a package that I think was far more enticing to middle-aged Black music fans than the majority of rappers. And while Run DMC crossed Hip Hop over into the big money MTV, Pop/Rock audience, Moe Dee was successful in crossing Hip Hop over into the world of R&B radio, which is why I heard this song and “Wild, Wild West” alongside other songs from 1987 such as Alexander O’Neal’s “Fake.” And that laid a major foundation for the success other artists would very soon have in the next two years of the ’80s and the early ’90s

The heat that Moe Dee builds on in this song is a fued that he picked with the hottest solo M.C of the era, L.L Cool J. On the cover of his album, he has a bell-shaped Kangol of the type L.L Cool J wore underneath his Jeep. The accusation? That L.L was getting PAID (DUHHHH!) using his rap style. This all seems like typical rapper drama until you realize that for a lyrical pioneer like Moe Dee, who was in his late ’20s, which was territory no rapper had entered before, this was serious business, his livelihood. And I’ve learned in recent years that to the extent L.L based his style on that of T La Rock, who was the brother of Moe Dee’s Treacherous Three partner, Special K. And L.L in that era did have a penchant for vocabulary busting rhymes that Moe Dee and The Treacherous Three perfected.

The music of “How Ya Like Me Now” and who produced it is part of its historical appeal. “How Ya Like Me Now”, much like “Go See The Doctor” on Moe Dee’s previous album, were produced by the young Teddy Riley, who was making his breakthrough at that time. Teddy is truly one of the key figures in music over the past 30 years because of the way he mixed musicianship with Hip Hop sensibilities. Taking over from where Run DMC and Whodini producer Larry Smith left off, Teddy regularly produced both Hip Hop and R&B, keeping a funky street edge in R&B, and adding smooth musicality to Hip Hop. His incorporation of the swing of Go-Go would soon become THE beat for Hip Hop, and would be felt even after the music got much more spare in instrumentation.

For “How Ya Like Me Now”, Teddy delivers a hell of a groove, a funky, swinging James Brown influenced creation that took advantage of the new sampling technology in ways that sounded more like music and less like samples. The drumbeat is swinging and has ghost notes just like Clyde Stubblefield would play with JB. The sampled horn blasts hit hard on the “One”, much like Jam and Lewis did on “Fake”, and are then followed by a swinging James Brown-style horn part. The track is very bouncy, with a sprightly stop and start feeling. It finesses Moe Dee’s martial theme, floating like a butterfly around the lyrical battle ring, like a musical Muhammed Ali. On the bridge, Riley uses the synth horns to restate Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker’s “Salt Peanuts” theme. Which is both an example of an early, Pre Gang Star jazziness in Hip Hop, and also a throwback to the Sugarhill Records era practice of interpolation, which would be key in the future of Hip Hop as artists like Dr. Dre and The Neptunes endeavored to sample less, and play more music.

“I…….throw my tape on/and I watch ya/three seconds later/I got ya…”, Moe Dee begins his rhyme, and it is an excellent one, simple on the face of it, but truly an exercise in perfect rhymes, multiple rhymes, and subtle rhythms, as well structured as an essay. It exemplifies Moe Dee’s focus on “sticking to themes” and his pride in being able to rhyme coherently without digressing. One of my favorite lines is “Rap is an art/and I’m like Picasso.” Now for a while I thought Moe Dee was taking the easy way out because Picasso is the most famous artist of the 20th Century. So did he mean he was simply the best artist in Hip Hop? But Picasso wasn’t known for painting pretty pictures, which Moe Dee does here with a sharp, precise rhyme. Picasso took a little bit from here, and a little bit from there, so is a rap artist being like Picasso a reference to how rappers take words and expressions from everywhere, or Hip Hop music takes beats that might not seem to belong together and puts them together? Whatever he meant, its the one line I got when I asked a friend to quote a Moe Dee rhyme a few years back.

Back when I was a kid when my Uncles and Uncle figures talked about rap, they were talking about Moe Dee. The “How Ya Like Me Now” video and performance footage exhibit how Moe Dee took sharp technical rap and put it with the traditional showmanship and sharp dressing of R&B, Soul, and Funk. That is a package that would totally disappear in the ’90s and I have never been satisfied with Hip Hop since. Maybe Diddy tried to revive it but he was nowhere near as skilled an M.C as the great Moe Dee!!! But the fact that Moe Dee was able to do it here is an example of why that was a special time for music all across the board!

As a bonus, Moe Dee’s performance on Soul Train, where he seemed to be on that shortlist of M.C’s Don Cornelius dug!

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The ’87 Sound….A Riquespeaks Curation

Despite the abundance of classic material I write about on this blog, my purpose in writing and posting is not nostalgia. I talk about classic music and people involved with Funk, Hip Hop, Jazz, Soul and other genres in order to curate various things from the past that somehow shaped who I and my community are in the present. But this particular project, “The ’87 Sound”, is personal enough to me to contain an element of nostalgia.

It just so happens that as I look back on my life, the year 1987, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2017, just might be the year I achieved something close to musical consciousness. On a personal level, it was a very good year, I was in the 1st grade, friends and family who have long since passed on were still around, and things looked up. My Dad was returning to Liberia, West Africa that year, for the first time since our family left in 1980, and he wanted to tape the latest in American popular sounds to take back with him. ’87 was also the year I became a fan of Soul Train, which I used to watch right before WWF wrestling on local Bay Area channel 2 television.

On a larger scale though, 1987 represented an interesting time in popular music. It seems through an unscientific survey that by ’87, Black popular dance rhythm infected mainstream popular music in a way not seen since the late disco era. ’87 saw huge monster albums by Prince, Michael Jackson, George Michael, Jody Watley, Terrance Trent D’arby, and many other artists. It also saw Rock and Pop stars like INXS and Sting release albums that were on the cutting edge of Black urban contemporary rhythm and production techniques. Teddy Riley’s rise was also a factor, as he began to introduce more and more of the sound that would define R&B and pop in the late ’80s and early ’90s. It was a time of Babyface going solo as well as producing the monster, “Rock Steady” for The Whispers along with his partner L.A. Janet Jackson’s Jam and Lewis helmed “Control” LP was still placing #1 hits on almost ALL the charts. And Hip Hop was standing on the verge of its Golden Era, with first albums from legends like Public Enemy, BDP, Eric B & Rakim and N.W.A, at the same time Funk/R&B veterans like Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Barry White gave us some of the best music they’d delivered since their 1970s heyday’s.

At that age, music was only one of my concerns, but just like sports, ’87 was the year I truly became interested in it for myself. And we documented all of that music of the time, mostly on yellow Memorex cassette tapes. What I think of when I think of songs in that year is an aggressive, tough, street-oriented beat, accented with synthesizers. The influence of Prince and Michael Jackson had now become a formal part of popular music, but so had the influence of Hip Hop. The music had shed some of the brittle, big beat coldness of mid-’80s industrial and synthesized sounds but retained their power.

Enjoy with me then, this trip back down the lane of late ’80s music. After losing my father and many other friends and relatives from that time, this music has taken on a special relevance for me as the sound of times past. But that does not take away the vitality and the good feelings in them! For some readers, these tunes will be nostalgic, and for some, they will be new! But I think that most will agree at the end of this trip, the year Nineteen Eighty-Seven A.D was a special one for musical grooves!

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Music 4 the Nxt 1, 04/01/17: “Junie’s Boogie” by Nicholas Payton

New Orleans multi instrumentalist Nicholas Payton has been one of my favorite artists working in modern music for at least the past 5 years now. He’s escaped the limiting prison of “jazz” music despite being one of the greatest trumpeters on the scene, through his sense of groove and his broad artistic vision. He also has articulated the social and personal ideas behind his music through his blogging. He has turned his musical movement, which he has titled “Black American Music” or “#BAM”, into a record label and an ongoing institution. His latest album, “The Afro Caribbean Mixtape”, is self released on his own label and features a numnber of highly rhythmically and melodically engaging tunes, but today’s selection, “Junie’s Boogie” is one that stood out to me for Paytons’ patented brand of late ’70s/early ’80s funk, which was very much in the vein of a great musician we lost this past month, the Dayton Funk multi instrumentalist Junie Morrison.

“Junie’s Boogie” starts off with Payton playing a funky pentatonic bass line that moves upward. The line sounds as if its played on a piano sound and a clavinet sound together, so that it has that extra weight. The line plays two times unaccompanied to set the groove up. The second part of the bass riff has a little Nicholas Paytonism that I’ve heard on some of his other lines such as the one from “By Your Side (Illeth’s Blues).” After the bass figure is introduced, the groove starts to heat up with a percussion roll accompanied by string glissando’s and a 2 and 4 bass kick. The bass line also plays on synthesizer, while Payton also plays high synth lead melodies. When the groove comes in it has a funky churning motion, as the bass line steps upward and the melody descends. The drums just maintain a steady groove with an open hi hat. The groove swtiches up to a sweetly melodic section after 8 bars, based on a bouncy octave type of groove with multiple instruments maintaining the same rhythm. Payton also unleashes some sweetly wailing synth lead lines, switiching the analog synth sound to another lead sound as the arrangement goes into a passage that ratchets up the intensity through its use of insistent strings in the middle of the “Funky Worm” style synth patch. The strings and synth tastefully take their rest as the main groove returns, but continue to add punctuation as the groove begins to take on more and more of a jam feel within its well arranged structure. The groove calms down for Payton to begin his trumpet solo, which is backed by strings playing at a lower dynamic that occasionally swell, a funky electric bass, and Payton playing choice phrases. The regular groove comes back during Payton’s solo and is eventually joined by choral voices while Payton plays the same line the voices are singing on his trumpet. After the vocal/instruemntal interlude Payton adds some starp phrases followed by a change in the arrangmeent that takes on a darker minor tone over a rich chord progression. Payton trumpet interacts with his analog synth lines before he plays a long sustained note that signals the end of the tune, while he plays a phrase on piano very reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man.”

“Junie’s Boogie” is a wonderful tribute to the late Junie Morrison and a great example of how the rich late funk band vibe is still fertile for current musical growth. Payton’s musicality is of such that he creates a groove that fits in with the groove of the time period he was invoking without direct copying , but using subtleties such as the synthesizer melody reminiscent of the patch on The Ohio Player’s “Funky Worm.” “Junie’s Boogie” introduces a very funky groove and surrounds it with dynamics while also leaving room for improvisation. It has that epic late ’70s funk feel of a Junie Morrison classic like Funkadelics “(Not Just) Knee Deep.” Which is both a fitting tribute to that legacy and music to groove to in the here and now!!

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Anatomy of the Groove: “Long Come Tutu” by George Benson & Al Jarreau

A special tribute to Al Jarreau and Miles Davis I penned over on Andresmusictalk

Andresmusictalk

Al Jarreau and George Benson’s 2006 album “Givin It Up” was one of the most common sense musical collaborations I have enjoyed since I’ve been a fan of music. The two singer/musicians existed in their own rarefied air of international jazz vocalist pop stardom. Through their successful projects they brought the vocalese innovations of King Pleasure, Eddie Jefferson, Jon Hendricks and the other great jazz singers to the masses mixed in with the genre’s of funk, soul, R&B, and slick adult contemporary pop. The passing earlier this week of the fantastic Mr. Jarreau is a great time to look back on this collaboration which is now going on 11 years old though their funky jam, “Long Come Tutu”, which features the two greats riffing on a great funky jazz song by another legend who is long gone now, the great Miles Davis.

“Along Come Tutu” is special because not only…

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Music 4 the Next 1, January 3, 2016: “Leave My Curl Alone” by Lord Gord & the Posse

As the New Year of 2017 begins, its time for another funky song to set the new year off right. This week has a song I’m particularly proud to bring you, from Los Angeles California’s own Lord Gord, with his group, The Posse. It has always been my hope through my blogging activities on “riquespeaks” and “Andresmusictalk” to not only share the finest in classic Funk/Soul/R&B/Jazz/Afrobeat, but also to help introduce the public to new music in that vein as well. In the case of Lord Gord, we have a talented artist who enjoyed my funk based content on this blog and reached out to me to keep an eye out for his music. Lord Gord is a young artist from SoCal who is extremely serious about bringing back the funk! He reminds me of the attitude me and my friends had back in the ’00s. Gord would like nothing more than to see the Funk come back to its rightful position and for bands and instrumentalists to regain a prominent position in the presentation of Black popular music in particular, and in mainstream music as a whole. His first step towards that goal is his album, “This Isn’t T.V”, with its lead off single we’re featuring here, “Leave My Curl Alone.” The song is his modern funk, live band interpretation of the West Coast tongue in cheek rap classic of the same name by Hi-C. I remember when the original came out back in the early ’90s, and the way it stood as a kind of defiant anthem. Lord Gord uses it here to display both his talents for funky musical arrangements as well as his Morris Day influenced sense of funky showmanship and humor, because, to quote him, “You cant spell the Funk, without FUN!”

Hi-C’s original song was based on a sample of Brick’s “Dusic”, which was later used by Hammer in his song “It’s All Good.” Lord Gord eschews the sample of the original for his own funky arrangement. The song begins with him counting off and the drummer striking up a phat breakbeat style drum pattern, accented by high on the neck, choppy rhythm guitars and a high string like synth melody, while Lord Gord gives his introduction, “but when you’re cool from the inside out/those are things you just don’t have to worry about.” After a high pitched Mack laugh, the full groove is introduced for Gord’s verse, which adds a heavy bottom end bass guitar line that has a rolling quality to the beat, along with a Fender Rhodes electric piano line that begins on the 3rd beat and plays a nice accenting riff, alongside a single note rhythm guitar line. This is the foundation for Gord to drop the lyrical story, a humorous tale where the narrator faces rejection for his Jherri Curl. When he goes to the “Leave My Curl Alone” chorus, the song adds sharp horn blasts, while the groove keeps bubbling underneath. One interesting facet of the horn arrangement is the way it melds sharp blasts of brass on top, with more reedy sounding sustained notes underneath. Lord Gord’s appreciation of developing horn parts is confirmed by the different horn line that supports the latter half of his second rap verse. Also of particular interest is the super funky breakdown at the end with the drummer ending with a drum fill quotation from Stevie Wonder’s “I Am Singing!”

“Leave My Curl Alone” is a perfect introduction to the type of fun, energetic, modern day instrumental funk that Lord Gord is unleashing on the musical world. A Funk full of personal quirks, individuality, hearty party enthusiasm and a strong appreciation for Funk’s foundations. Support his music and sit back, and enjoy grooving to the musical journey of a new funk artist!!!

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Call for Papers “Purple Reign: An interdisciplinary conference on the life and legacy of Prince”, Media City UK, University of Salford, Uk May 2017

Dr Kirsty Fairclough

I’m very pleased to announce the following call for papers:

“Purple Reign: An interdisciplinary conference on the life and legacy of Prince”

A two-day international conference hosted by The School of Arts and Media, University of Salford, UK and the Department of Recording Industry, Middle Tennessee State University, USA 24th- – 26th May 2017 Media City UK, University of Salford, UK.

Convenors:

Dr Mike Alleyne, Dept of Recording Industry, College of Media & Entertainment, Middle Tennessee State University

Dr Kirsty Fairclough, School of Arts and Media, University of Salford, UK

Tim France, School of Arts and Media, University of Salford, UK

Proposals are invited for a two-day international conference on the life and legacy of Prince.

This conference aims to provide fresh perspectives on the creative and commercial dimensions of Prince’s career, re-examining the meanings of his work in the context of his unexpected death.

This conference seeks to address the issue…

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