2 Realities, 1 Label. Sugar Hill Records, Rappers' Delight & The Message
Hello readers and Happy New Year to you all.
As I am typing this article out, I am reminiscing upon the year past. I must admit that it was a personal best.
I went to A LOT of shows.
I had a lot of cool experiences.
That is par for the course when one is a burgeoning rock music journalist.
If you don't know by now, I am an avid, passionate runner. Yes. I have my playlists in my phone. Sometimes they do the trick. Sometimes, I can't stand a single note. On a recent run, I was not feeling anything on my phone. I selected a song and then let that good ol' algorithm,/AI do all the work. Because when I run, I don't like to think.
Trust me, there is no worse feeling than that of not feeling the music when midway on a run. When that happens, you lose pace as you're trying to run, use your phone and search for something better. Heaven forbid you should stumble on a crack and take a swan dive into the pavement. Or have the nagging, incessant urge to void your bladder or bowels.
But I digress...
What was the song I had to hear to hear before I started? C.R.E.A.M. by the almighty Wu Tang Clan. The track has that dreamy, surrealistic feel and hit the spot just right as I started out. Meth chanting: "Dollah, Dollah Bill Y'all..." is just perfection. And let's face it, NOBODY did it like The Wu. End of story.
As my run progressed. the AI slipped in a few other songs then something magical happened. First was Rapper's Delight by Sugar Hill Gang. Followed up by The Message by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five.
At this point, both songs are canon. They are guide stones and show how Hip-Hop is going to evolve.. Yet both are polar opposites in theme and tone.
So let's examine them, shall we?
Rapper's Delight is a must play at any party that goes on and on 'til the break of dawn. It is guaranteed to get everybody on the dance floor.. If that bassline does not get your rump shaking or at the very least, your feet shuffling; something is very, seriously, ridiculously wrong with you.
The track originated from a gig Chic was playing in NYC when Fab Five Freddy decided to get on the stage and started to freestyle over the instrumental break of the song. Then, Big Bank Hank, Master Gee and Wonder Mike joined in. And the rest, as they say, is history and part of our general consciousness..
The Sugar Hill Gang. L to R: Big Bank Hank, Master Gee & Wonder Mike.
On the technical side, recorded on August 2, 1979 and released on September 16, of the same year, this song hit the airwaves like an epidemic. It started out getting play in small discos in Harlem and eventually made its way across this great nation and then the world.
This was way before the term sampling was even thought of so it was easy for people to take parts of a piece of music or songs to mold it to their needs and desires.,,,and not have to pay any royalties to the original artists. Such was the case for Rapper's Delight.
From a sonic perspective, this is a banger. The production value is outstanding. Big Bank Hank, Master Gee and Wonder Mike flip, flop and flow all through this track. With their quality wordsmithery, these guys as precise as an atomic clock.
Their lyrics range from watching the Knicks play basketball on a color tv to eating chicken that tastes like wood. The Gangs' sense of humor and life-is-a-party ethos reek all through this track. Personally, the standout part is when Big Bank Hank has the stones to dis Superman. Yes. You read that correctly. The Son Of Kah-El himself. Even calling The Man of Steels' dongle a "little worm" to his main squeeze, Ms. Lois Lane.
And we've all done this before, as soon as the song ends, we replay it at least three more times to keep the party going. And the best part is- it never gets old. One can actually feel that (during the song) something special is going down in the Big Apple. From a naive young music fans' perspective from back then, one thinks that NYC is just one big party that never ends.
However, expectation always clashes with reality. And that is my segue to the anthesis of Rapper's Delight: The Message by Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five.
A quick history lesson: New York City during the time (late-70's/early 80's) that The Message (& Rappers' Delight) came into being was, for all intents and purposes, a shit-hole. Garbage collection strikes and such left the Big Apple in a state of severe disrepair. For a visual reference, Joker (2019) got it right. And as we all know, in the most desperate times, the creation of great art is critical for humanity to flourish.
Released in July of 1982,The Message is reality with no chaser or rose tinted glasses. The sparse synth arrangement stands in stark contrast to the plush, life-is-just-a-party ethos of Rapper's Delight.
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. Circa Early 80's.
The people in The Message are at a breaking point. "It's like a jungle sometimes/It makes me wonder/ how I keep from going under..." is the mantra that repeats itself throughout the entire song. And the best part is, that after this revelation, they have the wherewithal to snicker at their desperate situation.
The flow of The Furious Five is a joy to behold. Mellie Mel, Cowboy Keef, et al give a bravura performance for the ages. They are street poets on par with Bukowski. I wonder if Allen Ginsberg ever gave this track a listen? The lyrics of this song are a modern, urban, decayed version of Howl.
We, as the listeners, can't look away from the broken people and scenarios in this song. At this point, looking away is a cop out. As the song ends with The Furious Five being hauled off the the hoosegow for doing nothing, we know that they are telling us the truth. And in all art, truth is a vital component for an artist to relate his universe to the masses.
Now I'm done.