Paul Jackson Music

Paul Jackson Music

Friday, 7 June 2013

#7 “Hip Hop and Rapping In the house”

Following on from blog #5, this week I dug out some more studio recordings from my time at Salford University, and shared them online with some old uni pals who were either involved in them or were doing something similar at the time.
One of them was a hip hop track I put together as part of a studio recording assignment. Hip Hop music has played a big role in my musical upbringing and makes up a generous portion of my record collection. But I had never successfully recorded a track in that style and this seemed a good opportunity. I enlisted a drummer, bass player and a rapper and worked out the basics of an arrangement with a view to adding extra bits on top later. Course colleague, Phil, provided the rap lyrics and vocal and I recorded them all live in the studio. In a later session I added keyboard parts and then Phil returned to the control room armed with a turntable and some records. There he overlaid some scratching and cutting and the extra ingredients needed for the track. It worked out quite well and was great fun to do. That was really the first time I had been up close to record scratching and mixing done properly.
My own experience with hip hop music and culture never really left the house. 

The earliest memory I have related to rap music actually came from Adam Ant. In 1981, at the age of 7, I became a huge fan of Adam and the Ants and after buying the ‘Prince Charming’ album, I continued to follow their musical adventures in magazines such as Look In and TV Tops and on television. One of their singles was "Ant Rap" which unlike their other songs, consisted of only vocal and drums. Except the vocal style wasn’t quite singing and it wasn’t quite talking, but something in between. I learned this style was called rapping and I can’t recall having ever heard it before. 

I’m pretty sure I would have heard other examples over the next couple of years but my next ‘hip hop’ memory was in 1983. I was watching the Royal Variety Performance on TV and there I saw a dancers called the Rock Steady Crew performing their single and doing some of the most amazing dancing I had ever seen. They played an enormous role in bringing more of the hip hop culture to the UK.  

Then 1984 came along which, for me, was the golden year.

I began to hear more records and soon acquired albums such as "Breakdance - You Can Do It" and "Breakdancing" which both featured instructional pull out leaflets on how to breakdance. So behind closed doors in the comfort of my own home and not hurting anyone (except maybe myself), I would play the records and attempt to pop, lock, moonwalk, break, spin and freeze. 
These records featured classic tracks from artists such as Run D.M.C., Grandmaster and Melle Mel, Rock Steady Crew, Malcolm McLaren and Herbie Hancock.
In 1985, I saw Doug E Fresh on Top Of The Pops perform “The Show” and went out to buy the single. By that time I was reading Smash Hits magazine which featured lyrics to a lot of the records that were released. I later discovered that the printed song lyrics were transcribed by the Smash Hits staff rather than provided by the artists. So for quite a while I thought Doug E Fresh’s DJ’s were called ‘Jerome and Valerie’ as was printed in the magazine. It wasn’t until I bought the album many months later that I learned they were called ‘Chill Will and Barry Bee’.
I would turn paper round money into records and soon started buying hip hop compilation albums including “Breakin’” soundtrack,” "Ultimate Trax” series,  “Word!” series, “Rap It Up”, “Fresh New Beats”, "Hip Hop And Rapping In The House" and, most significantly,  the "Streetsounds Electro" series. The Streetsounds albums would compile imported tracks mixed together by Herbie "Mastermind" Laidley. The transitions and segues of Grandmaster Flash into Afrika Bambaataa on Electro 13, or The World Class Wreckin' Cru into Mantronix on Electro 9, or Ultimate III into M.C. Chill on Electro 12 are still some of my favourite moments on vinyl today. I remember a big basket of these records on sale in Woolworths in Huddersfield, or on the W.H. Smith racks. One week I might buy Electro 12, the next I’d find Electro 10, another I’d buy Electro 14, and soon got to know the records of many more artists such as MC Chill, Ultimate III, Fat Boys, Sir Mix A Lot and so on. In the summer of ’86 there was advertised a big Streetsounds hip hop concert in London’s Wembley Arena called UK Fresh ’86. I so wanted go to and see  a lot of these acts perform on stage, as well as witness breakdancing, DJing and all the things I had only read about or seen on TV.

But as a 12 year old in a small town in West Yorkshire, there were some logistic issues so I when Electro 13 came out I ordered a UK Fresh 86 programme on the merchandise leaflet inside the record sleeve. There I could glance at the line-up of acts I would have loved to have seen.
I moved from Smash Hits to Hip Hop Connection magazine and watched movies such as Wild Style, Breakin’ and Beat Street. I’d read and seen depictions of New York street corners, parks and subways awash with breakdancers, rappers and DJ’s which seemed rather a long way from where I was.

I did attempt to scratch and mix on two mismatched record players in my bedroom but to no great success. The closest I got to doing anything hip hop related was performing a rap track in music class in around 1987 where  we were given the task of getting into groups and writing and performing a song. I teamed up with my class mate, and like-minded hip hop fan, David, and with my keyboard’s preset rhythm accompaniments, we put together a song. David controlled the keyboard and I took the microphone to perform “Gettin’ Fresh”. It’s funny how naivety can go hand in hand with having balls of steel to get up and perform in front of school friends. I would frequently get together with David, and also my cousin, Darren, to buy and play hip hop records, and although I did write a bunch of rap lyrics on paper, they never went any further and I retreated to being an observer rather than a participator.
Bits of electro would creep into my live electronic dance sets when I performed in the late 90's and in 1999, I performed a live set of hip hop electro tracks with sequencers, synths and a sampler in Manchester, just prior to my move to London. Not something I had done before or since but was the closest I got to mixing and cutting.

I finally managed to attend a live hip hop event in 1996 when Grandmaster Flash performed at the Hacienda in Manchester and later attended  the Breakdance championships and the DMC Technics DJ championships in London in 2000. I also came close to attending UK Fresh 2003 – a celebration of the Streetsounds Hip Hop electro series to feature Doug E Fresh, Furious Five, Kurtis Blow, Whodini and others, but it was sadly cancelled not long after I bought a ticket.  

As rap became more fused with dance music rather than electro , and the influx of  so called ‘gangsta  rap’ began, I started to lose interest. The hip hop music I had grown up with seemed to be heavily dominated with MC’s rapping about how good they were at rapping, what they were wearing, and how good their DJ was on the turntables and on occasion even name checking the equipment they were using. 

"Quick as a flash I'll pop upon the scene, Break out the Casio and the drum machine"("It's My Beat" by Sweet Tee and Jazzy Joyce)

"It's not an 808 or a Drumulator, It's a DMX and it's much greater"("World Class" by The World Class Wreckin' Cru)
All of which I found to be great fun and at times quite funny.
"I can understand things most rappers sayBecause rapping is my thing and I do it everyday"("Holiday Rap" by M.C. Miker G and D.J. Sven)
It all seemed to be light hearted fun with lots of energy and full of characters. In later years it seems to have moved away from the electro and DJ elements I’d always favoured. Not in every case, but the type of hip hop records I like seem to be very few and far between. But that’s the way the genre has developed and moved through the generations.

Eminem is one of very few rap artists I find interesting and more recently Rizzle Kicks’s performance of "Mama Do The Hump" on the Jonathan Ross show in February 2012 reminded me of how much fun hip hop used to be.  With the exception of a few tracks here and there, my intake of new hip hop has reduced significantly.  

The hip hop I was brought up on is now referred to as ‘old skool’ and is still held in high esteem by fans and artists, though actually 1984 seems to be noted as the year when it changed from 'old' to 'new school'. I still play the” Breakin’” soundtrack, the Streetsounds Electro albums, and many tracks from that era and I still love and appreciate them in the same way as I always did.
So in that studio at university in 1996, I decided to have another go at recording a hip hop track. Even though I didn’t prominently perform on the track, it was as close as I was going to get to producing a piece of it.
While I never mastered rapping , scratching or even the ‘windmill’, hip hop music has continued to make up some part of my musical DNA.

"Grandmaster Flash - To my cool buddy Paul"