NEW YORK—"You're insane," "Shut the hell up," "Stop lying" were the three most common phrases uttered by the hip-hop industry last Wednesday night. No one could believe that our beloved Jam Master Jay was dead. It didn't make sense, but it happened and all of New York was here to witness it. We have lost too many to guns and we don't learn our lesson. As recently as a day after this tragic event, there was a brawl during a show while the performers were doing a Jam Master Jay dedication. Which makes you think all this testosterone has really got some of these jive turkeys by the waddle.
Hip hop isn't about being all-hard. In fact, it really was about being different and unique. Like North Carolina's own Dave Tompkins. The former Indy and Spectator writer was such a fan of hip hop that it took over his life. He moved to NYC in 2000 to work at Russell Simmons' 360 Hip Hop. Although he no longer works there, he still resides in NYC, has a column in The WIRE and he "chases around old rappers" for material for his book, to name a few things. Dave is the man when it comes to all there is to know about hip hop. He knows it all and then some. That's why it would be real hard to document his knowledge; I am gonna let him do that—in his upcoming book, A Reason For a Very Spliced Day.
"It is one book that sounds like eight different ones. It's a demented record collector's guide as told through strange but true hip-hop stories. A lot of unknown history and the absurd details and minutia. Personal autobiographical twists," Dave says. Dave's name is quite respected in the hip-hop world as sorta hip-hop historian and it has nothing to do with packing heat. He is heat in his noggin. Ever since rapper Cindy Ecstasy (from "Memorablia" by Soft Cell) lip-gloss pierced Dave's heart, he has been diagnosed with the hip-hop encyclopedia disorder.
There is no way to really describe his book (or his head) because it goes all over the place. So since I was on the subject of hardness, and since it was just Halloween, let's relocate to a very special sci-fi, dark and deep corner of the world: Dave's brains.
Spooky Treats: Recommendations from Dave Tompkins
1. Whodini's "Haunted House of Rock (Vocoder Version)" is the first song with its own "Vocoder Version" and more importantly, named so. Throughout it, they say, "It's just what you wanted, something funky and haunted." If only I could hear a Vocoder version of Whodini's best line ever, "Frankenstein was there with some crazy looking chick/I think he said her name was Voodoo-On-A-Stick." Late Neu!/Kraftwerk engineer Conrad Plank first put Whodini up on the Vocoder when they stayed at his castle in Cologne. But "Voodoo-On-A-Stick?????" What on God's green slimed graveyard was that all about? I loved that shit! I wanted to call my book I Think He Said H.e.r. Name Was Voodoo-On-A-Stick but that was immediately sickled by my publisher.
There is an interlude in my book that's called "Pelon Chaney In 'The Hunchback of Stoop Rapture'"—it's about the illest beat Paul C ever made. It was for this group called Pelon in '88. The horns are all stabberwocky, and Pelon's rapper (Ces) says something about how he's the ocean, "but to the uneducated, he's the watery grave." Pelon stood for "Proper Education Leads Our Needs." And you can't beat that with a vampire bat!
2. The Abominable Dr. Phibes and a talking cactus from Dr. Who make an appearance in the Vocoder story in the book—it's all real.
3. There's an interlude on the origins of the classic song "Bugging Out" where composer Lalo Schifrin talks about making music for insects.
4. One of the greatest Kool Keith hooks ever is "Yo Astro! Embalming fluid!" That's a classic.
5. If only Linus had slapped headphones on that round-headed Charlie Brown, his crabby ass, quack-of-a-sister Lucy and that kid with the funny looking nose, and played them "Here Comes That Beat" by Pumpkin & the Profile All-Stars, they would've believed in the Great Pumpkin, no doubt. There's your Halloween style. Back when writing for magazines was fun, the first I wrote for was Dave Paul's Bomb (out of Bay Area) whose contributors at the time included the late great Dave Funkenklein's "Gangster Limpin'" column, Billy Jam's "Thoughts While Taking A Shit" column and reviews by DJ Shadow, Jeff "DJ Zen" Chang, Jazzbo and Peanut Butter Wolf. Anyway, Dave Paul had Pumpkin's monster posse cut, "Here Comes That Beat," on his answering machine in San Fran for at least six years—no exaggeration.
The late Erol "Pumpkin" Bedward was a legendary multi-instrument arranger (best known as a drummer) behind a lot of records on Enjoy, Profile and Tuff City, and, most famously, performed the "disco-skip" on Spoonie Gee's "Love Rap." Incredible funk back tracks, each one unique—unlike other bands at the time ('79, '80, '81, etc.) whose tracks are so incestuous. He was also a drum machine innovator, recognized as "king of the beats" before Mantronik. One of Pumpkin's nastiest pieces is the "instrumental" B-side to Fantasy Three's "Biters in The City," which, with its haunted-ass Vocoder drone is anything but instrumental. Ahh yes, more Vocoder! They also use a flanged-type vocoder effect later on the "instrumental," like somebody breathing into a metal tube while holding a sustained burp.
They used to improvise to get really weird funky sounds from the primitive pre-Marley era equipment. Next shit yup [that means it was ahead of its time, yawl]. Beatwise, the first few bars of "Biters in the City" are the livest, funkiest sounding drum machine programming on wax—completely unique for the time and even for years after. This break is preceded by the famous "what we gon' do right here" line, used at the beginning of the Beatnuts' "Are You Ready?"
"Biters in the City" came out in '83, and it's fabled B-side intro sounds looser than those stiff-ass Linn drum machines from '86. It almost sounds like Pumpkin's playing that shit but everybody I've interviewed who was in the studio with Pumpkin swears he programmed it. (OK. We've reached a point, point of something I don't know what.) Oh right, Pumpkin is all over my book. I could write a book on Biters in the City alone, but that'd clear the room.
6. There's a rapper from Fayetteville named Dizzy Fitzgerald who recorded one of the nicest N.C. hip hop cuts in 1989; it's called "Say No Rhyme Before It's Time" on Payroll Records (Greensboro). He says, "I welcome myself to your record shelf." Dizzy Fitzgerald, if you're out there somewhere, anywhere ... please report to the barbecue immediately. Your mic is on fire!
Honorable mention: Flavor Flav's line about tombstone chips and gravy—not sure exactly how it went but there were tombstones and there was gravy. Respect to Kid Koala cutting up Charlie Brown saying "I got a rock" on Tricks N Treats, Diamond D & Big Red's "I've Created A Monster," Gravediggaz first album Six Feet Deep, Boogie Boys' sampling John Carpenter's Halloween soundtrack, House of Wax, the beats on Les Baxter's Dunwich Horror soundtrack, and MOP for all around scaring the bejeezajeebies out of everybody.
And there ya have it. Some fresh spooks for yawl. By the time ya find any of these records it will be Halloween again, so happy haunting, hunting and remember use ya noggin, no weapons! Stay original and stay alive. JAM MASTER JAY. RIP.