Word, you know it’s Tuesday so I’m gonna try to shake the blues from you. Here in my home of Brooklyn the skies are dreary and gray, and after a most beautiful week of premature springtime, I need some nice weather in my life. Good thing that Miami’s WMC is this week! I will there in full effect, doing a bunch of parties as well as just “holding things down” and “being dude” as much as I can. Those who know me understand what I’m talking about. But for real, if you’re in town for it, check out my parties, and there’s a few that aren’t listed as well but you know how things come up always come up last minute. So yeah, stay on my Twitter son! That’s where it’s at.
Anyway, this week’s Breakbeat Tuesday is dedicated to the fine city of Miami. I love Miami and have spent a lot of time there, and I understand just how rich and pivotal their music scene is. But this story kind of starts in Philly. Back in the day I wrote an article for Wax Poetics magazine about Val Shively’s R&B Records based outside of Philly. Dude is a character and a great dude and in order to write the piece, I spent an extended amount of time with him. He told me some crazy stories, like some wild schitt about Henry Stone. Stone was the owner of Tone Distribution which was the main place where Val got his records from for a time, but Stone also was the man behind such legendary labels TK and the subsidiaries Marlin, Alston, Glades, Cat, Drive, Dash, Juana, Clouds and Sunshine Sound to name a few. Anyway, Val told me stories about how Stone discovered Harry Wayne “KC” Kasey when he was the stock boy in Stone’s warehouse, heard him singing melodies while he was stocking shelves, and put him in the studio. Or some more sordid stories like when he walked in the office to find Stone being held at knife point by George McCrae, Stone telling McCrae something to the effect of “Don’t you like your Cadillac” and McCrae answering him “Give me my MONEY, motherfusker!” Ah, the things you learn when you’re a journalist. Well around this time I got really obsessed with the original Miami sound machine. Some crazy funk came from down there, and they were right at the very vanguard of the new sound of the day, Disco. I even wanted to do a compilation of Miami records but Soul Jazz beat me to it. Anyway, here’s some of my favorite Miami records, mostly produced by my man, Florida based songwriter and percussionist Willie Clarke.
Starting with the great tradition of naming your band after your city, Miami’s “The Party Freaks” was the project of Willie Clarke and it contains the monster Ultimate Breaks & Beats mainstay “Chicken Yellow (Let Me Do It To You.)”
Willie teamed up with producer Steve Alaimo and Little Beaver to come up with this funk 45 monster. I don’t really know much about this record by All The People but it’s the only thing that they recorded, and it’s instantly recognizable. Steve Alaimo also founded his own label under the TK umbrella, Alston, which leads us to our next piece…
Maybe the First Woman of Miami Soul, Betty Wright is probably most well known for “Clean Up Woman” or “Tonight Is The Night” but I always loved this record, produced by Clarke and Clarence Reid, better know to lots of people as Blowfly.
This incredible record from Milton Wright is a departure from the typical Miami sound, but is one of my favorite albums of all time. An amazing mix of breezy soul with folk inclinations, these songs are perfect summer listening.
And two last records, one of which has Willie Clarke’s stamp on, but both of which are full-on Clarence Reid aka the almighty Blowfly. The original nasty rapper, the first treat is before he assumed his X-Rated guise, he still hints at his future innuendo with the funk stormer “Masterpiece.” The second, “Blowfly Does Sesame Street,” well let’s just say that by that time it was no holds barred.
It was a great weekend – one which I had vowed to take off, but I heard that my homies DJ Supreme La Rock and DJ Skeme Richards were going to be in town doing the Hot Peas And Butta party so I decided to swing through and check it out. Also, I just happened to bring a few 45s with me just in case I got the feeling. So when i showed up, Supreme was KILLING It on the 45s so I had to jump on to throw some joints. Then Skeme got on and closed the night out. It was really a fun time, and not something that I get the chance to do too often. Inspiring, actually. So thanks to them dudes and if you have the chance to see either one of them do their thing in a city near you, definitely go – you won’t be disappointed. And check back here for more flicks, and video, soon.
So I said that I was going to talk about some rap music this week and you damn straight I’m going to make that happen. So now that America has joined the rest of the civilized world and gotten universal health care, I got to thinking of my man DJ Too Tuff who’s been battling with thyroid cancer since last year, with no health insurance. But instead of getting into that story, I want to speak on the music. Let me tell the story about a bunch of brothers from where I come from, what they had to go through, and how they changed the world (or at least, my world.) I’m fin to talk about the Tuff Crew…
Tuff Crew came about in the late 80s and consisted of (pictured above from left) DJ Too Tuff, Ice Dog, Tone Luv, LA Kidd and “The Mountain” Monty G. These five dudes, representing a slew of different neighborhoods around Philly, released their first record the Phanjam LP at the height of Philly rap’s global power. At the time you had huge acts like Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince (representing Overbrook, a section West Philly,) Schoolly D (representing Parkside, a section of West Philly,) Cool C and Steady B (both representing Hilltop, another section of West Philly) to name a few groups that were already established as the voices of Philly rap. But along came Tuff Crew, a multiracial group from West, North and South Philly, with a completely unique sound to them. In a Wax Poetics article I wrote a few years ago, I penned them “Philly’s First Rap Supergroup.” The breakout single from their second album, 1988s “Danger Zone” was a high powered uptempo bass-heavy rap assault that sent shock waves across the city. I’m talking about one of the all-time great Philly anthems, “My Part Of Town.” From the opening guitar licks (taken from The Blackbyrd’s “Street Games”) to the almighty Kurtis Blow saying “So damn tough,” to those booming 808s, this song is ingrained in the psyche of any Philly rap fan from my era. That song was inescapable that summer, as you heard it blasting from pretty much every car driving down the street, in any given neighborhood. . And as a DJ, it was elementary that one of the first things that you learned was cutting up doubles of that vocal intro.
These dudes were Philly heroes. I remember when it was announced on the radio that they were holding the photo shoot on the art museum steps for the back of their second album on the radio. I begged my mom to let me go but she didn’t. But still, they never stopped being my favorite group, my heroes. In fact, there was an abandoned warehouse that all us kids used to hang out in (“The Factory”) at 22nd and JFK and me and my homies deemed our floor “The Danger Zone.” But all in all they were a masters at what they did. Tone Love, LA Kidd and Ice Dog had lyrics that struck the perfect balance of content, swagger and awe-inspiring dexterity. And to this day I still maintain that Ice Dog has one of the best voices in rap of all time. The beats themselves, done mostly by LA Kidd with apparently so back-up from Ultramagnetic MC’s Ced Gee, were so ahead of their time, striking a unique balance of super-rare funk breaks with a barrage of TR-808 drum machine beats. And the cuts, the DJing, provided by Too Tuff “The Deuce Ace Detonator” were so inspiring to me, that I studied those records back and forth, only to say to myself after many listens “I want to do that.”
I eventually got to know DJ Too Tuffseveral years into me first starting coming onto the party scene in the early 90s and dude was a tremendous support to me in my career even back then. In 1993 or 1994 I remember doing a huge party at Pedro Gunn’s, a reggae spot off of 4th street where I was opening up for Too Tuff. I don’t remember what it was that I did exactly, but I remember doing a certain mix involving Super Cat. He came up to me afterwards just to tell me “Man that was super dope. I wanna be like you” or something to that effect. That was one of those moments of personal validity that I’ll always remember, one of those moments where I knew that I must be doing something right. I was glad to be able to have him (along with another Philly DJ legend and friend of mine, DJ Tat Money) join me and The Rub on stage at The TLA last year. It felt as though things had kind of come full circle.
Now I love new rap music, and I’m not one of these dudes that will go around and say that everything past 1996 is terrible. But understand how hard it is for me when the stuff that I came up on back when I was a kid was so good, or in other words, so damn tough. The Tuff Crew catalog is truly remarkable, especially the second and third albums. But what is amazing to me is why, when there are so many “golden era” rap groups that are consistently given their due and their props for their contribution to the music and art form, Tuff Crew are consistently overlooked. I know that, outside of the Philly impact, they made noise in Miami for a bit. I always considered that their bass sound was a contributing factor to that, as well as them touring with The 2 Live Crew. However, aside from most music nerds (like myself, admittedly) they’re largely unknown. But regional bias aside, I hold Danger Zone and Back To Wreck Shop up there as being just as good as many of the “golden era” touchstone albums. You should check them out if you get a chance. And for the record, trials and tribulations aside, the Crew are still around doing their thing every so often. If you get a chance to check them out, make that happen. As for me, well I have nothing but love and respect for the 5 Philly brothers who, in doing what they did, made me able to do what I do.
Now, here’s some rap music to listen to: First up is “She Rides The Pony” from the “Back To Wreck Shop” album, an uptempo B-Side single that was recently appropriated brilliantly by The Roots for 2004’s “Boom” where Riq-Geez does an incredible imitation of Kane and G. Rap.
Next is “Detonator” from the “Danger Zone” album which is the ode to their DJ. All albums around this time had the obligatory “DJ cut” and this one has Too Tuff cut the track to shreds towards the end of the 3+ high powered minutes.
Here’s a remix of “My Part Of Town” done courtesy of Rutger “Rutti” Kroese from The Netherlands. It’s not dramatically different from the original, but it extends the intro some and also adds a very tasteful bridge from Lyn Collins in the mix. Thanks to my man Matthew Africa for putting me down with this a few years ago.
Last but not least comes from the first Tuff Crew album “Phanjam” from 1987, but it is not Tuff Crew. On that album they gave 2 songs to a crew that they were friends with, Camden’s Krown Rulers. Camden, NJ is kind of like to Philly what Brooklyn is to Manhattan. But without all the charm and history. Well, Camden is kind of a classic picture of urban blight. Consistently judged one of the most dangerous cities in America, Camden is one of those cities that you just drive through on you way to Philly, but never stop in. However, MC Grand Poobah (not that one) and DJ Royal Rocker came out with a monster record that still moves crowds in Philly to this day. 3-2 cross the bridge, boy! A crucial Philly rap record here, even if it’s technically from New Jersey.
So that’s it for today. Considering I’m going to Miami this week for WMC I wanted to get that Tuff Crew schitt up. But I’m going in heavy for Miami for tomorrow’s Breakbeat Tuesday so watch out.
BONUS BEAT UPDATE – I just found this vinyl rip of a song called “2-1-5″ from a group Plague Regime. I can’t find the 12” as it’s probably in my mom’s basement, but I’m pretty sure it was released on Echo International in 1998. The song is a remake of Tuff Crew’s “Open Field Attack” and the guy calls himself “Daish-Raw” which leads me to believe that it’s actually Philly rapper from the 90s Sha’Dasious. It’s not as good as the OG but still a cool record to have, especially for those folks that are into 90s regional stuff. And if that’s your thing, you should also look for the other big Sha’Dasious record that was big (at least big in Philly when it came out) “I’ma Put My Thing Down.”
So I typed out most of the content from today’s update only to have my application freeze up on me. D’oh. Not feeling it, son. Anyway, I was just saying that I’m gonna try and make sure this site doesn’t veer too far into “Cosmo’s Appreciation for Oldies Website” too much. I mean, that’s where my head is at these days but still, next week I’ll bring it back down to eye level by posting some Philly rap music. Nothing like Tuff Crew to get one ready for WMC (actually, Miami was one of Tuff Crew’s biggest markets outside of Philly, so it might be apropos.)
Happy 67th birthday Sly Stone! Actually it was yesterday but I didn’t get a chance to post up so I figured that today would be a good opportunity to kill 2 birds with 1 Stone, get it? Okay so if you don’t know who this guy is, welcome to Planet Earth. Like in last weeks post about those “elite artists,” if that group were a class Sly would be the genius / class clown. Plus, honestly for the funk is there anyone that’s more influential than this guy other that maybe James? From both a musical and probably a social standpoint, probably not. Plus there really wasn’t anybody that embodied “cool” like this dude. I have fond memories of being a really young kid and my mom playing “Dance to The Music” on the radio while us kids were in the back bopping our heads and moving our bodies like we were in The Muppet Show. But Sly was – is – an incredible artist and visionary. I’ve been planning on doing a Sly related project for a long time now and just never have gotten around to it but I hope to revisit the ideas I have for it real soon. And so today’s first breakbeat from today’s selection comes from a strange, maybe bootleg, record that I’ve had for years comprised of early recordings of him which I think are pre-Family Stone, but still fully up in the San Francisco scene. At first glance you might want to pass this one up but it has some great tunes on it and gives a nice glimpse into Sly’s gospel and soul background. The song with the beat is called “Rock Dirge” (um, okay…) but this record also has “Life Of Fortune And Fame” on it that was used by The Roots for the song “Game Theory” (YOU VIOLATING, SON! Nah, but for real that’s one of my favorite Roots songs of all time. PS – Congrats, Riq!)
Moving on to some later material, I was trying to figure out what song to choose for today. For some reason, even there’s a lot to choose from, ones that might be more “open” I had to choose “Love City” from their 1968 album “Life.” For the record, I consider Sly & The Family Stone’s drummer Greg Errico to be one of the greatest drummers of all time, and he’s so often overlooked that it’s a shame. Dude is NASTY, and I think this song is a great example of how “pocket” dude can be. But the beat is BANANAS. Also, as an aside, the way that Paul C flipped the drums on this (and I still don’t know to this day how he made it sound the way he did) for Super Lover Cee & Cassanova Rud’s “Get’s No Deeper” Remix is both a testament to Greg’s drumming, and Paul’s absolute genius.
Check them performing “Love City” as their encore at Woodstock. HARD BODY doesn’t even describe it. Man this performance is nuts. This is one of the few performances that really makes me say that I wish I could have seen Woodstock.
One last bonus beat. This is from a reissue 45 that came out a few years ago, a great cover version of Family Affair by The Generation Gap. All I know about the original LP is that they were a studio group that released a record with a bunch of cover songs as well as doing soul / funk versions of popular TV theme songs from the 70s. Worth checking for, but this 45 is great as the Cracker Boys extended the break in the front out, backed with a great edit of the Dee Felice Trio’s cover of James Brown’s “There Was A Time.”
Before I’m finished here, I can’t leave without posting this video of really early Sly & The Family Stone. In it they’re performing at the Ohio State talent show which must be like 1967 or 1968 (when M’Lady was released as a single.) But from the look of it, and being the fact that they’re performing in a talent show, I would guess this is before the blew up to become the biggest band in America. But you can see all the ill routines that they did over the years, and just bodying the contest. Very ill..
There’s a certain group of “elite artists,” meaning those that I would consider have a place firmly in the upper echelon of music, that have graced the American sound scape over the past several decades. For the most part these artists are household names, having gained immense fortune and fame, as well as in their very own small way helped sculpt the American psyche through their art and pop culture. And each one of those artists has their place and is fully worthy but over the years there’s one name that I consider to be at the top of the top, who stands alongside the giants but doesn’t get recognized as much as I think he should. That name, and that man, is Gil Scott-Heron.
This may be dating myself, but I first learned about Gil back in about 89 or 90. I was this young kid that would spend time hanging out in West Philly at the house on Osage Avenue where Espo, Ray and the rest of the Groovy Monster dudes lived at. I was like this stray cat that would just come around, showing up out of the blue on your porch, and I WILL read your books, drink your alcohol, listen to your records, and just soak up everything that I was experiencing around me. Those guys were such great dudes and that was a really wonderful time. But Espo knew where I was at when it came to music and basically sat me down one night and forced me to listen to “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” Now this is where it was at. Everything that I was looking for in one song, the funky rhythms laid down by Pretty Purdy and Ron Carter that this young brother who came up listening to hip-hop immediately was in tune with. And of course being an older record it pulled at my sense of romanticism that that kids in my circle were about, a certain “jazziness” of the early 90s rap era in Philadelphia. But, not even mentioning the lyical content of the song, it was that ATTITUDE that struck me the most. Needless to say I devoured any record that I could get my hands on from that point on. Pre-internet days, you made due with what you could find.
Gil Scott-Heron was the secret soundtrack to my teenage years. I fondly remember one night going to see him perform at the old Chestnut Cabaret on 38th Street in Philly. Well, maybe we didn’t actually “see” him in reality. Espo and I had a method (probably because we were broke, and I was a baby) where we would stand by the side of the venue right outside the stage door, and we could hear everything that was going on inside because you were probably closer to the stage than a lot of people in the venue! I “saw” a lot shows that way, standing outside, drinking a 40 and soaking up the music. I finally did get a chance to see him perform at The Arts Bank in 1994 in support of his criminally underrated “Spirits” album. It was getting close to show time and I was standing outside smoking when this cab screeched to a hald right on Broad Street and out stepped Gil. He walked right up to me. He was 50 feet tall. Wearing a denim outfit, cowboy hat and boots. A giant. I whispered “Gil” and he walked right by me as he responded “Say, brother…” and into the side entrance he went.
There’s not much that I can say in words that describes my affinity to this man, this artist. He might be the godfather of rap that people call him but I don’t know if I see him that way. He might be the eternal poet-laureate of New York? The most unabashedly conscious musician of all time? And yes, Gil is a giant but it may also be his humanity that makes the most powerful of all. This man’s been speaking, singing directly to me, for the majority of my life.
He’s got a new album out and it’s really good. People might say “Oh man where’s the claves and the Rhodes and I wanna hear that OLD Gil.” I don’t fall in that camp. I expect to see great artists evolve over time, and as if the things he was doing on “Free Will” were the same things he was doing on “1980.” Plus, all in all it’s just good to see the brother around. Say, Gil… It’s good to see you back on the scene. Why don’t you stick around for a while. I think we may need you now more than ever.
Here’s an interview with Gil that my homeboy Andy Gensler did recently. It’s really good. Also, you should buy Gil Scott-Heron’s “I’m New Here“ because that’s just what you should do. No other reason. Just do it. Finally, here is some music. Cause that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, right? Gil Scott-Heron: A selection…
DJ Stuart "Re-Work V2"
Wet "All The Ways" (Branchez Remix)
De La Soul "Beautiful Night"
With You "Ghost" feat. Vince Staples (Major Lazer Remix)
Tall Black Guy "The Heart Of The Town"
KRNE "I'll Be Good"
Drake "With You" Feat. PARTYNEXTDOOR
Christopher Cross "Ride Like The Wind" (Joey Negro Dub Disco Mix)
BAKERS DOZEN BONUS
Club Cheval "Discipline"
Mura Masa "What If I Go"
Kate Bush "Why Should I Love You?"