We’re all out there looking for our perfect beat, but sometimes we don’t even know it’s there right under our noses the entire time.
Back in late 2010 I started writing a column for my friends at Fool’s Gold Records for their blog entitled “Cosmo’s Crates” – which became some sort of internet validation of my lifetime of record nerdery. It was always fun to write about songs that I cared about (even if nobody else did) and to try and do the math and connect the dots between some of these forgotten gems and how they impacted music and pop culture that we know it today. The Fool’s Gold blog soon gave way to Cosmo’s Crates taking a different more visual form, and that’s something that we’re still looking to have happen come early 2015 (more on that later so stay tuned to YouTube) but recently I was reminded that there was this whole facet of my record game that I don’t always share with my people.
Cue up Steve Masson, or Mister Masson as his students call him. Steve is a teacher of AP Language classes at Highland High School, Highland NY. The good teacher hit me up this week to let me know he’s reading a piece that I wrote about Run–D.M.C.’s “Here We Go (Live At The Funhouse)” as an example of a well written analysis. As Steve told me, “Students struggle with criticism. It’s hard to articulate emotional and intellectual responses to art. But a good piece of criticism can open the reader up to looking at art and the world differently. I’ve heard “Here We Go” 100’s of times, know it by heart. But I never noticed the flaw… I will now, every time. And finally, good criticism is about more than just the object. We’ll talk about the song/flaw/your interpretation as a metaphor for hip hop culture itself.”
I’m honored to be a part of Mr. Masson’s curriculum and it makes me proud to play a part in expanding young minds. So thanks Steve, and a really big shout out to all the kids in Mr. Masson’s AP Language classes at Highland High School!
Here in their entirety are the two pieces I wrote about Run-D.M.C.’s seminal “Here We Go” originally published in January 2011 on Fool’s Gold and in August 2013 on HiLoBrow. Hope you enjoy!
Whattup, folk? After a whirlwind mini-tour this past weekend, I’m back in Brook-Nam and ready to drop some jewels for you – albeit a little late. So you know, when it comes to my crates, I have a gang of shit in the arsenal, don’t get it twisted. I could imagine that this week might be looked at a little bit as somewhat of a softball. But truthfully I don’t give a fuck because even though these records might not be totally obscure, they are without question VERY IMPORTANT RECORDINGS within the pantheon of American music. So sit back and listen…
Now I don’t like to celebrate death dates. I would rather celebrate the life of those that have passed, acknowledging what they gave to us while they were here with us. The only case where I give daps to an artist on the date of their demise is on Christmas Day, which will forever be James Brown Day to me. (In essence, every day is James Brown Day, it’s just that falling of his death on that day actually gives us the official day off.) But yes, I do remember birthdays, and today marks the birthday of the late great Jason Mizell AKA Jam Master Jay.
If you want to talk about DJs that changed the game, this dude was it. As the musical foundation of the legendary Run-DMC, Jay became the first real global superstar of the hip-hop DJ world. He was THE BAND, using routines that he picked up in the parks and bars of his native Hollis, Queens. Armed with 2 turntables, Jay helped guide his band members’ distinctive sound, ushering the group into worldwide fame and technically starting a new era of rap (take note – TECHNICALLY, the difference between “old school” and “new school” rappers all comes down to Run-DMC. They were truly the first “new school” rap group.) Jay’s influence transcended the music, as he was the man behind the scenes crafting their trademark fashion sense, which at this point has become iconic and is aped by people who haven’t ever heard any Run-DMC records.
But let’s talk about records, or to be specific, a record. “Here We Go (Live At The Funhouse)” is for my money the greatest singular live performance of a rap group on wax ever. EVER. Recorded in 1983 (but not pressed up and released until ’85) this 4 minute masterpiece truly captures the spirit and soul of hip-hop. This record was a live record, recorded at New York City’s legendary Funhouse club. 4,500 kids in attendance, with nothing but 2 emcees, and the one Jay rocking like a band. And man does he rock so well. I can only imagine the electricity in the air that night, as the city prepared to watch their new hometown heroes. At the very beginning you hear him cutting up the quickly syncopated kick/snare from the “Big Beat” record (more on that in a few) with Run and D engaging the crowd on the mic. And in those words you will hear phrases that you’ve heard a thousand times in too many songs to count – phrases that have ingrained themselves in our collective consciousness. “How you feel out there” – and you know it. “And it goes a little something like this” – and you KNOW IT. And “Aahh yeah” – which we all know, and to this day I can’t listen to without thinking of another one of our dear friends that has left us, the late great Adam “DJ AM” Goldstein. And then “it goes a one, two, three, and…” And here we go. Run and D attack the mic and the crowd and the routine with a ferociousness and fluidity that is unparalleled. Fresh rhymes and word play, back and forth, in complete unison with each other and the band, Jam Master Jay, rocking like a fucking machine. The “Big Beat” drums rain down on your ears and set the perfect tone for the aggressiveness that is the routine. And it’s just drums, that’s it. There’s no need for any more music than that. And there’s a complexity in the sparseness when it all comes together with the way Jay goes back and forth on the 2 records behind the fellas. And case in point, to show how in tandem they are, at the 1:10 mark the record skips a beat just slightly, but Jay is able to catch it perfectly and get back on the beat, with Run and D making the slight adjustment and they all continue on, not missing a step. Listen for it. It’s the perfection in the imperfection, and in my opinion one of the greatest “mistakes” in recorded history.
This routine is perfect. This record. It is PERFECT.
And to me one of the facets of the perfection is the source of the drums, Billy Squier’s “Big Beat.” Nowhere in the world will you find more thunderous drums, so absolutely unique. The drum pattern is simple, but calling them effective just doesn’t do it justice. They knock to fucking holy hell. Squier was nowhere at the peak of his career as arena rock demigod when the 1980 “Tale Of The Tape” came out. But it definitely set the tone cause this shit rocks hard. And I’ve often thought about whether or not these artists that are so often sampled knew how tight the parts that become recycled were at the time. Of course this dude knew. He named the damn song after the drums in it. To this day I still think of “Big Beat” as being top 5 easily when it comes to hard hitting drum breaks. Jay knew it. Jay-Z knew it 20 years later. And 20 years later, they still have the same effect. RAW POWER. It still sounds as bad, and as fresh, as it did when it was recorded 31 years ago. And that’s something else…So yeah, call this a softball if you want. I’m only talking about one of the greatest songs of all time, using one of the greatest snippets of recorded music of all time, performed by one of the greatest hip-hop figures of all time. If you don’t see that, then I have a strange micro-genre of music to sell to you. Would you be interested in some mosquito house?
Happy birthday Jam Master Jay. May you rest in power and shelltoes. (Originally published by Fool’s Gold, January 21st, 2011)
HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM 21: Twenty-first in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating old-school hip hop.
RUN-D.M.C. “HERE WE GO (LIVE AT THE FUNHOUSE)” 1983 by Cosmo Baker
Let’s get one thing straight before we proceed – I know this record was released as a single in 1985. But “Here We Go (Live At The Funhouse)” was actually recorded in February 1983, and it’s a rare example of a single that’s sourced from a live performance (Run-DMC were keen on using turntable wizardry to create songs, “Beats To The Rhyme” for example.) And yes, I know technically Run-DMC as a group in itself is the actual dividing line between the true “Old School” that was disco-rapping and the “New School” Larry Smith-inspired sound that would usher in rap’s first Golden Age. But this song to me is the ultimate testament of the true essence of the DJ/MC dynamic that is hip-hop. And it’s a perfect peek through the window to see the well-oiled machine that was Run-DMC.
Picture this: You’re packed in the sweatbox that’s The Funhouse, one of Manhattan’s most wild and notorious nightclubs of the era. It’s a cold February night but the condensation of everyone’s breath inside is making the walls sweat, the ceiling drip. DJ Run is on stage and asks the crowd “How y’all feel out there” to which you and the rest of the room hoot and whistle as a reply. DMC says “Ah yeah” and then you hear Jam Master Jay start to scratch a powerful kick and snare as he spins the record back and forth, getting ready for launch. After a few more words THE BAND rushes forth into a brand new routine, two turntables and two microphones, powered by the BIG BEAT that is Billy Squier’s “The Big Beat.” On time, locked in tandem, as one, three artists delivering a performance like they’ve done it countless times before.
And then everything gets fucked up.
You didn’t hear it. Nobody did at first, it was only just a split second that nobody would have even picked up on. But it was there, at 1 minute and 10 seconds into the performance. Jay’s hand slipped. Or perhaps the sweat from the room got on the record and made it hard to cue. Or maybe he just wasn’t fast enough (doubtful). Whatever the reason, he missed his cue on the doubles routine. He didn’t bring “Big Beat” back fast enough. It came off beat. Part of Billy Squier’s “Iiiii” seeped through. It could have thrown the entire routine off.
But it didn’t. Jay caught it and went back on beat. I picture Run and D looking at each other and at Jay, aware of the mistake, and they bennnnnnd their words and allow everything to snap back into place as Jay rushes the one turntable back into position. The danger was real, the cataclysm was right there, and it was avoided. And they rocked their way into history.
I believe that one finds perfection in the cracks, in the imperfections. That one moment defines this song to me. A perfect hip-hop song, defined by a flaw. Now picture that. (Originally published by HiLoBrow, August 26th, 2013)
Towards the end of 2012, my dear friend / Larry Levan worshiping / Tom Of Finland loving lady killing / sartorially revolutionary Elliot Aronow AKA Jacques The Ripper, the man behind Jacques Elliott, asked me to dig deep into my sexiness and come up with a list of SEX / MAKE OUT JAMS to share with the people. Obviously that’s second nature to me – LL Cool Cos is about his business, and this man’s business is to make the ladies swoon hahah. But for real, I put together just a little playlist that we called “Smash Hits” that’s not your everyday cliched smooth R&B nonsense. Understand that this list of tunes right here is your definitive go-to list for when you want to kick it up a notch with that special lady or ladies. Or if you want to not get locked in the friend zone. This list is about keeping your options open. This list is not an instruction manual… But an experience. And with that, we present to you, “Smash Hits”
Shout out to me and Jacques, here backstage at The Paradise Garage, circa 1984. Yeah, we gets it in…
Serge Gainsbourg “L’Hotel Particulier” – Any list of this caliber wouldn’t be complete without Serge, and this ode to late night smash-fests in Rococo-styled rooms is sure to make any woman’s knees turn to crème fouetté. Even if she only wished she knew French, the message is loud and clear. That hot pop star that you think is so cool? Serge is where he got his swag from – so get on that level.
The Isley Brothers “Voyage To Atlantis” – Make no mistake: Ernie Isley is a genius. But it’s not just his shredding that makes this song a certified pantie-dropper. An ode to what was and what might have been is guaranteed to make that partner of yours let it all hang out. Isley Brothers is true baby-making music and this is the brothers at the top of their game.
Caetano Veloso “Cucurrucucú Paloma” – The Brazilian Bob Dylan recorded this version for Pedro Almodovar’s “Hable con Ella” and I don’t know about you but this just kind of oozes sex from the speaker. Just ask the people that I’ve played it for… There’s so much to be said in what’s NOT said, especially if it’s said in a language that you don’t understand.
Teddy Pendergrass “Come Go With Me” – The power of Teddy P can be perfectly illustrated in how his ability to sell out “women’s only” concerts. Trust me, kids… You were probably conceived to this very song. Soul music with a capital S, this song is direct and to the point. Come over to my place so we can smash. Any questions? I think not.
Jodeci “Feenin’” – Some might conjure up memories of slow dragging in high school basement parties with this one. But Jodeci was able to take the traditions of classic soul music and translate it to the hip-hop generation. Their sound has aged like a fine wine, and is still guaranteed to get the ladies open for business.
Rhye “Open” – I could have put the entire “Woman” album on this list but I opted for the opener, aptly entitled “Open.” The lush sound, masterfully crafted songwriting and production and Mike Milosh’s falsetto conjure up the sexy sounds of early 80s Sade. It’s an early contender for album of the year in my opinion.
Jeff Buckey “Lover, You Should Have Come Over” – Giving it up to Jeff, RIP… The tragic Crown Prince of the mid 90s NYC indie singer-songwriter scene met an early demise in 1997. But his music posthumously lives on, with its tender and frank and ultimately sexy tunes about love and desire, perfectly captured in this beautiful ballad.
Robin Thicke “Lost Without U” – Who would have thought Alan Thicke’s baby boy would have been able to get the ladies open in the way that he does? This is the sound of mature love making for our generation. Smooth and aggressive at the same time, a perfect combo in a song to get lost under the covers with that certain someone.
Prince “If I Was Your Girlfriend” – Could I have made this list without Prince? The answer is no. And whereas it is nearly impossible to narrow a selection to just one, I chose this song from his “Sign O The Times” opus. A mid-tempo groove of a song that has an interesting take on gender reversal, Prince’s falsetto lulls you into a false sense of security and vulnerability, but never relinquishes the powerful masculinity behind it. (NOTE: Prince pulls all his music from YouTube so the closest I could get was this pretty cool Esperanza Spalding version – but go out and find the OG.)
Jai Paul “Jasmine (Demo)” – Between this song and “Bitsu” mister Paul is batting 1.000 to me. I can run these songs back to back and like Colt 45 it works every time. There’s a definite falsetto theme running in this list, and this is no exception. Combined with his 21st Century Post Dilla-esque style production, this is an ill love jam for NOW.
Massive Attack “Teardrop” – This sublime tune may be standing on the verge of being infinitely played out in hotel lobbies and while shopping at The Gap, but the song don’t lie. With the ethereal vocals of Cocteau Twin’s chanteuse Elizabeth Fraser, this tune floats higher above in another plane, and is quite possibly (probably) about her love (and loss) of her one time partner Jeff Buckley.
Friendly Fires “Paris (Aeroplane Remix)” – The impeccable Aeroplane transformed this uptempo electro-pop smash into the sublime electro-smash pop where the synths sound like what love looks like in my dreams. A beautiful ode to irrefutable connection and escapism, this version was reimagined by Aeroplane, with the assistance of Brooklyn’s own Au Revoir Simone taking on the vocal remix duties – bringing in a wonderful counter of femininity.
The-Dream “Fancy” – Terius Nash knows what he’s doing, and with “Fancy” he conjured up visions of spending those sweet mornings where you make such sweet love with your woman that you wanna take her out shopping and spend all your money afterwards. Nash kind of took the formula of 80s R&B and updated it through his unapologetic hyper-masculine 2000 filter. I really never thought that putting a dent in your bank account could sound so sexy.
D’Angelo “Lady” – My generation’s Marvin, Sam, Teddy, the voice of sexy R&B for so many of us, and while I could have easily gone to “Untitled” it’s “Lady” that really speaks to me with a bump and rhythm that seems to fit rocking the night away so well. Fuck a neo-soul label – this is timeless soul music for the ages, as D sings his heart away about his one and only, declaring his pride in his love for the entire world to witness.
Ohio Players “Never Had A Dream” – Okay, I just want to spend three days in bed with my baby and listen to nothing but Ohio Players. The only time we get out of bed is to flip the vinyl to the other side… Seriously though, is there anything wrong with that? Give it a try sometime and you’ll see that I’m not.
I’ve been a skateboarder all my life starting from way back in the 80s, and was deeply involved with it for a long time, along with my family (my mom opened Philadelphia’s first “real” skateboard shop back in 1985, “Spike’s Skates” and owned it for about 6 years afterwards.) Needless to say, these were formative years to me, and being a skateboarder was a natural thing for me. Time passes, and things change. I became more interested in girls and graffiti than skateboarding. Years passed and a car accident made it so that I’d probably never skate again. But once it’s in your blood you never shake it. To this day, I’ll see rails and lines and ledges and instinctively see the run in my mind like it’s second nature. That’s because I guess it is.
My friends in Finland, Helsinki Hookup, had me over last year to DJ for their annual pro skateboarding contest and it was amazing. Not too long afterwards, knowing my skating lineage / pedigree, the asked me to write an article for their magazine which would consist of a list of anything skate related that I wanted. So I decided to list my Top Ten Favorite Old-School Skate Decks – most of which I owned and skated at one point. Then I decided to list me Top Ten Favorite Old-School Philly Skate Spots, giving my Finnish friends the bonus. Here’s the article but obviously it’s in Finnish so most of you can’t read it, but it’s transcribed below. Thanks and I hope you enjoy this – Skate of Die!
Growing up as an 80s baby in Philadelphia, the Holy Trinity of cultural influences for me are easily graffiti, rap music, and skateboarding. I humbly admit that I have quite a rich pedigree when it comes to the skateboard world. Being a skater since I was a little kid, in 1985, my mom opened up what was the first strictly skateboarding store of its kind on the East Coast of The USA. It was named Spikes Skates and quickly became the epicenter of the entire skating community of Philly. I had the privilege of meeting some of the top skaters in the world at that time, as well as being part of a skate community that help define modern day street skating as we know it. I am not going to lie – I kind of sucked at skating, even though it was a passion pure of heart. But skating made me the man that I am today. Of my era, here are my top ten favorite decks (for various reasons, from the “rideability” to the artwork) as well as my top ten favorite Philly skate spots. Let’s get OLD SCHOOL, baby…
Cosmo Baker’s Top Ten Favorite Skateboard Decks
#10 Powell Peralta Original Sword & Skull: My first REAL board having graduated from riding a Variflex, this board was a great yet simple board to ride. And the VCJ artwork was so killer, and created the template for Powell Peralta. This board is attributed to OG Ray “Bones” Rodriguez, but the original designs were no-name.
#9 JFA Deck: At 11” X 32”, this thing was like riding an aircraft carrier. Pussy ass Williamsburg long-board riding punks need to get on this level. Perfect for cruising down the street.
#8 Skull Skates Christian Hosoi Hammerhead: Steve Olson’s Skull Skates was bad-ass, and Hosoi was as bad-ass as they come at that time too. So when they linked up, and then they released his deck, it was the most anticipated of the time. It was definitely a defining moment.
#7 Santa Cruz Rob Roskopp III: The third in the series, this one was where the artwork really showed the monster really breaking out from behind the target. I always thought this series was so dope, and quite iconic.
#6 Vision Mark Gonzales: There wasn’t any other skater that had as much style as Gonz, or who arguably influenced as many. Everyone had one of these at least once.
#5 G&S Neil Blender Coffee Cup: This board had artwork that Neil did himself, and it was a departure from what everyone else was doing at the time, much like Neil’s skating. Dude was a true original, and this board was so much fun to ride.
#4 Zorlac John Gibson: Another monster deck, this John Gibson joint had the crazy Pushead artwork, much like the rest of the Zorlac line.
#3 Santa Monica Airlines Natas Kaupas: Natas kind of came out of the blue when we first saw him on videos, and everyone became an instant fan. The release of his first deck on SMA was kind of a big deal.
#2 Powell Peralta Guerrero Roses: Truthfully my final Powell Peralta pick was between this and the Steve Steadham deck. But while the art on Steadham’s is incredibly boss, there are not too many people that had an impact on our skating like Tommy, and his board was designed perfectly for street skating. I always preferred the understated roses design than the more popular sword & flames one.
#1 Alva Fred Smith Jr. Punk Size: Possibly my favorite board of all time, it’s the first board that I knew of that was the perfect size between a regular sized deck and a freestyle deck. So much fun to shred on this, I rode a Fred Smith for years.
Honorable Mentions: Powell Peralta Per Welinder Freestyle, Santa Cruz Jeff Grosso Toy Box, Madrid Mike Smith Concave, Sure Grip International Tony Magnusson, and the Powell Peralta Steve Steadham Ace Of Spades.
Cosmo Baker’s Top Ten Favorite Old-School Philly Skate Spots
#10 FDR Park: The spot is legendary and still going strong. The most complete skating experience in Philadelphia, hands down.
#9 The Sundial: Down on the river at Penn’s landing, this sundial had small, steep banks but its 360 degree design was tons of fun.
#8 The Afro American Museum Banks: These cool statues outside of the museum were great to ride but security would be quick to chase you away.
#7 The Hershey Banks: Right on Broad Street outside The Hershey Hotel, these were some of my favorite – and most ridable – banks in the city. It’s also the first spot that I ever saw the powers-that-be put metal coping on the banks to keep skaters from shredding the spot.
#6 The Party House on Rodman Street: Everyone lived on Rodman Street at least once, or at the very least, they knew someone who lived there. It was basically 2 blocks of houses where kids lived and partied. I can’t remember whose house it was, but some skaters built a half pipe in their backyard. It was the only one in the city.
#5 The King Of Prussia Dustbowl: You needed a car to get here or else it would have been higher on my list. But this was a system of dry reservoirs that were sick and went on for a long distance. No other spot like it in the area, but only a few people knew of it.
#4 McShred: This parking lot in West Philly had a great dip and curb where the asphalt had caved in. So much fun, Philly’s own McRad made a song about it! After skating through the city all day, this usually was the final destination.
#3 City Hall Concourse: The concourse underneath City Hall was miles of smooth riding with some great – but tricky – banks. The best thing though was that it was underground so you could skate there rain or shine, but it did get pretty shaky down there with thugs and criminals.
#2 Passyunk Avenue Outside Spikes Skates: Every day, we would pull out the various launch ramps and quarter pipes that were built specifically for us, and we would own the street all day long.
#1 Love Park: Duh… Long Live Love Park.
Newsflash – The Nerds won. It’s not a mystery nor should it be that, while us nerdy guys in high school were being overlooked by the girls and being terrorized by the jocks and the cool kids, we were secretly plotting to take over the world… Okay, that all may be hyperbole (key words “may be”) but truth be told I am a nerd and I am proud of it. So when one of my favorite music nerditry sites on the web Nerditorious.com asked me to do a guest column for them, of course I was all in. And my contribution? I know this is gonna make all the ladies out there go CRAZY, but yes… I wrote about the one and only Norman Connors.
Peep Norman Connors Revisited By Cosmo Baker