December 11, 2011

Silver Anniversary Series - 1986 - The Wrap Up (Part I)

As 2011 draws to a close, so does my series of reviews focusing on records and artists from 1986.  Instead, I'll soon be focusing on 1987, which was another hugely important year in hip hop's evolution.  Anyway, let's get back to 1986 whilst there is still time to review it.

When I came up with the concept for this series, I did some homework to make sure that there was plenty of significant and meaningful material to review, and I was surprised by just how much history there was that was either being forgotten or had passed many of us by (myself included).  I drew up a hit list of the main artists I thought should be mentioned, and I'd hoped to do many more articles in this series than my time has permitted me to do (but that's the life of an ageing b-boy juggling work, family, blogging etc). 

One of the biggest difficulties has been verifying my facts.  I've got a pretty good memory and my knowledge of the old school and golden era is pretty good, but being certain that something was released in a particular year, or on a certain label all needs verifying when 25 years have passed me by.  It's surprising just how many records were released in one year, and then rereleased on a different label the following year (maybe only a couple of months apart), especially when comparing US and European releases.  Many of the artists from this era don't appear on wikipedia, there aren't any Amazon reviews etc, so it's taken some considerable time to pull this stuff together. 

So here I am at the end of the year with a short list of artists that I'd hoped to shine a spotlight on, but never got the time to.  It seems a shame to let them fall by the wayside, so what I'm going to do is give a brief summary of each of these as they all deserve recognition for their work and contribution to the evolution of hip hop music and culture.

As there's so much to cover, I've decide to split this edition into 3 parts.  The first two will focus on the artists and the music, and part 3 will be a little Christmas bonus (download) for you in keeping with this series. 


First up is the Ice Man.  1986 was a key year in Ice-T's career, it's when everything started to take shape and ultimately in 1987 he would sign with Sire records who he would release his debut album with.  But in '86, it was his 12" single Dog N The Wax that was
kicking up a storm.  The B-side featured the now classic track 6 in the Mornin' which many people consider to be the most significant track in starting the west coast gangsta rap scene [note that I said 'west coast', more on that in part 2 of this wrap up].  Yes, N.W.A. made gangsta rap hit the mainstream a couple of years later, but this is the first song that was getting major recognition and showing that gangsta rap potentially had a market.

As Ice-T had originated from Jersey, he hadn't grown up with any affiliations to a particular gang.  I don't know whether he intentionally kept it that way or if it was by chance, but it opened up his music to a much wider audience and helped catapult him to the top of the west coast rap scene with respect from both sides.  What is even more strange, is that both gangs embraced an outsider so widely.

Let us also remember that by 1986 Ice-T had already made several cameo appearances in films (Breakin, Breakin 2 & Rappin) and an episode of the TV series Fame. This also makes him a pioneer of the rapper/actor crossover genre.
Add to this the rock crossover he did with Bodycount and the fight that he had with Warner Bros to preserve his integrity and right of free expression, it all makes him a key figure in shaping the hip hop landscape for future artists.

Given that Ice is now 53 (and looking much better than many of the rappers who are at least 10 years younger), he’s still consistently making music and always maintains a presence on the scene, I’ve got to salute him as one of hip hop’s greats. A true legend in the game.

World Class Wreckin’ Cru

It’s widely known that Dr Dre used to be part of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru (along with all the hype about wearing sequin outfits and make up etc, although nobody ever makes the comparison that Zulu Nation used to look like a Village People tribute band).
What a lot of people forget, is that DJ Yella was also part of the Cru and they actually had some pretty big (pop) hits. Most people will remember their early electro track Surgery from their debut LP, but 1986 saw the release of their second LP Rapped in Romance and the singles The Fly and He’s Bionic. Despite the Cru gaining commercial success, Dre and Yella were instead beginning to pursue an alternative, and ultimately more lucrative, path.

1986 was the transitional year that saw Dre and Ice Cube starting to work together, which eventually resulted in them collaborating with Eazy-E to form the super group N.W.A. with fellow rapper MC Ren. The rest as they say, is all (well documented) history.

Now, take a pause for a minute and ask yourself what the current hip hop landscape would look like if Dre and Yella had stayed with the Wreckin’ Cru?


Another sign of hip hop’s growing popularity was the arrival of Whistle. Their hit single (Nothing Serious) Just Buggin was a chart hit in the US and UK in 1986.  What's crazy about this track is that it is blatently commercial with its happy feel, bright video and catchy 'buggy' sample, but it was so widely accepted by b-boys.  I'm not saying it was at the top of their playlist along with Run DMC, Cool J and Rakim, but it wasn't rejected.  If this tune dropped in 2011, it would be panned instantly and there certainly wouldn't be any retro affection for it.  How times change.
What is less known is that much of the brains behind Whistle came from U.T.F.O.’s Kangol Kid. Kangol Kid formed the band, wrote much of their material and also managed them.

U.T.F.O. were signed to a relatively big label, Select Records (also known for Chubb Rock, Special Ed, Kid N Play, Real Roxanne and many more), and they frequently worked with producer and hit maker Hitman Howie Tee.

Kangol brought in Howie Tee and between them they produced Whistle’s first two albums.  He also got them signed to Select Records.

(Shown here with D-Nice and Red Alert)

Yep, the high top sporting, crazy dancing, larger than life personality from 3rd Bass that we all loved was kicking around long before he teamed up with Prime Minister Pete Nice.  However, he was only known as Serch (without the MC prefix) and he sounded very different.  Personally I would describe his sound as very similar to Slick Rick (who was gaining a lot of attention with Doug E Fresh at that time) and Serch was story telling in a similar vein.

In 1986 he released two 12" singles, Melissa b/w Contact and Hey Boy b/w Beware of the Death.  Although these aren't the most memorable of tracks and they lack any real nostalgic longevity, it really should be noted that Serch was on the scene way before many people recognise.  In fact not too long back I watched a clip of the up coming Freshco & Miz story and noticed that Serch was the host of the emcee battle that Freshco won in 1989 (again, before 3rd Bass had hit the big time).

As stated in some of my previous posts, without Serch we might not have ever had hip hop greats such as Nas, O.C. and Non Phixion.  And that's not to mention the impact of 3rd Bass, still widely recognised as the first successful white rap group with credibility who in turn opened the doors for others to follow.


Salt & Pepa originally debuted in 1985 under the moniker Super Nature with a response track to Doug E Fresh's The Show.  Their track was unimaginatively called The Showstopper.
In ’86 they returned (under the name that we all now know) with their debut LP - Hot, Cool & Vicious.  It contained the singles My Mic Sounds Nice and Tramp, but the most significant track from this album was the commercial appeal of the single Push It.  It was the remix of this track that catapulted them onto the world stage and drove the sales of their album.  Many people think the track is produced by Herby 'Luv Bug' Starski due to his frequent appearance in the video for the song.  However, the mix was actually done by producer Cameron Paul.

Salt-N-Pepa were the first female rap act to go platinum and went on to become the best selling female rap act to date.  But more than that, they showed that female rap artists could be sexy and sassy (when compared to existing artists, such as Roxanne Shante).  Anyone who remembers this era will know that their influence went beyond the music, the hair styles, the earrings, the leggings and boots were all things that fans picked up on and emulated.

Well that's it for part I, in the next instalment I'll look at the real pioneer behind gangsta rap, freedom of speech and I'll be going into much more detail than I have so far. Check back in a couple of days.

Mike Check.

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