December 14, 2011

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

Ok, here is part two of the 'Wrap Up' to the 1986 edition of this series.  My final selection of artists might surprise some of you, and I make no apologies for missing out some of the more obvious contributors from this era.  It was always my intention to give focus to some of the lesser known or often overlooked, under rated and forgotten stars of their time. 

Too frequently when artists are asked who is their favourite, or top 10 rapper/DJ/producer etc the same 20-30 names repeatedly come up.  That's fine, but during this process a number of excellent contributors to the history of our culture are overlooked and forgotten.  As time goes by, their names become more and more distant in our memories and their significance is lost.  And for the younger generation that weren't lucky enough to live through this era, they need to know that it extended way beyond Run DMC, LL Cool J, PE, Rakim etc.

MC Boob

Now many of you are probably thinking, who the hell is MC Boob and what a weird choice of name, but actually his name is somewhat prophetic as it perfectly summarises the event that saw his demise, read on!

MC Boob changed his name in ’86 and is better known as
Steady B. Hailing from Philadelphia, Steady B was one of the pioneers who helped build the Philly scene (along with 3xDope, Schoolly D and others) and pave the way for future Philly emcees.

Under this name he had 5 albums and a number of hits. His most notable single was probably the 1988 single Serious which was a collaboration with KRS One, and a banger of a tune for it’s time with some retro (and very catchy) 1930’s style melody running through the chorus.

But back in 1986 under the MC Boob moniker, Steady released a couple of singles on different record labels. One was Do The Fila b/w The Pewee Dance which was released on Three Way Records. The other was Yo Mutha b/w Bring The Beat Back released on Pop Art Records.
Yo Mutha isn’t the usual and obvious abbreviation, instead it’s a reference to who Boob is getting down with, ‘your mother’. It’s a basic beat and in many ways it sounds really dated compared to many of the other tracks featured in this series. It hasn’t really stood the test of time, but it’s an interesting track nevertheless.

Not content with being a successful solo artist, Steady B also formed the Hilltop Hustlers which was a collective of Philly rappers and included his friend Cool C, who was also a successful solo artist. Steady B and Cool C would also go on to form another group - C.E.B. (Countin’ Endless Bank) along with another lesser known MC. Unfortunately the trio’s album was not that well received, and the groups name didn't prove to be accurate, so Steady B & Cool C decided upon another method to count the endless bank that they yearned for.

In 1996 Steady and Cool C attempted a bank robbery. Steady was the get away driver, but the job didn’t go to plan and to make matters worse, his accomplice and friend Cool C shot and killed a police woman during the robbery.

Long story short – Steady confessed to his role in the robbery and to supplying the firearms. He was found guilty of 2nd degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Cool C has always denied his involvement in the robbery, but was found guilty of 1st degree murder and was given the death penalty, although this hasn’t been acted out yet.

Now the ending to MC Boob’s story is either one of greed, or proof that even in the mid 1990’s when rap music had properly become a mainstream commodity and corporate investment was on a major scale, it still wasn’t paying the bills for many recognised and established artists. Or just maybe he was living up to the current phrase of that time - Keep it real.

Either way, one of Philly’s most significant early contributors isn’t likely to be making a comeback for quite some time.

Schoolly D
Until more recent times, Philly has often had a hard time being taken seriously as a centre for credible hip hop. It’s not like there haven’t been any great artists from Philly, as I mentioned in the review above, Steady B produced a wealth of successful albums and 3xDope were one of the earliest innovators of their style. But more importantly than any of this, Philly is the home of gangster rap. Some of you may beg to differ, but I can assure you that it isn’t LA or anywhere else near the west coast.

In 1985 Schoolly D released the classic hit, P.S.K. What Does It Mean (the initials PSK refer to the Park Side Killers, a Philly gang that Schoolly D was affiliated with). The beat of this track is well known and well sampled, but it’s the lyrics that are the most significant aspect. Within the track Schoolly refers to guns, drugs and sex and gang culture. The whole style in which he presented the track was also completely new. This song is widely accepted as the first true gangster rap song. Take a look at a selection of lyrics from the song and you can see that this wasn’t the usual lyrics from a rapper in ’86:

Drivin in my car down the avenue
Towin on a j, sippin on some brew
Turn around, see the fly young lady
Pull to the curb and park my Mercedes
I said, "Mama, mama, I tell you no lies
Cause all I wanna do is to get you high

Copped some brew, some j, some coke
Tell you now, brother, this ain't no joke

She got me to the crib, she laid me on the bed
I fucked her from my toes to the top of my head
I finally realized the girl was a whore
Gave her ten dollars, she asked me for some more

Told me 'bout this party on the Southside
Copped my pistols, jumped into the ride

Got to the place, and who did I see
A sucker-ass nigga tryin to sound like me
Put my pistol up against his head
I said, "Sucker-ass nigga, I should shoot you dead"

On a personal note, it’s only since the wide availability of the internet over the last decade or so that has allowed me to fully appreciate this song (and others) for what it’s meant to be. I’ve always loved it, but at the same time I also thought the chorus was a load of bullshit. Until I found out what PSK really stood for, I wasn’t buying into lines like K is for the way my DJ’s Kutting, it just seemed like a feeble cop out lyric that didn’t sit comfortably with the verses. At least I know better now!

His debut album Schoolly D that was released in 1986 continued this style. The full album only contains 6 tracks. Nowadays that would probably be called an EP and 15 years ago it would have been a maxi single.
And from a 6 track LP, he managed to release 3 singles!
But later that same year, Schoolly released his 2nd album (containing 7 tracks) entitled Saturday Night. The title track becoming another notable hit.

Now in the previous part of this Silver Anniversary round up, I discussed Ice-T and his track 6 In The Mornin’. I was very careful to mention that the track was widely accepted as the first west coast gangsta rap song. Ice-T has stated several times in interview that when he wrote 6 In The Mornin’ he was heavily influenced by Schoolly D’s P.S.K. and kind of emulated his rhyme style in his own delivery.

And one final last point of interest. Schoolly D released his early material on his own record label. There were plenty of independent records labels around that time (many only putting out one or two records in their lifetime), but not many artist owned labels.

2 Live Crew

I think most people think of the 2 Live Crew as a group of 4 guys (Luke, Fresh Kid Ice, Brother Marquis and their DJ Mr Mixx) hailing from Miami with Luther Campbell (aka Luke) as the front man of the group. Well, it wasn’t always like that. This little excerpt from Wikipedia puts their beginnings into a sharper perspective:

The 2 Live Crew was created by DJ Mr. Mixx with fellow rappers Fresh Kid Ice and Amazing V. The group released its first single, "Revelation", in 1985. "Revelation" was popular in Florida, so The 2 Live Crew relocated to Miami. Brother Marquis joined The 2 Live Crew for its next single "What I Like". Local rapper Luke gave The 2 Live Crew a record deal and worked as the group's manager and then lead vocalist.

I’m not sure what happened to ‘Amazing V’, wiki doesn’t cover this aspect and I’m not really a 2 Live Crew fan, so maybe someone else can fill in the blanks on that one. But I digress, the point is that Luke wasn’t a founding member nor was he the front man of the group, and surprisingly Brother Marquis was the last member to join (forgetting all the later additions in the various reunions etc).

A lot of people fail to properly acknowledge the 2 Live Crew’s contribution to hip hop, mainly because they get discounted for being a pop act, or a joke act and (mostly thanks to Luke’s later solo efforts) they are often remembered as a group of below par emcees. But this is an unfair and inaccurate recollection.

Firstly, the 2 Live Crew were pretty much single handily responsible for putting Miami Bass on the world map [I know others were prominent pioneers too, but not on an international scale]. Now you might not think that’s a good thing (and personally I’d be inclined to agree), but there should always be room in hip hop to push genre boundaries and expand the creative horizon and 2 Live were doing this early on. Their sound was original in several ways.

The Miami Bass sound was like a natural progression from Electro and the early productions were very credible. Mr Mixx was a noteworthy DJ and never wasted his solo track on each album (which was customary on all hip hop albums of that era). Mr Mixx would generally give you 4 minutes of aural assault which surely must have left him sweating profusely from all the frantic scratching.

Add to this mix the sound of Fresh Kid Ice’s unique vocal tone. He sounded like nobody else and was unmistakable on any track (his vocal distinction certainly compensated for his lack of lyrical ability). With everything combined, a 2 Live Crew record instantly stood out from the crowd.

For me, the crown jewel in the group was always Brother Marquis. Despite his often corny subject matter, his delivery was always on point and he was certainly one of the early emcees to display the ‘effortless flow’ style of rapping. It was his rhyme style that often salvaged a track into something more listenable (let’s be honest, Luke’s voice grates on your ears more than screeching bus brakes).

The second major contribution they made which has probably impacted upon the vast majority of non mainstream artists, was to define the boundaries of what was acceptable to say on a record and how far freedom of speech really extended in America. This also set an informal precedence in other countries, not necessarily from a legal perspective, but by demonstrating what a debate around freedom of speech can lead to and the questions it starts to pose.

It also reconfirmed what had been found out numerous times before, in that efforts to push any kind of undesirable content underground or remove it altogether, generally tends to have the opposite effect and indirectly promotes it and leads to sell out levels of interest. Therefore, it’s generally best to leave these artists to go about their business undisturbed, which was a blessing for those controversial artists who came after 2 Live Crew.

The whole incident around the As Nasty As They Wanna Be album is well known and well documented, so I won’t dwell on the details (although at some point I’ll upload the 2 Live Crew’s official music video which catalogues this era for those who are interested).

However, the direction that hip hop was going in at that time was creating more and more unrest, and sooner or later someone was going to run into the difficulties that the 2 Live Crew did.

Personally, with hindsight, I’m really pleased that it was them that did it. Why? Because if you can prove that it’s ok and legal to talk openly and graphically about sex (which there isn’t really much of a justifiable need for other than in the name of entertainment), then by default it instantly becomes acceptable to talk about almost anything else. This milestone in hip hop history opened the door for socially and politically conscious emcees to talk about pretty much anything they liked. And that ability to talk freely is one of the main things that keeps hip hop fresh and evolving to this date.

Ok, I’ve deeply digressed into the importance of the 2 Live Crew’s contribution to hip hop, but hey, isn’t this a thread about significant artists/records from 1986? Too right.

So in 1986 the 2 Live Crew released two singles before their debut album. The singles were Get it Girl b/w Cut it Up and 2 Live is What We Are. They also had a track called What I Like released the year before and featured on the Electro 11 LP.

Now Get  it Girl is pretty damn annoying.  It over uses the main sample waaayyy too much which starts to drive the listener insane, but essentially it's a dance track so what do you expect?  The beats got those familiar retro hand claps from the electro era but it's all been sped up to a Miami Bass tempo so it just doesn't work.
But the B side, Cut it Up, is much better.  It's a proper old skool track and what the 2 Live Crew should have stuck to.  Essentially it's the crew putting on their DJ and bragging that he's the best there is, but this is pretty well justified given that Mr Mixx was a respected DJ.

The other single that year, 2 Live is What We Are, is much better known as it was the title track from their debut album.  Again, the style of this track is typical of the era in both the music and lyrical style.  It's not necessarily an outstanding track, but if you listen to it again today, it's hard to believe that this crew became the profane antagonists we all now remember.  I can't help but feel that Luke saw the money potential from the sex rhymes and pushed the group down that road.

Here’s a few final points for your consideration before I move on:
  • Was Fresh Kid Ice the first Chinese rapper?
  • And why was his arm in plaster for so long? Was this some kind of repetitive strain injury from all those sex rhymes? 
  • Skyywalker Records must have been one of the earliest ‘artist owned’ labels. Nowadays everybody wants to set up their own label to allow unedited artistic expression, but in 1985 this was something else.

Just Ice
(Shown here with the Beastie Boys)
Just Ice is mostly forgotten in the countless lists of old school favourites and I’m not really sure why. When Just Ice burst onto the scene, his sound, lyrics and image were like no other at that time, and he brought something very new to the table.
His sound was created by producer Kurtis Mantronik (of Mantronix fame), and was unique for its time. His gruff and gritty rhyme style was unparalleled by other artists of that era and coupled with elements of reggae toasting he was one of the pioneers of ragga hip hop.
I can’t think of another emcee at that time with a full set of gold fronts, was Just Ice one of the first to do this too?

1986 saw him release his debut album Back to the Old School and the popular single LaToya b/w Put that Record back On. The album was well received and the single Cold Getting Dumb is assured its place as a hip hop classic.

But also on this album were the tracks Gangster of Hip Hop and That girl is a slut. Looking back, 1986 was generally still an era full of positivity and the party vibe hadn’t fully dissipated, and those who weren’t following these paths were mostly becoming more socially conscious.

And although female analysis and mediocre criticism were becoming more common, purely misogynistic rhymes were certainly not the norm. Neither was ‘Gangsterism’. N.W.A. are widely quoted as being the pioneers of Gangsta Rap (which isn’t actually true, they just popularised it), but Just Ice was clearly a little ahead of the game, especially for a New York emcee.

Unlike many artists from that era who had retired by the early 90’s, Just Ice continued to produce albums until the late 90’s. After a ten year hiatus, he returned in 2008 and has since put out several singles which include production from DJ premier. In 2010 he teamed up again with his old friend (and producer) KRS One for a creatively titled EP - The Just-Ice & KRS-ONE EP Volume #1.

Coming up in Part III is a mixtape full of tracks specifically from 1986 that you can download for your listening pleasure.  Look out for this over the next few days.

Mike Check.


  1. I enjoyed this post topic very much. I agree with pioneers often being forgotten or overlooked regarding their contributions/skills/etc. As for Fresh Kid Ice, I know of no other Chinese rapper before him. As for Just-Ice, that photo of the Beastie Boys is along side their DJ at the time, DJ Hurricane, that is not Just-Ice.

  2. Hi there, thanks for taking the time to reply, your feedback is appreciated. It's a good call on the Just Ice photo, I don't know why I didn't spot that before. I should know better than to trust a google image search, lol!!!

    Your Fresh Kid Ice comment is an interesting point. I've also spent the last 20+ years thinking he was half Chinese (or something similar), but then I read somewhere recently that apparently he's not, he's African American. I don't know how true this is, so I didn't discuss it in this article, (I guess I should probably treat it with as much caution as a Just Ice image search!). Peace.