Duke Bootee’s Hip Hop History – Lesson 2: Old School-80’s

Once the baton was passed and the old school had it firmly in their grasp, they took off like a shot. They took the breakdown and broke it down even further. What they had to say also expanded beyond the early anthems of self and materialism and massageney to include a distinctly male black urban point of view. Rap was unapologetic and it had a story to tell about feeling left out. A musician and his axe were replaced by a DJ, mike, and drum machine and some records. Who stepped in front of that mike and what propelled them changed from moving the crowd to making money. Seeing that money was there to be made they jumped on it with all four feet. As the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor expanded, so did the poor’s knowledge of how the rich lived and they wanted some. If they couldn’t really have it at least they could talk about having it and act like they have it on videos.

Part of what propelled hip-hop and rap to the international heights it achieved was video and MTV. What once was a truly urban experience became mainstream and reached out to the waiting arms of the suburbs. I remember doing our first gigs in the Deep South with the Sugar Hill Gang. What surprised us most was the number of White folks that we saw in the audience until finally there were more Whites than Blacks nearly everywhere except the hard core urban centers, and even the audiences in places like New York City, Detroit, Chicago, Biloxi Mississippi began to be truly integrated.

Acts like “Run and them”, LL Cool J, and NWA spread rap like Ebola. This little tar baby was on the loose and it was touching everything with its dirty black hands. The nu-democracy found an idiom that granted self- expression to what had here-to-fore been a mute generation. Not only were they speaking but they also had the beat, rhymes with videos, and you know how many words that is worth. As we traveled the country spreading this nu-gospel of self involvement and do it yourself good ole “American Capitalism” our disciples started popping up in new places; Cali, which though usually ahead of the rest of America got this nu-shit from the east coast… but boy did they run with it. Unrefined, unsophisticated rap made its way and influenced visual art, fashion, sports and everything else young in the youth culture.

The vampires had hi-jacked the blood blank and the pop world with its nightly need for more blood heard the siren song of the streets and realized that this was the real thing. Fueled by the intoxicants of the time, rappers talked shit and made large amounts of money for doing it. The mirror was now being passed around in an orgy of unregulated self-promotion. Niggers With Attitude voiced their “Fuck the Police” brand of disrespect for authority and it was on. Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick brought a new wit and sarcasm to the conversation. Schooly D took the train from Philly and made a few hardcore hits. I rarely want to give credit to one era over another because we are all prisoners of our times. Sometimes I think of us original school rappers as old “Negro League Ballplayers”. The “Old School” rappers were the true Jackie Robinsons. Though ”The Message” opened White folk’s eyes to what was being said and done in our part of town, the hip ones made their pilgrimage to the clubs and concerts to see and hear what was going on and to be a part of this nu-shit. If they couldn’t safari into town to see the reel thing they could at least feel the fire where they were at through the safety of their earphones.

It can be said these gentlemen and a lady or two changed the course of the hip- hop game. When White folks get involved the money gets larger and that is just what happened. The major labels took notice and developed their own rap labels and rap divisions. What happened next is not up for debate.

The message moved from city to suburbs and from suburbs to other countries. The beat was now being heard around the world. More aspects of our lives were being represented, not yet a full compliment of even the entire Black community but what was coming after the “Old School” would certainly be less predictable. These boys, with the help of the entire media orchestra, left no melody un-tried. Public Enemy would fight the power and protest strongly for what they believed in, carrying the idea of the hype man to another level. Shakespeare’s fools could be no better than Flava Flav.

The ground we broke and fertilized the “Old School” dropped their seeds all the way from New York to Compton, from Compton to Miami, from Miami to the Midwest and London, Paris, Amsterdam. There have been a few international rappers but for the most part rap remained like heavy weight boxing used to be, “Black and Proud.”

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