This week we’re leaving 2018 and taking a trip back to the 90’s but first we go all the way back to late 70’s New York, the history of the early years of Hip Hop are well recorded but not the history of the collectors and record dealers that brought us the music.
The history of the Rap part of Hip Hop can be traced back through the radio jocks, Soul and Jazz artists and in generally the culture of African American use of wordplay in the street culture, but first I want to talk about the breakbeat, this is really where the culture really started.
The breakbeat or break is the portion of the record where the percussion or drum solo kicks in, the early DJ’s at the block party's realised it was at this point the dancers would get more excited, before even the idea of Hip Hop as a culture, dancers were pulling off complicated moves similar to what would later be regarded as breakdance and as ever it was the DJ's job to musically give them what they wanted, so these breaks would be repeated using two turntables.
The DJ’s needed the records that had them special breaks and the sound systems would compete with each other to find the best records first and keep secret what they had and where they got it from for as long as they could to make their block parties the best.
So the Breakdancers later B Boys, DJs and record producers would hunt down early rare funk, rock and soul songs that for some had long been forgotten and probably would have been if it wasn't for three record labels and the work by the legendary Lenny ‘Godfather of the breaks’ Roberts and Louis ‘Breakbeat Lou’ Flores.
Super Disco Brakes (Paul Winley Records) - Harlem NY
The first release was in 1979, the artist and track names were changed to strange titles like Arawak All Stars and the Mighty Tom Cats. There were six releases ending in 1984.
The Octopus Breaks (Break Beats Records) - Bronx NY
Unofficial (bootleg) releases by Lenny and Louis in the early 80’s
Ultimate Breaks and Beats (Street Beat Records) - Bronx NY
Set up by Lenny Roberts and with his partner Louis Flores in 1986.
Lenny and Lou were both regulars at the early Bronx River block parties made famous by Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa, Lou a DJ since 74 and both already avid record collectors they connected by their passion of early Soul and Funk. Lenny noticed the demand for the breaks and with his knowledge of the records, shops and distributors set about buying as many as he could to sell on and then to look for new breaks. Later whole tracks, remixes and recordings of shows were bootlegged and they were responsible for releases on Sure Shot records like Big Beat and Funky President and then the Bozo Meko release Fusion beats a pause tape mix made by Afrika Islam a member of Bambaataa’s Soul Sonic Force and later tracks like The Champ and Get Up Get Involved.
These bootleg records what Lou calls the ‘Foundation’ breaks went on to be compiled in the Octopus Breaks. Demand for the records dampened for a while but when the SP12 sampler was released in 1985 and started to be used by Rap producers like Rick Rubin when he remade LL Cool J’s Rock the Bells with samples of Trouble Funk, Chic, Corrine and AC/DC and then Marley Marl, who sampled Impeach the president for Mc Shan’s The Bridge from the Octopus breaks, the demand quickly started again for the breaks and Lenny Roberts started a new label and officially released on Street Beat records the Ultimate Breaks and Beats, this is where most DJ’s and record collectors join the story.
1987/88 were the golden years for UBB and many of the classic tracks of the time contained samples taken directly from the records, two classic examples are BDP - My Philosophy, sampling Stanley Turrentine - Sister Sanctified and Eric B & Rakim - I Know You Got Soul, sampling Bobby Byrd’s track of the same name, Funkadelic - You’ll like it to and Syl Johnson - Different Strokes.
Up until 1991 twenty five records were released and over 150 tracks that have been a goldmine for DJ’s, producers, record collectors and Soul and Funk fans and the music and breaks on them have been used on 100’s of Rap and pop songs and even though now the original source might be used, the influence of these records continues to this day, it could be argued that they are the building blocks of modern Dance culture, many imitators followed but none with the influence of UBB.
The most sampled track ever and one that was released on UBB that has had such an influence on the music scene especially in the UK is the Winstons Amen Brother sampled over 1500 times, but we’re going back to 1973 with the Honey Drippers ‘Impeach the President’ sampled over 700 times and on great effect here on our track of the week the ‘Digable Planets’ ‘Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)’ from back in 1992.
The record went gold and won a Grammy and the names of the band members ‘Doodlebug’, ‘Butterfly’ and ‘Ladybug Mecca’ tell you that this was so far removed from the prevalent Gangsta Rap of the time, although the sample of ‘The Honey Dippers’ was possibly taken from the UBB series, it was ‘Butterflys’ father's love of Jazz and the fact these records were available in his home ready to be sampled that took the group in this direction, other tracks used in the recording were ‘Stretching’ ‘Art Blakey’, ‘Blow Your Head’ ‘Fred Wesley’ ‘Foodstamps’ ‘24 Carat Black’ and ‘On The Subway’ ‘The Last Poets’.
Digable planets disbanded in the mid 90’s, Ishmael Butler formerly Butterfly has been involved in many bands since: Cherrywine, Shabazz Palaces and more recently Knife Knights. Doodlebug formed Cee Knowledge and the Cosmic Funk Orchestra in 2000 and released a few LP’s and Ladybug Mecca recently worked with legendary Hip Hop producer Prince Paul on a Brazilian influence project called Brookzil and is working on new music coming soon. Digable planets themselves reformed in 2005 and have been playing live and touring on and off ever since, recently on a 25th anniversary tour.
Listen to as many of the tracks from ‘Ultimate Breaks and Beats’ I can find on Spotify here
You can learn more about Digable Planets here:
About The Curator - Paul Sims
‘When did the blues become indigo’ is a reference made by a music journalist I read some years ago, it’s meaning is about how one genre of music mutates into another, it’s always interested me that progression from the jazz and blues of the 50’s to the rhythm and blues, soul and funk of the 60’s to disco and rap in the 70’s onto house music in the 80’s and 90’s, to me they are all one big family and I like to find the musical and historical links and research the people who made and shaped the eras people like David Mancuso, Kool Herc, Africa Bambaataa and the Chicago house pioneers like Frankie Knuckles and Larry Levan.
So five years ago I created a facebook group called ‘They Reminisce Over You’ to share music and stories from the past, searching for interesting music in genres I’ve just discovered, ones I’d missed in my youth or digging deeper into ones I’d only really scratched the surface with, I’m passionate about sharing my new and old musical discoveries and promoting new artists and that is the aim of my work with ‘Music To’ discovering new colours to add that spectrum between blues and indigo so any new artists with a soulful sound submit your music and everyone else just listen to the playlist and shake a hoof.
Catch up with me and my music on the links below: