... Don't stop! The beat on the street has never been so neat. Rappers in the charts, dancing on the streets — and our man Nick Smash with the way it all began
What puts the meat in the beat from the street? Smash the man, on how it began.
To call Rap music (LL Cool J/Run DMC) the same as Hip Hop is as wrong as it is to call New Wave the same as Punk, and the analogy is just as old. Basically Hip Hop is a rhythm but used in song form. There tend to be inhuman rhythms generated by machines, orchestrated with minor keyboard sequences and edited to bring out the most extreme beats and vocal effects. Rap is a drum machine and a Rapper, with a DJ scratching records over the drum machine beat.
Arthur Baker, probably best known as a producer who has worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross and New Order says:
"To me Hip Hop was the marriage of the electronic music from Germany (Kraftwerk) and Japan (Yellow Magic Orchestra) with melodic minor chords. Songs like One More Shot by C Bank and Play At Your Own Risk by Planet Patrol and Let The Music Play by Shannon. The Hip Hop sound was really created by the Roland drum machines. All the records put out in '81 '82 had either partial Roland machines and other drum machines, or all parts were Roland."
These were mainly the TR-808, a now classic and very charismatic sounding drum machine.
"Definitely none of these records were played by human drums because Hip Hop is really a drum machine music."
Baker, together with John Robie, recorded the very first Hip Hop records with Afrika Bambaataa. These included Jazzy Sensation, Looking For The Perfect Beat and Planet Rock to which they gave co-writing credit to Kraftwerk because they used the rhythm and melody of Trans-Europe Express. This blatant but respectful stealing of other music is a popular and required trick for all real Hip Hop and Rap. Even inserting snippets from trash Pop culture like the 'Bang Zoom Let's Go Go' single; Sampled voices and sounds has been going on in Hip Hop and Rap for 10 years... Big Audio Dynamite claim to be original??!
Hip Hop was originally found in the clubs and on black radio stations in New York City around 1978 and 1979. It had impossible-to-play-by-human-hands-rhythms generated by machines and the main man who really brought this kind of drum machine use to the fore was John Robie...
"Drum machines can play things that drummers can't. When I first really started doing things with speeded up bass drum patterns, drummers just couldn't play it. That redefined the rhythm and it redefined composition too, because you started hearing different patterns that changed the way you melodically approached the song."
What's the difference between Electro and Hip Hop?
"Usually Euro-Electro is faster and its rhythms are simpler but there's more going on..."
"No, more in terms of the instrumentation. There's really not that much difference. Hip Hop started out in the black community and Electro started in Europe. Electro is derived from all the elements of Hip Hop taking all the production styles and electronic ideas and incorporating them into something else. It's usually associated with white music — white Hip Hop in a way."
Robie co-wrote and co-produced all the early Hip Hop hits. Planet Rock, Jazzy Sensation, Play At Your Own Risk, Looking For The Perfect Beat — all these records were released on the Tommy Boy label and came out between '81 and '83. Robie has also worked with New Order, re-mixing their Sub Culture single and with Annabella on the Warboys single, that was released this year.
The Robie 'sound' is nothing short of an orchestrated electronic wall; he will sometimes put more than 300 edits into one track to get the required effect. So how does Hip Hop — real New York Hip Hop of 1982 vintage — get confused with just a beatbox and a Rap, the basic ingredients of Rap Music in '86?
Arthur Baker: "In England they talk about Hip Hop as being street music I guess but to me Rap is something simpler than Hip Hop."
How much did Hip Hop draw from Rap?
AB: "They were developing along at the same time. Hip Hop is more up tempo. It's more of a high energy music where Rap is a low energy thing. There can be Rap Hip Hop records like Play At Your Own Risk and Looking For The Perfect Beat which were both Rap Hip Hop. You can definitely tell the difference with a record like that and a record like The Message or RUN DMC. It's really the style of music behind the vocal."
Hip Hop peaked in '82-'83 but today the term Hip Hop covers so much more ground. Instead of calling a Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis production 'soul' it should be called Hip Hop...
Arthur Baker: "If there wasn't Hip Hop there wouldn't have been the Minneapolis Jam and Lewis sound. New York Hip Hop gave birth to that stuff, that whole SOS style — all that happened after Planet Rock. Early Hip Hop is where they got their ideas and they just slowed it down. I think a lot of that Minneapolis sound (Janet Jackson, SOS Band, Human League even) is second/third generation Hip Hop.
John Robie: "Rhythms that were exclusively Hip Hop have become rhythms of very standard songs."
The Funhouse Club in Manhattan is where much of NY dance music got its first plays; this was where Madonna would come at first to dance, and to flirt, then to come and bother DJs to play her music. One of these DJs was John 'Jellybean' Benitez. He went on to remix many of Madonna's 12" singles.
Arthur Baker: "The kids who were into Hip Hop would go to the Funhouse because that's what Jellybean would play."
Jellybean would play that music (elements of that influence appear in many of Jellybean's productions) so it was important. Just about all of the sounds and techniques that John Robie and Arthur Baker pioneered back in '81-'83 are being used today in productions like the Jam/Lewis partnership.
Arthur Baker: "The first American record made with the Roland 808 was Planet Rock in '82. The first Emulator vocal was John Robie's solo project Lone Wolf (never released and now approaching 10 volumes!).
John Robie: "One More Shot by C-Bank was the first female vocal Hip Hop record... it was, well, I'm tooting my own horn but it was probably the most influential Hip Hop record in terms of what's happening now because most of the female vocal records right now are reminiscent of that. The use of Hip Hop rhythms and drum machines and using a lot of samples has helped to standardise the sound."
AB: "Everything's coming full circle. Groups like The Jets have a record called Crush On You which is old Hip Hop."
Indeed everything is coming full circle; Baker is re-mixing and re-releasing the AIOU record and after recording with not only Dylan and Diana Ross has also just finished with Jimmy Cliff, Rose Royce and Ian Hunter. After doing all this he has a few projects designed for the dance floor and of course we eagerly await that 10 volume John Robie solo box set!
Feature by Nick Smash
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