First in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating old-school hip hop.
SPOONIE GEE | “SPOONIN’ RAP” | 1979
Spoonie Gee’s “Spoonin’ Rap,” released in 1979, was the first solo rap recording. Its release was strictly local at first, but it was epochal. The label of the 12-inch single (Sound of New York, USA QC708A) has the plain look of early rap records, about midway between the crude rubber-stamp graphics of Jamaican releases and the slickness of disco 45s. Under the umbrella of its title, which applies to both sides, it has subtitles: “A Drive Down the Street”; “I Was Spanking and Freaking” (A side); “I Don’t Drink Smoke or Gamble Neither”; “I’m the Cold Crushing Lover” (B side). Half are episodes and half are claims, set out like signposts, like undercards on a boxing poster, like chapter titles in a Henry Fielding novel.
Its musical underpinning is the “Patty Duke” groove by Cloud One, a studio outfit headed by Peter Brown, who like the Jamaicans squeezed the most from a track, releasing “Patty Duke” as an instrumental as well as backing two other raps: Scoopy’s “Scoopie Rap” and Family’s “Family Rap.” (Note that this one was supposed to be “Spoonie Rap”; the misprint entered history.) Once the synthesizer accents are excised for talkover purposes, what is left is a sinuous bassline and a chattering, cymbal-driven drum loop. It is a walking rhythm, loose-jointed and relaxed, which opens itself up to receive and transmit what the talker has to say — with echo if necessary. In Spoonie’s case, that’s plenty.
His acknowledged coinages — “Yes yes ya’all”; “One for the money, two for the time” — immediately wove themselves into actual street talk, not to mention numerous other records; they entered the bloodstream. But since it was one of the very first hiphop records, who could tell even then which tags were his and which just floated in unmoored from the great hiphop folk-lyric river? “From the north, the south, from east or west” is totally schoolyard, but who made up “Like a lime to a lemon and a lemon to a lime”?
Gabriel Jackson’s name is Spoonie Gee and he wants to be known as “the metropolitician of the microphone.” He’s a man’s threat and a woman’s pet, “known as the mamselle’s joy” (which sounds as if it came from “Auprès de ma blonde”). He’s a smooth talker and a midnight stalker, and “the image of a man they call the J. D. Walker” (which comes from J.D.’s Revenge, directed by Arthur Marx, 1976). He permits himself to rhyme “He pulled out his gun, but did not shoot” with “Come on everybody, let’s Patty Duke.”
He goes on and on and on and on with his fronting, but no wonder: Spoonie is claiming territory, like the pioneer that he is, asserting his moral right to make an effigy of himself out of words that will occupy the space it occupies. He is Adam, putting on the primal naming ritual of hiphop. Henceforth everybody who passes by on Rhyme Street will have to pay tribute. He carved the first catchphrases out of raw vinyl.
2013: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (old-school hip hop tracks): Luc Sante on “Spoonin’ Rap” | Dallas Penn on “Rapper’s Delight” | Werner Von Wallenrod on “Rappin’ Blow” | DJ Frane on “The Incredible Fulk” | Paul Devlin on “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | Phil Dyess-Nugent on “That’s the Joint” | Adam McGovern on “Freedom” | David Abrams on “Rapture” | Andrew Hultkrans on “The New Rap Language” | Tim Carmody on “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | Drew Huge on “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | Oliver Wang on “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | Douglas Wolk on “Making Cash Money” | Adrienne Crew on “The Message” | Dart Adams on “Pak Jam” | Alex Belth on “Buffalo Gals” | Joshua Glenn on “Ya Mama” | Phil Freeman on “No Sell Out” | Nate Patrin on “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | Brian Berger on “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | Cosmo Baker on “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | Colleen Werthmann on “Rockit” | Roy Christopher on “The Coldest Rap” | Dan Reines on “The Dream Team is in the House” | Franklin Bruno on The Lockers.
HIP HOP ON HILOBROW: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (25 posts about old-school hip hop) | DJ Kool Herc | Gil Scott-Heron | Slick Rick | Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels | Afrika Bambaataa | Biz Markie | U-God | Slug | Adam Yauch | Ghostface Killah | DJ Run | Flavor Flav | Scott La Rock | GZA | Schoolly D | Aesop Rock | Terminator X | Notorious B.I.G. | Melle Mel | Doug E. Fresh | Kool Keith | Rick Rubin | Rakim | Ol’ Dirty Bastard | Madlib | Talib Kweli | Danger Mouse | Kool Moe Dee | Chuck D | Dizzee Rascal | RZA | Cee-Lo Green | Best Ever Clean Hip Hop
2014: KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (typefaces): Matthew Battles on ALDINE ITALIC | Adam McGovern on DATA 70 | Sherri Wasserman on TORONTO SUBWAY | Sarah Werner on JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | Douglas Wolk on TODD KLONE | Mark Kingwell on GILL SANS | Joe Alterio on AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | Suzanne Fischer on CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | Gary Panter on SHE’S NOT THERE | Deb Chachra on FAUX DEVANAGARI | Peggy Nelson on FUTURA | Tom Nealon on JENSON’S ROMAN | Rob Walker on SAVANNAH SIGN | Tony Leone on TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | Chika Azuma on KUMON WORKSHEET | Chris Spurgeon on ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | Amanda French on DIPLOMA REGULAR | Steve Price on SCREAM QUEEN | Alissa Walker on CHICAGO | Helene Silverman on CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | Tim Spencer on SHATTER | Jessamyn West on COMIC SANS | Whitney Trettien on WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | Cintra Wilson on HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | Jacob Covey on GOTHAM.
2012: KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Captain Kirk scenes): Dafna Pleban: Justice or vengeance? | Mark Kingwell : Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | Nick Abadzis: “KHAAAAAN!” | Stephen Burt: “No kill I” | Greg Rowland: Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Zack Handlen: Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| Peggy Nelson: The joke is on Kirk | Kevin Church: Kirk vs. Decker | Enrique Ramirez: Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Adam McGovern: Captain Camelot | Flourish Klink: Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | David Smay: Federation exceptionalism | Amanda LaPergola: Wizard fight | Steve Schneider: A million things you can’t have | Joshua Glenn: Debating in a vacuum | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons: Klingon diplomacy | Trav S.D.: “We… the PEOPLE” | Matthew Battles: Brinksmanship on the brink | Annie Nocenti: Captain Smirk | Ian W. Hill: Sisko meets Kirk | Gabby Nicasio: Noninterference policy | Peter Bebergal: Kirk’s countdown | Matt Glaser: Kirk’s ghost | Joe Alterio: Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | Annalee Newitz: How Spock wins
2011: KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Jack Kirby panels): Douglas Rushkoff on THE ETERNALS | John Hilgart on BLACK MAGIC | Gary Panter on DEMON | Dan Nadel on OMAC | Deb Chachra on CAPTAIN AMERICA | Mark Frauenfelder on KAMANDI | Jason Grote on MACHINE MAN | Ben Greenman on SANDMAN | Annie Nocenti on THE X-MEN | Greg Rowland on THE FANTASTIC FOUR | Joshua Glenn on TALES TO ASTONISH | Lynn Peril on YOUNG LOVE | Jim Shepard on STRANGE TALES | David Smay on MISTER MIRACLE | Joe Alterio on BLACK PANTHER | Sean Howe on THOR | Mark Newgarden on JIMMY OLSEN | Dean Haspiel on DEVIL DINOSAUR | Matthew Specktor on THE AVENGERS | Terese Svoboda on TALES OF SUSPENSE | Matthew Wells on THE NEW GODS | Toni Schlesinger on REAL CLUE | Josh Kramer on THE FOREVER PEOPLE | Glen David Gold on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | Douglas Wolk on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | MORE EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES: Joshua Glenn on Kirby’s Radium Age Sci-Fi Influences | Chris Lanier on Kirby vs. Kubrick | Scott Edelman recalls when the FF walked among us | Adam McGovern is haunted by a panel from THE NEW GODS | Matt Seneca studies the sensuality of Kirby’s women | Btoom! Rob Steibel settles the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question | Galactus Lives! Rob Steibel analyzes a single Kirby panel in six posts | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing | Adam McGovern on four decades (so far) of Kirby’s “Fourth World” mythos | Jack Kirby: Anti-Fascist Pipe Smoker