Herc Your Enthusiasm (10)

By: Tim Carmody
August 9, 2013

jazzy sensation

Tenth in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating old-school hip hop.

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AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & THE JAZZY 5 | “JAZZY SENSATION (BRONX VERSION)” | 1981

Hip hop, like America its birthplace, and New York City its womb, is an e pluribus unum, many things that become one thing, a new thing which is all of them and none. Musically, hip hop comes from funk and jazz and soul and reggae as well as disco, rock, poetry, and pop. Thematically, hip hop is equal parts street violence, activist conscience, and block party. Genealogically, hip hop comes from that great satellite of Africa, the American South, and the Caribbean known as the South Bronx. And structurally, hip hop is the four new cultural forms identified by Afrika Bambaataa — emceeing, deejaying, breaking, and graffiti — plus the cultural soup and emerging self-consciousness that fosters and interconnects all four.

My favorite hip hop, especially before artists like Rakim and Nas figured out how to turn emcees into auteurs, pays tribute to this interplay between individual and group expression. “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” is my favorite example, and naturally, it’s not just because of Bambaataa. A dream team of three DJs are credited (and named) on the track: Bambaataa, DJ Red Alert (who went on to have an enormously important NYC radio show), and Jazzy Jay (instrumental in the formation of Def Jam records). The five emcees (Master Ice, Master Bee, Master Dee, AJ Les, and Mister Freeze), all of them from the Bronx’s Soundview housing projects (has there ever been a better name for the home of a hip hop group?) only recorded this one track together, but they fall in together flawlessly, harmonizing like a doo-wop group. It’s an embarrassment of riches in a genre driven by scarcity. There’s a reason why, when The Beastie Boys wanted to summarize and synthesize NYC hip hop in Paul’s Boutique, “Jazzy Sensation” (along with The Funky 4 + 1’s “That’s The Joint”) were their first stops.

The first call is unified, and directed to the crowd — the now utterly familiar ALL THE LADIES IN THE HOUSE, THE LADIES, THE LADIES — but before long the emcees are in the pocket together, moving from calling to the crowd to calling to each other like, well, jazz musicians. Most early hip hop singles lean heavily on end rhyme — think Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks” — but “Jazzy Sensation” is packed with doubled and internal rhymes that give hints of what’s to come. Formally, it’s surprisingly sophisticated, with handoffs and choruses blending into call-and-response echoes. After seven or eight of these echoes, all five emcees lock in together in a sing-song, schoolyard melody:

We go by the names down in the Hall of Fame
No other guy or dame could ever play the game
We’re the flyest, the flyest, known to be the highest
’Cause we’re at the top and we can’t be stopped
We’re the sweetest, the neatest, the latest, the greatest
The best emcees to ever arrive

It’s silly and childish, but it’s also the apotheosis of the communal spirit of hip hop: you could call it utopian if it weren’t so human. The Jazzy 5 call themselves “the once divided, reunited,” and in that moment, you want to believe them. And at this time, in this place, it’s entirely appropriate that Afrika Bambaataa, the man who assembles the group and puts the party together, unifying the many into one, is the man with his name on the record.

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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

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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

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What do you think?

  1. The truest paradises are the ones which so stick in your mind they can’t be left behind — a lovely retelling of Hip-Hop Nation’s founding roll-call.

  2. “Jazzy Sensation” has something a lot of other great disco rap neglected…hooks. I love unstructured energy of disco rap but a lot of it might have benefited from a couple choruses thrown in to what can sometimes feel like one long 10 minute verse.

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