Sixteenth in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating old-school hip hop.
MALCOLM McLAREN & THE WORLD’S FAMOUS SUPREME TEAM | “BUFFALO GALS” | 1982
I stayed in the pool well after my skin began to wrinkle, hanging onto the side and watching the black kids breakdancing. They’d broken cardboard boxes apart, which they flattened and taped down to the concrete, yards away from the pool. The music playing from their boombox wasn’t disco — it was something more aggressive, the drums hard and insistent. But the lyrics were funny. When I got home, I kept singing to myself, “Round the outside, round the outside,” with images of the kids’ breaking in my mind. Street kids and “doh-si-doh” do your partner. What the hell was that?
I spent the summer of 1983, when I was 12, going to the 64th Street YMCA’s day camp. We often took short trips to a public pool upstate, near Bear Mountain, to swim. We were served soggy sandwiches wrapped in wax paper, rock-hard peaches, and little plastic containers of orange juice. The white kids were enthralled with “Synchronicity,” the Police’s new record — and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was still in the air — but the black kids played tapes by Grandmaster Flash and Cold Crush, as well as the two records I remember most: Run DMC’s “Sucker MC’s” and Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals.”
There wasn’t anything like “Buffalo Gals” before, nor after. Though you could categorize it as an early sample record, in the vein of “Pump Up the Volume,” it’s really a novelty record, the brainchild of British trendsetter and former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren.
For McLaren, style was substance. After a trip to New York where he saw Afrika Bambaataa spin, McLaren co-opted New York’s hip hop scene for his next record — the dancing, record scratching, the fashion (all of which are on display in the “Buffalo Gals” video). He flew New York DJs The Supreme Team to London to provide scratches, and got Trevor Horn, a successful young British producer — he had been part of The Buggles, whose version of “Video Killed the Radio Star” was in 1981 the first video ever played on MTV — to make the record.
“Buffalo Gals” is a culture clash of stuff — samples of phone calls, breaks, a synth bass and pads, the catchy “duck, duck, duck” refrain, the title chorus taken from a Piute Pete record, the scratching: “Oh, that scratching is making me itch.” It sounds like a bunch of stuff cobbled together but it works — and for DJs it goes with other records, because there’s so much in it.
It’s a white record that had a lot in common with what was on MTV at the moment (which, apart from MJ and Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” didn’t play black artists). Still, the street kids dug it and like Blondie’s “Rapture” it mashed together two different music scenes. I’ll never forget the image of young bodies twirling and spinning to McLaren’s happy pastiche of words and sounds.
ALL POSTS IN THIS SERIES: LUC SANTE on Spoonie Gee’s “Spoonin’ Rap” (1979) | DALLAS PENN on Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” (1979) | WERNER VON WALLENROD on Kurtis Blow’s “Rappin’ Blow” (1979) | DJ FRANE on Blowfly’s “The Incredible Fulk” (1980) | PAUL DEVLIN on Jimmy Spicer’s “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” (1980) | PHIL DYESS-NUGENT on Funky 4 + 1′s “That’s the Joint” (1980) | ADAM McGOVERN on Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5′s “Freedom” (1980) | DAVID ABRAMS on Blondie’s “Rapture” (1980) | ANDREW HULTKRANS on Treacherous Three & Spoonie Gee’s “The New Rap Language” (1980) | TIM CARMODY on Afrika Bambaataa & The Jazzy 5′s “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” (1981) | DREW HUGE on Grand Wizard Theodore & The Fantastic Five’s “Can I Get a Soul Clap” (1981) | OLIVER WANG on Grandmaster Flash’s “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | DOUGLAS WOLK on Busy Bee’s “Making Cash Money” (1982) | ADRIENNE CREW on Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5 (featuring Melle Mel and Duke Bootee)’s “The Message” (1982) | DART ADAMS on The Jonzun Crew’s “Pak Jam” (1982) | ALEX BELTH on Malcolm McLaren & The World’s Famous Supreme Team’s “Buffalo Gals” (1982) | JOSHUA GLENN on Wuf Ticket’s “Ya Mama” (1982) | PHIL FREEMAN on Malcolm X with Keith LeBlanc’s “No Sell Out” (1983) | NATE PATRIN on Afrika Bambaataa’s “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2″ (1980/1983) | BRIAN BERGER on Grandmaster & Melle Mel’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” (1983) | COSMO BAKER on Run DMC’s “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” (1983/1985) | COLLEEN WERTHMANN on Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit” (1983) | ROY CHRISTOPHER on Ice-T’s “The Coldest Rap” (1983) | DAN REINES on L.A. Dream Team’s “The Dream Team is in the House” (1985) | FRANKLIN BRUNO on hip hop’s dance crew The Lockers.
HIP HOP ON HILOBROW: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (25 posts about old-school hip hop) | DJ Kool Herc as HiLo Hero | Gil Scott-Heron as HiLo Hero | Slick Rick as HiLo Hero | Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels as HiLo Hero | Afrika Bambaataa as HiLo Hero | Biz Markie as HiLo Hero | Eric B as HiLo Hero (forthcoming in November) | U-God as HiLo Hero | Slug as HiLo Hero | Adam Yauch as HiLo Hero | Ghostface Killah as HiLo Hero | DJ Run as HiLo Hero | Flavor Flav as HiLo Hero | Scott La Rock as HiLo Hero | GZA as HiLo Hero | Schoolly D as HiLo Hero | Aesop Rock as HiLo Hero | Notorious B.I.G. as HiLo Hero | Melle Mel as HiLo Hero | Rick Rubin as HiLo Hero | Rakim as HiLo Hero | Ol’ Dirty Bastard as HiLo Hero | Madlib as HiLo Hero | Talib Kweli as HiLo Hero | Danger Mouse as HiLo Hero | Kool Moe Dee as HiLo Hero | Chuck D as HiLo Hero | Dizzee Rascal as HiLo Hero | RZA as HiLo Hero | Cee-Lo Green as HiLo Hero | Best Ever Clean Hip Hop
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KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012 series on Captain Kirk scenes): Justice or vengeance? by DAFNA PLEBAN | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss by MARK KINGWELL | “KHAAAAAN!” by NICK ABADZIS | “No kill I” by STEPHEN BURT | Kirk browbeats NOMAD by GREG ROWLAND | Kirk’s eulogy for Spock by ZACK HANDLEN | The joke is on Kirk by PEGGY NELSON | Kirk vs. Decker by KEVIN CHURCH | Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk by ENRIQUE RAMIREZ | Captain Camelot by ADAM MCGOVERN | Koon-ut-kal-if-fee by FLOURISH KLINK | Federation exceptionalism by DAVID SMAY | Wizard fight by AMANDA LAPERGOLA | A million things you can’t have by STEVE SCHNEIDER | Debating in a vacuum by JOSHUA GLENN | Klingon diplomacy by KELLY JEAN FITZSIMMONS | “We… the PEOPLE” by TRAV S.D. | Brinksmanship on the brink by MATTHEW BATTLES | Captain Smirk by ANNIE NOCENTI | Sisko meets Kirk by IAN W. HILL | Noninterference policy by GABBY NICASIO | Kirk’s countdown by PETER BEBERGAL | Kirk’s ghost by MATT GLASER | Watching Kirk vs. Gorn by JOE ALTERIO | How Spock wins by ANNALEE NEWITZ