Nineteenth in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating old-school hip hop.
AFRIKA BAMBAATAA | “DEATH MIX LIVE, PT. 2″ | 1980/1983
Paul Winley’s blurb on the back cover of 1983′s Death Mix Live!!! 12” is split between stake-claiming, modest contrition, and historical foresight: “If you listen to this record, you’ll know why Africa [sic] Bambaataa is the best D.J. when it comes to cutting and mixing records. I was the first to record Afrika Bambaata [sic] as a record artist, along with the Cosmic Force and the Soul Sonic Force. But I must admit I did not do my best in recording them, but I hope to make up for those mistakes by putting together this record of what I think are some of the best cuts and mixes by D.J. Afrika Bambaata [sic] himself.” Bambaataa had left Winley’s label a couple years previous after getting fed up with Winley adding in superfluous live instrumentation to “Zulu Nation Throwdown,” and with Bam a massive sensation on Tommy Boy two years later, Winley figured he wasn’t above a mea culpa. But he did come up with a priceless one – even though there’s a bit of irony attached.
The irony is that Death Mix Live!!! is, and I am not kidding, one of the cruddiest-sounding recordings ever put out by a legitimate record label. I doubt it’s by design; if Winley had something better to offer than what sounds like a copy of a copy of a copy of an audience recording, I’d like to think he would’ve used it — even if everything about this 12” feels like it’s scrambling to capitalize on Bambaataa’s string of chart-burning hits for Tommy Boy. But for someone to shruggingly admit that he dropped the ball on capturing Bambaataa at his best on the sleeve of a record that sounds as bad if not worse than the fidelity you get by putting a tape recorder next to a TV speaker? The balls on this guy, huh?
And yet there’s a fascinating pull here between setlist and sound quality. It’s a recording from 1980, so there are no Stubblefield/Starks James Brown breaks or “Apache” bongos or other standbys of the cratedigger canon. It’s most telling of the times that the A-side (or “Pt. 1”) actually mixes in a straight-up hip hop record, something that was practically unheard of just a year previous; that the cut is Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “Superrappin’” must have been both a nod of recognition and a wise-ass callout to the man Bambaataa once helped Grand Wizard Theodore battle at the same venue, James Monroe High School, back around ’76. But on “Pt. 2,” Bam and Jazzy Jay start picking from the funkier corners of circa-’79 dance music: Vernon Burch’s “Get Up” (made famous a decade later when its slide-whistle break acted as the chassis for Deee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart”); Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Firecracker” (an early, acknowledged influence on Bambaataa’s electro foundations); the cowbell-rattling “A Chocolate Jam” by session-player band The Chocolate Jam Co. It’s closer to disco than funk, but it’s a long way from Studio 54 – or the Paradise Garage or the Mudd Club or the Disco Fever or just about anywhere else.
See, the bootleg quality means that scratches sound like Brillo pads, the DJs’ shout-outs echo into borderline incoherence, and the breaks, whether synthesized electro-pop or slick session-band disco, are foggy and swampy — just not enough to derail the groove. Still, what sounds janky on audiophile terms is also, through time and decay and reverb-happy acoustics, a transmission through the firmament. This kind of fidelity’s weirdly fitting for one of the few (if not only) official recordings of a DJ set from the days when hip hop hadn’t yet ceded the spotlight to the MC. It’s distant, hazy, looming off in the distance; on the whole it feels closer to the dub of Studio One than the post-disco live-band jam sessions that the rest of the circa-’80 rap world was putting on wax. Winley didn’t do his best in recording Bambaataa here – except by fascinating accident.
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
KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011 series on 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 | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing |
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