But for all the glorification of hip-hop’s early days in the South Bronx — the brilliant improvisation, the block parties — there isn’t a whole lot of supporting documentation. A lot of what we know is from the fading memories of aging b-girls and b-boys who were present at the creation.
Some of the most important surviving documents from that period were the party flyers. You may remember the story our colleagues at NPR music did on the party where hip-hop was born and the flyer advertising the jam at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue at a cost of 25 cents for the “ladies” and 50 cents for the “fellas.” That flyer consisted of some scribbled writing on lined paper.
The party flyers of Lemoin Thompson — a.k.a. Buddy Esquire — were much more sophisticated than that. Esquire created more than 300 flyers over a half-decade that were handed out around the neighborhood to advertise the parties. He called his style “neo-deco” — it borrowed heavily from the Art Deco styles of old movie posters. That was on purpose: he wanted to “class up” the proceedings, which were often held in rec rooms and high schools. Esquire told Cornell University graduate student Amanda Lalonde, “That’s what I tried for, you know: give it a level of class even though it was just a ghetto jam.”
A love letter to the Roots, from Stereogum:
When the news broke that the Roots had signed on to be Jimmy Fallon’s house band on Late Night, it seemed like an odd pairing (this was before Fallon had proved his hip-hop bona fides and everyone thought of him as the guy who laughed too much on SNL) and possibly a gesture of defeat (here was a hard-touring original band leaving the road to play standards on late-night TV). I wondered if Black Thought, the group’s lead MC, was going to have anything to do in a TV show’s house band. I questioned whether they would be able to keep ties with Philadelphia, the city that spawned them. I worried that the Roots, after being conceptually marginalized in hip-hop, were literally sidelining themselves from the music business. At least they’d be getting paid, I figured.
Thankfully, the Roots and Fallon were a perfect match. He turned out to be a song-and-dance man with a youthful appreciation for music, and the Roots were goofier and better versed in comedy than anybody realized at the time. (Anecdote #17 here, with its references to human pyramids and Lorne Michaels trivia, is illuminating.) Rather than a death knell for the band, their gig on Late Night was revitalizing. Instead of falling into the jazzy/bloozy big band mold that had become the industry standard, they reinvented the the late-night house band into something forward-thinking and interactive. They wouldn’t be window dressing; they’d be an integral part of the show, combining with Fallon on musical comedy bits and collaborating with musicians of all sorts. Over five years, they became so essential to Fallon’s operation that when word came that he would be taking over The Tonight Show, the thought of him moving to L.A. and carrying on without his musical sidekicks was deflating. Fortunately, NBC was smart enough not to mess with a good thing; they moved The Tonight Show to New York and kept the Roots on board.
I really enjoyed producer Amerigo Gazaway’s Otis Redding x Big Boi – Shutterbugg. Now he’s repeated the trick with Yasiin Gaye – Inner City Travellin’ Man. See more at the Bandcamp page, or click on either cover to hear and download the music.
Raekwon, Ghostface and The Roots, live on Jimmy Fallon.
Introduced by Amanda De Cadenet, brought to a close by Terry Christian, surrounded by random people, and plagued by sound problems at the start, Public Enemy still managed to deliver such a great performance on Channel 4’s The Word in 1992 they included the audio on their Greatest Misses album. I remember this. I didn’t notice the absurdity of the surroundings at the time. I just heard Chuck D, Flavor Flav and Pete Rock.
The first time I heard Kendrick Lamar was on his mixtape Section 80, specifically Fuck Your Ethnicity. Blew my mind. Two recent videos have done nothing to change my opinion on why he matters. The first is with Pusha T on his track Nosetalgia from My Name Is My Name
…and then on the BET Cyher. Well, you only need to look at everyone else. Wow.