Various – Big Apple Rappin’
Soul Jazz 2CD (SJR CD 125)

The birth of hip has taken on the status of a cultural big bang as enigmatic as the Eleusinian rites or Shakespeare’s England, even though it happened less than thirty years ago. Recent years have seen impressive contributions to an archeology of this remarkable moment: Experience Music Project’s oral history of hip-hop; the 2 DVD reissue of the pioneering 1982 graffiti doc Style Wars and ear-opening microhistorical CD collections like The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip Hop, 1979-1983. Soul Jazz’s Big Apple Rappin’ doesn’t quite live up to that level of detail despite the 64 page booklet that accompanies it. Instead, it is another in a long line of extremely classy, tastefully selected dancefloor gems from particular times and places on the planet, post-punk Brazil and the UK; mid seventies Latino New York, early eighties downtown New York; various times in Jamaica. Still, for anyone other than total headz, most of these tracks, which go way beyond the usual Kurtis Blow, Sugarhill and Enjoy staples, will be news. Most remarkable here is Brother D and the Collective Effort’s “How We Gonna Make the Black Nation Rise” – a glorious throwdown over the “Got To Be Real” rhythm and arguably the first full on political rap (an accompanying interview with Lister Hewan-Lowe, who was responsible for the record’s original release points out that he took a “Maoist point of view towards music” and it shows!). Old Skool founding fathers like Cold Crush Brothers and TJ Swann are on hand (but where’s Grand Wizard Theodore?). And surprises like General Echo’s dub take on “Rapper’s Delight”, “Rapping Dub Style”. Highly recommended.

Originally published in Signal to Noise, 2006.

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