I remember life before hip-hop went mainstream. Back in the days when the slang and beats changed as rapidly as urban fashion. No real hip-hop head would dare use a dated slang word or the wrong intonation of one in a sentence or risk weeks of ridicule.
I experienced this twice because I was a bit behind my relatives that lived in Harlem, Brooklyn or Queens. The first time I said the word “cram” (“can’t”) after it was determined to be officially “wack” (“terrible”) to do so and the second time was when I wore a Triple Fat Goose down jacket with a faux mink collar post expiration date.
They gave me a hard time but they assured me my ignorance was excusable since I was a Valley Girl (lived in a predominantly White neighborhood). It’s the same compassion I had for the co-workers at my old job that said “talk to the hand”, “you go girl” or “don’t go there” mucho tiempo after they should have stopped.
In other words, Hip-Hop culture was a beautiful vine that twisted, turned and grew around, over and under whatever it wanted to because it didn’t have to wait for anyone else to get it, catch up for it survive or make money. It had no trellis but it knew exactly where to go.
I spent Friday nights as a kid in the 80’s switching back and forth between Mr. Magic’s Rap Attack on WBLS and DJ Red Alert on Kiss FM to get updates on the scene and the sounds and the programs were never monotonous. Earlier this week, I played a few of those old cassette tapes for my sixteen year old cousin/hip hop fanatic, Darren who is bored and disappointed with the turn rap music has taken.
As we listened to the old “Rap Attack” program, a song called “Step Into The A.M.” came on and he loved it. Darren could not believe that the “nice” (cool) Emcees on that record were White, a group called 3rd Bass. In his mind (and I’m assuming in the mind of others) Eminem was the first White rapper to earn street credibility because that was the message he received from “8 Mile”. No way. 3rd Bass was the shit and no one said “fuck outta here” at a party like if you threw on the Beastie Boys.
The hood ADORED Mc Serch and Pete Nice, so much so that MC Serch was in Spike Lee’s movie Bamboozled in 2000. I went to see that film around the corner from the Apollo Theater and as soon as MC Serch came on the screen, those that remember “The Cactus Album” whistled, nodded their heads or shouted out.
Another White rap group Hip Hop respected was “House of Pain”. They were a bunch of rowdy Irish guys that tore the mic UP. Their 1992 hit “Jump Around” will get people on the dance floor even to this day. The lead, Everlast and his partner Danny Boy just had it.
I was watching an underground hip hop show called “Video Music Box” when I first heard “Jump Around” and I ran to the TV to see who it was. The last thing I expected was to see four leaf clovers, Celtic jackets and leprechaun imagery. My phone began to ring off the hook. My friend Sharon shouted “Yo Ty! Do you see this shit? these White boys are so dooooope!” We went to Sam Goody that afternoon to buy it. Of course, she theorized all the way to the record store that Everlast was probably really Black and passing or at least had some Puerto Rican blood to have rhythm like that. The same rumor spread about MC Serch until things got straightened out.
So how did people forget about these great artists? how did Eminem get street cred when I never knew anyone from the “street” that played Eminem at home or at a party? I have asked alot of people and I always get the same “are you crazy?” expression or they laugh and shake their heads pityingly (the same goes for Will Smith but I’ll stick to the point). I sure wish that MC Serch, Pete Nice, Danny Boy and Everlast had a Jimmy Lovine , Dr. Dre and a kick ass P.R. team in their corner when they started out. It was effortless and they really knew what they were doing.
I also wish people knew more about one of the art forms that has so greatly influenced all genres of modern music, American culture and why it matters to know.
Image: 3rd Bass, Getty Images
Tayannah McQuillar is a writer and the Founder of Demimonde Public Relations (www.demimondepr.com) @demimondepr