So, whether he believes it or not, I had always intended to give my brother the credit, even before he wrote me in reference to my Rakim show review. You see, I owe my reverence for Rakim to my younger brother. I was not one of those people who were first introduced to hip-hop through hearing “Rapper’s Delight.” In fact, I never heard that song until I found the 12″ at a thrift store during college. I had no idea of the significance of that song when I found the 12″, I just thought, “Whoah, look at these early hip-hop singles at this thrift store.” (Including “Action” by the Treacherous Three!) My first introduction to any of the hip-hop elements came from my awareness of break-dancing in the early ’80s. I think I missed out on the bulk of that early national explosion due to the fact that I was exposed to zero hip-hop culture in Columbia, Missouri, up until I moved in the Fall of 1983, and when I arrived in Portland, it seemed like it was on the way out of popular taste. I remember the kids that wore parachute pants would be made fun of when I moved to Portland in time for seventh grade.
My first awareness of rap dates to the first explosion of Def Jam artists like Run DMC, the Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J. Like most white boys of the right age and stage I went crazy for the Beastie Boys, playing Licensed to Ill to death. The funny thing is, my first awareness of them came from my punk/skater friends who only listened to hardcore, because the “She’s On It” video had caught their attention. In late 1986 I first caught their “Fight for Your Right” video and shortly thereafter created a dub of a dub of Licensed to Ill courtesy of my friend Dan Hutt. (You can trust a pastor’s son to keep you up on cultural developments such as the Beastie Boys.) I played the dubbed cassette to death that Winter, and by the Spring when the album had become ubiquitous at my high school, I was already over it, and critical of all the mainstream devotion, like any good budding elitist.
When I taped an early episode of “Yo, MTV Raps!” a few years later, the only criteria I had to judge what I saw, were the aforementioned Def Jam artists. When I saw the video for Eric B. and Rakim’s “Microphone Fiend” I thought Rakim was lame. No energy. No enthusiasm. No shouting. Up until that point all the hip-hop I HEARD, had a shout at every phrase on the very last WORD, if there wasn’t shouting at the end of every LINE, then it didn’t seem to me like a very good TIME. I shelved the tape and forgot about it. A few months later my brother came to me and said, “You know, I’ve been watching that Eric B. and Rakim video and I think you should watch it again. It’s really good.” I sat down with him, watched the video again, and this time I had a moment of clarity. I now understood that Rakim was -flowing- and that there was no need for him to be shouting anything. My aesthetic appreciation of hip-hop was completely transformed. Thanks, Bro.
When my brother suggested going downtown to buy some Eric B. and Rakim and Kool Mo Dee tapes, I was game, as I was always super-broke, and up for him using his money to buy some tapes that I could devour as well. While I did listen to the Kool Mo Dee tapes a fair amount, it was Paid In Full that I realized was a straight-up classic as I spent my time listening to even instrumental tracks like “Chinese Arithmetic.” When I heard Follow the Leader I was sold from the opening bars. “Microphone Fiend” probably comes closer than any other to a hip-hop song that I have (mostly) memorized word for word. (To this day, there are parts of that song where I just can’t figure out what Rakim is saying. Of course now I could look it up on some (possibly somewhat accurate) lyric site, but such a thing didn’t exist back in the ’80s. -I just did, and there were a lot of mistakes in the transcription, from what I could tell.-)
What is so amazing about my brother convincing me to re-evaluate an artist that would go on to be such a major icon for me is that my brother and I have often been at complete odds in terms of the music that we listen to and appreciate. There was a period when I was listening to anything I deemed alternative (pre-corporate Alternative Rock) and underground, and my brother was a huge fan of Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues, and the Who especially, to such an extent that he was buying atrocious Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle solo albums. To be fair, he was listening to the Ramones as well, and that is one other major credit I have to extend to him. After I heard about the Ramones in high school I bought Rocket to Russia, and while it was catchy, it was too edgeless and poppy, and didn’t do much for me. It was my brother who first played me their debut album, which upon my initial listen I realized was brilliant. Our different musical appreciation trajectories have continued on their separate paths: while he has recently appreciated a lot of modern rock, I don’t listen to any of it or find it of the slightest interest to me. Meanwhile you can be assured that he is not listening to any international music, like I spend 99% of my time doing. Quality hip-hop appreciation is still probably one of the only areas of musical appreciation we still have in common.
Here’s to my brother.
My brother responds: “Rest assured, other than a few Pete Townsend albums, my current collection is free of all other Who solo projects. ”