Rhymed Funk Hits Area
Jerry Hand isn’t modest. Sometimes in midsentence, he’ll begin tinkling the piano keys in front of him and break into a song about himself.
“I’m not Sugarman or Discotron, and this I’m sure you know…” chants the Columbia College music and business major who performs as rap disc jockey DJ Romancer. “But I’m DJ Romancer and I always steal the show/I’ve got the super action, dynamite attraction/Coming straight to you/Yes, I’m number one and I’m having fun/No, baby, not number two/ You just open up your mind, and you check me out, and I’m sure, you’ll all agree/That I’m the baddest dee-jay there ever was, and the baddest there’ll ever be.”
Hand’s ego is a valuable commodity among rap disc jockeys. But there’s more than mere self-confidence behind his boasts. The transplanted Queens, N.Y., native is the most accomplished rap singer in Columbia—he, of course, claims there’s none better west of the Mississippi.
He even fares well against the big competition in New York, the birthplace of rap and still the genre’s hotbed. Hand may not have won the “Great M.C. Showdown” in Harlem this past August, but he says he got the most applause.
That’s quite a claim, considering the contest featured such acts as Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Funky Four Plus One, and DJ Hollywood. They may not be household names in mid-Missouri music circles, but in the rap world they’re stars.
Most radio listeners are familiar with rap music, though few could define it. The rock group Blondie scored a major hit early this year with a rap song—but Hand is quick to point out that rap is much more than “Rapture.”
Walter Anderson, the KOPN disc jockey who calls himself “the Sugarman” and hosts Columbia’s only radio show featuring current soul music, explains that rap is merely rhymed couplets set to a syncopated funk rhythm. “It works almost like a cadence,” he says.
The form dates back 30 years to black New York radio DJs who boasted about their prowess against a backdrop of the day’s hits, Anderson says. At the same time, Jamaican disc jockeys developed a similar form called “toasting.” Their delivery was slow and the words didn’t always rhyme, but Hand says they set the pattern for today’s rap.
Anderson and Hand agree that it wasn’t until late 1979 that the majority of Americans—black, as well as white—even heard of rapping. In September of that year, a Harlem trio called the Sugarhill Gang released its first single, “Rapper’s Delight.”
“The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel,” which was given an almost unprecedented, five-star rating this fall in Rolling Stone, represents an apex of sorts in the rap technique known as “cut mixing,” Hand says. Cut mixing is a process in which bits and pieces of hits (“Good Times,” “Rapture,” Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust”) are doctored, then spliced into one song.
Hand says “mixing” also refers to various ways rap disc jockeys alter the records they play. For example, a song might be phased out halfway through and another phased in. Or instrumental and vocal versions of the same song might be played concurrently, as the DJ alternates between two turntables. Or a single line from one record might be “injected” into another song.
When talking about his own mixes, Hand refers to qualities such as key and pitch and beats per minute. You can’t just mix anything with anything, he explains.
But that doesn’t mean a disc jockey can’t experiment with sound, even going so far as to push a needle across a record. “Sometimes a disturbance to the ear is preferable,” Hand says. “If you mix it right, you can get people dancing to just about anything.”
At a typical rap show, he says, the disc jockey stands on a platform above the crowd, while the rappers (called “emcees”) perform on a nightclub stage. When he works with his partner Bucky T., Hand is emcee. But he sometimes performs alone with a tape of his own mixes.
Some famous rappers sing their hits, but the best think up rhymes on the spot, says Hand. Impromptu rapping isn’t as difficult as it sounds, he adds. “After a while, you can rhyme just about anything.”
It can get a little monotonous after a while, Anderson admits. He says he has considered devoting an entire Saturday radio show to rap records. “But I couldn’t take three hours of thump-thump-thump,” he says.
The rap audience consists mainly of 13- to 18-year-old black “teenyboppers,” Hand says. Many older people like the music as well, but they’d hesitate to attend a concert including only rap songs.
But that doesn’t mean rap is a passing fad. “Everytime it looks like it’s going to die, somebody comes up with something new,” says Anderson.
When Hand first rapped in Columbia, way back in 1978, “Rapper’s Delight” hadn’t even hit yet, he says, and the rap sound wasn’t familiar to most Missouri ears. He remembers that dancers came up to him and said, “I don’t know what this is, but I like it.”
If Hand decides to perform in Columbia again, his audience will at least be familiar with the rap form. Though his own tastes run closer to classical music and jazz, he sees relevance in what he’s doing.
“You can tell rap is an art just by listening to it,” he says. “It’s so creative it’s a shame.”
- Missourian, 1981
Skin Yard: Skin Yard
Sometime in the not-so-distant future (after all the music in question has turned into manure, no doubt) you’re gonna switch on MTV and hear all this hype about how the not-so-distant future of hard rock lies in the Northwest. Last year, I purchased the debut album and follow-up single by the Seattle band Green River, along with this compilation called Deep Six that had Green River plus lots of fellow Seattlites (the Melvins, Malfunkshun, Skin Yard, Soundgarden, U-men), and what I found was a locale festering with an inexhaustible number of vulgar avant-garage guitar-groups. And the place had even developed an identifiable sound of sorts—an approximate description might be Sabbath/Stooges-style sludge sifted through the animalistic AOR of Aerosmith and Angel City. With significant others such as Metal Church and the Wipers and Rancid Vat calling this remote region home, what we’ve got here is the making of muck-megalopolis on the level of Michigan ’69. Not long ago, I figured Oregon and Washington housed only vegetarians and bearded women and Rajneesh-worshipers and neo-Nazi survivalist loonies, but it looks like bigfoot-rock has taken over.
Old-timers have probably already noted what’s doubly cool about this phenomenon, namely that the Pacific Northwest is kinda sorta where hard rock was forged in the first place, initially with raw late ’50s instrumental ensembles like the Wailers (of “Tall Cool One” fame), and later with mid-’60s protopunk jumbos such as the Kingsmen and the Sonics and Paul Revere & The Raiders, the last of whom wore funny suits on stage. Don’t know if it’s a reference to the old days, but on the back cover of Skin Yard’s first album (the best record I’ve heard so far from the new Northwest explosion), the singer is on stage wearing what appears to be a funny mask! Skin Yard doesn’t sound anything like Paul Revere’s combo, though— they’re a bit more arty, to say the least.
Which ain’t to say these four gents don’t flaunt their pretensions here and there. Ben McMillan (who also honks a mean skronk-jazz saxophone) is one of those unnatural ultra-proper vocalmen who phrase every single syllable just right (like maybe Peter Hammill or John Cale or Bono Vox, though I’m not sure those are the best examples). He’s got a phony aristoBrit accent, and his morose monologues are mannered enough to gag a maggot-farm: “Somewhere, a son is sitting in a room alone, and his father comes in and gives him a gun and a book of rules entitled This Is The Real World.” And Skin Yard’s fracas can get a little dirgey or a little shapeless or a little indirect sometimes, too. But mostly it jolts in a big way; I can put up with baloney about slaying dragons when the headbang is as severe and as heterogeneous as it is here. I can’t wait to hear Skin Yard’s version of “Louie Louie,” though.
- Creem Metal, 1986
Drug Crazed Teens: Flaming Lips
The Flaming Lips would probably not be the best spokesmen for our president’s War on Drugs. This trio of Okies plays the trippiest bron-y-aur stomp yet to emerge from the lava-lamp pits of post-p-rock muck: 99th-floor-thick fuzz riffs, dead-sea-scroll basslines, cans slapped like a bustle in your hedgerow, all truckin’ through static time ’n’ space amidst recited yin-yang, such as: “When I walk with you, I feel weird/When I talk with you, I feel weird… All I know/Is my mind is blown/When I’m with you.”
“It wasn’t so much that we wanted to be psychedelic,” says singer/guitarist Wayne Coyne. “We just wanted to play Led Zep–type stuff and then play echo and play weird.” Countering the massive lysergic onslaught of last year’s self-released debut Flaming Lips EP, the threesome deliberately downplays its six-oh reference points on its new Hear It Is album. Nowadays, Coyne denies the “psychedelic” tag entirely. “We’re more what you would call acid rock. It’s like biting your teeth together and going ‘Shit!’ That’s drug music. Plasticland is like clothes music.”
Coyne can’t quantify to what extent hallucinogens actually shape the Flaming Lips sound. He’s more or less a teetotaller when it comes to that stuff, he says, and though drumboy Richard English and bassboy Mike Ivins have been known to indulge, they avoid heavy dope use during band work. Coyne does admit, though, that his tastes were largely molded by his “totally-wigged-out-on-drugs” older brothers’ record collections. The Flaming Lips do a 20-minute Tommy medley live. They also cover Zeppelin’s “Communication Breakdown” back-to-back with Sonic Youth’s “Death Valley ’69.”
In fact, Hear It Is seems to bear a fairly striking Sonic Youth structured-nihilist-clamor influence, especially in songs like: “She Is Death,” “Jesus Shooting Heroin,” and “Charlie Manson Blues.” But Wayne says any resemblance is merely coincidental; he discusses “Jesus Shooting Heroin” as a study in good and evil and says the Manson tune is about how “everybody could be capable of wanting to thrash somebody just to see what it was like, which seemed like a real cool thing to examine.” Besides, he says, Sonic Youth are “real wimps who can’t get away from doing things that they know people are gonna like.” He also says Henry Rollins “is getting fat,” Pussy Galore “is, like, the worst band,” and that the guy from Dr. Hook who wears the patch over his eye (who the Lips saw shooting pool in Nashville) “was drunk off his ass, and he’s stupid.”
Speaking of billiards, Coyne admits the light-socket-haired Flaming Lips aren’t the best pink-sinkers, “but we play so we can look tough, and we don’t let the balls go in the holes, and we scratch a lot, because that makes the game last longer. You get more for your quarter that way.” If you don’t yearn for mind-burnt meaning-of-life declamations from somebody with that kind of flawless logic, I’d venture you just ain’t an inquiring mind.
- Spin, December 1986