Rakim, DJ Premier, Big Daddy Kane, More Talk Hip-Hop’s 40th Anniversary
“The era of how black people were living back then, the conscious soul brother, ‘right on’—even though we had the Black Panthers—that whole movement with the platform shoes and the afros and the dashikis, the dances like Rerun from What’s Happening!!, those dances were poppin.’ When I was a kid we was doing those moves, throwing the hand, turning the head like a robotic style, even before break dancing even took place. It was the early stages of the b-boy movement, poppin’ and lockin.’ My seventies era, even though I was only like, six years old in 1971, I still grew up with two older sisters and my mom—who was an art teacher—all that type of music that turned into hip-hop. The breaks like ‘Take Me To The Mardi Gras’ and ‘Dancing to The Drummer’s Beat,’ all that Al Green, ‘Let’s Stay Together,’ Barry White, Curtis Mayfield, Aretha Franklin—all that stuff was just regular household records in my home. Most black families had those records automatically.
“I remember Alchemist one day told me he was making the ‘We Gon’ Make It’ beat for Jadakiss and Styles P, and he was like, ‘Yo man, did you grow up on Barry White and all these other artists?’ And I was like Yeah man! He was talking about all this great stuff they did, and I was like well, in a black household, most families had all those same albums. So it’s not like I was digging for all these records to sample, we were already born into the Commodores, Jacksons, Prince came in the 70s, 80s, and he brought the same great music style, even the rock stuff, the Beatles. We already knew the words to it, to James Brown and Parliament. There’s no way hip-hop could have sounded the way it did in the early ’80s and ’90s the way we were sampling without those sounds, because those artists gave us those sounds.
“The difference now is the younger generation don’t really do the research or keep up with how it sounded prior to how it sounds now. The soul of it is only present in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s era. The 2000s era, the soul isn’t really in it the way it used to be, which is why we still do it in the traditional way, with the really really dope original beats, with the raw, original sample, the construction of the rhyme style, all that. That’s why we always tell the older MCs not to try to rhyme like the younger kids, ’cause you don’t have that lane. Keep your original styles that we like and we know and we understand from being around in that era.
“[The biggest difference between then and now is] originality. If you did a style that was already out, you could get beat up, and I witnessed it many times—step to an artist, like, ‘Yo, you bit our style,’ and start throwing punches—that was soo so important, to not bite somebody else’s style back then. It was like, when you remember the groups from the ’80s, Eric B and Rakim, LL Cool J, Run DMC, they might’ve all been wearing shell toe Adidas, but they still were all rocking in a way that everybody still had their own look, that different image within that style of dress and uniform. That’s why when I see the younger kids rockin’ shells, or shell toes, I’m always like, I wonder if they know the dangers of rocking those back then, of getting robbed or killed. It was raw back then in the city. You just could not turn your back on it.
“It’s very mainstream now. SportsCenter all the way to sitcoms, they’re saying ‘My bad,’ stuff like that, that’s all hip-hop language, our language is being used. Anything with hip-hop sets trends now, and by the time they catch on we’re already using new words—nobody says swag anymore, that was a real quick in-and-out word. It’s a generation gap, which I never thought would happen in hip-hop. We’ll still keep holding the fort down like we’ve been doing.” —As Told To Dan Rys (@danrys)