Nationwide: America Raps Back
“New York rapped and America listened. Now America is rhyming back"
Nationwide: America Raps Back
January 19, 1988
Record Industry types used to ask me, “How long will this rap thing last?” They don’t any longer. Not when three different hip hop tours played to near-capacity crowds at sports arenas and concert halls across America last summer. Not when they can look at Billboard’s black album chart last November and see that eight of the top 30 albums are by rappers, including three of the top 10. Not when their kids ignore Marlon Jackson, the Bar-Kays, and Shalamar for the simple pleasures of U.T.F.O. and Kool Moe Dee.
Rap, and its hip hop musical underpinning, is now the national youth music of black America and the dominant dance music of urban America, with the possible exceptions of Washington, D.C., spawning ground of the hip hop influenced go-go scene, and Chicago, with its retro-disco house music. Rap’s gone national and is in the process of going regional. That seems like a contradiction, but it’s actually easily explained. Rap spread out from New York to attract a loyal, national audience. New York rapped and America listened. Now America is rhyming back.
Over the last year and a half labels like Miami’s Luke Skywalker, Houston’s Rap-A-Lot, and Boston’s Beautiful Sounds have emerged, independent record companies nurtured by local rap scenes and often fighting losing battles for radio play in their areas. While creatively these cities have yet to spawn Def Jam/Rush level stars, these fruitful hip hop markets will inevitably produce talent with national appeal. Dallas and Houston, Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Miami, and even Los Angeles can, according to Def Jam promotion vice-president Bill Stephney, “outsell New York on certain records.”
While judging last summer’s raucous hip hop competition at the New Music Seminar, it was clear that there was more to rap than Uptown. Three of the four finalists in the scratching DJ throwdown were from outside New York: Philadelphia’s Cash Money who, with MC Marvelous, cuts for Sleeping Bag; Los Angeles’s Joe Cooley, who works with rapper Rodney O; and Miami’s Mr. Mix, of the notorious 2 Live Crew. Though none of the out-of-town rappers made the finals, several were among the most memorable, including Detroit’s Robert S., who’s recorded two poorly promoted 12-inches on Epic; Philadelphia’s well-regarded M. C. Breeze; and Cleveland’s Bango the B-Bov Outlaw, who’ll be heard on the soundtrack to Dennis Hopper’s Los Angeles gang melodrama, Colors, in late February.
The reasons for rap’s growth are easy to trace. First, there’s the music; direct, raw, easy to emulate. Equally important have been New York rap tours, and not just the big arena extravaganzas of recent years. When Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash hit the road in the early ’80s, they helped create a new chitlin’ circuit of teen appeal clubs and auditoriums. Because it was so inexpensive to book rap acts — Blow traveled with just a DJ and a road manager — dates were possible not only in small venues but, in towns like Gary, Indiana, and Lake Charles, Louisiana, a rapper could play multiple dates in one night. So the generation of rappers and scratchers now emerging first tasted hip hop up close and personal.