"THE BIG STEAL" FACE MAGAZINE MARCH 1988
On a hot Friday afternoon inside Music Factory, the undistinguished looking record store just uptown of Manhattan’s 42nd Street, the DJ spins high energy disco to a room fuIl of b-boys. This week's paychecks avail themselves of the airplay and the critical judgements going down. "This shit is dope." "This is a good record; you should buy it." "I should? Your mother should buy it,"
Blastmasters KRS One stands by the wall of rap records, not shopping, content to spend the day before his wedding watching his record, Boogie Down Productions "Criminal Minded", seIl and pronouncing dicta. "This is garbage. This is garbage, This," he says, tapping a new single by Public Enemy, "and this," he touches Eric B and Rakim's "Paid In FuIl", "stomping." I’d say just about 100 percent of aIl rap music uses some kind of idea or something from those break records,"
Eric B has said. "There wasn't no break records that couldn't be found. Downstairs Records used to provide aIl of them. Now Stanley is the king of the beats." In between the DJ and the 12-inch singles on the wall, a b-boy animatedIy describes a record to Stanley Platzer, a Buddah-Iike 57-year-old white man with thick tinted glasses. "It has a very good break on it," Stanley growls. "It's a distinguished break." He points to a display of 13 albums, most of them untitled and in generic white sleeves. The record labels list song titles but no performers: "Funky President", "I Know You Got Soul", rare in its original version, "Long Red" (live), "Champ", and "You'll Like It Too".
A battered, hand-lettered cardboard sign fastened with a rubber band to the front of each album reads "Ultimate Breaks And Beats". "Well, the Salt-n-Pepa girls were in, and when they went into the studio, they bought every one," says Stanley, "Volumes One to 12, at the time, and their LP had them all on there. Jam-Master Jay bought four of each about three weeks ago." On another afternoon in the Music Factory , Biz Markie stops in to ask Stanley about a mambo record which he says has a good break. Stanley doesn't know the record.
He pulls a battered blue looseleaf binder, decorated with tags reading Uptown Music and Old School Beats, from behind the counter, and adds Biz' description to a list of breaks he's kept for seven' years, since he was 50. Later, he'll call Lenny Roberts. Lenny Roberts was working in the garment district when he moved to the Leland House apartments in the Soundview section of the Bronx in 1976.
A record collector and closet DJ, he joined The Sound On Sound record pool. Meanwhile his son joined Afrika Bambaataa's budding Zulu Nation. "When I first moved here," says Roberts, a soft spoken black man now 45 years old, "we had a party in the building and somebody asked me to deejay. It was a young crowd, and I couldn't understand why nobody was dancing.
I was playing whatever was hot at the time. My son came and asked, did I have certain records. And when the parry was over, we came upstairs, and he started telling me about these various records: The Herman Kelly Band's "Dance To The Drummer's Beat", The Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache", all of them. After the house party, Lenny was hooked. "So I went to Downstairs Records," he says, referring to another Times Square shop, "because at the time there was nobody else selling those records.
I think I spent $155. "All during the summer there'd be jams all over the place. I used to go to all of them. I even bought a box just for that purpose. I would go to the jams and plug into the system, and tape the whole show. Cause I knew all the guys, Bam, Jazzy, and all. This was long before anybody thought about putting anything on wax. Most of these kids' parents had a lot of the records in their collection. The parents didn't know nothing for a break or what the heIl the kid was talking about."
One flight up from an industrial block in the Westchester Square section of the Bronx, a dozen b-boys are dancing to the beat of their incomplete demo in Jazzy Jay's home studio. When the telephone rings, Jazzy picks up the receiver, throws it on the bed, and continues with what he'd been saying. "How important were Lenny's records? Very important. Because it gave everybody in the industry, everybody who was down in this area..."
He picks up the telephone, yells "Yeah?" into the receiver, listens, takes another lick frorn his popsicle, and hangs up. "It took a little bit of that mystery about, cause it was hard to find these records. When Lenny made them available, it was like, anybody can have them now. "We'd find these heavy percussive beats that would drive the hip hop people on the dancefloor to breakdance. A lot of times it would be a two second spot, a drum beat, a drum break, and we'd mix that back and forth, extend it, make it 20 minutes long.
If you weren't in the hip hop industry or around it, you wouldn't ever have heard a lot of these records. Records like 'Apache,' The Magic Disco Machine's 'Scratchin", Funkadelic's, I'm talking about records like Perez Prado's 'Mambo No.5' - you could forget about it. That was the whole thing, the element of surprise, coming out with something new. Find a record nobody else has got, do a routine nobody else can do. That was what kept it going. I grew up under Bam, and basically, I got first shot at all those records, 'cause Bam had 'em. I was his DJ, so he'd pass me the records. Bam used to soak the labels off. I'd throw 'em on, a lot of times I wouldn't even know what I was playing."
The Bronx River Senior Center, the hub of a large housing project complex sandwiched between East 174th Street and the Cross Bronx Expressway, is quiet on a lazy summer afternoon. A few mothers air their babies, a workman pounds on some scrap metal, and two cops sit in their parked car. Amid a flurry of elaborate, colourful graffiti tags, a homely black scrawl on the wall reads, "Zulu Nation Lives". ln front of the Centre, a group of teenagers congregate around Afrika Bambaataa. They were about five years old when Bam started giving parties here. "A lot of people always think it started in the south Bronx," he says, "but officially it came form the west Bronx, cause Kool Herc was from that area.
Then it came over here to the south Bronx with myself and Flash. I was always following a DJ named Kool D who used to play heavy disco. Then I heard Herc. I heard music that he had that I had already in my house. So I said, I got the same thing he got, ain't nothing he hiding from me, so when I graduated out of school, I got my system. I started playing in the street. I already had a large following from the gang era, so once I gave a party it was automatically packed. "At that time, it was just called break music or wild style music or bebop music.
A lot of people came to these parties to hear certain records that each DJ would have. Kool Herc might have his certain cuts. Bambaataa would have his, Flash would have his. Flash and everybody used to tape up their records; you tape over everything, all you can see is the colour of the label. People would do their best to send their informers into each other's camp. A lot of times I could walk up to the turntable and see the colour of the record, and know what label it was, then all I had to do was find all the records at that time that was on that label, and just look for certain words or something that they was cutting, 'Cause at that time, DJ’s didn't tell each other, 'cause that was your power, and it was making your money.
"I bought the Incredible Bongo Band for a dollar, I made a fortune off that. I had 50 many of those albums, I just walked down the street, '22 dollars', sell 'em right off, no problem, A lot of cab drivers, like DJ’s Godfather, Luxury Cabs, would buy tapes of what we were playing for their customers. They would buy Grandmaster Flash music or Afrika Bambaataa music or Kool Herc music. This was our first thing of getting our music spread around. You could sell the cassettes for up to 20 dollars.
One of the original break music DJs, Grand Wizard Theodore, says, In 1975, I used to be a record boy. I used to be in charge of the going downtown and buying records for Flash. I used to buy a lot of the white boy records, like Aerosmith and the Steve MilIer Band. Everybody wanted records and knew I could get them. Back at the Music Factory , Mantronik, the musical half of Mantronix, eyes the painting of a shattered skull wearing a gold record medallion on the cover of Volume 12 of "Ultimate Breaks And Beats", He flips the sleeve, new since his last visit, to look at the track listings. "What? Oh Shit!"
Then he realizes that the "Johnny the Fox" title he sees isn't the Tricky Tee record he produced, but the Thin Lizzy original from which they took the title and beat. "Kids that are doing hip hop records nowadays don't have the smarts to go one step ahead, The knowhow to sample a sound and do that, and copy someone's idea. They don't know how to create on their own, That's why it's coming back. " On a pillar opposite "Ultimate Breaks And Beats" is a column of albums in green or black sleeves, which bear the legend, "Super Disco Brakes".
Mantronik casts a cold eye on these. "Those pressings suck." As the DJ Cues up Anita Baker's "Same Old Love (365 Days a Year)" for the fourth straight time, Stanley returns the book of breaks to its place. Anyone who knows enough to ask can look at the book; anyone Stanley trusts can take it to around the corner to the photocopy shop. "This is a funny story," Stanley says. "Bob James 'Mardi Gras' was cut out, discontinued by the label. And then when Paul Winley put it out on his 'Super Disco Brakes', he recorded it from a used copy, and when they tried to scratch it, it wouldn't work.
"You get so, a hundred new DJs every week, so they're always buying. They gotta have them all. People come in, they think 'Break Beats' are dance records, but they're not exactly. You can dance to some, but they're not. No, Sinatra we haven't found, but we got a Fausto Pappetti from Italy has a break. Also the Mickey Mouse Club (Theme), and there's the Cookie ("C Is For Cookie"), a Sesame Street record. lts one of the earlier ones."
The rear bedroom in Lenny Roberts' apartment is dedicated to rows and rows of records: 45s, 12 inch singles, and thousands of albums, all in pairs and all in plastic sleeves. A half dozen dusty yellow legal pads list, in painstakingly neat manuscript, as many records as Lenny has catalogued so far. The records, like the entries in the notebooks, are arranged alphabetically, according to record company.
In the living room, under the gaze of a giant sunset mural, thousands more records are in cabinets, two rows deep. A flannel dustcover drapes over two turntables, a mixer, and the rest of Lenny's stereo. "I had all the equipment," he says, "but it was basically for my own personal taste. I would sit here and practice, and tape it, and then play it back, and see how it sounded, backspinning and all that.
I could catch the shortest of breaks. "I stayed in the garment centre for about 14, 15 years. And I just got tired of it. I was in Downstairs once, and I was fascinated. The guy was cleaning up on this shit. You'd be surprised at the money that was paid for these things, just for what, ten seconds, twenty seconds of a record. Just on a Saturday alone, those records were puIling 1500, 2000 dollars." "I used to buy from all the cutout houses, all of them. I would buy maybe 500 at a time. I'd pay anywhere from 25 cents to three dollars for a record.
As far as the record being worth anything, it wasn't worth nothing to nobody, other than the kids. They had sold as much as they were going to sell. They didn't mean nothing to the guy that had the records. I only sold to what you call your speciality shops. At one point I had 4,000 copies of the Jimmy Castor Bunch LP, "It's Just Begun", I did this until I tapped everybody, just tapped 'em out. "What it is now, you got a new breed of kids who are buying these records. The ones who bought them they are older now, and they got into other things."
One of the hottest rap producers at the moment, Hurby Luv Bug, confirms this: "Flash is in his late thirties. He was around when these records came out. I'm 22, I don't remember." For another successful producer, Marley Marl, breaks are essential to rap. "Rap died last summer if you ask me," he says. "Everybody stopped cutting up old breaks and everything, and they was going into the drum machine sound, straight up drum machine.
You can't polish rap too much. If it wasn't for two good records like 'Eric B Is President' and 'The Bridge' (by MC Shan; both records produced by Marley) to get people really into sampling, I think it would have been doing very bad right now. The music today is too complicated for the youth. That's why they can really get into the older records. They still have those authentic beat finders. Now they're all producers. There's not much of a difference, making a record and being a DJ, cutting up beats and stuff."
In the basement of his home, DMC removes Yellowman's "Bad Boy Skanking" from the stereo and puts on a record very similar to Volume Five of "Ultimate Breaks And Beats", except it doesn’t have publishing credits or the Street Beat Records logo. He sits down, and Run begins to cut up Freedom's "Get Up And Dance". The record has a cartoon of an Octopus on the label. "Remember this?" DMC asks.
Scott La Rock, who was killed in a shooting incident said, "Every day I devote time to looking for music. If you wanna get paid, you gotta work for it. Rap music, a lot of people say rappers can't do nothing. You do rap records, all rap is is the message you give it and borrowing beats and music from other records. That's what makes rap records. I don't worry about the law... "You can't stop what it is. You can't tell me, 'Oh, you're gonna go to jail.' Fuck that. If I don't do it, the kid down the block is gonna do it. That's it."
John Leland & Steinski , 1988 . COPYRIGHT © FACE MAGAZINE
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