REWINDING HIPHOP`S MIXTAPE HISTORY

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REWINDING HIPHOP`S MIXTAPE HISTORY
DAILY NOTE
WEDNESDAY, MAY 22, 2013
15 22
OF
REWINDING
HIP-HOP’S
MIXTAPE
HISTORY
STEINSKIʼS RADIO MEMORIES / UNITED STATES OF BASS
THE DAILY NOTE
LAST NIGHT
It wasn’t long ago that cassette tapes were largely regarded as
little more than a historical footnote, an outmoded technology
that had long since outlived its usefulness. Yet here we are,
living in a time where cassettes have become cool collector’s
items and music heads openly pine for the format’s ’80s
heyday. In today’s Daily Note, both our cover story—which
chronicles the evolution of hip-hop mixtapes—and our
Steinski-penned essay find the authors warmly recalling
the cassette era, when spreading the musical gospel meant
copying a tape and passing it along to a friend. With each dub,
another layer of fuzz and hiss was added to the proceedings,
but that was part of the charm. Musical history often works in
the same way; half-remembered stories are passed from one
generation to the next, the allure only growing as the details
get hazier over the years. We certainly understand the appeal
(we’re making a printed newspaper, after all) and neither the
Red Bull Music Academy nor Daily Note have any qualms about
excavating the past for inspiration. Today’s issue also includes
a Q&A with analog-loving Daptone boss Gabriel Roth, a look at
storied producer Van Dyke Parks, the origin story of Hendrix’s
Electric Lady Studios, and other glances back to semi-recent
history. There’s plenty to get nostalgic about, but we actually
prefer to not get caught up in the murk—mysteries are fun,
but shining a little light on what actually happened offers
something better. If we’re lucky, the stories told here will get
relayed to future generations with something approaching
crystal-clear digital quality.
Scenes from a historic
night at Output.
Clockwise from top:
the maestro, Giorgio
Moroder; Deep Space
founder François K;
T.Williams; Benjamin
Damage. Photos by
Christelle de Castro
MASTHEAD
Editor in Chief Piotr Orlov
Copy Chief Jane Lerner
Senior Editor Sam Hockley-Smith
Senior Writer/Editor Vivian Host
Contributing Editors Todd L. Burns
Shawn Reynaldo
Staff Writer Olivia Graham
Editorial Coordinator Alex Naidus
Creative Director Justin Thomas Kay
for Doubleday & Cartwright
Art Director Christopher Sabatini
Production Designer Suzan Choy
Photo Editor Lorenna Gomez-Sanchez
Staff Photographer Anthony Blasko
All-Seeing Eye Torsten Schmidt
Contributors
Sue Apfelbaum
Deanne Cheuk
Adrienne Day
Jeremy Dean
Andrew Nosnitsky
Steve Stein
Nick Sylvester
The content of Daily Note does not
necessarily represent the opinions of
Red Bull or Doubleday & Cartwright.
ABOUT RED BULL MUSIC ACADEMY
The Red Bull Music Academy celebrates
creative pioneers and presents fearless new
talent. Now we’re in New York City.
The Red Bull Music Academy is a worldtraveling series of music workshops and
festivals: a platform for those who make a
difference in today’s musical landscape.
This year we’re bringing together two
groups of selected participants — producers,
vocalists, DJs, instrumentalists and
musical mavericks from around the world — in
New York City. For two weeks, each group
will hear lectures by musical luminaries,
work together on tracks, and perform in the
city’s best clubs and music halls. Imagine
2
a place that’s equal parts science lab,
the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and
Kraftwerk’s home studio. Throw in a
touch of downtown New York circa 1981, a
sprinkle of Prince Jammy’s mixing board,
and Bob Moog’s synthesizer collection
all in a 22nd-century remix and you’re
halfway there.
The Academy began back in 1998 and has
been traversing the globe since, traveling
to Berlin, Cape Town, São Paulo, Barcelona,
London, Toronto, and many other places.
Interested? Applications for the 2014 Red
Bull Music Academy open early next year.
3
FROM THE ACADEMY
UPFRONT
“That sums up New York—anybody can come in and really
try to do something… Like Madonna—[she was] sleeping
in a church. Homeless. Nothing. Just one leather
jacket, one outfit. She just hung out in clubs, she
hooked up with the right people. That’s the kind of
story that I’ve only seen happen in New York.”
—Deep Space resident François K, May 21, 2013
TONIGHT
KNITTING FACTORY
DRUM
MAJORS
UNITED
STATES OF
BASS
PRIMAVERA WAVES
ELECTRO
New York, New York
KEY TRACK: Afrika Bambaataa & the
GHETTOTECH
Detroit, Michigan
America’s low-end pioneers make the whole
nation’s booty bounce.
On Thursday night, Santos Party House will be invaded
by a wild lineup featuring many of the founding
fathers of America’s infamous regional bass sounds.
From electro and freestyle to footwork and bounce,
the genres they represent are linked together by
a reliance on the Roland TR-808 and 909 drum
machines, an obsession with low-end, and a raw
and dirty edge. Here’s a little bit about
the players and the ass-shaking genres for
which they fly their flags.
KEY TRACK: DJ Assault, “Ass-N-Titties”
Building on Chicago’s ghetto-house
template but making it faster, sharper,
and more mechanic, ghettotech welds
bits of hip-hop and electro to a particularly filthy vocal sensibility.
Led by producers like DJ Assault, DJ
Godfather, and the late Disco D,
ghettotech’s rapid-fire rhythms perfectly combine hip-hop’s raw edge
with the Motor City’s love of drum-machine-driven techno.
Soulsonic Force, “Planet Rock”
Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” is one of the
key tracks on which all these other booty genres are based. It’s a perfect example of the American electro scene that
launched in the early ’80s, with acts
like Newcleus, Hashim, and Mantronix
melding the cold, computerized futurism
of Kraftwerk with the humor and swagger
of early hip-hop.
RBMA Radio livestreams the Barcelona festival this weekend.
F
rom May 23 through May 25, one of the fixtures
of the international festival calendar will touch
down at Parc del Fòrum in Barcelona: Primavera Sound. The lineup is, once again, a who’s
who of great artists—Animal Collective, John Talabot,
Neurosis, and Killer Mike, to name just a few—presented in an atmosphere where immersion trumps fun-fair
escapism. And this year, for the first time, RBMA Radio
will be onsite with a full-fledged radio studio, broadcasting live every day from 11am EST. In celebration,
we wanted to spotlight some great Primavera sets that
were captured in previous years, and are available now
on rbmaradio.com.
GHETTO HOUSE
LEE ‘SCRATCH’
PERRY
KEY TRACK: DJ Funk, “Pump It”
2010
Chicago, Illinois
The musical forefather of juke and
footwork, ghetto house (or “booty
house”) dominated the Chicago urban
and rave scenes in the mid-’90s. Turbo-charging the classic Chicago house
sound with faster tempos, aggressive
and raw 808 and 909 drums, and lascivious vocals chopped and stuttered,
ghetto house classics on labels like
Dance Mania, Trax, and Funk’s own Funk
Records have gone on to inspire acts
from Miss Kittin to Justice.
Truly one of that
year’s festival
highlights, the dubreggae innovator
proves to be
underappreciated as a
singer. Just hear him
go into an extended
love jam around 33
minutes in.
JUKE/FOOTWORK
Chicago, Illinois
KEY TRACK: DJ Rashad, “Welcome to the Chi”
A mutant strain of ghetto house that
first sprouted in the ’90s, juke/footwork ups the tempo to the 150-to-160 bpm
range, often relying on little more than
breakneck rhythms and repetitive vocal
samples to inspire highly skilled crews
of fleet-footed dancers. Once a purely
local phenomenon, the sound has exploded
in recent years as Windy City producers
like Rashad, Spinn, RP Boo, and Traxman
have been picked up by Planet Mu,
Hyperdub, and other similarly forward-thinking electronic labels.
BALTIMORE CLUB
Baltimore, Maryland
KEY TRACK: Scottie B, “Niggaz Fightin’”
Largely based around the clever chopping of two breakbeat loops Gaz’s
“Sing Sing” and Lyn Collins’ “Think”
Bmore club is a high-octane mix of
rolling shakers, sharp claps, and calland-repeat chants guaranteed to tear
up the club. Aside from inspiring the
harder and faster Jersey club scene,
the genre is notable for versioning
everything from Motown hits to the Dora
the Explorer and SpongeBob theme songs.
MANNIE FRESH
BOI-1DA
YOUNG CHOP
DJ MUSTARD
MORE
rbmaradio.com/shows/
lee-scratch-perrylive-at-primaverasound-2010
DIRTY THREE
2012
First minute: “You
know when they say
don’t touch the brown
acid? We are the brown
acid they warned you
about. We are the
Dirty Three.” It’s
all true.
rbmaradio.com/shows/
dirty-three-live-atprimavera-sound-2012
VAN DYKE
PARKS
2010
Playing the
festival’s indoor
stage, Brian Wilson’s
stringman took
the folks he calls
“young moderns” to
an alternate reality
where all Wild West
mythologies exist as
psychedelic chamber
music.
Inspired by New York’s electro scene,
but with the addition of sunny Californian Jeep beats and West Coast gangster lean (slap some portamento on them
synths y’all!), the electro-funk sound
was typified by artists such as Egyptian Lover, L.A. Dream Team, and Arabian
Prince, who produced early N.W.A. hits
like “Panic Zone.”
BOUNCE
New Orleans, Louisiana
KEY TRACK: Big Freedia, “Azz Everywhere”
DJ Funk, DJ Assault,
Magic Mike, Egyptian
Lover, Afrika
Bambaataa, Big
Freedia, and more
play at United
States of Bass
Thursday, May 24
9 PM to 4 AM
Santos Party House at 96
Lafayette St., Manhattan
4
A frenetic call-and-response variant of hip-hop that revels in raunch,
bounce music has been soundtracking the
streets of the Big Easy since the early
’90s. Bounce is driven by a handful of
MC personalities, and three of the most
outsized are popular gay and/or transgendered mic stars Big Freedia, Katey
Red, and Sissy Nobby.
MIAMI BASS
Miami, Florida
KEY TRACK: Magic Mike, “Drop the Bass”
Dominated by the thumping sustained
kicks and hissy snares of the Roland
TR-808 drum machine and legendary for
its sexually explicit raps (notably
those issued by 2 Live Crew), Miami
bass is purpose-built for sunny weather, skimpy outfits, and speakers in
convertible cars that go boom.
UPCOMING
EVENTS
UNITED STATES
OF BASS
BIG FREEDIA
AFRIKA BAMBAATAA
EGYPTIAN LOVER
DJ MAGIC MIKE
DJ ASSAULT
DJ FUNK + MANY MORE!
MAY
23
SRB BROOKLYN
THE ROOTS
OF DUBSTEP
TORTOISE
FORD & LOPATIN
2010
2011
Another reminder not
to take these Chicago
instrumentalists
(pictured) for
granted, as post-punk
violence shimmers
through jazzy
grooves and laid-back
elegance.
Space warped when
these MIDI-fied
sounds hit the sunfried revelers in the
Barcelona heat. Just
wait for the choir
sample around the
half-hour mark.
rbmaradio.com/shows/
tortoise-live-atprimavera-sound-2010
rbmaradio.com/shows/
ford-lopatin-live-atprimavera-sound-2011
rbmaradio.com/shows/
van-dyke-parkslive-at-primaverasound-2010
SKREAM
MALA
PLASTICIAN
HATCHA
MAY
24
GRAND PROSPECT HALL
12 YEARS MAY
OF DFA
THE WHOLE
LABEL FAMILY ON
FOUR STAGES
25
THE WELL BROOKLYN
THE DOOVER NYC
SPECIAL
ALOE BLACC &
MANY MORE
MAY
26
SAINT VITUS
ONEOHTRIX
POINT NEVER
PARKS AND RECREATION
An American music master comes to the Academy.
KEY TRACK: Egyptian Lover, “Egypt, Egypt”
22
SANTOS PARTY HOUSE
ELECTRO-FUNK
Los Angeles, California
MAY
van dyke parks is a secret musical hero: his
name may not be familiar, but you’ve most
definitely heard his music. He’s an arranger,
songwriter, performer, and producer who has
worked with everyone from the Beach Boys to
Frank Zappa to Fiona Apple and Joanna Newsom. He’s also a movie-soundtrack master.
Case in point: he worked on Disney’s The Jungle Book in 1967—any kids who’ve sung along
to the goofy gallop of “Bare Necessities” have
Mr. Parks to thank. He’s a zelig of folk and pop
music and a genius orchestrator whose lush
instrumentations sound both old-fashioned
and utterly timeless.
Parks is best known for his Southern
charm (he’s often seen performing in suspenders and a bow tie) and genteel American
songcraft, but he nonetheless takes a global
approach—he’s taken entire albums to explore
his fascination with the calypso music of the
West Indies, or Japanese-American relations.
Just a few weeks ago, Parks released his first
new album in 18 years, Song Cycles.
Here at the Academy we host daily lectures from music-industry luminaries, and
often the lesser-known names have proven to
be the most fascinating (go read up on Ken
Scott and Herb Powers, behind-the-board pros
with mind-blowing résumés, and then watch
their lectures at the Red Bull Music Academy
site). Van Dyke Parks takes his turn on the
Academy couch today; check back soon on
redbullmusicacademy.com to watch the talk
in its entirety.
EVIAN CHRIST
BILL KOULIGAS
MORE
MAY
26
NYU SKIRBALL CENTER
A TALK
WITH
JAMES
MURPHY
MAY
27
DEVIATION @ SULLIVAN ROOM
BENJI B
FALTYDL
DORIAN
CONCEPT
MORE
MAY
27
RECORDED LIVE
FOR RED BULL MUSIC ACADEMY RADIO
TUNE IN AT RBMARADIO.COM
5
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Q&A
GABRIEL ROTH
Daptone’s main man sparks a funk and soul revival in Bushwick.
PHOTOGRAPHY DAN WILTON
Can you explain how your recording studio is set up?
Mark Ronson said he walked through and was in heaven.
The studio is an old two-family house in Bushwick, Brooklyn—a
real nasty neighborhood, but we were able to rent this house
out there, and it is a really beautiful house. On the top floor, we
have offices and on the ground floor we have a studio, which
we built ourselves. It’s not real big but it’s all analog with no
computers in there. There are computers upstairs—we’ve got
to make some money and sell some records—but downstairs
is just tape machines. We have a CD burner in there, but other
than that we don’t have any digital anything; it’s all springs and
plates and microphones and tape machines and mostly good
musicians. That is kind of the key.
What was the philosophy behind putting things together
this way? The advantage I had coming into the whole thing is
that I never really wanted to be in the music industry. I never
wanted to be a record producer or record-label owner or even
a musician. I wanted to be a math teacher. I played music at
college, I was in bands, but I never really considered it a serious
occupation. I just kind of fell into it with Philippe Lehman. He
was this guy who I knew, a record collector who started putting
out compilations and reissues of really rare funk stuff in the
early ’90s. I moved to New York and got really into the records,
and he was looking to produce and didn’t know anything about
that. Somehow, a mutual friend hooked us up and I knew a little
bit about engineering and arranging, so we kind of hit it off and
started making records. I started making records just for fun
and we did it in basements or wherever we could, the way we
wanted to do it. We loved all those old funk and soul records, so
we did everything really raw and distorted.
I had never worked in a professional recording studio at
that point. I didn’t really care what anybody thought, and
that turned out to be a huge advantage. I think one of the
reasons I’ve been successful is that I have done stuff my way,
as opposed to working in a studio and learning, “This is the
way you’re supposed to mic a snare drum, this is the way you
do artwork, and this is the way you sell records.” We weren’t
really thinking, “How can we be a legitimate record label?”
We were just having fun and it kept going very slowly and organically over the years. Building the [Daptone] studio, it was
the same approach from the beginning: just concentrating on
doing things how we want to do them so they can become the
records we want to hear. If it sounds good, it’s good, and if it
doesn’t, it doesn’t.
You mentioned Philippe Lehman. Philippe Lehman was a
Parisian DJ and record collector of super heavy-duty soul and
funk 45s. He is completely out of his mind, which is great. He
would have these crazy ideas. He would say, “Let’s do a sitar
funk album.” At the time, we were renting studio time at this
heavy-metal rehearsal studio out on Long Island, where they
would give us day rates real cheap. We would go out, and in
three days do an album. So we were going out there in the car
6
and I’d say, “Who is the sitar player?” He’d say, “I rented the
sitar, it’s in the backseat, you’ve got to figure it out.” I made
this record… It’s pretty awful, but it’s a record of James Brown
and Meters covers, weird things, with me figuring out how to
play the sitar. He was just crazy enough to try stuff like that,
and because of that, he had a big influence on my approach to
how you make records.
Daptone is the name of your label as well as the recording
studio in Bushwick. Who is on Daptone? It’s a pretty small
family of singers and musicians. Our biggest act is Sharon Jones
& the Dap-Kings; they do real well. Our last record with them
[100 Days, 100 Nights] sold about 150,000 copies, which is a
lot considering we are not working with any major label or distribution and promotion or anything. We also have the Budos
Band, which is kind of an instrumental afro-soul psychedelic
band; and Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens, which is a real
kind of soulful gospel act; and Charles Bradley, Binky Griptite,
and a number of different things—one-off 45s, the Menahan
Street Band. It is strange because we have done pretty well but
not a lot people have heard of us. A lot of music we have done
has actually gone on to be successful in the last couple of years.
Jay-Z’s “Roc Boys” even sampled one of your records! Can
you speak a little bit about the whole scene in New York,
and everybody in your crew doing stuff that has a kindred spirit to it? It is definitely like a family affair. Basically,
Philippe Lehman and I had Desco Records and we parted ways
in 2000. We started our own labels: I started Daptone with Neal
Sugarman and he started Soul Fire with Leon Michels [also
known as El Michels], who was actually playing saxophone in
the Dap-Kings at the time. I started working with El a lot doing
arrangements, and Homer [Steinweiss, from Dap-Kings] also is
playing over there a lot. Then he left. He went to the Dominican
Republic to be a full-time cave diver. It’s true. So Leon kind of
took over. He and Jeff Silverman got a label called Truth and
Soul and it is cool. It is definitely a family thing. It is not competitive and now Tommy [Brenneck, Dap-Kings’ guitarist] has
got Dunham Records, which is an imprint on Daptone.
Everybody is working on stuff so it is a family of like-minded
people that came out of the same school. A lot of it came out of
those early Desco years when nobody cared about anything. We
were just wild. So there are a lot of people making cool music.
And there is a lot of afrobeat and soul music and… people who
want to make real music with real musicians.
I know you have a young family. Can you talk a bit about
time management and how it affects your creativity? It is
the hardest thing I do: trying to balance time with my family and work. Earlier, I didn’t have to balance family, but I had
to balance making money and making rent. Especially in New
York, it is pretty hardcore when you are doing stuff that you
like doing. I didn’t do it the right way. I didn’t sleep and just
ran up all my credit cards and I’m sure that’s not the way you’re
supposed to do it. Really, my whole career was in a way sponsored by Visa and MasterCard—I should really thank them. At
one point, by the time Desco was folding, I was maybe $40,000
deep in debt—personal debt and credit debt—not good debt, not
business loans.
I’ve always been a kind of bitter dick in that way, but being
that deep in it just made me come out swinging. I was not going to jump through any hoops at any marketing meetings. The
hard part now is that I have a legitimate business; we have a
record label and the band is grossing serious money. We have
full-time employees, a band full of people with kids who are
depending on it to make a living. So when somebody comes to
me with some marketing idea or some TV commercial or something, unfortunately, that’s where I do feel a bit trapped. I don’t
have the freedom to say to Chase Bank, “Go fuck yourself, man.
We’re not doing your commercial. I don’t even like your bank.”
Even though it is a different struggle now, it is very similar to
when you are getting started and you’re trying to balance a day
job and the music. There are those compromises. Compromise
isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
I always sound like an old lady but when you build it yourself—whether it is a studio or a record—when you do it yourself
with your own hands and suffer through it and you get hit in
the face a bunch and you get back up, then you have something
you are really proud of and it is worth it in the end. It is more
than any money that you may or may not make. If I get hit by
a bus tomorrow, I am happy about the records that I made and
how I made them. That is something to be proud of. I think all I
can tell you is that when you get hit like that, get up.
Interviewed by Jeff ‘Chairman’ Mao at Red Bull
Music Academy London 2010. For the full Q&A, head to
redbullmusicacademy.com/lectures.
7
FEATURE
FEATURE
The story of the little
spools that could.
WORDS ANDREW NOSNITSKY
ILLUSTRATION DEANNE CHEUCK
the history of hip-hop is told by the tale of the tape. About
a decade after a posse of Dutch scientists figured out how to
condense once-enormous magnetic recording spools into the
compact space of a cassette, a Jamaican immigrant named Kool
Herc birthed—in the community center of a Bronx apartment
complex—what would eventually become a multibillion-dollar
branch of the music industry. But the rise of these two inventions are inexorably linked, particularly in New York City.
One of the tremendous truths that’s often overlooked about
hip-hop’s rise is that it represents one of the then-rare instances
in which a localized folk movement morphed into large mainstream one while remaining relatively undiluted. But like any
small culture in the pre-Internet age, it could only move so far
on its own. The vinyl record, the format most commonly identified with early hip-hop (partially due to a million moms making
semi-ironic wiki-wiki scratching motions) certainly did quite
a bit to put hip-hop out there. But vinyl was a clunky and expensive vehicle, one requiring vast networks of pressing plants
and distributors. Cassettes, on the other hand, could move great
distances and with stealth. They could fit into a pocket or fill
a duffle bag, and they could be replicated en masse with ease.
8
9
FEATURE
THE RECORDINGS WOULD DETERIORATE RAPIDLY AS LISTENERS DUBBED THEM
FOR FRIENDS AND FRIENDS DUBBED THEM FOR ACQUAINTANCES, EACH PLAYBACK
BURYING THE SOUNDS FURTHER IN HISS. THUS THESE STORIES WERE TOLD THROUGH
SLOWLY SELF-DESTRUCTING MESSAGES, LIKE A CHILD’S GAME OF TELEPHONE.
“Home Taping Is Killing Music” goes the oft-parodied slogan; but while it might’ve been killing
the music industry, the cassette was also giving legs to many niche musical movements that
otherwise would have remained frozen in place. Not just hip-hop but metal, hardcore, industrial,
new age, and more. It’s probably not a coincidence that these genres all emerged during the late
’70s and ’80s as the cassette tape rose in prominence.
On an internal level alone, the format crams a ton of motion into a small cavity, rotating
hundreds of feet of reel through a 4” x 3” rectangle by way of more internal moving parts than
any other music-storage object. Two playback devices that were coming into popularity around
the same time as hip-hop—the Walkman and the boombox—capitalized on this portability, both
seemingly tailor-made for the sort of urban-warrior lifestyle that hip-hop glorified. A dub of a tape
could travel hundreds of miles and in the process spawn off a dozen more copies. New Yorkers
could slide dubs to out-of-town cousins. Bleary-eyed suburbanites could record late-night radio
shows off the airways and spread those static-blanketed secrets outward.
In hip-hop’s early years, cassettes served as its document of record through bootleg recordings
of old-school rap routines and DJ sets. The relative ease of re-recordings and low duplication cost
opened up new and extensive options for self-documentation to artists and listeners alike. Official
Cold Crush Brothers recorder Elvis Moreno, aka Tape Master, would get access to plug his tape
recorder directly into the soundboard, while an unsanctioned partygoer might just place their
box somewhere in the crowd and hit the record button. Dozens of tapes of prominent crews like
the Furious Five and the Crash Crew multiplied like rabbits from there on out, sold at shows and
swapped through quiet networks of traders and collectors. And even while New Jersey interlopers
the Sugarhill Gang burned up the airwaves and sold out the vinyl bins with “Rapper’s Delight,”
real heads knew that mainstream releases offered only an approximation of what it was really
like. There was honesty in the live dubs; producers and rappers hadn’t yet figured out how to
replicate that feeling in a studio setting.
There was also a fuzz of sound. The recordings would deteriorate rapidly as listeners dubbed
them for friends and friends dubbed them for acquaintances, each playback burying the sounds
further in hiss. Thus these stories were told through slowly self-destructing messages, like a
child’s game of telephone. “Never put me in your box if your shit eats tapes,” Queensbridge rapper
Nas once warned, but that fragility only amplified the mystique of the format.
While hip-hop centers with weaker industry ties like Oakland and Houston developed vast
independent micro-industries around professionally produced, barcoded, and distributed cassette-only releases in the ’90s, the New York indies of that era never seemed to prioritize the
format for official releases. Most of the New York rap music that was manufactured by larger
independent labels was, and still is, difficult to come by on tape. Even as ’90s emporiums like Mix
Kings industrialized the underground production process, the distribution network tended to
operate wholly separate from record distributors and chain stores, moving instead through street
vendors and niche shops.
As a major-label hub, New York City experienced a push and pull between its underground
and its mainstream music industry—for many years, cassettes played the middleman. Tapes
served as a stepping-stone: you could cut a four-track demo and shop it to a label in the hopes of
eventually transitioning into a more professional vinyl project, or later to a CD.
Yet cassettes came with an implicit stamp of insider status. It wasn’t until the late ’90s that
mixtape purveyors like DJ Clue would start (LOUDLY) throwing around the phrase “exclusive” to
punctuate the new and unheard tracks that they were breaking, but there was always a subtext of
exclusivity to the underground-rap-cassette experience. Copping or dubbing these tapes instilled
the sensation of a certain special street-level awareness amongst consumers—you had to be in the
know to some degree. And in some cases you had to have the right amount of money.
10
“The people that was buying my customized tapes [in the ’70s] were the scramblers, the
dealers, people that had money,” Grandmaster Flash told MTV.com in 2007. “I was making a
couple thousand dollars a month, easy, just doing this.” Harlem DJ Brucie B has claimed that
old-school drug kingpins like Alpo and Rich Porter would pay him upwards of three figures a
piece for his blend tapes in the late ’80s. Though the live-taping scene had inexplicably dissolved by the end of that decade, DJ-mixed studio tapes continued to thrive well into the ’90s,
with DJs like Brucie and Ron G, whose tapes prefigured the mashup trend by dropping R&B
acapellas on top of hip-hop beats.
Over time, tapes would help directly launch careers. In the later part of the decade, DJs like Clue
began to move away from serious mixing and blending in favor of acting as makeshift A&R men.
Their tapes provided a developmental ground for the careers of stars like DMX and the Lox. Mixtapes had effectively supplanted the demo process. (Major labels even tried their hands at co-opting
that process, releasing proper albums from the likes of Clue and radio heavyweight Funkmaster Flex
that were meant to synthesize the mixtape experience for a mainstream audience.)
Reflecting this new model, mixtapes began to shift their focus away from the DJ and toward
the rappers themselves. By 2000, artist-driven underground tapes by the likes of 50 Cent and the
Diplomats dominated the tape scene. Though DJs like Whoo Kid were still playing host, they
were no longer the center of attention. These were effectively DJ-curated street albums. The artists had taken over the scene for a reason: to reap the freedom that came from the format. The
commercial prime of the mainstream recording industry was coming to a close, so labels were
becoming more selective about who and what would be getting a release date; at the same time,
sample-clearance budgets were dwindling. Major-label and unsigned artists alike used tapes to
strong-arm their brands and musical visions into the marketplace. Anything and everything was
fair game for beat jacking—from mainstream hits to old-school classics—and the best of these
artists could morph them into completely original songs.
Of course, these artists were only making “tapes” in name. Technology had already outmoded the cassette prior to this artist-driven explosion. CD-R burners and Internet file sharing had already become ubiquitous. For a while, burned CDs moved via the same network,
with the most-savvy consumers ripping them from and uploading to MP3 trading posts like
Soulseek. But in time, technology would devour the entire scene. Freebie digital emporiums
like Livemixtapes and Datpiff pushed the street vendors and hand-to-hand dubs out of the
mixtape market almost entirely. Still, the name stayed the same. Even kids of today who are
young enough to have never seen a true-to-life cassette are still running around talking about
the latest “mixtapes.”
The word tape speaks to purity, a word-of-mouth shadow industry that will hopefully always
exist in hip-hop. In a way, the tape humanizes music distribution. Underground tapes weren’t
mass-produced industry-sanctioned objects, but rather physical artifacts with handwritten or
photocopied labels and artwork, giving off the distinct impression that the actual item you were
listening to had directly passed through the hands of its creator. Even in their modern digital
incarnations, many mixtapes still exude a similar warmth and aura with little polish, indifferent
mixing and mastering, and hastily thrown-together artwork.
Today the tapes of decades past are still exchanging hands—digitally. Dig deep enough into the
Internet and you’ll find the lo-fi remnants of underground classics from the likes of Flash, Brucie,
and Clue still floating around through YouTube rips, Mediafire links, enormous torrents, eBay
auctions, and vast classified networks of international tape traders. Like everything else on the
planet, these tapes now travel more rapidly than they did in their own time, and the cost of entry
is much lower, but they still move mostly in silence—save for the new layers of lossy hiss that they
continue to accumulate in the process.
11
COLUMNS
COLUMNS
LANDMARKS
The places, spaces,
and monuments of
NYC's musical past,
present, and future.
A column on
the gear and
processes that inform
the music we make.
joris van grunsven is the head of Studio
Takt, a music and sound-design company
based in the Netherlands. A Red Bull Music
Academy 2013 participant, he also makes experimental dubstep as Krampfhaft—brooding
and cinematic stuff that leverages a lot of the
tricks he’s picked up behind the scenes. We interviewed van Grunsven about how music and
sound design cross-pollinate.
RBMA: Sound design is often more felt than
heard. How do you make music that intentionally stays out of the way but still has a meaningful presence?
LO G O S
The origins of
iconic images from
NYC's musical history
explained.
even before designer reid miles
joined Alfred Lion’s Blue Note Records in
1956, the jazz label was well known for the
visual artistry of founding art director and
photographer Francis Wolff. During the
transition from plain 78s to packaged 10- and
12-inch LPs, designers Paul Bacon, Gil Melle,
and John Hermansader played a role in
what Leonard Feather, in his liner notes for
1955’s The Blue Note Story, described as the
“painstaking attention to quality… present
every step of the way—in the material used
for the pressings, in the excellence of the
recording, in the design and production of
the covers, and in everything else that goes
to make a finished, thoughtfully prepared
product.”
Miles wasn’t the first designer at the label
but he best defined its aesthetic, delivering
more than 400 covers in his 11 years at Blue
Note. Miles didn’t share a passion for jazz (he
preferred classical) but he understood how
to graphically interpret the music as Lion
described it. As design critic Robin Kinross
noted in 1990 in Eye magazine, Miles’ “cool,
clear” work was representative of what was
happening in New York graphic design at
12
the time: “It fed on a lively photographic
culture and on a good stock of typefaces
in the printers and reproduction houses—
especially of the American sans serifs.”
Under Miles the label adopted its first
brand identity system, abstracting a musical
note as its logo. While numerous books
celebrate Miles’ dynamic use of type and
unconventional photo cropping, history
takes the icon for granted. By default we’ll
credit Miles, who used it extensively as a
design element that moved around within
each composition. The icon is also a conduit
for practical information—the catalogue
number sits inside the oval and the tagline
“The Finest in Jazz Since 1939” resides in a
rectangular box. The first cover to feature
the logo was Blue Note 4017, Horace Silver’s
Blowin’ the Blues Away, released on August
28, 1959.
As Michael Cina, a Blue Note collector
and designer who has applied a similarly
standardized approach to his work for the
Ghostly label, points out, “Most record
labels didn’t integrate a logo into the actual
design, but [Reid] didn’t try to hide it. He
exploited it.”
-SUE APFELBAUM
Joris van Grunsven: The music should be
good on its own. But after that you can add a
lot of subtle things to the sounds to give them
more movement and space. This can also create a very nice distinction between listening
experiences. If you don’t make your mixes too
full, it will sound really good on a big system.
But if you add extra effects, it will also be interesting to listen to on headphones.
RBMA: In your own music, you use sub-bass
in this very gentle, rolling way. Do you have
any tips for creating this kind of drama with
sub-bass?
JvG: The simple answer is just to leave space
for the sub. I always check all the other sounds
for frequencies that might interfere with it. I
cut really low frequencies from snares and hihats so that the sub has its own place in the
mix. There are, as always, a lot of exceptions
to this rule.
RBMA: You also take advantage of panning in
your mixes in unusual, almost painterly ways.
JvG: I really like to play with stereo imaging.
Just like with the sound effects, it’s a great
tool to create space in your mixes and give instruments some separation. If you have your
drums in the center, you can do a pad with a
lot of stereo width to really let them have their
own place in the mix.
RBMA: Do you think of your music visually?
JvG: I do. It’s very helpful to think of your
music as being in a space. Near, far, left, right.
It is a very abstract space though. Especially
in electronic music you can break the rules
that are present in nature, which allows for
some interesting and disorienting effects.
Playing with cognitive dissonance is a big part
of the fun.
-NICK SYLVESTER
THE BRONX
PAST FEATURED LANDMARKS
1 MAX NEUHAUS’
ELECTRIC
LADY
STUDIOS
2 THE THING
PRODUCED RAPPERS
PRESENTED BY
Since its inception in 1996, Mass Appeal magazine has dedicated itself to the art of creative
instigation. What started off as a graffiti zine
eventually evolved into a full-fledged publication whose premise was to speak to the underground from which it came. The same can be said
about hip-hop, except that it wasn’t necessarily
a publication that brought all of its respective
“instigators” together... it was the New York
City housing projects.
RECORDS
13 THE VILLAGE
SECONDHAND
STORE
3 THE LOFT
GATE/LIFE/LE
POISSON ROUGE
14 THE ANCHORAGE
4 MARCY HOTEL
5 ANDY WARHOL’S
FACTORY
6 QUEENSBRIDGE
HOUSES
in his 2010 book Appetite City, former New York Times
restaurant critic William Grimes wrote of a “goofy restaurant where city slickers could get on the floor for a square
dance and whoop and holler to their hearts’ content.”
This was the erstwhile Village Barn, bedecked with wagon wheels, horseless saddles, and live caged roosters; a
place where—according to an old postcard—guests could
participate in “monkey dances, potato games, turtle races,
and midnight waltzes.” (Turtle races?)
Owner Meyer Horowitz opened the Village Barn in
1930; it offered folk and country acts and other “rural
entertainment” until closing in 1967, presumably because interest in western kitsch waned. (Side note: Just
upstairs from the Barn, the abstract expressionist painter Hans Hofmann maintained an art school and studio
from 1938 to 1958; the space later became the 8th Street
Playhouse, known for its interactive midnight showings
of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.)
The story takes an abrupt turn when the Village
Barn reopened as the short-lived Generation Club and
acquired a very famous regular, Jimi Hendrix. In 1968,
Hendrix and his manager Michael Jeffery bought the
space with the intention of turning it into a club of their
own but decided to convert it into a recording studio instead—or, as the Times put it in a 2010 article, “a psychedelic lair, with curved walls, groovy multicolored lights,
and sci-fi erotica murals to aid the creative flow.” Electric
Lady Studios was finished, way over budget, in August
1970. Hendrix recorded there for only a few weeks before
flying to London, where he died on September 18, never
making it back to the States or to his brand-new studio.
But everyone from the Stones to Bob Dylan to Patti Smith
subsequently recorded there and, 43 years later, the Lady
is still going strong as the longest-running major recording facility in New York City.
-ADRIENNE DAY
TOP
5…
PROJECTS THAT
12 DAPTONE
“TIMES SQUARE”
1
7
7 RECORD MART
8 DEITCH
6
5
8
5
PROJECTS
9 AREA/SHELTER/
7
VINYL
QUEENS
5
10 STUDIO B
2
11 MARKET HOTEL
13
3
9 8
10
8
MANHATTAN
4 12
14
12
11
WHAT: THE VILLAGE
BARN/ELECTRIC LADY
STUDIOS
WHERE: 52 W. 8TH
STREET
WHEN: 1930-1967;
1970-PRESENT
WHY: HOKEY WESTERNTHEMED DINNER CLUB
AND WORLD-FAMOUS
RECORDING STUDIO
STATEN ISLAND
BROOKLYN
1 2 3 4 5
BRONX RIVER
HOUSES
Recognized as the
proverbial Mecca of
New York City hiphop, the Bronx River
Houses claim ownership to DJ Kool Herc,
Afrika Bambaataa and
the Soul Sonic Force,
and DJ Red Alert.
Easily where it all
started.
QUEENSBRIDGE
HOUSES
The Queensbridge
Houses are something
like the Nazareth to
the Bronx River Houses’ Bethlehem, spawning old-school names
like Marley Marl,
Roxanne Shante, and
MC Shan. The torch
has carried over to
modern acts like Mobb
Deep, Capone, Tragedy
Khadafi, and Nas.
MARCY HOUSES
“Cough up a lung,
where I’m from.
Marcy, son.” We can
all thank Brooklyn’s
Jay-Z for the global
recognition of Marcy.
Acts like Jaz-O, Memphis Bleek, and Sauce
Money have also respectively called it
home. Ain’t nothin’
nice!
FOREST HOUSES
The Bronx gets recognized for yet another
hotbed of rap projects via Fat Joe,
Lord Finesse, and
Diamond D. Digging
in the Crates Crew
anyone?
STAPLETON HOUSES
The Staten Island
home of Ghostface
Killah, Method Man,
Trife Da God, Shyheim, and GP Wu. It’s
pretty safe to say
that one of New York
City’s most internationally renowned rap
groups, the Wu-Tang
Clan, wouldn’t exist
without Stapleton.
13
NEW YORK STORY
NEW YORK STORY
I HEARD IT ON
THE RADIO
An analog memoir.
WORDS STEVE STEIN
ILLUSTRATION JEREMY DEAN
The jungle drums of the pre-teens
(Music: “Wipe Out” by the Safaris)
In 1963, every 12 year old in Mt. Vernon, New York,
who knew how to get over had a transistor radio playing covertly under the pillow after lights out. In my
neighborhood, the stations that penetrated the feathers were either WMCA or WABC, the Top 40 monsters
of the New York AM market. Playlists, though always
tight, covered a lot of ground: Sinatra in rotation with
Motown, Armstrong with the Beach Boys.
WABC sounded very national, very professional, very big time. My taste ran to the looser, loonier
WMCA and their DJ crew, the Good Guys. Listening to these stations was intense. It felt like a riot
in progress. WMCA featured—among many other
things—fire engines, car horns, dogs, trumpet fanfares, Tarzan yodels, spaceships landing, and ducks.
These covered the pauses when the DJs had to inhale. The rest of the time they’d be babbling teen
patois like a horse-race announcer calling a close
one at Aqueduct.
Soundtrack of the basement dwellers
(Music: “Mellow Yellow” by Donovan)
If you were 17 years old in 1968, and you were
hanging out in some kid’s basement in Mt. Vernon with a few other disaffected countercultural
types, wondering when this girl was going to come
by (because she was, like, holding), the FM stereo
was tuned to WNEW. Long, esoteric album cuts, as
well as the hits of the day by the Beatles, Hendrix,
Steppenwolf, and Marvin Gaye, were delivered by
Rosko, who had the mellowest voice on earth... or
maybe Zacherle, who’d made a career transition by
leaping from campy TV horror-show host to laidback hipster DJ.
If you had a taste for edgier broadcasting, WBAI
featured some of the most innovative freeform radio
DJs on the overnights. And depending on where you
were lucky enough to live, you might hear one of the
fiercely cool, underpowered college stations from the
bottom of the dial: FMU, KCR, FDU, FUV...
(Music: “Bohannon’s Beat”
by Hamilton Bohannon)
At this point, my personal post-high-school journey—entering colleges and then dropping out of
them—had taken me to Philadelphia (same freeform vibe as NY); Franconia, a tiny town in northern
New Hampshire (no radio, everyone listened to records); Wheeling, West Virginia (Loretta Lynn 24/7
on all three stations); and back to Philadelphia in
time to get hit by the mid-’70s funk bomb. Where
else could Hamilton Bohannon enjoy hit after hit on
the radio?
14
The funk: lost and found
(Music: “Flying Saucers Rock & Roll”
by Robert Gordon)
Married by this time (1978), I returned to New
York. Philadelphia radio (WDAS) had spoiled me
with DJs like Dr. Perri Johnson and Harvey Holiday.
The music heard everywhere in Philly—a city where
Parliament pumped out of blown speakers over
storefront doors, while little old white grandmas
walked by bobbing their heads, no lie—seemed not
to be so popular in NYC. In the big town, the big beat
was disco—usually commercial, often mechanical.
Disco traveled in a stretch limo with coke and champagne, bound for Studio 54; the funk rode around
the Bronx in a gypsy cab, looking for a good party.
Faced with four-on-the-floor or rock, our station
of choice became WPIX, playing all the new wavers:
Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, Robert Gordon, and Ian
Dury; groups like Blondie, Madness, and the Specials; plus, thankfully, some Four Tops and Temptations. Lots of excellent local bands too: the New York
Dolls, Bush Tetras, Talking Heads, Mink DeVille. PIX
had hot shows like The Penthouse Party on Saturday
nights, hosted by Meg Griffin. The station played
anything remotely related to rock. Old music, new
music, tons of live shows from clubs all over the city,
and sometimes guest DJs.
(Music: “B-Beat Classic”
[Instr.] by Spyder D)
Sometime around 1980, I was painting the kitchen of our Brooklyn apartment. Thanks to my new affluence—due to uncharacteristically steady employment—I’d just purchased a fancy cassette deck with
auto-reverse. While I painted away in the back of the
flat, the new deck played in the front room where I
could barely hear it, taping a random three hours of
WPIX to make sure everything was operational.
The next day when I checked the tape, I found
that I’d recorded a show that featured musicians as
guest DJs; that week’s selectors were Debbie Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie. When the host of the
show asked them what records they’d brought to
play, they said they’d been at a party in the South
Bronx the night before and they’d asked the DJ at
the party if they could borrow his records to play on
the radio. Here are the records, hope you like them.
They started with “That’s the Joint” by the
Funky 4 + One More, followed by “Superrappin’”
by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, then
“Family Rap” by the Family. And more like that, for
an hour. I listened to that cassette until the oxide
wore off the tape. I liked rock and new wave and
all that, but I went straight-up batshit over these
records. This was even before people had preconceived notions about hip-hop and rap. It was sim-
ply great dance music, without the cultural baggage
it carried later.
Mainstream urban radio like KISS FM or WBLS
would play funky music, but only truly huge rap
records—“Rapper’s Delight,” “Rapture,” “Christmas
Rapping,” “The Breaks”—got play anywhere. I knew
there was more music to be had, because as soon as
I figured out what was going on I bought every rap
12-inch I saw, on any label, by anyone. But that stuff
wasn’t on any radio station I was listening to, until
a friend lent me tapes of shows on WHBI FM from
the World Famous Supreme Team, the Awesome 2,
and Mr. Magic.
WHBI was unique, operated on an only-in-NewYork business model. Multicultural DJs leased airtime on the station then financed their time by selling advertising on the shows they produced. Rates
varied by time of day; successful DJs with audiences
that had some money to spend invested in the daytime hours; late night/early morning hours sold for
a lot less, so that’s where the action was. Tapes of
Magic (with Marley Marl and his mixing glove), the
Awesome 2 (Special K and Teddy Tedd in the house),
and the Supreme Team (Se’Divine the Mastermind
chilling with Just Allah the Superstar) circulated
constantly, each copy adding another generation of
hiss. I still have (somewhere) a cassette of Magic’s
show the night he played Trouble Funk for the first
time. Yet another epiphany, provided by radio.
The major stations wised up soon enough. KISS
FM took on Kool DJ Red Alert (who killed it boy,
damn). Eventually Mr. Magic moved to WBLS, and
even if they weren’t hip-hop stations, at least each
major urban station had mix shows that played
nothin’ but. When rap appeared on this part of the
dial, it became An Official Phenomenon, and the culture began blowing up for real.
At this point, between clubbing and buying vinyl
with every spare dollar, I spent more time DJing and
hanging out in Doug’s studio, and less time listening
to the radio.
(SFX: radio-tuning noise, signal
starts to fade out, interference)
And the first time I heard my song “The Payoff
Mix” come out of the radio of a car driving by, well,
that was an unexpected thrill.
(SFX: click off)
Steve Stein, at times known as Steinski, is
a writer and music producer who was lucky
enough to discover hip-hop in the early ’80s.
With his musical partner Doug ‘Double Dee’
Difranco, he created the influential cutand-paste records The Lessons. He lives with
a wife and a senile cat, and is outrageously
happy most of the time.
15
BRIAN ENO
77 MILLION PAINTINGS
"DISORIENTING,
CHALLENGING,
AND—AFTER A
FEW MINUTES OF
CONCENTRATION—
BEAUTIFUL."
-HUFFINGTON POST
THROUGH JUNE 2
145 W 32ND ST
RED BULL MUSIC ACADEMY NEW YORK 2013
APRIL 28 – MAY 31
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