I’ve been wrestling with this concept a lot since last year when it happened, but I haven’t been able to put it into words correctly. I feel that the subject is intrinsic to the essence of Hiphop consciousness, and while it was touched on, it wasn’t discussed in depth. You see, last year, the most important story in Hip Hop was not about Meek Mill vs. Drake (although that was big). It was actually Cholly Rock vs. KRSONE and Afrika Bambaataa. That story has significance beyond some petty beef and also leads into what I’m working on in two major ways.
The background of the controversy is that old-school pioneer and First Generation Hiphoppa, Cholly Rock disputes some ‘facts’ he says KRSONE has led people to believe, which are not true. The evidence seems pretty convincing on behalf of Cholly Rock, which is why many so-called hip-hop music outlets didn’t cover the story. Most didn’t seem to want to go against KRS, by taking Cholly Rock’s position which came off as very harsh and disrespectful. Noticing the drama, Rock Steady Crew/Zulu Nation legend Crazy Legs recorded a response by KRS and BAM in his living room soon after the story broke last September.
Here, is where we get in to the most important part of the whole situation. The two final take-aways are this; 1) it is supremely important to the legacy of Hip Hop Kulture, that each Hiphoppa make an effort to preserve and re-tell their own story and what they see around them. Every relevant perspective should be acknowledged to get the clearest picture of the whole. Some people may view the same information in different ways. 2) Crazy Legs points out that “We have to leave room for errors,” when discussing the past. Some information we have may have been handed down incorrectly and distorted over the years. We don’t have to approach it as if it’s malicious or a conspiracy in every case, when we find an error.
The above controversy struck me because preserving culture is exactly the mission I’ve been on for my entire adult Hip Hop life it seems. This year, for Hip Hop Appreciation Week, there will be a special dedication of a brand new archive at the Public Library in Plainfield, NJ where I grew up. I will be donating part of my 25 year collection of Hip Hop memorabilia and ephemera, to the fully modernized facility, in order to house and protect it for future generations. When Bam and KRS spoke about the importance of preserving our culture, it reaffirmed and co-signed my mission with the utmost authority. It also showed the timelessness of that open call to preserve culture and it’s up to all of us to play some part. In addition, the idea of extensive research should cause more of us to participate, or at least support efforts to draw out lessons that will benefit us all.
On a personal note, the message of continued research hits home for me in another way. When I studied with KRSONE before we released the Gospel of Hip Hop and went on the 20th Anniversary of the Stop the Violence Tour from 2008 – 2010, we discussed the dates and particulars of Hip Hop history. The beginning of Hip Hop and “the 1st Deejay,” or who came up with the term “hip hop,” were considered to be open questions because of conflicting information. They are part of what KRS used to call, the mythology or folklore of Hip Hop; stories that were open to interpretation. Then there are other more concrete facts like if Grand Master Flash invented the cross-fader and such that have perpetuated false information because of erroneous facts or misinterpretations. We all have misconceptions about things we believe until they’re shown to be incorrect.
For me, there is one particular puzzle that seems to keep adding pieces. Like most other Hiphoppas, I recognized the importance of the song The Message, by GMF and the Furious 5, as one of the most pivotal in Hip Hop history. For the longest time, like most other people, I had given credit for that song to the group. After all, it was their most famous song. But as it turns out, that song was the one they were least involved in. Back in the 1990’s when I first started doing Shades of Hip Hop, I used to get into drunken arguments with my friend Darryl about how Duke Bootee, a teacher at Plainfield High School, wrote The Message. Back then, I dismissed the influence, Duke Bootee had on the record because those kinds of facts were insignificant to me at the time. I was way more concerned with what we were doing at the moment and the new history we were creating.
Years later, after adding on to the cypher of Hip Hop throughout the 90’s on up to studying with KRS and meeting and talking to Melle Mel on many occasions, I forgot about the Duke Bootee discussions I had in the 90’s. Around 2007, I even put out my personal top 10 list which had Melle Mel at #1 because of the influence of The Message, even though Duke Bootee wrote most of the song. Then, most recently, after working on an unrelated project in 2014, I found connections that led me to research the origin of the song.
In my research, I realized that it was in fact Duke Bootee, who came up with not only the hook and most of the lyrics, but most of the beat as well. Melle Mel only wrote the last verse, which is actually the strongest verse by the way, thereby technically keeping him in my number one slot (with an asterisk*). Still, the misconceptions don’t end there. That was all information that has always been available but I just didn’t fully realize or pay attention to it. If you look at the original album it says E. Fletcher/M. Glover/S. Robinson/J. Chase. Now, originally I had no way to verify who was who, because I only knew people by their Hiphop names, not their government names. Those names could have been any members of the Furious 5. (There was no Google back then) I figured, like most people did, that M. Glover was probably Melle Mel and S. Robinson could have been Slyvia Robinson, owner of Sugar Hill Records, but you didn’t hear her on it, so I dismissed it.
Back then, I wasn’t as aware about how they did writing credits and producing credits in the early 1980’s. I couldn’t really picture that Melle Mel was the only rapper from the Furious 5 on the song. I also couldn’t picture that he didn’t write most of the song either, at the time. That’s a misconception most people still have today. Most people never heard of Duke Bootee, unlike the people around my small town of Plainfield. All throughout the early 1980’s you would hear his named talked about, maybe in reference to The Message, or moreso as a Record label owner that managed DJ Cheese, who was the underground king of Plainfield on one level. Duke Bootee was always in and around Plainfield as I grew up, but I never fully knew who he was. He had an ill reputation back then, so it was sketchy what was true and false.
Fast forward to 2014 and my research piece and someone gives me erroneous information that Duke Bootee was from Plainfield. Later, in 2015 I start refining my piece and the information about Duke Bootee being from Plainfield gets added to the rough draft of a documentary I’m working on called, How My Small Town Changed Hip Hop. The whole time, I was actually more concerned with the idea that people’s idea of The Message would shatter their perception of the truth about Hip Hop song writing, that I didn’t complete my research.
Now, to get up to date we come full circle with the second important point of the Crazy Legs rebuttal. He said, “We have to leave room for errors.” That leads to December of 2015 when I finally talked to E. Fletcher or Ed Fletcher aka Duke Bootee, a professor at a college in Georgia, and award-winning writer/producer of The Message. He revealed a lot of interesting tidbits and details about the crafting of that song, the least of which was the fact that he wrote the song in Elizabeth, NJ and not Plainfield, NJ like I originally thought. Although he didn’t grow up in Plainfield, his roots are deep there, as he confirmed when he told me that the royalty’s from The Message have been paying for the house he still owns in Plainfield for the last 30 years. I will detail our discussion in an upcoming post, so stay tuned for some never-before revealed facts about hip-hop music’s most pivotal song.
The message of this story finally, is this: Preserve Hip Hop Kulture and leave room for errors because just like Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone, we’re all wrong sometimes.