How my suburban town changed Hip Hop forvever

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Introduction

In this essay, the importance of our action or inaction as human beings in society, is discussed to remind us that even if we think that we are insignificant, the things we do or don’t do in life have ramifications that we can’t possibly foresee. In this discussion, we also come to see that each person is connected to a larger symbiotic societal organism, that moves and shifts on pivotal moments. Lastly, the discussion asks us to realize that people take from one’s input into the World, whatever and only, what they want. They don’t necessarily like things for the intrinsic reasons for which they were made. For that reason, any positive action will come to have its equal and opposite reaction.

I grew up in a small suburban town in New Jersey. The Census Bureau counts it as suburban because there are less than 50,000 residents. It’s by no means the boondocks, but it is kind of close. The city I’m from is called Plainfield, Plainfield, New Jersey. As a member of the first generation of Hip Hop, I grew up with the culture, participated in it and observed all the transitions it’s gone through up until today. Since 2000, the music has declined and declined so much, that now it’s reached the lowest level of skill in the mainstream, since the early days. I try to reconcile in my mind how this happened to the culture I love so much, and I realize that we only have ourselves to blame as Hiphoppas. We added to the attitudes that we would later come to hate, as those same attitudes were taken to the extreme.

Hip Hop used to stand for something. It had integrity. As I grew up in my small town, I tried to add on to the cypher and build like any self-respecting Hiphoppa would do. Yet still, just like Hip Hop, I ended up adding to the ripple effect of negativity worn so proudly now, by the new generation. Of course my intention, just as in Hip Hop, was not to stimulate negativity, but instead creativity, and still, sometimes the road to ignorance is paved with the best intentions. Sometimes we don’t fully recognize the impact our actions have until much later.

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Sometime between 2011 and 2012, I became very discouraged by rap music and the terrible images and concepts it used to denigrate True Hip Hop Kulture (proper). I began to wonder if all of my efforts which had seemed so important to me over the years, were in actuality, a waste of my time. For someone who had always held much respect for the element of emceein, it became embarrassing to listen to the mainstream representation of rap music being regurgitated onto the airwaves by irresponsible program directors. Then, after my disgust died down, I eventually realized that how I felt about Hip Hop, related to this one old film that was made back in the 1940’s. It was produced in 1946, and debuted in 1947, with minimal success, but came to be known as a classic Frank Capra movie called, It’s A Wonderful Life.


It’s a Wonderful Life Background:

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An angel helps a compassionate but desperately frustrated businessman, by showing him what life would have been like if he never existed. It was written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, directed by Frank Capra and starred Jimmy Stewart, Donna Reed and Drew Barrymore’s grandfather, the great, Lionel Barrymore.

When George Bailey is young, he has dreams of leaving his small town and traveling the World. He wants to do big things but he feels like the people around him are holding him back from “Lassoing the moon. (A reference that symbolizes George’s frame of mind)” He feels hopelessly tied to a failing business with his drunk, absent-minded uncle. Even though he married his High School sweetheart, George hates his drafty, old, house and fears not being able to earn enough money to provide for his four children. Just when the pains of life pile up on George, his uncle Billy (played by Thomas Mitchell), loses a substantial bank deposit. George now fears going to jail for mismanagement of funds and contemplates killing himself by jumping off a bridge on Christmas Eve.

Lucky for George, the heavens are on his side, and an angel intervenes. The angel shows George what life would be like, if he would never have been born. He lets George walk around his town and talk to the people who were once his friends, family and loved ones. Since George was never born, people don’t know him. Every one of them is different, even his mother. His whole town is different. What was once a neighborhood his father’s business helped people buy houses in, was now just a grave yard.

What is the moral of the story?

“Strange isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” – Clarence the Angel (Henry Travers) (It’s A Wonderful Life, Liberty Films/RKO Pictures (1946)).

Clarence shows George that;

  1. A person or an idea, might seem insignificant, but may be very important to all the people around them.
  2. The things you do or don’t do have rippling effects and lasting ramifications. At one point George sees his brother’s gravestone in the graveyard which used to be a neighborhood in his previous life. George tells the angel that his brother wasn’t dead. His brother Harry was in the army overseas fighting in the war. The angel tells him that his brother drowned when he was 9 years old because George wasn’t there to save him. George refuses to believe it and says no, his brother is a war hero who saved a transport full of men. The angel replies, “Every one of those men died. Harry wasn’t there to save them, because you weren’t there to save Harry.” Here, the writer shows that doing something or failing to do something when you should have can hold deadly consequences for other people besides yourself, or the people you know. The things you do affect others you don’t even know exist. One decision you make may have ramifications in ways you couldn’t begin to imagine. In the story, because George didn’t save his brother from drowning in a lake when they were kids, a whole troop transport ship full of men was destroyed and everyone on board was killed. It was because the one life George saved turned out to save hundreds of others.
  3. In the end, George wishes he was alive and is sent back to his family where he finds that the townspeople have taken up a collection for him so that he can pay his bills and avoid being arrested. In a copy of the book, Tom Sawyer left by the angel, is written the quote, “Remember, no man is a failure who has friends. Thanks for the wings! Love Clarence” 

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Now, It’s a Wonderful Life, is just a movie, but the concept of things spoken about are not unheard of. The concept of ‘the ripple effect’ was coined in the late 1960’s which is defined as, “a spreading effect or series of consequences caused by a single action or event. “ (2) “The repercussions of an event or situation experienced far beyond its immediate location.”

How Plainfield, New Jersey changed Hip Hop Kulture

As somebody born in 1969, I saw and/or felt Hip Hop as it became what it was. Here in Plainfield New Jersey, 40 minutes from Manhattan, NYC, The Big Apple, I never felt too far from the action. Plainfield is in the cut, as they say. It’s off to the side and down the road a piece from the action. When Hip Hop was starting out, the people that were starting it were going back and forth to Newark at least to do parties, so the connection was always there from the beginning. Not only was that route open, but the people in NJ, were constantly going to the City, or the Bronx, or Brooklyn and Harlem too. Therefore, as soon as things were poppin’ in the City, people would be back in New Jersey with the new styles.

That has always been a hustle in NJ. You go to the City, get your wholesale product, whatever it is; clothing, toys, jewelry etc. and come back to NJ and sell it for retail price. It was the same thing with style and trends also. Whatever people were wearing in NYC and the boroughs was the same thing you would eventually see on the streets of Newark and then other areas of NJ like Plainfield. Plainfield, by the way is also called Queen City in respect to the King City of Newark which worked in tandem as a business community in the past. So as things traditionally passed from NYC to Newark it would ultimately reach Plainfield in a matter of days, weeks or months. Here, we see an example of the ripple effect. That’s how Hip Hop Kulture eventually spread; through the ripple effect.

Now, when I look at Hip Hop, I am starting to see it not as a linear progression of distinct pivotal moments balanced on top of each other one after the next, but instead Hip Hop is like a wobbly body of water, rippling with effects from multiple sources. However, unlike water, the effects and ripples created in Hip Hop last over time and alter the landscape around it similar to the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. Still, one of the strangest things about this whole idea is that, my little insignificant town of Plainfield, NJ actually added some major ripples in the fabric of Hip Hop that changed it forever. These facts can be easily corroborated and serve as proof that even Plainfield, NJ, above many others, should be added to the list of cities influential to Hip Hop.

Some say Hip Hop started out in the park in 1973 with Kool Herc. Some say it started with the Zulu Nation and Bambaataa. Some people say it started before that with DJ Hollywood and Pete DJ Jones. Some say graffiti started in the 1960’s. Some say beatboxin started with Louie Armstrong scatting in the 1920’s. Still others say Hip Hop is super-historical and goes back to when Egyptians bombed temples with paintings and grios spit tribal stories to the people sitting around a fire in Africa.

Regardless of when you think it started, since then, Hip Hop has had pivotal moments that affected the culture forever afterward. Moments like…

When Kool Moe Dee took out Busy Bee,

When the Cold Crush Brothers, the Funky Four Plus One and the Treacherous Three were all signed to Sugar Hill Records.

When Wildstyle the movie by Charles Ahearn and Fab 5 Freddy came out,

When Beat Street came out,

When Run DMC rapped over the Big Beat by Billy Squier,

When Scott La Rock got killed

When Public Enemy dropped, Fight the Power

When Protect Ya Neck was played on Video Music Box

When Queen Latifah said, “Who you callin a bitch?”

When Pac and Biggie died

When 8 Mile came out…

There are so many moments in Hip Hop that created a ripple effect that in some ways are still being felt today, somewhere around the World. All of these individual moments were affected by each other and in turn changed future circumstances for all of us. As we already know, the Bronx and Brooklyn and Harlem and Staten Island and Queens and Compton and Atlanta and Detroit and Oakland and Miami and Philadelphia and New Orleans are all cities with a reputation for well-known Hiphoppas. However, other states have no image in Hip Hop at all, like Iowa or Montana or Nebraska or Oklahoma. Still other states are known mostly as a state and not by an individual city, like Texas or Virginia or South Carolina and sometimes New Jersey is viewed that way. Though Newark, the Brick City has been popularized by Redman, Naughty, the Lords, and Artifacts. Still, Latifah and Sugar Hill Records hail from East Orange, NJ and the studio a lot of early rap music was recorded in, was actually in Englewood, NJ.

Understanding all this, I’m now about to submit proof positive that Plainfield, NJ is a place that should ring out among those places that people think of when they think of Hip Hop. I’m not saying Plainfield is akin to the Bronx or Queens or Brooklyn or Harlem, but it is as important as Compton, Atlanta or even Newark. I will explain why.

The Message
There were a lot of powerful episodes in Hip Hop. One of the undisputed game changers was when “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five came out in 1982. Up until that point, emceein was an aspect of crowd control through mic control. Rappers, at first, were concerned with rocking a party. They wanted people to have fun. The battles were a part as well, but were more often displays of skill or about rockin a party, more than a 100% diss.

When The Message came out though, people realized music could have meaning and still be considered dope. At the time, the biggest song was Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force. It was an up tempo, electronic dance track. In contrast, The Message was a slow funk groove that was called, “the rawest form of rap yet put on record; a song with adult themes that demanded to be taken seriously. (The Hip Hop Years)”

The Message (lyrics)

It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under

Broken glass everywhere
People pissin’ on the stairs, you know they just don’t care
I can’t take the smell, can’t take the noise
Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice
Rats in the front room, roaches in the back
Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat
I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far
Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car

[Chorus]
Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under

Standin’ on the front stoop hangin’ out the window
Watchin’ all the cars go by, roarin’ as the breezes blow
Crazy lady, livin’ in a bag
Eatin’ outta garbage pails, used to be a fag hag
Said she’ll dance the tango, skip the light fandango
A Zircon princess seemed to lost her senses
Down at the peep show watchin’ all the creeps
So she can tell her stories to the girls back home
She went to the city and got so so seditty
She had to get a pimp, she couldn’t make it on her own

[Chorus]
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under

My brother’s doin’ bad, stole my mother’s TV
Says she watches too much, it’s just not healthy
All My Children in the daytime, Dallas at night
Can’t even see the game or the Sugar Ray fight
The bill collectors, they ring my phone
And scare my wife when I’m not home
Got a bum education, double-digit inflation
Can’t take the train to the job, there’s a strike at the station
Neon King Kong standin’ on my back
Can’t stop to turn around, broke my sacroiliac
A mid-range migraine, cancered membrane
Sometimes I think I’m goin’ insane
I swear I might hijack a plane!

[Chorus]
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under

My son said, Daddy, I don’t wanna go to school
Cause the teacher’s a jerk, he must think I’m a fool
And all the kids smoke reefer, I think it’d be cheaper
If I just got a job, learned to be a street sweeper
Or dance to the beat, shuffle my feet
Wear a shirt and tie and run with the creeps
Cause it’s all about money, ain’t a damn thing funny
You got to have a con in this land of milk and honey
They pushed that girl in front of the train
Took her to the doctor, sewed her arm on again
Stabbed that man right in his heart
Gave him a transplant for a brand new start
I can’t walk through the park cause it’s crazy after dark
Keep my hand on my gun cause they got me on the run
I feel like a outlaw, broke my last glass jaw
Hear them say “You want some more?”
Livin’ on a see-saw

[Chorus]
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under

A child is born with no state of mind
Blind to the ways of mankind
God is smilin’ on you but he’s frownin’ too
Because only God knows what you’ll go through
You’ll grow in the ghetto livin’ second-rate
And your eyes will sing a song called deep hate
The places you play and where you stay
Looks like one great big alleyway
You’ll admire all the number-book takers
Thugs, pimps and pushers and the big money-makers
Drivin’ big cars, spendin’ twenties and tens
And you’ll wanna grow up to be just like them, huh
Smugglers, scramblers, burglars, gamblers
Pickpocket peddlers, even panhandlers
You say I’m cool, huh, I’m no fool
But then you wind up droppin’ outta high school
Now you’re unemployed, all non-void
Walkin’ round like you’re Pretty Boy Floyd
Turned stick-up kid, but look what you done did
Got sent up for a eight-year bid
Now your manhood is took and you’re a Maytag
Spend the next two years as a undercover fag
Bein’ used and abused to serve like hell
Til one day, you was found hung dead in the cell
It was plain to see that your life was lost
You was cold and your body swung back and forth
But now your eyes sing the sad, sad song
Of how you lived so fast and died so young so

[Chorus]
It’s like a jungle sometimes
It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under

“The Message was kind of a puzzle to everybody when it first came out…but the content of the message is what caught everybody. (Jazzy Jay – Hip Hop Years)”

The song itself created a ripple effect that almost didn’t happen.

“Everybody was doing party music and everybody was like this is a little too serious. We didn’t know if our fans would get into something like this, and nobody wanted to do it. (Melle Mel)”

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The message no doubt, is a pivotal moment in Hip Hop history and the connection to Plainfield is simple. Everything from the music, to the lyrics with the exception of the last verse (starting “A child is born…”), was written by Duke Bootee aka Ed Fletcher who was a producer at Sugar Hill Records at the time. This means that all the most memorable parts of the Message from the chorus to the beat and most of the lyrics, were written in a basement in Plainfield, NJ which is where Ed Fletcher aka Duke Bootee lived since he was 14 years old.


DJ Cheese influence on deejays

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What is a deejay?

“The Deejay was the source of the energy. It was his responsibility to find the music, the selection of music, the type of rhythms the people would feel. There were no emcees. It was just the deejay. It was the deejay who had to give the rites of passage to the emcee to even pick up the mic (Grand Mixer DXT – Scratch the Movie).

It took America’s DJ Cheese in 1986 to bring the best out of the turntables by scratching his way to DMC’s first ever World Title. An unhappy runner-up, Holland’s Orlando Voorn grabbed the mic from the events MC and founder Tony Prince and bellowed the immortal words “What is this, a Mixing Competition or a Scratching Competition?” – (DMCDJCHAMPS.com)

One of the pioneering evolutions in Hip Hop deejayin came in 1986, with the start of the DMC Hip Hop Deejay Championships. Although the DMC convention started in 1985 as a Disco/House music mix competition, DJ Cheese changed all that one year later. This transition sparked a move from the deejay as a music selector to the deejay as a turntabilist.

“DMC stands for Disco Mix Club. It was a House music competition (until) DJ Cheese from Plainfield, NJ, who’s the ’86 World Champion. When (DJ Cheese) entered that year, he introduced scratching into it and changed the whole battle and they went along with it and let it be a Hip Hop battle. (Christie Z. Pabon, DMC Coordinator)”

DJ Cheese was the subject of an early Hip Hop record dedicated to the deejay in 1985 called, King Kut and was also shouted out on the 1984 song by Run DMC called, Here We Go, done over the Big Beat sample from Billy Squier. “Wait a tiny minute don’t break on me. The rhymes come faster, as the DJ Cheese. The DJ cuts the record from the valley below. Make ya boogie ya ass till it’s time to go. (RunDMC – Here We Go)”

Where would Hip Hop have gone if it didn’t take the detour into turntablism? Would EDM even exist? What would Hip Hop Deejayin be if not for the DMC Championships? What would the DMC Championships be without DJ Cheese? And who would DJ Cheese have been without the influence of Plainfield, New Jersey?

The rise of the West coast G-Funk sound

We Want Eazy (1988) by Eazy-E feat. Dr. Dre and MC Ren

Sampled:

Ahh…The Name Is Bootsy, Baby! by Bootsy Collins (1977)

Baby Let Me Take You (In My Arms) by Detroit Emeralds (1972)

It’s My Turn by Dezo Daz feat. DJ Slip (1987)

 

Let Me Ride (1992)

Sampled:

Funky Drummer by James Brown (1970)

Mothership Connection (Star Child) by Parliament (1975)

Kissing My Love by Bill Withers (1972)

 

Bitches Ain’t Shit(1992)by Dr. Dre, Jewell, The Lady of Rage and Kurupt feat. Daz Dillinger and Snoop Dogg

Sampled;

Adolescent Funk by Funkadelic (1976)

Let’s Get Small by Trouble Funk (1982)

 

Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’) (1992) by Dr. Dre feat. Snoop Dogg

Sampled;

(Not Just) Knee Deep by Funkadelic (1979)

Atomic Dog by George Clinton (1982)

 

Who Am I (What’s My Name)? (1993) by Snoop Dogg feat. Jewell and Dr. Dre


Sampled;

Pack of Lies by The Counts (1971)

Atomic Dog by George Clinton (1982)

Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker) by Parliament (1976)

 

In 1988 Eazy-E dropped a debut single produced by Dr. Dre that would come to define a sound known as G-Funk. As opposed to P-Funk , which stands for Parliament-Funkadelic, a group pioneered by George Clinton and Bootsy Collins, G-Funk used a sound that heavily sampled music of the P-Funk era especially Parliament-Funkadelic.

GEORGE_PARLIMENTS

Parliament-Funkadelic is a funk, soul and rock music collective headed by George Clinton. Their style has been dubbed P-Funk. Collectively the group has existed under various names since the 1960s and has been known for top-notch musicianship, politically charged lyrics, outlandish concept albums and memorable live performances. They influenced numerous post-disco and post-punk music groups of the 1980s and 1990s. The collective’s origins date back to the doo-wop group the Parliaments, formed in the late 1950s in Plainfield, New Jersey. Under Clinton’s direction, by the early 1970s the groups Parliament and Funkadelic were operating concurrently and consisted of the same stable of musicians playing different types of funk music for two different labels. The name “Parliament-Funkadelic” became the catch-all term for the multiple bands in Clinton’s stable – (Wikipedia)

What would Hip Hop be without the G-Funk sound, or more correctly, the P-Funk sound and Plainfield New Jersey?

Honorable mentions

Jimmy Spicer aka Super Rhymes and James West inventor of the acoustic transducer microphone component used in all modern-day microphones, were also residents of Plainfield, NJ.

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Most recent significant shift from Plainfield: Shades of Hip Hop

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During the 1990’s Real Hip Hop was underground because the mainstream censored Hip Hop. There was no YouTube, no WorldStar, no Cocaine City DVD, no Smack DVD, no Basketball Wives and no Love and Hip Hop. Hip Hop was on cable TV like, Yo MTV Raps, or Rap City, or Video Music Box. There was even a cable station in suburban Plainfield, New Jersey. We had TV shows that played videos too, like En-Toon, and Video Club House, but they were all censored. In public, you would see a sanitized version of the way we were really living. The things we saw and participated in everyday, where much more raw and uncensored. That was the underground. That was real Hip Hop.

As we recorded our little cable show in NJ, our proximity to NYC and the birthplace of Hip Hop put us in the lap of greatness at the most pivotal time in the culture; the Golden Era: the 1990’s. We captured all the underground rawness and though we had a platform on cable, couldn’t show what we really wanted to show. We wanted to show unsigned artists in their natural habitat, on the block or backstage. There was a rarely explored street culture of bootleg entrepreneurs, strip clubs, barber shops and bodegas everywhere around us that many people had not really seen yet. Shades of Hip Hop video mixtapes became that outlet. On our video mixtapes you saw all that and then some.

We were the first to repeatedly use video remixes in order to put the curses back into the censored music videos we got from the record companies. In the bootleg video world, anything goes. For the films our mixtapes circulated with, rawness was a way to be taken seriously. It was a way to separate from the mainstream drivel. On television you would never see an actual rhyme cypher of emcees rapping in a circle. The inability of rappers to self-censor would have producers in the editing room trying to cut out hundreds of foul language references. It was a waste of time to most, even to us. So instead of censoring the foul language we played it. It was our way of speaking truth to power. It was a much grander mission of having a platform where we could say anything we wanted to say. Independent video gave us that freedom for the first time.

With the video age taking shape and camera resolution increasing throughout the 1990’s, video enthusiasts like myself could find work in our spare time shooting wedding videos, fashion shows and talent shows. At this time just before the digital revolution, our independent video documentary footage was the closest thing to the modern-day word on the street. There was no social media at this time that was still 10 years away. People still used regular mail a lot and fax machines. To see a home video you had to go to the local bootleg movie dealer or hope your local video store had a cult film section. This was when most people had land lines and pagers or beepers as they were fondly referred to back then. The iPhone age was still almost 20 years away. At the time when Shades of Hip Hop started producing video mixtapes, we were the only ones doing it. We were the first to capture Hip Hop in visual uncensored, underground, street form in a musical documentary and distribute it independently across the United States. Our efforts were even highlighted in the 2nd issue of XXL magazine in November of 1997.

The connection to Plainfield is obvious. Shades of Hip Hop, was born in Plainfield. The idea was nurtured and spread out from there, just as the influence of the Message, DJ Cheese and Parliament did in years past. DJ Cheese was also the audio mix provider on Shades volumes 5 & 6 (CDS and Da Goodness: Brick City Represent). Over the years, Shades captured some iconic moments in Hip Hop, most notably the roundtable cypher featuring Big Pun, DMX, Canibus, Mos Def, John Forte and Mic Geronimo. Many True School Hiphoppas have seen at least part of that tape, which is still bootlegged heavily today in 2014. As of this writing it was featured on Worldstar in April of 2014 and received over 300,000 hits in 36 hours. That’s proof positive that our material from almost 20 years ago is still relevant in the stream of Hip Hop consciousness and definitely caused a ripple effect that is still being felt in 2014.

Conclusion

If one life irrevocably changes the paths of other lives, how much did Plainfield shape Hip Hop History? What if there was some way to measure the ripple-effect on life in Hip Hop, like in the Jimmy Stewart movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. We would be able to see how The Message changed the way emcees rapped. We would be able to see how many deejays were influenced by what DJ Cheese did in DMC’s first World Championship competition. What would Hip Hop sound like without the influence of West Coast G-Funk? What direction might Hip Hop have gone in without the gentle nudge of Shades of Hip Hop video mixtape documentaries? How many Hiphoppas were influenced to create new Hip Hop after watching a Shades of Hip Hop tape? We know for instance, that Alchemist and Mobb Deep watched the tape and came up with a song featuring Kool G Rap called, The Realest.

Moral of the story

When you live in a small town, you think your life is insignificant, but as in It’s a Wonderful Life, you may be more important than you realize. No matter what you do, push yourself to do more because you only lose out when you give up. Your defeat is not only your own, but for the generations who will follow us, especially if you have something positive to offer the World. Our lives and what we do now, affect other people who will, either benefit or suffer because of our decisions. What you do will have ramifications in the future. Not just in the physical environment, but in the mental as well. Your actions today may affect the way people think and act in the future. So what type of image do you want to portray?

Afterword

There were negative implications to Shades as well, which might be more recognizable to the modern audience that we didn’t fully appreciate at the time.

  1. 1st to show weed smoking recreationally in Hip Hop videos.
  2. 1st to show drug dealers rhyming on the block.
  3. 1st completely uncensored Hip Hop interview show.
  4. 1st to have a beef escalate from something said on a tape.
  5. People who worked on Shades helped pioneer the video vixen genre (Joe the Pro), along with Black Women Magazine (Marcus Blassingame), All Access DVD (Kraze Naze).

Initially Shades of Hip Hop started as a video mix tape/documentary of the Hip Hop Kulture that showcased unsigned talent, underground media and new music in the mid 1990’s. We were the first producers to popularize street cyphers, behind the scenes interviews, on-location performances, and round table discussions about Hip Hop to be distributed coast to coast. In fact we didn’t start on DVD, our first projects were on VHS tape which was the dominate format at the time in NYC. After receiving recognition in the second issue of XXL magazine in November of 1997 (Redman Cover), we went on to complete 8 volumes by the year 2000. This was before the craze for underground DVDs really began.

We didn’t fully participate in this new brand DVD because it accentuated the worst elements of what we had created. Yes, we showed artists smoking weed, drug dealers posted up on the block breaking into freestyle sessions as they peddled crack and dope to fiends and even lock-door stripper exhibitionists from time to time on Shades of Hip Hop. But honestly, it was all just incidental as we sought to capture the real life aspects of Hip Hop at the time. Our true focus was to represent a behind the scenes look at our culture and promote creative underground talent that was being ignored by mainstream media. In fact, we really began as a local NJ cable show done in the spirit of Ralph McDaniels Video Music Box. The footage we showed on the documentaries was just all the material that was too explicit to air on local cable without being censored.

Before the movie Rhyme and Reason, before Smack DVD and All Access DVD and before the Beef series we had done all of that. Truthfully, we had already seen the effect of rappers committing acts of violence on one another over things they said on a Shades of Hip Hop tape (Time to Shine 1997). Undercover police had told me of how they used my tapes to get evidence on drug dealers who flashed money and weed while making transactions in neighborhoods that they recognized. And although I enjoyed videotaping sexy women as much as the next man enjoyed watching it, I didn’t want to create a soft or hardcore sex tape series like my partner at the time eventually did (Joe the Pro/Tapeman). Our intention was to highlight what we considered to be real Hip Hop. So even though, we had hours of classic Hip Hop material including Jay-Z before he dropped Streets Is Watching and became Jigga, Nore when he was in the studio making his debut solo album N.O.R.E. with a young 50 Cent before he got shot, Canibus spitting the infamous ‘Second Round KO’ verse for the first time, DMX after his first single dropped, Big Pun at the height of his fame, and on and on we stopped making Shades of Hip Hop videos. To me, Hip Hop was going in the wrong direction.

Instead of feeding into the promotion of more ignorance, we fell back. We got into individual artist and event promotion. We showed others how to create their own independent projects and helped artists promote their careers independently with the creation of their own CDs, flyers, T-shirts etc. Then, in 2006 we resurfaced with shadesradio.com and began our own 24 hour internet radio station on Live365.com. Again we showcased underground talent and developed new formats that would show a more cultured side of Hip Hop, this time for radio. A part of our formatting on shadesradio.com brought us to cover the underground music scene in New York City. With email blasts we would capture the behind the scenes lifestyle of the urban music scene, visually. In 2008, as we continued to highlight underground talent, promoters and producers we encountered KRS ONE in an in depth conversation for the first time since 1995 (@D&D Studios). Soon we started an intense Hip Hop development course and promotional campaign that led us to playing a key role in promoting the most important book ever written about Hip Hop consciousness thus far, The Gospel of Hip Hop by KRS ONE.

Our travels promoting the Gospel of Hip Hop and The Stop the Violence Movement 20th Anniversary across the United States, led to my role originally as Marketing Director for the Temple of Hip Hop and now Exec. Archivist for the on-line gallery of Hip Hop Kulture (hiphoplives.net). With hiphoplives.net as one of the many tools promoting the culture of Hip Hop, we have been able to make connections in many countries around the World. This we call the True School University Worldwide Cypher. With our 3-hour sessions, we aided this collective of Hiphoppas in maintaining a productive, positive Hiphop lifestyle. This inspiration allows them to participate with like-minded individuals in a completely digital environment through a chat room and streaming video feed each week. The sessions have even led to musical collaborations, video and event productions.

One such event is the annual Hip Hop Appreciation Week celebration which has been a growing experience that promotes the positive aspects of all 9 Elements of the culture. Each year in various locations around the globe, new people have been inspired by our work to participate in similar positive events which we showcased collectively in 2011’s first issue of 9 Elements Digital Magazine (now HipHopLives.net DM). This monthly, digital publication is a repository of pictures, video and information about Hip Hop Kulture as well as an outlet for information affecting the Hiphop community normally left unreported in the media.

The magazine is produced by Target Media Group LLC, the umbrella design company which is used to create all the graphic layouts. Besides creating the magazine, TMG has been responsible in the past, for editing and designing the largest independent urban periodicals in NJ including Twin Visions, the Essex Times, Local Talk and the Christian Observer. In the entertainment field, TMG has created countless promotions for artists, party planners, radio stations and deejays since 1998.

 

Shades of Hip Hop Videography:

  1. Trains to Newark/NYC (unofficial release 1995/official release 1996)
  2. Time to Shine (May 1997)
  3. R.I.P. Tupac and B.I.G. (Sept 1997)
  4. Hot 2 Def (1998)
  5. Controlled Dangerous Substance (1998)
  6. Da Goodness (1999)
  7. The Originators pt 1: Urban Culture (2000)
  8. The Originators pt 2: The Emcee (2000)
  9. The Resurrection (2003)
  10. The Cypher (2004)

Other connections

Ed Fletcher was a musician influenced by P-Funk, like everyone else in the late 1970’s, especially those from Plainfield. Ed Fletcher aka Duke Bootee owned Beauty and the Beat Records who managed and produced DJ Cheese’s early music career and reportedly took him to England for the DMC competition in 1986. DJ Cheese produced the soundtrack on Shades of Hip Hop volume 5&6. Original Shades of Hip Hop collaborator, Saadiq Busby, later went on to manage George Clinton beginning in the early 2000’s.

REFERENCES

It’s a Wonderful Life http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038650/

Ripple effect World English Dictionary

Jimmy Spicer

DMC DJ CHAMPIONSHIPS

George Clinton

Duke Bootee interview

Kurt Nice

Kurt Nice aka Kurtiss Jackson is a behind the scenes pioneer in the Hip Hop Kulture, creating the first nationally distributed video mix tape series, Shades of Hip Hop, in the late 1990s. Since touring the country with the Stop the Violence Movement and the Temple of Hip Hop as KRS-ONE’s National Marketing Director, Kurt Nice has been a constant commentator on conscious Hip Hop and its relevance to the new rap music of today, through radio and cable appearances. contact Kurt at info@hiphoplives.net

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