This was something I looked forward to. I knew the 30th anniversary of this was on its way this month, but Wiki, Discogs, and Prince.org lists it as either May 9th or 16th, 1984, which is wrong since both dates are Wednesday. While I know Wikipedia tends to cater to the UK release date, both dates would still be wrong. Anyway, regardless of the actual release date, we are now 30 years beyond the impact of this song. It’s a bit significant for me, as it’s the last Prince song I heard as a resident of Honolulu before I moved a little over three weeks later. I had been a Prince fan since I saw the video for “I Wanna Be Your Lover” on public access, which lead to me buying the 45 at Music Box in downtown Honolulu. I knew of Paul McCartney playing all of his instruments but I had never seen a promotional film clip of anyone doing the same. I was hooked and loved the song. Sadly, due to radio genres and formats, I didn’t become aware of Prince again until “1999” and “Little Red Corvette”, and that was because MTV had played him. I want to say I heard “Controversy” back then too but I honestly don’t remember. Nonetheless, when “When Doves Cry” was released, this was just a new Prince single, sounding uniquely different from “1999” or “Little Red Corvette”. It sounded like Prince was going to change his method a bit, but we weren’t sure why. A month later, a soundtrack album arrived, and we all knew a movie was going to come out. Little did we know how big this film was going to be not only for him, but 1984 as a whole. I wasn’t able to see Purple Rain at the theater because it was Rated R, and while my mom had no issue with him, I don’t think she wanted to take me to the theater to see the movie just because. I ended up renting the VHS for Purple Rain before we even had a VCR, I was that advanced and dumb at the same time. When I hear “When Doves Cry”, I hear a bit of sadness from someone who was about to move away from home and discover new people and scenery. I found a way to relate to “how can you just leave me standing alone in a world so cold” because I was about to leave behind everything and not sure what the future would offer However, in the album version of the song, the courage came back through that guitar solo. For me, I guess the song was the start of a new way of living for me, and little did I know how much it was going to change me, discovering many things the hard way.
Push it to pop it!
Rock it to lock it!
Break it to make it!
What does that mean, exactly?
Hearing about a movie about our music was a highlight when I was 13, it was sometime my friends had to see, we wanted to be a part of this to see what was going on. Forget the fact that “our music” didn’t have an official trademarked name or that it was some kind of corporate movement, we didn’t care about that. In my mind, this was a way to see and feel the music we loved on the big screen, and that’s all we cared about. While the movie was released in the United States on May 4, 1984, it was a school day but it was important for me and my friends to see this the next day. We did, on May 5th at Kapi’olani Theater in Honolulu. I was aware of these movie theater as a place near where my Auntie Tita (Linda) used to live, down the street from the old Holiday Mart store.
Upon heading there, it was something unique. I had always went to movies and seen kids from other parts of Honolulu and for the most part it didn’t matter. Coming to see Breakin’ that afternoon felt different, as it was a chance to see other kids who were into breakdancing and popping to see this film with everyone else who were into it. I was more of an observer, not an actual dancer, although my move was the worm, which made a few of my friends laugh because they didn’t expect a fat kid to do that. Nonetheless, I was the kid who had a radio and the cassettes, I was the one who made sure the music was sharp. At the theater on Saturday, I got to see various kids from different neighborhoods and schools to wear their breakdancing “uniforms”. Forget the fact that there was nothing on TV that would let us know what we were supposed to look like, MTV didn’t exactly cover rap music in 1984 and Honolulu didn’t air Black Entertainment Television (BET) until a decade or so later. Was “the look” highlighted in magazines? How did they know? Maybe it was a segment on a TV show but regardless of how it happened, it happened.
We weren’t sure who these other kids and teenagers were, but we saw them from other areas. Being in the 8th grade, we were aware of fellow kids wanting to get into fights with kids from other schools, was it gang-related? Back then, I didn’t think of it as a gang thing, nor did I really know what gangs were. All we knew was that some kids hated other kids in other areas, and that’s all there was. We were pissed about someone else, and it probably had more to do with the possibility of watching people fight one another. On this day, there were no fights whatsoever. There was a unique difference, one the involved the gathering between neighborhood kids and military kids. These were the kids and teens, primarily black, who looked and dressed differently because they looked like they were from the mainland. There was a slightly different attitude and vibe, but it was the first time I had seen the military kids come in to our section to see what was going on, and for a movie. A Breakin’ movie? Wow. Maybe they too listened to the rap music radio show that was on an AM radio station every Friday, or maybe they had their own records and tapes. Nonetheless, it felt different to see all of us, young kids, waiting in line and feeling that anticipation of something that might feel good.
We loved when the movie started, as it began with graffiti and a bunch of dancing to a snapping rhythm. What I noticed about the graffiti near the basketball court was the letters CxCxB. We kids were told to fear these letters, as this was the arrival of a crew from California called the Crip City Boys, a new gang. Times were changing, we didn’t have gangs back then but now we were seeing CxCxB in various tags in the neighborhood. Or maybe it had to do with my neighborhood of Pauoa, knowing the parks and always seeing those letters in various sports. All of a sudden, when CxCxB was shown in the film, I thought “wow, they’re in this”. I didn’t know how CxCxB were in the film but they were, but then again I didn’t know exactly who or what the Crips were back then.
The credits end and the film formally begins. We discover Kelly, who is “a struggling jazz dancer” living in California, hoping to make it to the big world. We never hear where she is originally from, don’t know if she is from the country backwater or a rich lady. Nonetheless, she loves to dance but spots a few street dancers at the beach. She’s excited because she has never seen this type of dancing before, unsure of what’s going to happen but it moves her. It grooves her. Kelly meets with Ozone and Turbo, who is unsure about this polished dancer because they don’t feel a woman of her caliber would have to deal with him and his street dancers.
In time, Kelly becomes friends with Turbo and Ozone, both of whom work at a corner store. They don’t work at the mall, they don’t work at a car dealership, they’re working at the corner store. Turbo gets bored one night and decides to dance with his broom. That became the first massive highlight of this show, as it appears Turbo is floating the broom in a dance routine while playing Kraftwerk’s “Tour De France”. It was mindblowing, because “Tour De France” was not a song played on the radio nor seen on TV, and now it was in a movie theater. Now we had a way to dance to that song, we had the moves, but how are we going to use a broom? More importantly, how are we going to make it float? Forget the fact we could see the string floating the broom in the movie, but I was 13, it didn’t matter.
Kelly associated herself with those who could help her career, specifically a man with a money. Ozone and Turbo could not understand how someone like them could be friends, or why she would want to associated herself with them. It just didn’t fit. Ozone realizes that Kelly seems real, she may be considered “something else” (or simply put, the white girl) but there’s something about her that he likes. It seems Ozone may be attracted to her as well, but that is never addressed until the second half of the film. Ozone and Turbo tells Kelly that she should see something with them, and they take her to a basement party. It is there when the second massive highlight for me happens: the playing of Art Of Noise’s “Beat Box”. I had fallen in love with Art Of Noise and producer Trevor Horn in 1983, through Horn producing Yes’ “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” and being involved with AoN and their Into Battle EP. I had also loved Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals”, so Horn was slowly becoming someone whose production techniques were becoming impressive. Not only did I hear “Tour De France” a few minutes ago in the film, but “Beat Box” was on the big screen. “Beat Box”! A DJ scratched the record through the introduction, which then leads to the debut of a rapper that I honestly was not impressed with at the time. He wasn’t named in the film but we now know him as Ice-T. My uncle was a Judas Priest fan, I saw Judas Priest videos on MTV and Ice-T seemed to be wearing clothes that looked like he was one of their members, complete with makeshift leather and studs. Yet it was someone rapping involved in a basement/club battle, and it looked cool. Nonetheless, Kelly loved it.
In time, Kelly tries to be involved in a dance production but is torn with her love for this new street music, which makes her agent feel as if they are corrupting her to the ghetto ways. No matter. In time, the three decide they should have their own dance group, calling themselves TKO after their first names. It’s perfect: Turbo, Kelly, and Ozone, it’s a very nice TKO (“technical knock out”), using a boxing metaphor. Kelly comes up with another idea for her dancing, perhaps a scheme of sorts that will make people know that her talents are good and can impress anyone if they give it a try. Earlier in the show, Kelly was shown dancing in a studio but now with Ozone and Turbo, she finds herself in a garage studio made by Ozone. That’s when the third massive moment happened, one I remember fondly. Ozone and Kelly were dancing to Rufus’ “Ain’t Nobody”, and as someone who grew up with the music of Chaka Khan, I knew who that was. Almost everyone in the movie theater didn’t react, it was just a song being played during a dance. Except for the military kids. They started dancing in the seats and singing, almost as if it was a family get together or church, as if they were honoring Chaka Khan. I believe people started dancing in the theater aisle, getting down to Khan and her singing, and everyone else thought it was very weird, as if they were thinking “oh no, here come the military kids”. I, on the other hand, wanted to stand up and get down with them, but I would’ve felt goofy and what would happen if I danced wrong?
The movie ends with a dance production where it not only has Kelly and her dance team, but also Ozono, Turbo, and all of their friends. It’s a collaboration between the dance studio and the streets, it looked like something straight out of a Hollywood production, and it was. This didn’t seem like something we had seen but again, I was thirteen, I didn’t see or experience anything in my life. It was polished and somewhat hokey, but it was the happy moment, Kelly had her big dance and it all seemed good. End of story, right?
Then the ending came. We were all ready to leave the theater but we saw a brief moral of the story, or so we thought. We saw a segment where we saw scenes that we did not see in the movie. How come Ozone and Kelly were getting more romantic? It looks… sexy? Are these movie outtakes? It then said there would be Breakin’ 2. WHAT?!?! A SEQUEL!??!? WOW!!! We all cheered and we walked out. It was a good Saturday afternoon. As I walked out of the theater and into the lobby, I saw other kids all curious about what was going to happen, but they looked at all of us who saw the film. We were all smiles, our reaction became their smiles and again, they were all in their breakdancing gear. For them, this was going to be their moment.
If there was something to like about the film, it was about actress Lucinda Dickey in her role as Kelly. She was cute, and the outfits? This was the area of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical”, Aerobicize, 20 Minute Workout and fitness, everyone had to wear new clothes as a means to get healthier. My thirteen year old mind said “it’s going to get sexier” and it was. Kelly was what a lot of us guys wanted to find. At my age, I didn’t know how I was going to find someone like her or where. It wasn’t important, maybe we were lucky to bump into a Kelly type. Good luck in that.
The most important thing about the film was not the film itself. My dad had died almost a year before the movie was shown, and my mom had decided to move us away from Hawai’i and to the mainland. I was going to leave the place I knew as home and find a new place, new people, experiences and adventures. My dad had originally wanted us to move to Canada, as he was learning a bit of kung and had met an instructor (a sifu) who had suggeted the move would be good for him. It would be a way to get away from the changing Honolulu was going through economically, so why not try Canada. That changed when my dad died, and my mom decided to move to a town in SE Washington State to move closer to her sister. She didn’t want to live somewhere with no one around her, so in retrospect it was a wise choice. My mom later told me she assumed her sister (my auntie) lived in or near Seattle but discovered we were 200 miles SE of Seattle. Wrong move, perhaps.
However, I knew Breakin’ was going to be the last movie I would watch as a resident of Honolulu, and I knew that it would possibly be the last thing I would do with my best friends Chris and Ryan. I was slowly seeing things become of a past, and I was not aware of what the future would hold for me. I was wanting to hold on to whatever I could get, if not keep, and Breakin’ was something that made me remember not only the music and dance moves we felt, but also the friendships and bond that I thought we would hold to as we got older. Life changes, you know?
Breakin’ was a move that showed what Hollywood was about to do with this new thing out of New York City called hip-hop. To them, it was more than just the music and the dances, it felt like so much more. We all wanted to live in a world where “Planet Rock” was an anthem where the rockin’ don’t stop, but maybe we didn’t want it to rock that big. Or maybe we didn’t want those outsiders to intrude on what we felt was ours. Yes, I was very much an outsider too, and I never visited New York until eleven years after I heard “Rapper’s Delight” yet when I did, I wanted to be in the city where hip-hop came from. I wanted to make a hip-hop pilgrimage despite the fact Breakin’ was far from New York, nor I at the beach where Jean Claude Van Damme danced at the beach.
In the end, rap music was changing, for better or worse. All of us were changing, nothing could stop us if we wanted to because there’s no stopping us. No one does it better.
The early 1990’s were an interesting time, but that phrase could be used for any era in history. On the first album by Messiah, the history of tomorrow was being talked about then, which is now yesterday but back then, it seemed like a mystery to most people, this future we were to have. As Tricky would later say, there was a sense of pre-millennium tension so while things were fairly good for many, there was a sense that what we were experiencing in the 20th century should be considered good, because that sense of innocence and naivety may no longer exist. We were about to praise something greater than any of us could ever imagine, with a mixture of high powered movies, movie and music samples, we would find a way to embrace the power of a Twenty First Century Jesus.
Ali Ghani and Mark Davies were the men behind Messiah, and if Twenty First Century Jesus had already sounded a bit dated by the time it was released on December 6, 1993, good reason: some of the songs had been released two years before as 12″ singles. What makes the album so great is that while it is meant to detail a time in the not too distant future, it did so by exploring the different sounds of the past through samples, and that’s one of the primary reasons why I loved it. It’s an album that encompasses some of my music listening habits back then. Listen to songs like “Creator”, “I Feel Love”, “Beyond Good And Evil”, or “There Is No Law” and you’ll hear everything from Public Enemy to the synths from 808 State’s “Pacific”, Whitesnake to The Scorpions, The KLF to N.W.A, James Brown to Ted Nugent, LL Cool J to Lisa Stansfield. via Coldcut. As someone who was and remains a fiend for sampled-based music, this was what I loved and the oddity of the different dance styles was too much for me, but I embraced it with open ears and mind.
This is something I’ve never revealed to anyone. There was a time when one could deal with just house music, techno, jungle, along with disco and other forms. Then sometime in the early 90’s, what was considered a standard genre started to reveal sub-genres, and then those sub-genres revealed more genres, leading to weird hybrids and offsprings. I loved listened to whatever you threw to me and if I liked it, I liked it. I accepted it. The different with me is that I did not bother to discover all of the sub-sub-sub-genres and hybrids of hybrids so while there were communities of GOA, Rashbeat, and DoucheDub fans, I hesitated to explore further because it seemed a bit pointless to me. I was becoming a faithful reader of URB magazine, which I enjoyed because it featured a wide range of dance music styles along with hip-hop, everything was one and I could read about it all. When I got into Twenty First Century Jesus, I knew it was an electronic album, or what we’d loosely call electronica today. It’s a dance album, it’s meant for the club, it’s a pop record, but I didn’t know it was acid house, or techno, or whatever anyone chose to call it. What moved me first and foremost was what I felt was the hip-hop style of sample production, which also started to sound like the construction made famous by Art Of Noise, Bomb The Bass, Simon Harris, and M|A|R|R|S. Piece together random sounds and create a story that seemed like the disco equivalent of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and you essentially have Twenty First Century Jesus, which seemed so random then, as it does now. Ian Astbury was and remains the singer for The Cult, and people freaked when Rick Rubin produced their Electric album, one can only imagine what some must’ve thought when he did the vocals on “Creator”, an incredible dance track.
As for the mood of the album, the samples tell the story. It looked into a future where the 22nd century becomes “the age of the machine”, and this was a time long before the internet was what it is today. What would be considered a machine today? Social media? Internet commerce? The samples also touch on some of the dialogue from the film The Running Man where people are looking for messiahs to praise, while the suffering and poor humans have to deal with an lack-of-accepting or uncaring god figure. Do we really know what the figure is, if it’s a human, a machine, or something else entirely? We do not know, the science fiction feel merely touches the surface and the house and dance feel of the songs is almost a means to bring it back to the essence, which is the human quality, finding a need to find human emotion again. How will we know if we as a species are too far gone, beyond remembering what happened a few seconds ago?
There is a sense of humor throughout the slogans and chants, from wrestling announcer Tony Schiavone screaming “NOW IT’S TIME TO FEEL THE HEAT!” (heard in “Beyond Good And Evil”) to The Scorpions’ Klaus Meine screaming “I like rock’n’roll! ANYBODY LIKE ROCK’N’ROLL” taken from the Tokyo Tapes album (heard in “The Future Is Ours”), and that balance of uncertainty and humor is what helps to steer the music along. It’s one way of saying “no matter what the future holds, we have to be together in some fashion, even if it means keeping our own personal shit together.” Looking at some of the issues today: personal and financial security, identity theft, and wondering about “the powers that be”, it’s something that has come across in music many times throughout recorded music history, but this was a project that looked into a new century that was only eight years away from starting. Again, it goes back to uncertainty and fears, wanting to hold on to what felt good but expecting that we would also lose something as we all move together or apart towards tomorrow. Who are we obeying or to obey, and why do we not obey ourselves? What is it that we need and desire, and why do we seek to find it elsewhere when many times it is within? These are the stories that keep us going, keep us asking questions, keep us questioning. We are now in the 21st century, and things have been quite odd in the last twelve years and Twenty First Century Jesus seems more perfect now than it did in 1993 because the concerns are real, the issues are stronger, and the barrage of noise is part of the noise that may be the clutter we deal with in this thing called life. As Astbury sings in “Creator”, “shattered the illusion, creating your confusion, hell has got a hold on me.” Then, as Charles Manson says via a spoken word sample, “I know, God knows, and the Holy Spirit knows.” As The Beatles once said, tomorrow never knows, and that’s a fear to have and not have. Time to get rid of the Thunderdome mentality to create a PleasureDome, and maybe one day in our own lives, we’ll be able to get closer to that than to obey the delusions passed along by a Jesus of the 21st century.
“Feel no shame, blame your children.”
It’s hard to believe that it has been 20 years since the Wu-Tang Clan made an impact with this album. That impact was definitely not immediately, at least not nationally. When Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (LOUD/RCA) was released on November 9, 1993, the Wu did not have any heavy rotation anywhere, outside of NYC. Those months between the album release day and the spring of 1994 would eventually cause a shift, which would mark the end of another era of hip-hop and the glorious beginning of another.
I became a fan of the Wu-Tang Clan when the video for “Method Man” was getting airplay on BET’s Rap City. I loved the raw feel of the song, could not get enough of Method Man’s flow, it was that great. I also loved his constant barrage of pop
culture references, as if this guy knew where I was coming from even though I had no idea where he had come from, at least not yet. It was with that song that The Genius said “from the slums of Shaolin, Wu-Tang Clan strikes again: The RZA, The GZA, Ol’
Dirty Bastard, Inspector Deck, Raekwon The Chef, U-God, Ghost Face Killer, and the Method”, then Method Man rhymed for the next three minutes, making reference to everything from Tootsie Roll Pops to the Rolling Stones and Dr. Seuss to Digital Underground, and I did not know what was going on. I felt I had liked the rap music that was released between 1990 to 1993, there was a hell of a lot of great music in those four years and yet it felt like this approach was old school and yet new school. Method Man was truly “hitting you from every angle” and I had to have more, but at the time there was very little to
For me, the big news in hip-hop was that A Tribe Called Quest had just released their third album, Midnight Marauders. This was going to be the album of 1993, nothing else could beat it. There had also been some buzz for a group called Black Moon who had just released “Who Got The Props” as a single, a song that sounded fun and festive, a bit different from the slightly dark vibe of the album. Or if not dark, it was a bit like walking down an alley unsure of what would be lurking, but you’d take that risk anyway. Black Moon’s Enta Da Stage was an album that was a few weeks before and people would soon not get enough of them and the collective they helped create. I definitely didn’t buy Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) on release date, for the group and the album was not something in demand, at least I wasn’t looking for it. Looking back, maybe it was looking for me. It would actually take video airplay for “Da Mystery Of Chessboxing”, with its kung fu imagery, for me to finally by the album. Were these the same guys who were rapping about making a bitch squirm for
supersperm? Yeah, there was Method Man with his face hidden.
This had to have been in December or early January, but I remember the moment when I popped the CD in:
“Shaolin shadowboxing, and the Wu-Tang sword style. (Hmmm.) If what you say is true, the shaolin and the Wu-Tang style could be dangerous. Do you think your Wu-Tang sword can defeat me?
En guard, I’ll let you try my Wu-Tang style.”
This was straight out of all of the kung fu movies I watched as a kid, either at theaters in downtown Honolulu with my dad, on Kung Fu Theater on the USA Network or all the kung fu movies I was renting on VHS. Then came the chant of “BRING THE
MOTHERFUCKING RUCKUS! BRING THE MOTHERFUCKING RUCKUS!” It may not have happened, but my eyes, mouth, mind were wide open and in awe from what I was hearing. There was nothing like it, this was not something I heard in songs by Biz Markie, Showbiz &
AG, Ice Cube, Ice T, Gang Starr, or Dr. Dre. This was far better. The song also had percussive snaps and brick slaps, as if it was a group of warriors in a Shaolin temple praying and waiting for someone to invade. Ghostface Killer would start up the song before Raekwon comes in and delivers, and then Inspector Deck offers greatness. The song ends with the sacred words of The Genius. They were waiting, and eventually they could no longer wait. You heard warriors fight, smacking each other left and right before came the one man army Ason Unique, a/k/a Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and getting dope with “Shame On A Nigga” before Method Man comes in with his verse. The album continued to build from there, and to hear all of these new voices and not have any sense of who was saying what was incredible. The group may have shown themselves on the cover behind masks, but
inside there was a photo, but Method Man was not a part of that line-up. At least here on the west coast, I had never seen the video for “Protect Ya Neck”, which offered a chance for viewers to see who was who and by name, as if they were teen pop
sensations. Outside of hearing them mentioning their own names in song, there was little to go on in terms of applying a face to a name.
It wasn’t until the DasEFX cover issue of The Source did I know who they were, their pseudonyms, and everything else that made them out to be hip-hop’s Marvel Universe. I had read and collected comic books as a kid, so I understood what it meant to be named this, then that, and then maybe two or three other things. The Wu-Tang appealed to me because they thought like kids, but doing things in a very adult manner. It was a bunch of guys shooting shit amongst one
another, but there was also a sense of the now, as if they knew that they could not live in the past, and thus thought about the future, what would come next for themselves and for others.
Each song on the album felt like there were reaching new plateaus, and when the song finished, they would all make it to the next level and build again. It was great to hear a song that might have two members, or another with four or five, before it leads to a song with the core eight. Then you learn that the core eight expands to a nine. It would be a few more years before that nine turned into a ten man team, but while Digital Underground did it to a point, it was always “to a point”. Plus, Shock G. was also Humpty Hump, who was also MC Blowfish, a/k/a Piano Man, and when when you heard Money B. say “well I’m Humpty Humpin'”, I was left wondering “well, who are these guys?” X-Clan had an incredible collective too, even though on their albums it was generally Brother J doing most of the raps. You also had Isis and Queen Mother Rage, and of course Professor X had his own solo album too but that was it, Brother J really didn’t get his own path until X-Clan was over. The Wu-Tang Clan seemed like a different beast, an entity, as if they were looking at hip-hop, celebrating what came before and were going to build on the successes and see how far they could go with it.
I’m someone who lived in Honolulu but grew up admiring the hip-hop from the east coast, specifically what came from New York and New Jersey. It was NYC or die, and yet I loved what everyone else from Seattle to Los Angeles, Dallas to Miami were doing, the more the merrier. In my mind, there was a slight shift on the artists that would gain acceptance, and maybe that had a lot to do with some of the shifts happening in the community. If hip-hop started in NYC, it seemed to turn into Motown in 1971 and headed to Hollywood. Nothing wrong with that, but there was a lot of music being released that became hits but I did not like. At the same time, there was much more to Cali hip-hop than MC Hammer and everyone had a chance, yet it seemed from afar that the NYC stuff was being pushed to the side. It seemed to make artists push harder to be heard and make better music, even if it meant “better for ourselves”. The Wu-Tang Clan came out not giving a fuck about anyone else but themselves, and I loved that attitude. It was in that early 1994 interview on MTV where Ol’ Dirty Bastard talked about his name, how he was old school, his style was dirty,and he was a bastard, because when he rhymed, there was no father to his style. That was attitude and a half, and yet he meant it, as if to say “I know what came before me, but I want to show you what I’m about, for the now people.”
What also made Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) interesting is that by the time “C.R.E.A.M.” had become the hit of early 1994, that’s when news surfaced about how they were going to make sure that each member of the group would be signed with their own solo contract and release their own solo albums. To me, this brought back memories of Kiss and their four solo albums in 1978, and what Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young did with the various combinations they made music under. This was much bigger, and I couldn’t wait. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait that long, as The RZA was working with producer Prince Paul, Stesasonic’s Fruitkwan, and fellow Tommy Boy Records’ alumni Too Poetic in a group project called Gravediggaz. This would be RZA’s thing, and while no one knew it at the time, Gravediggaz was one of two “make or break” projects he was working on in 1992-1993. His career as Prince Rakeem only lead to the “Ooh, I Love You Rakeem” single which barely caused a dent in 1991. The RZA offered the Wutang (no hyphen) to Tommy Boy Records as a possible group to work with but they passed. Tommy Boy was losing their impact on rap music, and that’s when Rakeem became The RZA and started two projects, hoping one of them would gain some glory. Due to the success of the Wu-Tang, Gravediggaz would soon pick up steam, eventually becoming recognized in their own right. Then there was word on Method Man being signed to Def Jam. His solo album would be released in the fall of 1994, and then there was word of three more Wu solo albums on the way.
It seemed too much, and I loved it because within a two year period, the Wu-Tang Clan were doing things other rap groups had only talked about or imagined. As Method Man would later say, “you talk about it while I live it”, and no one had ever done what they were doing within a hip-hop context. On top of that, if any of the guys in the Wu wanted to drop a verse/cameo in other songs, they could. Did they want to product something? They did. Have some affiliates they wanted to hook-up with? There was more than enough time for everyone, and to experience it in real time, before the MP3 became the format of choice for music fans, was something that may not be repeated in the near future. The music felt good, it sounded good, and you couldn’t help but want to find people who were into that goodness.
Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) was about entering their world, knowing that one had to echieve certain levels before bein gable to proceed, but realizing that even if you had reached the peak, you had to then create your own path. It was as if they were also telling their fans “it’s all on you. Take it where you want and if we can help guide you towards your own path, go for broke.” That was the attitude they all had on the album, as if they were all going for broke, as if tomorrow did not exist for any of them. We all know what happened with their individual careers. We all know how Ghostface Killer (later Killah), the man who once hid his face from view, would become the most visible of the bunch. We all know how The Genius, like true geniuses, would become the hermit crab. We all fell in love with The RZA’s “Miracle On Dirty 4-Beats”. We loved what Inspectah Deck offered in everything he rhymed and was hoping he would be next to release an album in 1995. Some of us were stupefied by Raekwon’s delivery and wit. Then there was U-God, the 4-bar killer, who came and went with his 4- or 8-lines in a song, we all wondered why but we were happy with it. For a brief moment, it seemed everything that was good about hip-hop was achieved with that album. The egos were self-contained and it had a Three Musketeers-meets-Brand Nubian feel, “one for all and all for one”. Anyone who had ever felt the East Coast had lost its way, they would find the path again with the Wu-Tang. It was a celebration of Spider-Man, porno flick bitches, and Saturday morning cartoons and cereals. We all understood the power of that shot in the “Can It Be All So Simple” where the kid did a wheelie with his bicycle, when that was considered the ultimate goal. Nothing else in the world could be better than that wheelie, and you felt like a bad ass. For a brief moment in my life, the Wu-Tang Clan meant the world to me.
Yes, it was indeed so simple then.
At the time of release, Me’Shell NdegéOcello was not a complete unknown, but she wasn’t known outside of her Washington, DC circle. She had played bass for years and was known for being a young powerhouse, but she hadn’t yet established herself as a major artist. Considering the work she did, one might argue that she didn’t want to be a major artist but eventually she found herself on Madonna’s then-new Maverick record label. Maverick was partly created to showcase some of Madonna’s interests but primarily to show her as a record label CEO with ten successful years in the music industry. If The Beatles had Apple, Elton John had The Rocket Record Company, The Rolling Stoned had Rolling Stones, and Prince had Paisley Park, then Madonna was ready to show that she had hers. NdegéOcello was one of her early signees.
With Madonna’s name attached to hers, people were not sure what to expect from a female bassist, born Michelle Johnson. Immediately, a female musician might have lead people to wondering if she played jazz. Yes, she did. By the time one finished listening to her debut album, one couldn’t help realize she was so much more, a singer/songwriter/musician who could arguably outshine the co-owner of her label.
“Now brothers be base-in
Running from the beat-down cops that be chasin’
Running out of time, running out of patience
In this war of the conscious mind”
These Lullabies were not going to be about Little Jack Horner putting his thumb in a pie to find a plum.
“And damn I thought I was shootin’up Africa in my veins
White man voodoo slow my brain the while man fights wars and enslaves
All in God’s name
What ya trying to achieve with your suntan lotion
You wanna keep me down keep me down
Revolution against this racist institution
The white man shall forever sleep with one eye open
Criticize, set aside
Livin’ in the midst of genocide I hear voices voices are what I hear
Uprise would you die for your right”
If Curtis Mayfield recorded an album about a man named John Shaft who was trying to make his community better by getting rid of the pusher man, NdegéOcello showed that 20 years later, people are still struggling and “trying to get over”, and the pain still hurts. The track marks were becoming more difficult to hide.
Soul On Ice is a book written by Eldridge Cleaver and published in 1968, the year of NdegéOcello’s birth. In this song, she explores what some might do to try to fit in with another culture just to get by or simply pass, and sometimes that also touches on what some within their own culture will do to validate what it means to be what they feel it means to be what they are. At the time, a number of hip-hop artists were doing songs about “dirt road, white girl”, a way to say “why do you want to look, speak, and dress this way when it’s all cosmetic to you? You can remove the clothing and make-up when you’re home, wipe the dirt away before you go to sleep.” At this point, NdegéOcello throws out boomerangs and she knows exactly who, or perhaps what, her intended target is:
“Creams sad passion deferred dreams
I am a reflection of you
Black and blue pure as the tears of coal-colored children crying for acceptance
You can’t run from yourself
She’s just an illusion
Black love anthems play behind white-skinned affection
New Birth stereophonic Spanish fly let her cry
But you no longer burn for the motherland brown skin
You want blond-haired, blue-eyed soul, Snow White passion without the hot comb”
One can equate that as a lullaby of the plantation, or parallel to what Cleaver was dealing with when he wrote Soul On Ice while in prison, or simply NdegéOcello dealing with what she knew, what she saw, what she experienced, and putting that into something that could have fit in perfectly on the Super Fly soundtrack.
“Dial the 7 digits, It’s quite simple
I’ll be there in a hurry, Jack be quick Jack be nimble
Call me up when you feel the need to talk
When words aren’t of the essence I’ll soothe you with my presence
A kiss here and there from head to toe
Just call me up when you want more
You can be king for a day
I’ll be your queen, let me treat you that way”
“I’d be content to just sit here and talk to you
In my dreams you love me and me only
The way you kiss and hold me
Love is what I search and search to find
But until then I’ll just dream for the meantime”
The song is done as an incredible, soulful and jazzy slow jam, going back and forth between spoken word and vocals, as she sensually caresses her own mind in the hopes that other things may be catered to when that time comes.
“In my script there’s a love scene, picture it
Candles with warm apple cider
Sly Stone on the radio
Oh, caress your funky dreads in the candle’s glow
Whisper in my ear
“‘Cause I’m in the mood for love”
I’m just a hopeless romantic
Hopelessly in love with you
“Cry my tears by candlelight, I’m just another lonely heart
Here on a lonely night, screams of passions
I call out your name making love to another
Just to ease my pain, will this ever change?
Will you ever feel the same way about me?”
The melody that fades-out the song almost hints at child-like innocence, as if someone is doing hopscotch and discovering what it means to have a first crush, and always feeling that way when a desire is wanted but cannot be fulfilled at this time.
“We could read some Ntozake Shange
and I loose myself in the book
I escape to my heavenly tomb
Or we could read the voice
It’s your choice, I just want to get to know you
Your lovely black face
Accompanied by some strictly roots
As we venture, it’s just nice to be near you”
Words expressed, but not heard? Emotions felt, but not spoken externally? As the song gently fades and the instrumental backing moves towards hearing nothing but NdegéOcello playing a slightly mournful-yet-optimistic goodbye, you realize that this was not the lullaby you expected to hear, but are comforted in knowing that as one fades into slumber, there is always that metaphorical promise of a new day, and whatever we’re able to make of it.
If NdegéOcello herself felt as if she didn’t know how to fit herself in with the rest of the world, what to make of an album that for some may have felt like a confusing array of sounds unsure of how to unite? I always felt the mixture of soul, funk, jazz, hip-hop, and spoken word fit perfectly, and that one didn’t have to limit themselves to a constraint, if they allowed themselves to be free.
One of the most notable things about the album was the liner notes, which featured some of her own writings. It also featured a few statements, including one that hit me and I still remember to this day:
“the alternative to hip-hop is silence”
Hip-hop was slowly dividing itself to where one didn’t, couldn’t, or refused to recognize the other, so it seemed to become one group of those who wanted the attention, and the other who simply wanted to be. Could hip-hop welcome in someone like NdegéOcello who could not only rap, but sing and play an instrument? Forget the fact that people like Shock G. and Kwame Holland were already playing instruments in their own music and productions, but the scope of what hip-hop was meant to represent in 1993 was very different than it would be at the dawn of the internet’s first hip-hop communities. Technically, NdegéOcello was an outsider even though hip-hop felt as if it was without rules. Technically, Beck’s “Loser” is a twisted hip-hop song but he could be considered someone who rapped. Or maybe it was a credibility issue, that he could “rap” but no one care call him a rapper.
Regardless, Plantation Lullaby showed what could happen if one chose to go beyond the boundaries of what was established so you could create your own territory, even if that territory made you feel alone and isolated. One means of isolation will eventually lead you to find the promised land, be it within the plantation or not. However, part of the album’s beauty is listening to her struggle through the ways of the plantation and coming to the conclusion that we can make it exist or not, especially when you reach the epiphany of what you really want. It’s the eternal search for a lonely heart so that it’s possible for them to beat as one. That’s a lullaby worth singing about, or in this case, 13 Plantation Lullabies worth singing and remembering.
It was not my first exposure to jazz. My dad was the jazz fan who enjoyed the music of Herbie Mann, Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and Ramsey Lewis’ Sun Goddess album. These guys were fairly tame compared to the album I was listening to at my uncle’s place: Miles Davis’ Live Evil. I liked it because it featured an illustrated album cover with a nude, pregnant woman. Surprisingly, my parents didn’t shield my eyes from this and perhaps because I had already been a child raised on Santana’s Abraxas, another cover with not one, but two beautiful nude women. Yes, these covers were considered naughty even though I wasn’t quite sure what made them bad, other than the fact that they showed drawings of a woman’s chichi’s. It was the music that brought me in, so getting into songs like “Sivad”, “Selim”, “Funky Tonk”, and “Inamorata and Narration by Conrad Roberts” was very cool, even this type of jazz was louder, noisier, and nothing like what my dad was into. It was weird, zany, and wacky, and I loved it.
As I got older and started looking at records as much more than the containers of sounds I enjoyed, I would read the back cover, go over the album credits, or look at the photos on the inner sleeves. If you bought an album on Columbia or Epic, it would come with record company sleeves advertising other albums the label wanted to suggest. One album that always seemed to come up was Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters. The cover image was just a thumbnail so it was hard to figure out what was the face on it. I don’t remember searching for it before the age of ten, but after moving from Honolulu to the Pacific Northwest, I found a great resource for music: the public library. I had already borrowed records and cassettes from the Honolulu library so doing this in a new place was not strange, I just had to see what kind of records were there. One of the albums I found was the album with the weird face, and I believe it was the first time I picked it up. I now realized it was some kind of robot mask, but why? I looked at the cover and saw that it had only four songs. This meant there were some long songs and as someone raised along a good share of rock and jazz, I felt these long songs were little mini-journeys someone could take with a record and stereo. By this time, Hancock’s music was only familiar to me through “Rockit”, “Automatic”, “Hardrock”, and “Karabali”. I didn’t yet make the connection between Hancock and Miles Davis, in fact I wasn’t listening to Davis’ music at all at the time. Yet Hancock seemed… no, it didn’t seem, it was available to me at the library and I could borrow it. I was probably 15 or 16 when I borrowed it along with John Coltrane’s My Favorite Things (Atlantic), another artist I had heard of but not really explored. I borrowed them and had taken them home. I was blown away by both. Coltrane’s music and playing seemed very calming, while Hancock’s sound was funky and on the same level of Lewis’ Sun Goddess, but quite different. It was this visit to the library that truly opened the door to the vast world of jazz that I had brief hints of when I would visit record stores in Honolulu, but I had absolutely no idea how deep or lost one could get. I didn’t know if I was ready or not, but I wanted in the room.
Yet despite all of the excursions I would go on with jazz, I always found myself returning to Head Hunters as much as I had already returned to Sun Goddess, and it would become one of my default jazz albums. One can hear this album and imagine its influence on thousands of musicians. One can listen to a lot of hip-hop and hear what this album provided to everyone. One can play this and hear what a lot of artists today are missing and/or overlooking.
For me, when I started my one-man music project known as Crut, I drew four non-existent members of the non-existent group as a way to describe the aspects of me and the different things I listened to. The DJ of the group was Jeffrey Duduho, a/k/a DJ Tungmaduduho, and he was represented by the robot mask on Head Hunters. In many ways, it described the mentality I had with my music at the time: cover up with masks and maybe people will be more open to listening instead of looking. I just wanted to say “I like Hancock, and I can music this funky, in my own way.”
Was Head Hunters meant to be important music made specifically for the head? Mind expanding sounds? If so, were Paul Jackson, Victor Moscoso, Bill Summers, Harvey Mason, and Hancock the true rebel hunters of sound for the head? Unsure.
What I am certain of is. I had once inquired about an extended Legacy edition of Head Hunters, complete with any existing outtakes and/or alternate takes, and the answer I received was that there weren’t any, which could have easily meant that there wasn’t anything worth releasing from what may or may not exist. “Chameleon” does fade out, so why not release a mix of the song that comes to a proper (or improper) ending? Same for “Watermelon Man”. The quadraphonic mix of “Sly” features a few notes that aren’t in the stereo mix, how about any existing count-ins or studio dialogue. Then again, if you entered a recording studio were time is of the essence and money, maybe if there were any false takes, the tape reel was rewound to the beginning and everything that was put on tape was immediately erased with the next take. It is also very much possible that Hancock and friends did single takes of each song and perfection was made in 42 minutes. At least there are existing live recordings, for those who wish to hear how some of these songs were explored in a live setting.
The 1980’s was a decade of discoveries for me. I had built a small foundation from the music I was introduced to through my parents and relatives, but as a devoted subscriber to Rolling Stone and exploring album and concert reviews, I also explored the classified section, where one was able to not only read up on records not covered in the rest of the mag, but order catalogs featuring a vast world of music I had not been familiar with before. The Rolling Stone classified section was all about taking chances, and sometimes it was the best part of the magazine. I was introduced to MTV during the 1981 holiday season, and with that came an introduction to a lot of British music that didn’t have anything to do with The Police. Madness, Culture Club, Haircut 100, Simple Minds, Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Fixx, and countless others were flooding my ears and eyes, and I loved most of it. Even if I didn’t like it, I kept on listening and watching. The focus on what was considered underground music from the UK and Europe also did the same for underground music in the United States, or what was called college rock. At the same time, there was a small and steady stream of music coming out of New York City that was funky and danceable but had people speaking rhythmically over it, opposed to singing. I had become a huge fan of this music that didn’t quite have a proper name, but would become known as rap music. I loved the lyrics, the way a person rhymed, and I enjoyed what was being done with the music and production. Some of it was very funky, while some of it sounded like shades of disco, and at the time I was probably a kid who shunned disco because everyone else said they hated it too. It was a learning process that had to do with the realization that one style of dance music is the same as another style of dance music, but you go through the motions and it would take years before I understood why there shouldn’t be differences.
There was a bit of blending going on when this rap music would mix it up with electro. Add to that the awareness of Kraftwerk to a younger generation who were learning about breakdancing and pop locking, and suddenly Kraftwerk became the theme music for our video arcade adventures. It was the music of the future, but it was happening “now”. We felt like moving like robots because of what we played and what we heard. There was a time when Kraftwerk’s music seemed more exciting because of the strength of the instrumentation, specifically the drums and percussion. I loved Kraftwerk’s snappy electronic drums, where it hit hard but electronically. This sounded incredible, and nothing like the real instrumentation happening in rap music. Jonzun Crew’s “Pack Jam (Look Out For The OVC)” seemed like the next wave of music, and we all had the moves too, partly because Pac-Man was the video game for years. Then to have songs like Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock” and Malcolm McLaren & The World Famous Supreme Team’s “Buffalo Gals” out in 1982, and they felt like massive anthems for kids of my generation, or at least I wanted them to be “our” anthems. They were my anthems because the rockin’ did not stop. Ever.
Up until the beginning of fall, 1983 belonged to The Police with their fifth and what would become their final album, Synchronicity (A&M). I hadn’t been aware that there was a small record label in London that had released an EP of new music by a new group on September 26th, but it was the day that the world of music would change forever. It would soon change my world and my life, but it didn’t happen in September. It had to have been sometime in December, when the music world was blessed with the return of progressive rock band Yes and their album, 90125 (Atco). “Owner Of A Lonely Heart” had a very distinct sound that was significantly different from “Roundabout”, “Long Distance Runaround”, and “Starship Trooper”, it seemed more modern, more electronic, more computerized and synthesized, more now. One day, sometime in December 1983, I was watching MTV like I always did and there was a video with random images of people walking on a sidewalk, wearing different types of clothes. A police officer was shown, there were cars on the street, and then what started out as an early morning video turned into the evening, and people were at nightclubs. I only remembered random images from it back then, but what struck me was the sound of this song, where the drums was solid and loud, distorted but strong. I had never quite heard drums like this before in my life, but it wasn’t Kraftwerk’s electronic drums. It sounded real but… nah, it can’t be. The keyboard sounds were human voices, a lot of “bub bub bub” and “doh doh doh”, along with “aaaaah, aaaaah, aaaaaah”, as if it was some choir from an unknown land. Then horns come into the mix, but it’s not a horn section like Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower Of Power, or Osibisa. I didn’t quite understand what was going on, my mind couldn’t comprehend it. I sat there, stunned by every little “doh doh”, “bub bub bub, bub oh”, and it wasn’t some kind of secret code being passed on to me, it felt like it, as if that song was meant for me and only me, but maybe others like me who understood this code. The song ends, and a man is seen on the screen, speaking but nothing is heard. All you hear are the words “The Art Of Noise”. The MTV fonts are shown, and it states that the group is Art Of Noise, the album it is from is called Into Battle With The Art Of Noise, and it was on Island. I don’t remember if Zang Tuum Tumb (ZTT) was listed at the bottom, but without a VCR in our house, all I had was the memory of what I just heard. I had to rush to the record store to find these Art Of Noise guys. I asked my mom for a few dollars and we went to Tower Records in Honolulu on Ke’eaumoku Street. I went directly into the cassettes (as tapes were the format of choice) and went to A. There it was. Into Battle With The Art Of Noise. I had to wait until I got home to play the tape. Before my dad died, he had cassette deck, the Panasonic RX-5180. He had a friend who worked at the Panasonic warehouse, and this was considered to be one of the hot AM/FM radio//cassette decks not only because it was small and compact, but it also had a unique audio option. Not only could you switch recordings from stereo to mono and back, but it also had an “ambiance” option, where one was able to hear a broader mix of the audio coming through. Regardless, this cassette deck would become mine where I made some of my own custom mixes, and it was with a cassette deck just like this one that I popped in Into Battle. The first intro song begins, sligtly softer than what came next, but it was like a welcome mat, telling me to sit back, relax, and get ready for your head to be blown. Then the beats came in. My world would never be the same.
“bub (bub bub) bub, doh (bub) bub, doh (bub) bub, doh (bub)
bub bub (bub) bub, bub oh (bub)/bub bub (bub) bub, bub oh (bub)/bub bub (bub) bub, bub oh (bub)/bub bub (bub) bub, bub oh (bub)”
I had no idea what this was, but the idea that someone was cutting or chopping up the human voice excited me, I had never heard it done this way. I understood what it meant to make homemade tape loops or repeat yourself on cassette to talk like a broken robot, but this was done on time with precision. *On time*. It was mindblowing. Then came the part of the song that, to my ears, it had sounded like it was saying “don’t (give up)”. I then realized that the “give up” was actually the word “money” backwards, so in truth it was “yenom”. This must’ve meant that the “doh” was actually “dough”, as in the slang used for money. Was this song about money? Was it anti-money? Was this just a random song not about money, in the hopes of making money? Unknown.
This would then lead to a section of the song where there were horn stabs. It was just one horn passage repeated over and over, sometimes an octave higher, sometimes a few keys away from the original. How in the world was this done, my 13 year old mind thought. This would lead to a section where voices were cut up and to my ears it sounded as if they were saying “seventy…five days, for seventy…five days (please)” What were these days, and why 75 of them? Or did it come from some recording outtakes, and if so, whose? Was this some studio chatter before an artist was about to record a song? Could these words have been backwards, just as “money” was reversed to create “yenom”? Unknown.
The next sequence would feature a lot of “bub bub bub, bub bo”‘s along with vocals that sounded like a church choir, and with the drums in the background, one couldn’t help but dance. In fact, it seemed less like a background thing and more like the forefront, as if the drums were the center of the song, and why didn’t all my music sound like this? This then leads to a brief part of the song where someone sounds like their hand is on a turntable, slowly moving a record around to cue themselves for a scratch, and then the scratch happens. Was this a clue, a puzzle piece? Why was that scratch there? Unknown.
Up next was where a car ignition was played. Let me say this again for emphasis. A car ignition was played. My dad loved cars, but I had never heard him start a car to where it sounded this funky. Then the horns come back with more stabs, and arranged differently, it sounded special, sounded mighty, sounded majestic, sounded… heavenly> Not only, but as if there were limits in the sky and you wanted to go beyond. That’s what those horns sounded like to me. This in itself would lead to the editing of what sounded like applause, perhaps a sporting event. One would hear a click, then cheering and claps. What was this, where did it come from? Unknown, and unknown.
The “bub” and “boh” sequence returned, arranged slightly different again for what would be the third “verse”, but now there was the inclusion of stereophonic “ch, ch”‘s, used as if it was a bit of Latin percussion, such as the guiro. The effect was beautiful, and if my eyes and ears weren’t on the point of orgasm, the estrus if you will, I don’t know what could have done it. The next passage begins and… what is this sound? It sounds like water bubbling. If everything was thrown into this song, could this be the kitchen sink as well? It *is* a kitchen sink, isn’t it? Unknown.
In the music video, it was an edited version that ran for 2:55. The version on Into Battle was 4:48, so hearing this for the first time was something that I could not described, yet I liked it. I played the song again and again. As I had bought the U.S. cassette on Island, Side 1 also had the luxury of “Beat Box” repeating at the end of the side, so once I made it past the song the first time, I could play it again. Was this done merely to take up time on the cassette? Unknown.
The aura of the song lowers itself in volume, and The Andrews Sisters return. The phrase “in the army now” is cut to its essence:
This is then followed by a man moaning “aaaah.”
What’s going on here? The female “now”‘s are interacting with the male “aaaah”, are these sounds in heat? Are they tickling each other’s fancy? Are they turning the lights down, are they lighting a candle to get romantic? I believe this is beyond romantic. Oh my goodness. OH MY GOODNESS. YES, OH MY… OH YES. IT’S… IT’S… IT’S THE ORGASM!!! CUE THE HARPS!
The remainder of “Moments In Love” is the afterglow and finally, the vocal chops of “moments” and “in love” unite and become one. Melody, noise, and rhythm are having an orgy and no one wants to stop. There isn’t a need to stop. Don’t stop. After the 10 minute mark, the word “love” is played in two different keys, signaling the inevitable end of the song and for me with my cassette, the end of the Into Battle EP.
All of this would make me into an obsessed fan of the label that provided the music, Zang Tuum Tumb. Better known under its initials, ZTT created something I loved, the idea of someone creating music though real instrumentation and found/borrowed sounds was something I wanted to do. I wanted to create something with that feel, that timing, that extravagance. I would eventually discover other records on ZTT: Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Propaganda, along with Anne Pigalle, Andrew Poppy, and das psych oh rangers. I had to have every record ZTT ever released: the 12″ singles, the alternate 12″ singles, the cassingles, the picture disc, the alternate to the alternates, the promos: everything. For four years, I made an attempt to get everything, all due to the power of what I felt Horn presented on the artists he worked with or approved of.
As I got into buying the records, I also loved the way the records were packaged, designed, and more importantly, how they were examined and promoted. He was the non-musical member of Art Of Noise and yet it is was his liner notes that arguably had a bigger impact on me than the music itself. As a teenager, I not only wanted to be a producer, but a music artist, perhaps making the kind of music groups like Art Of Noise and Kraftwerk were making. As hip-hop music became more exciting in the late 80’s, it was the sounds of the Bomb Squad, Prince Paul, and the Dust Brothers that made it official: I have to be an artist/producer. Yet the writing found on all of ZTT’s records were interesting because it didn’t read like the kind of notes I found myself loving on the Hawaiian and jazz records I grew up listening to and sitting with. The writing were adventures in itself, sometimes taking me outside of the listening experience and leading me elsewhere. It would sometimes feature references I didn’t understand but would want to do research on so I could figure things out. There were random quotes from people I weren’t familiar with, and yet somehow I felt they were pieces of a puzzle, however abstract. When I bought records on ZTT, each side of the record had its own dedicated phrase. One side may say “A To-Day”, the other would be “B To-Morrow” (as shown on Propaganda’s “Dr. Mabuse” 45). Or the “Two Tribes” 45, where the A-side said “cowboys and indians”, the flip said “doctors and nurses”. Sometimes it made sense, where one could not exist without the other, while others they were just goofy riddles that probably mattered only to the person who created it. I was not raised on the New Musical Express, although I would become aware of his work with them through his work during the ZTT era. While some music journalists may site Lester Bangs or Kurt Loder was influences, it was Paul Morley who moved me to become a journalist, who made me realize the concept of words, interpretation, and (re-)definition was something I enjoyed. I may not have been a wizard with puzzles, but writing was and remains my game of choice. It would be years later before I read Morley’s fantastic book, Words and Music: A History of Pop in the Shape of a City, where I learned his puzzle playing, associations, and curiosities have been something that had become a part of my life as well. In the early 1980’s, I wanted to be the Hawaiian Trevor Horn. Yet I ended up being someone influenced by the most silent member of Art Of Noise, yet the most vocal.
Without Into Battle, I do not know if I’d have the same optimism in my teen that I did. My teenage years involved a wealth of music and discoveries. My love of hard rock and heavy metal lead me to thrash, speed, and death metal. My admiration of those styles finally opened me to punk and hardcore, and everything underground. I had already been a fan of rap music and in time, the quality of rap music improved, especially when Def Jam came to be. I found myself going to thrift stores to look for weird records, and i would take a chance on a lot of people and labels I hadn’t heard of. I became a fan of jazz through my dad, but I started to go much deeper with access to my public library, where I borrowed My Favorite Things by John Coltrane and Head Hunters by Herbie Hancock. I had to have more. I wanted all rap music to sound as hard as the beats in an Art Of Noise song, and I felt LL Cool J’s “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” was the first step in making that happen, which also had vocal stabs scratched into it, not unlike an AoN song.
Into Battle was about beauty, construction, sound, and presence. It was electronic, or at least a new electronic, where sounds could be replayed in four-or-so increments at the time. These sounds had to be triggered live in the studio, and it was done with quality (or at least a 1980’s quality). Yet some of those sounds were very much of the past, and how far into the past, I didn’t know and wouldn’t know until much later. Perhaps it was in the air or that Art Of Noise’s entry into my life was meant to be. I still remember playing “Beat Box” in my old house in Honolulu and my next door neighbor running over to ask me “what is that?” I had Art Of Noise, and he didn’t but he ran over because he had heard the song somewhere else too. It was that important to him, a neighbor whom I would do sound system-style battles with our record players, even if that lead to trying to sync up the same Donna Summer record. We were, in turn, making our own noise.
Whatever it was, the music of Art Of Noise and Into Battle worked on me and I still get excited hearing it from start to finish, just as I did in late 1983. As I had stated a few months ago, The Police’s Synchronicity album was the last music my dad bought for me before he died. I was going through the motions and found myself wondering where the rest of my life would lead me. I had started the 8th grade, and there were already plans for my family to move to the mainland. It was those last months of 1983 that lead to the type of musical discoveries that remain in my mind forever, the type that made me realize that I could perhaps do “this” too, even though I didn’t know how (nor have the means) to do “this”, whatever I felt “this” was. Into Battle opened the door towards greater doors, uncertain of what I’m looking for but knowing that when I find it, I’ll be either satisfied or looking for more doors to open. To the entire Zang Tuum Tumb empire: thank you for the keys and creating a brick road full of Fairlights, Synclaviers, and elephants that are big. I continue to walk on my own path, always in honor of your presence. One day I will be in England, in the summertime or whatever time, with my love, close to the edge, at the very heart of the city.
If you were not a Kiss fan in the days before they removed their make-up, you may not fully understand the phenomenon that was Kissmania. Growing up in the mid to late 70’s lead to having respect for a group who made lots of music and was heard on the radio a lot. Of course with Kiss, there were extras, specifically, their make-up, costumes, and on-stage personas. The way they were promoted, at least at my level, was constant magazine coverage. I was a regular reader of 16 magazine, which was a magazine for teens but this was the only magazine with Kiss in it that I could read, perhaps Circus or Hit Parader was too much (or maybe it was a magazine my mom was familiar when she was a teen, so if 16 was good enough for her, it may be good enough for her son). Along with Kiss was a fair share of known groups like the Bay City Rollers, unknown groups like WOWII, and much promotion for Scott Baio, Rex Smith, and John Schneider of The Dukes Of Hazard. Looking back, perhaps 16 was not a magazine meant for me, I wasn’t ripping posters of Henry Winkler or Mark Hamill and pinning them next to my bed but again, it was about Kiss. The output of Kiss merchandise was amazing, and I had the baseball cards and a belt buckle. For a brief moment I thought I may have had their lunch can, but that was limited to Fat Albert and another involving some Marvel comics characters.
I believe my first Kiss album was the 1978 2-record set for Double Platinum and to obtain it, I had to beg. I would normally get records as gifts, usually 7″ 45’s but for having good grades, I would get a free album and that meant “single LP”. When I would hang out in the record section in department stores or go to record stores, I’d find myself looking over records by Miles Davis, Keith Jarrett, Chicago At Carnegie Hall, or The Concert For Bangla Desh and wanting the 3- and 4-record sets. Single LP’s were cool, but to be able to have a box with more records? I wanted that, but that also meant spending $10+ for those, and my family generally had a budget of spending $7.99 or less, which was roughly the “suggested retail price” for albums in the late 70’s. $5.99 meant they were on sale. I remember walking into Woolworth’s in downtown Honolulu with my Austrian grandmother, whom I called my Omama. She knew I loved music and asked me to pick out an album. I saw Double Platinum, I selected it for her and she said “oh, that’s too much”. I acted like I was looking for others but I didn’t want anything else but Double Platinum. I probably made a mock weepy face, I remember her looking at the cashier in frustration, then grabbing the album out of my hands and saying “c’mon”. It was mine. When I brought it home, my mom was pissed. I now had a double album to call my own, just like my uncle did with Miles Davis’ Live Evil. I played the record like crazy.
A few weeks after starting my 3rd grade year, my family went to Ala Moana Shopping Center, as per the norm for their shopping. The record store was my safe haven, so they knew if they dropped me off there, I would be safe. You probably wouldn’t leave a seven year old kid alone in any store these days, but it was a different time. I loved DJ’s Sound City because as a kid whose lifelong goal was to become a radio disc jockey, I felt that this was my mom away from home, my city for a wanna-be DJ like myself. Since we normally would go to Ala Moana on a weekend because of me going to school on the weekends, I would say that I entered that DJ’s Sound City on a Saturday morning. It was the usual scene: record store with cassettes and 8-tracks to the right, new releases, buttons, and accessories on the left, plus the turntable that played the music which was heard in the store. The jazz section, which I often looked through because of my dad’s love of jazz, usually rotated in the store. Walking towards the back, one could also see the storage where there were posters and boxes, both opened and unopened. I had looked forward to growing up so I could work there. On the left and right walls were usually where all of the new releases were on display, so you’d walk to it, glance at the front and back covers, and consider making a purchase. My walk towards the back would eventually feel as if my world was moving in slow motion, for I saw the greatest site I had ever seen in my entire, close-to-eight year old life. I remember turning my head to the left, not believing the vision in front of me, and I was completely blown away. I know for a fact that I stopped and stared for what felt like an hour or two, even though it may have been only two minutes. I found myself in front of a display involving not one, not two, but four records, each one featuring a member of Kiss. Holy crap, FOUR KISS SOLO ALBUMS?!?!? I didn’t know if I should approach, as if moving closer to paper and cellophane was going to zap the life out of me. It was mysical, it was freaky, it was weird, but it was so damn awesome. FOUR KISS SOLO ALBUMS? Ace Frehley was my hero because he was the Spaceman, and I also thought silver make-up looked cool. The covers were black, and I looked to see if they were photos or paintings. They were indeed paintings. Gene Simmons was the demon, and while I wasn’t exactly scared, holding something that involved the devil was a bit spooky only because my parents taught me that being evil or doing bad things would lure me to hell. But I grabbed his album and loved the fact that he had blood dripping out of his mouth. I then looked at Paul Stanley’s record and he was Mr. Suave, looking perfect for a 16 magazine poster. While I loved the drums, I didn’t grab Peter Criss’ album at all, but it looked cool. My mom walked into the store and in complete excitement, I told her that Kiss had four solo albums. She could care less, but she probably noted how happy I was. Then I made the request for something I had dreamed about, or at least dreamed for two hours (a/k/a two minutes): I wanted all four Kiss solo albums, right there. She said no, grabbed my hand, and walked me out. I’m sure I jumped, stumbled, and pulled my way demanding the records, but I knew it wasn’t going to happen so I accepted it. However, I knew someday I would have all four.
I did, but not all at once.
I would get the albums within a two or three month period, in this order: Ace, Gene, Paul, and Peter. Oddly enough, that was in the order I picked them up at DJ’s Sound City. Mock divine luck, or just coincidence? Most likely the latter. I found myself enjoying the albums in that order as well, although I found myself fascinated with Gene’s album for how different it was and even today, I still go back and forth on who had the better album of the four: Ace or Gene?
Ace Frehley’s album was the best of the four. Outside of the coolness factor, I liked his guitar work and voice, and his album rocked from start to finish. Kiss were a rock band, a hard rock band, and to me that’s what an album from a member of Kiss should sound like. “Rip It Out” started the album and it was great to hear him play without the band. Liberating? I wasn’t using that word at the age of 7 or 8, but it was awesome and I wanted to hear more, and I did. “Speedin’ Back To My Baby” was co-written with his wife Jeanette, whose name was similar to my sister’s, so I’m sure I thought “wow, Ace has a Jeanette, just like me.” Then the album gets into “Snow Blind”, which most likely lead me to wonder how snow could make someone blind before I learned years later that it may have been a reference to cocaine. “Ozone”, with its slightly meditative drones and vocal harmonies, moved me even though I didn’t know how. “New York Groove” was the poppiest song of the bunch, and it definitely grooved a long to where you didn’t mind singing this along in front of everyone, a friendly song. I loved “Wiped Out” because its title reminded me of the popular surf song by The Surfaris, “Wipe Out”, and maybe, just maybe, Frehley was, I don’t know, surfing? Most likely not. My favorite song on the album would be the one that closes it, “Fractured Mirror”. It begins with the sound of a church bell before the guitar is faded in, and I liked how there were different guitar melodies and riffs in this, done through multi-track recording. Most of the song is played with a limited amount of chords, with Frehley playing in between them, with a brief passage that served as the song’s bridge, before it fades out as it began, but with the guitar now double tracked so that it would echo with itself. It’s an instrumental piece, but I liked how it closed the album and when I play the album in full, everything builds up to that grand moment.
If Frehley’s album felt liberating in some fashion, Gene Simmons’ album was a different type of liberation. I remember the first time I dropped the needle on the record and heard the laughter that welcomes the listener in. Again, as kids we believed in their characters, so this was the sound of a demon laughing, it was Lord Satana smiling and giggling, followed by an orchestra and what sounded like a choir (in truth, multi-layered vocals from Janis Ian), pulling in everyone who dared listen. Then the guitars and bass came in, and he started to sing:
You’re my food, you’re my water
you’ve got to be the devil’s daughter
can’t get near, can’t get far
you’ve got the power, but know who you are
He then revealed that the woman in question was “Radioactive”, complimented by nice background vocals. The devil’s daughter, I thought, so he’s talking to *his* daughter? All I knew back then was that Gene portrayed the demon, I knew he was a character but wasn’t fully aware just yet on what it meant to be devilish. Then the next song comes on, and what I liked about “Burning Up With Fever” was the count-in, the off-notes of the guitar leading Simmons to say with a smirk “lovely”, before he talks about a feeling that he just can’t hide. As I was someone who read liner notes and album credits, it was a trip to learn it was Donna Summer who did the background vocals. Also, as someone whose record collection seemed to be filled with many releases on Casablanca Records, it seemed to make sense that Summer and Simmons would join, but wasn’t aware of any other unions that may or may not have had. Each song on Side 1 had explored different themes, moods, and emotions, and it felt weird realizing Simmons was…nice? I would say today that it showed a more emotional, perhaps human side to the man behind the mask, which he’d touch on with “Man of 1,000 Faces”, but tracks like “Tunnel Of Love”, “See You Tonite”, and “True Confessions”, the latter featuring singer Helen Reddy, just didn’t seem like it was the music from the devil. Yet this devil seemed cool, approachable, but with caution. Flipping the record over to Side 2, I loved “Living In Sin” from the opening drums to the heavy breathing Simmons was making. Again, a dark soul from hell was saying “I know you write me sexy letter”, but the next line, I had initially interpreted as “and you send your pictures for my war”. For years, I wondered why anyone would send photographs for war, until I learned he actually said “and you send your pictures for my wall”. Looking at the back cover again, I learned it was Cher who was the recipient of the phone call in the song, which again made sense, since Cher had just been signed to Casablanca. Again, I was not aware of any other unions that the two may or may not have yet. I also really liked “”See You in Your Dreams” because it reminded me of the type of pop/soul that one could hear on the radio or on TV, and while I was not aware of who she was, it was Katey Sagal who handled the background vocals on it and a number of other tracks on the record. I wouldn’t know until much later that Sagal was in a group who were also signed to Casablanca, and as the story goes, unions, not happening, etc. The weirdest song was the one that wrapped things up, his rendition of Jimini Cricket’s “When You Wish Upon A Star”. Is this guy, the demon of the band, going Disney? It was tacky, corny, cheesy, and I’ll throw in kitschy as well, complete with an orchestra and lush background vocals, and the fact that it seemed so much unlike him made the whole thing work, eventually reaching the high note at the album where it sounds like he actually unleashed a tear from his evil eye. A tear equal to the drip of the blood that poured from his mouth. Awesome.
Even though Paul Stanley was my third favorite member of Kiss, he was the vocalist of some of my favorite Kiss songs: “Detroit Rock City”, “Do You Love Me”, “Strutter”, “Love Gun”, “100,000 Years” and the intro to “Black Diamond”, so there was always respect for him. His album began with a ballad, or at least that’s how “Tonight You Belong to Me” before it rocked out afterwards. Stanley’s record would show a love for pop craftiness and ballad, which some might have been taken aback by but again, he was the Starchild, the man who pucked lovingly for the ladies, so maybe this was his romantic side. “It’s Alright” was a solid rocker from him, while “Hold Me, Touch Me (Think of Me When We’re Apart)” sounded much like a lot of the songs on the radio at the time, what is now known as yacht rock, but it fit his character. I’m certain that this was and remains a personal favorite for some Kiss fans, but no one expected it to be pure pop, even though Kiss were having an overwhelming amount of pop success. Maybe people expected for Peter Criss to dish out the pop, since he had hits with “Beth” and “Hard Luck Woman”, which maybe lead some to feel that it would be he to dish out the true pop album.
Criss’ solo album was one that received the worst reviews and partly because of them, sold the less. In fact, as this was the last of the four I received from my parents, by the time I obtained my copy, it already had a cut-out mark on it, which to me meant it wasn’t good enough so they had to sell it cheap. I would later learn that with some releases on Casablanca, they would often ship an overwhelming amount of records for release day, only to learn not everyone could afford to buy all four in one crack, which would leave a lot of unwanted copies at stores, thus were given a cut-out hole or notch in the hopes of clearing them out.
In truth, Criss’ album was not bad at all and was probably the most human of the four, in that it sounded more like an album that would’ve been made by George Peter Criscuola of Brooklyn, not the mysterious CatMan. It sounded like songs one could easily hear on the radio or at the jukebox from the corner bar, especially his cover of “Tossin’ And Turnin'”, which was the first song I really liked because it was familiar to me. Other tracks like “Rock Me, Baby”, “I Can’t Stop The Rain”, and “Hooked On Rock’N’Roll” showed the rock’n’roll spirit that swept him and the other members of Kiss in their youth, but Criss wasn’t afraid to reveal it. It had an old feel, and with a group such as Kiss, you wanted to feel as if you were listening to music of the now or the future, not what happened before. Maybe surprisingly, Criss’ album was the only one of the four that spawned two singles, even though the other three had a wealth of songs that were potential hits. Hit singles, they weren’t, but people still loved Criss because he remained and will always be Kiss’ Catman.
A month after Kiss released these solo albums, they would release their made-for-TV movie, Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park. For those of us who loved the idea of having four new releases by the members of the band, perhaps it was this movie that made some feel that this was the beginning of that high rise to the top. Some wondered if anyone in the band could act, or maybe it was that Simmons seemed believable and that the others should not act. For many, it was the first time fans got a chance to see Paul, Gene, Ace & Peter move, but it seemed a bit too out-of-place. Kiss may have been for the youth even though their lyrics were often very adult themed, so to see them being involved in things that were child-like, along the lines of the Banana Splits, was something not many wanted to see. It would be another seven months before the band was heard from again, when they released Dynasty. At this point, Kiss had a completely new look and now had a song that was considered their entry way into disco, “I Was Made For Loving You”, and that broke a lot of people’s hearts. It didn’t break mine, it sounded different but the song had always been cool to me, even though I was more of a “2000 Man” and “X-Ray Eyes” fan. While this was billed as the return for the band, it also started the next level of their downfall. While Criss was considered a failure with his pop solo album, the band were eventually turning into the pop band they didn’t originally set out to be. Dynasty would be the last album Criss played on and when the 80’s began, no one was sure if Kiss would continue on or fade away. We now know that they not only continued, but would reveal themselves without make-up, perhaps losing the magic we all felt the group had, but still rocking out strong.
Nothing will take away the power of glancing at those four solo albums in September 1978, as if their glares transmitted some kind of power to listen and “buy me. No wait, buy us all.” We wanted Kiss stuff like we wanted Hot Wheels and Tyco cars, and we got them in abundance. As Kiss, we didn’t know or care about some of the stories they were singing about, and yet the group seem to make a shift at the moment we wanted them to continue rocking our worlds. Maybe they knew, maybe their fans were getting older, I’m sure there is a college course that has looked into the phenomenon far deeper than I could. While I was aware of who Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were, I only knew about Young’s solo work, so to me, Kiss were the kings of the solo album and I thought that all groups should have their members release their own work. When I’d get into The Beatles, I had been aware of who John, Paul, George, and Ringo were but didn’t piece things together that they do released solo albums, primarily after their split. In hip-hop, groups like Digital Underground and the Wu-Tang Clan would spawn solo and group contracts, and the more music there was, the merrier I was. But in 1978, my music loving self was realizing that music could be so much more than the few 45’s and albums my parents bought me, and the songs I heard on the radio in Honolulu. The Kiss solo albums made me understand that the possibilities were endless, and I wanted to explore those possibilities, hoping all of my favorite groups would do more music with their own separate releases. It didn’t happen with most of them, but it felt like a revival when Digital Underground and the Wu-Tang brought back that mentality to the industry in the early to mid 1990’s. These days, anyone and everyone can release their own projects for purchase and for free, and maybe that magic no longer exists, but I’d still like to think that if a group surfaces with that kind of fan devotion, it could happen again.
As a kid who grew up with a wealthy share of television sitcoms, perhaps it was inevitable that I would also embrace the comedy album. Then again, while both can be independent from one another, I would eventually discover that most of the funny people on TV I had enjoyed were comedians. With parents who were fairly open and a grandmother whose love of comedy was much more risque than I had realized, I discovered the dirtier side of Redd Foxx and Richard Pryor. Some of my aunties and uncles had Pryor’s albums too, and it was cool to read the covers and see the track listings, only to realize that I couldn’t say some of the titles. In time, I wanted to know what type of comedy existed in Honolulu. Through my grandfather, I discovered Kent Bowman, a white comedian who would go into a character as a local boy, complete with a pidgin English dialect. Bowman’s routines were very much the type of “talk story” tales one would hear in a garage, park, or luau and with an album that was considered explicit called No Talk Stink, it is what I wanted to hear. They seemed dirty and “kolohe” (rascal) then, but is fairly tame by today’s standards. They were bar stories, but fun bar stories, even if as a kid I didn’t understand some of it.
Through listening to the radio, I had heard of a Hawaiian comedy group called Booga Booga. These guys had played a nightclub in downtown Honolulu and were always praised for their hilarious routines, stuff that was considered too dirty for radio so naturally as a kid, I wanted to hear it. With my mom, we would sometimes walk past the club where there were Booga Booga posters on the front window, and I wanted to know who was Booga Booga, had to know what they looked like. They were a huge mystery to me. I’d see the front album covers at record stores, but that was it. A news story came out around 1977 or so which talked about how one of the members had left, and if that would lead to the break-up of Booga Booga. It was then announced that the member who left was trying out comedy on his own, and that he would be releasing his own album. In the summer of 1978, I went to a record store, most likely House Of Music, and went into the Hawaiian section. It was there I saw a photo of a man: half of him presented as the typical Hawaiian working man, complete with aloha shirt, work shoes, ‘ukulele on the side, and his hand presenting a shaka that was dipped in a poi bowl. The other half of him was a typical Hawaiian tita: a tube top that barely contained what was in there, nylons, a cigarette, his foot on top of a wine bottle, and face with lipstick and eye shadow. Was he half mahu (gay)? Did he want to be a woman? Was it a metaphor for the different cultures that existed in Hawai’i, which also represented the ethnicities he was? As a 7 year old kid, the picture seemed so weird and yet he seemed proud to show off who he was, whatever he was. Shaka covered in poi? I had to hear it.
Poi Dog would become one of the most influential comedy albums in my life, and I know I embraced it because it was local (Hawaiian) comedy, done by someone who looked like he could have been a relative. I may not have been his target audience then, but the routines I could understand were hilarious. It was obvious that he was poking fun at the different ethnicities of Hawai’i, cultural humor that was very much a reflection of himself, such as “Portuguese Huddle”, which involved a football team of Portuguese kids who are about to play at the championship game, but only have one important thing in mind: eating. It then leads to the realization that when it comes to a cheer, they’re unable to count past a certain point:
This leads into a great recreation of the old radio soap opera, but reflecting on a Hawai’i before it became a state and a territory. It touches on a young Hawaiian couple who are in love, but have to deal with a cockroach in the lady’s shoe, and what must be done to get rid of it. This leads to a radio spot/commercial for lau lau, covering in-depth what is inside the eight pound beast before getting into some playful double entendre. The soap opera comes back, and we now realize that the lady is now in the family way. By the end, we now learn that “The Young Kanakas” will not be returning due to the coming of “The Young Missionaries”, which may sound like a new soap opera but is actually code for “the white people are coming”.
“Room Service” is a phone conversation between a tourist named Mr. Fogerty, who is calling for room service from his room, specifically to have a meal. There are problems with this meal, for Mr. Fogerty has an American accent and the room service lady can’t quite understand his dialect. Throughout the call, room service lady feels open to suggesting one of the Hawaiian specials: the first one featuring pickled pig’s feet with Spanish rice on mashed potatoes, a choice of dressing on top of the fruit cup, and a choice of bread or toast. When the room service lady asks for a second special, Russell, the cook in the kitchen, yells out “nothing”. Thus, only one special is available. Mr. Fogerty (or as the receptionist says in her Hawaiian accent, “Mr. Frogtree”) sounds very frustrated in how a simple order can take so long to be made, which leads to the cook in the kitchen to fool around with the receptionist, leading her to say “you do that again, I going karang your ala’s (i.e. “hit you in the balls”) The order is not completed.
A series of “Haikus” follows up, spoken with a Japanese accent but covering different local stories of the island, including Filipinos, being stuck out in the country surrounded by Samoans, finding yourself in a ladies restroom and not knowing what happened, along with finding oneself at the bank when it is closed.
“Mahalo Airlines” has Reiplinger portraying an airline stewaress telling her passengers about the flight to come, safety precautions, and some of the hazards that may come if the plane suddenly falls into danger.
“Fate Yanagi” opens up Side 2 and is based on those tragedy pop songs of the early 60’s, and is specifically a parody of “Tell Laura I Love Her”. It features nothing but Reiplinger and an acoustic guitar, where he, as a surfer who knew he had to catch the big wave while surfing, and is basically a message for his girlfriend that he loves and needs her, and if he must part, she shouldn’t cry but as a final message, he tells her don’t go out with “that other guy”, Mits Funai. In the version he did for his one and only TV special, Rap’s Hawai’i, Reiplinger tells the listener that the song was written before he had massive brain damage.
It then leads to the greatness that is the “Lolo Telethon”. The word “lolo” is Hawaiian for someone who is dumb or stupid, so the fact that there would be a telethon for lolo people was funny. This hit home because any of us who were kids living in Hawai’i probably had parents who told us at one point that we were lolo, or kids who shouldn’t do dumb and stupid things. In Hawai’i, one could also watch or attend the local coverage of the Easter Seals and Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, so the idea that we could have our own telethon sounded great, even if it was meant to represent the HHH Institute: The Hawaiian Hospiital for the Helplessly Lolo. One was then able to hear some of the talent that would be playing at the telethon, everyone from Auntie Agnes Kealoha and her gourds, the Pohaku Four (or Five), The Gangi Barange Connection (which was notable for me, as one of my dad’s best friends was a Portuguese guy named Freddy Barange), that unusual dog act from Ewa Beach, and let’s not forget the Sunny Ah Fook Orchestra with the irrepressable voice of Winona Santos. I mean c’mon, who wouldn’t want all of that talent in one place? This then leads to a plea for money and the chant “Bucks For Lolos”, which my friends and I in the third grade used to chant because we were all proud to be lolo. The “Lolo Telethon” seemed like our own telethon, and we all wanted to be on it or watch, even though we knew very well that it didn’t exist. In our hearts, though, it did.
“Date-A-Tita” was very cool for me, because of the way Reiplinger, as Auntie Nellie Kulolo, said the word “Tita”. I had an auntie whose real name was Linda, but as a kid, since I couldn’t pronounce Linda properly, it came out as Tita (“tee-tah”). In this case, Auntie Nellie was representing a dating service for a tita (“tih-tah”). In Hawai’i, a tita is a rough, local/Hawaiian woman who doesn’t take any bullshit from anyone. He is a strong, confident, and will probably beat you and any relatives up if you mess with her. As Auntie Nellie introduces the service, she tells potential customers “boys, you know sitting at home trying women’s underwear can get real stale, and lonely to boot. So go take Auntie’s advice: go out, have fun, and do it with a girl.” She makes reference to a need to go out with one’s kind, as in “don’t take a haole girl when you have plenty local girls waiting for you”, along with wearing a tag that shows that you are the man and she is a woman, so that other people can tell the both of you apart. Plus, “special kama’aina rates” are available for those Hawaiians who don’t have money, which is to suggest that some Hawaiians don’t have too much cash, but one must experience the dating experience instead of putting on panty hose for fun. If one does date-a-tita, it can also involve getting personally involved with her family members, all of which may sound stereotypical but as the saying goes, the best stereotypes are true.
“Local Argument #7″ is a typical local argument done in Hawai’i, perhaps out in the country, between two friends. It begins with one man asking why did they agree to meet somewhere and when one guy went to the destination, he wasn’t there. The other guy states that he was on the way when he was at the meeting place, how come he didn’t call him? The first person asks how could he call when he was already on his way? It leads to the debate of what should and shouldn’t have been done. In an era where there are iPhones, this verbal transaction might not happen today unless he didn’t have easy access to Wi-Fi. It may be impossible for the non-pigeon minded to understand, but it simply involves trying to come to an understanding as to why these two friends didn’t meet, and what could have been done to make it better and easier, without hassle.
“Loving You Is Surfing You” is a man telling a love story to his lady, where she is represented as a surfboard, and the metaphors of the ocean and the reef are used to describe his love for her.
The album ends with “Japanese Roll Call”, where a foreman at the workplace makes sure everyone is there at the place of employment before they begin their day. He calls out Tanemisu, Misuyoshi, Yoshimura, Murakami, Kamikawa, Kawamatsu, Matsutaka, Takahashi, and as you can see, the half of one man’s last name becomes the first half of the next man’s name and continues on playfully until the piece ends, with the hope that everyone who has to be there is there.
As a kid who used cassette players who record my voice for no reason other than to hear myself, I loved the fact that Reiplinger created all of the voices (male and female) and played all of the instruments on it, which included keyboards, ‘ukulele, guitar, and drums. Even though there was a list on the back cover with all of the musicians playing on it (i.e. the drummer was Sticks Cabang, while one of the other musicians was the Portagee genius Sterling Silva), it showed that all of the people on the album were Reiplinger himself. I know I thought “wow, how did this guy make all of these sounds and make all of these voices at once?” While I would learn about multi-track recording through listening to, exploring, and doing research on The Beatles, I had never heard a comedy album recorded in this fashion before. Up until then, albums by Foxx, Pryor, and Bowman were live performances. The idea that one person could make all of these voices, in one studio, and have it mixed to sound like there were many people there, blew me away, and I wanted to make sounds just like that.
Perhaps the most bizarre thing about the album was the back cover, featuring a old photo of a hula girl (Reiplinger’s mom or relative?) with an accompanying fan letter for Rap, written in a slightly suggestive manner. I know I thought “what is this little girl doing, writing in this manner to a grown-up?” but I hadn’t been aware that Reiplinger had been more suggestive before. When I finally found a Booga Booga album and listened to it, I then understood some of the suggestive overtones that Reiplinger would do. Reiplinger played it fairly safe on Poi Dog, even though it was still somewhat risque for its time. No one ever said “karang your ala’s” on a record, yet regardless of its tone and rough language (at least in Hawai’i), every track was heard on KCCN, which back then was the only Hawaiian radio station on Oahu. It was also played on pop stations KKUA and KIKI. Everyone was proud that a local boy could make a comedy record that was this funny, an album where people were remembering the routines word for word. I remember going to Royal Elementary School, and during a school assembly, the son of the lady who ran the cafeteria did a one-sided version of the “Room Service” routine. It was one-sided because he only did the part of the room service receptionist, and no one was there to play Mr. Fogerty. All of us sat in the cafeteria, looked at each other, and said without words “what is this?” We all knew the routine, but it seemed like half a conversation. We all offered him half-hearted applause.
Poi Dog made me want to become a comedian, a dream that remains unfulfilled, although I try to slip in a few humorous things in my writing. With Reiplinger came Andy Bumatai, a Filipino comic from Waianae who, like Reiplinger, was signed to Mountain Apple. While Reiplinger didn’t mind being suggestive, Bumatai was a little safer in his style but just as funny. He released a small number of albums but what made him become a comedian to watch were his two TV specials, Andy Bumatai’s High School Days and All In The Ohana. Any of us who watched them could relate to the characters he portrayed, because we either wanted to be like them, or had relatives who were like them. Reiplinger and Bumatai represented then then-new school of comedy, and we were proud to call them our own.
Reiplinger would follow up Poi Dog with other albums, including the great Crab Dreams, and it would eventually lead to his first and only TV special, Rap’s Hawai’i. Some of the routines on this album would be visualized for the first time, and it showed how funny and playful he was, whether he played a stuttering priest, Auntie Marialani with her cooking show, or the brain damaged surfer with a heart. While he was able to finish production of Rap’s Hawai’i, he didn’t live to see his influence on countless other comedians and comedic writers, as he died from drug-related causes in 1984 at the age of 33. While he has left a void that will never be touched, comedy in Hawai’i has never stopped and continues to thrive with such comedians/actors as Frank DeLima, Augie Tulba, Bu La’ia, and Paul Ogata, among many. Reiplinger was definitely not the first funny person of Hawai’i, but when he departed from Ed Ka’ahea and James Grant Benton to form his own legacy away from Booga Booga, he said things that made everyone pay attention immediately. He spoke about us, laughed at and with us, because he was us, and we were him. James Kawika Piimauna Reiplinger, mahalo nui for your mind and humor, and your presence in my lifetime. If you had become the old grandpa that you portrayed in Rap’s Hawai’i, you would have been even more righteous.
Soul and R&B were at a very unique place in the late spring of 1988. On one end, you had a number of artists still carrying on the traditions of the styles from the mid to late 70’s. You had a good share of artists who were also utilizing pop music formulas to create their hits. There were a growing amount of dance music offshoots that were heavily influenced by soul but couldn’t be called that with distinction. The growing rise of rap music’s popularity did leave many wondering if the ways of soul were dying. James Brown was still making music, but “Living In America” sounded nothing like “The Payback”, “Papa Don’t Take No Mess”, or “Licking Stick – Licking Stick”. The success of Prince’s career post-Purple Rain left many wondering if the Minneapolis man was soul, funk, rock, new wave, or pop, and when he embraced them all, that confused even more people, yet what he was doing showed how strong he was to music as a whole. The production of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis lead to the great success of Janet Jackson’s Control, showing people that there was someone else from the Jackson household that could make incredible music. That lead to many people wanting to look and sound like Prince and Janet Jackson, they created the sounds everyone wanted to achieve. That’s not to say Michael Jackson wasn’t someone to look up to, but one becomes untouchable when you influence a group of people to impersonate you. However, there was something brewing in Harlem, something that was not expected but when it came, it seemed to arrive at the precise moment.
By the time Guy released their self-titled debut album on June 13, 1988, the lineup on the cover was obsolete. The group had a vocal line-up of Aaron Hall and Timmy Gatling, but by the time the group had finished the recording of Guy (MCA), Gatling had left to try out a solo career. When the group had released their first video for “Groove Me”, there was a new man in his spot, Aaron’s brother Damion, and they would solidify the lineup and face of Guy. Created by producer Teddy Riley, Guy was his way of getting out a vocal group that could pull off the kind of music he wanted to create himself: a mixture of soul and R&B stylings, a hint of gospel, but also bringing in some of the elements that made hip-hop music work. No one in soul at the time was truly tapping into the essence of what made hip-hop work, except by bringing in a rapper to drop a verse. What Riley ended up doing was creating an all new sub-genre, bringing in something that would keep the people moving while showing the old heads what the new heads could do. This was new jack swing, and Guy were very responsible for a sound that is still tapped into, 25 years after the fact.
Guy’s album may seem formulaic from the outside: start the album with some great songs that will rev up the listener, move into some groove that are laid back, get them into a slow jam, come back for a refresher, move them into another slow jam, and then end the album on a bright and positive note. That is essentially the template for many soul/R&B albums, a formula that generally works with the right amount of talented people. For whatever reason, the Guy formula worked, and it all started with the immortal “Groove Me”.
Suggestiveness aside, the keyboards and synths were a bit more than something you might hear in a song by Atlantic Starr or Starpoint, it was lush and full bodied, not unlike the way Prince would utilize it in his own recordings. However, there was also something else in the song that hooked many, or at least hooked the ear of anyone who loved hip-hop music: the very brief organ sample from The Mohawks’ “The Champ”. It would only take the chopping of three notes from the original song created by Alan Hawkshaw to ignite the start of the storm.
There were also two other essential ingredients: the use of a single word (“funky”) from James Brown’s “Funky President (People It’s Bad)” and another word from “My Thang” (“yeah”) that would contribute to this moving instrumental. No one in soul music was using the sounds from another record, so this seemed revolutionary, leading me to say “wait a minute, these guys are doing what the rappers are doing”, but making it soulful and funky with their brand of boom bap. It was revolutionary, and it was the start of something major.
As for the video for “Groove Me”, it was to be expected that if you were not Michael or Janet Jackson, your video would have a lower budget than your pop (read “white”) counterparts. The atmosphere of the video looked like a cross between a sweaty evening at a hot nightclub and high school or college assembly, complete with dancers wearing what look like cheerleader or stepping outfits. You have the sexy ladies showing a good amount of this and that, the men who wanted to show and prove, but what did it for me, what truly sealed the deal, was seeing the dancer in the video wearing a Public Enemy T-shirt, one I had myself, behind her denim jacket:
This was not something you’d see in a soul or R&B video, someone/anyone wearing the T-shirt of another artist. That was the rock and heavy metal thing to do, but here she was, grooving on the wall, almost as if she’s saying “I’m down with rap music, I am a public enemy, and yes, you may be able to groove me if you’re lucky”. For me, the video builds up to that moment right before everyone on the dance floor is getting down to the point of no return after the false breakdown. When Riley tells the listener that “it ain’t over” and that “the party’s not ever”, I absolutely went nuts. It was as if he was bringing back various elements in music that had been considered old or forgotten, or untapped in soul, and resurrected the goodness. There was no way anyone would dare attempt to do the same. The jump and groove in the song was different, there were extra beats heard throughout, as if there was a nice Latin touch/tinge at hand, and the constant repetitive James Brown and Mohawks sample stabs: I wanted to know who this was, what it was, and how could I get down with the program. It was glorious.
“You know, girl, as I look into your eyes
you got me hypnotized
…perature’s about to rise
oh, just get up on the floor
baby, go for yours
’cause, I know that’s what you came here for”
Add that with some of the countermelodies Riley is playing behind Hall’s voice, and there’s that bit of that something which is irresistible, wanting to hear more of what is being offered.
“my dreams are now reality
each and every time, you are hear with me
the touch you give me with your hands
when you caress my skin, I’m under your command
girl, you hypnotize me with your eyes
it took me some time, now I realize
it’s you to whom which I belong
I love it, the feeling’s getting strong”
It’s basically a song about a woman jacking him off, isn’t it? What she does is bringing out Aaron Hall’s ecstasy.
“You can get this ring, if you can ride this thing”
As he states earlier in the song, he is the sole controller of his merry-go-round, and once she gets off, there is no telling when it’s going to end. We don’t know what will end, or if it responds to her rear end, but we know it involves riding it.
Maybe looking back at Guy is a way of looking back at what we were like when younger, when love, romance, and sex was everything to look for and perhaps fear at times. We were tempted to play with, among many things, emotions, even though we couldn’t quite figure things out. We would learn right from wrong, but suffer many times when wrong got in the way. Nonetheless, it showed that soul music was one of hip-hop music’s roots and that it still had a lot to say and prove, and it was going to be said with some new kids on the block. Funky? YEAH!
(P.S. When I bought and collected all of the 12″ singles from Guy’s album, I had made my own custom tape because MCA didn’t bother releasing one in the same way they did for Bobby Brown and Jody Watley. It featured all of the extended versions I had at the time, and I called the tape One, Two, Three…Swing It!, which I ended up playing for years.)