Various ‘Boombox: Early Independent Hip Hop, Electro and Disco Rap 1979-82’ 3LP/2CD/DIG (Soul Jazz) 5/5

boomboxHip Hop has clearly changed a great deal since 1979 when the first rap records were being released. But a monumental paradigm shift production wise came in 1982 with Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force’s ‘Planet Rock’, which was to give birth to a more technology driven genre that led on to the ubiquitous use of drum machines and synthesisers, such as the Roland TR-808, Oberheim DMX and the Linn Drum. This more electronic production style was to dominate until Marley Marl began sampling in 1986.
But in the early years from 1979 to 1982, rap records reflected the live and organic sensibilities of those park jams and block parties. MCs would rhyme non-stop for 15 minutes, there were no vocal hooks or choruses and lyrically the content was very much party driven, even during the height of Reaganomics.
And importantly prior to 1982 – Hip Hop was made by musicians. The process of making hip hop records pre-‘Planet Rock’ was achieved by assembling a bunch of studio session musicians, who would then create the instrumentals for the MCs to rap over. These instrumentals were commonly replayed grooves and breakbeat elements of records that the DJs at the time were playing in the parties around New York. So thus, there was a sense of integrity and authenticity from recordings made during this early period that I feel has never returned.

And this is how ‘Rapper’s Delight’ came about in 1979 and changed the world, but except for a few records on Joe and Sylvia Robinson’s Sugar Hill Records, and some of the more popular pieces on Bobby Robinson’s Enjoy Records (Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Funky 4 and The Treacherous Three recorded for both) many of the records from this somewhat forgotten era are unknown to most.

But hundreds of hip hop 12” singles were released between 1979 and 1982 after the success of ‘Rapper’s Delight’, most issued on tiny independent labels that are now very obscure, and as this is where this Soul Jazz compilation comes in. The one point I would make is regards the compilation title and the use of the word ‘Electro’, as none of the tracks here are what I would call Electro and so this is a bit misleading.

It’s difficult to pinpoint highlights as they are all worthy, but Bon-Rock & The Rhythm Rebellion ‘Searching Rap’ is a remake of Unlimited Touch ‘Searching To Find The One’, and so will appeal to boogie enthusiasts.

Spoonie Gee and The Treacherous Three ‘New Rap Language’ from 1980 is probably one of my favourite hip hop records of all time and was one of the first import 12” singles I ever bought. It was produced by Pumpkin (not Bobby Robinson as the label states), who was a young but very influential musician and producer who worked on many early rap records, and here, he also played drums on this much sampled and revered record. Pumpkin unfortunately died of pneumonia in the early 1990s before his contribution to hip hop was fully realised and acknowledged.

Willie Wood & The Willie Wood Crew ‘Willie Rap’ is another rap remake, this time it’s the pretty obscure Johnson Products ‎‘Johnson Jumpin’ instrumental, which were both released on the now sort after Sound of New York label, one of Peter Brown’s family of disco, boogie and early rap labels.

One track that merits some attention is Mistafide ‘Equidity Funk’ which uses Rhythm Heritage ‘Theme from S.W.A.T.’ for its backing – the classic breakbeat staple. Original copies of this record on Land of Hits (another Peter Brown label) fetch between £2000-£4000. I’ve never seen a copy and so I bought the reissue a few years ago for £7. I’m not sure why it warrants this price as it’s a good record but others on here are technically better and more influential.

This compilation underlines this crucial but relatively undocumented time in hip hop history and is very accessible to most music fans and not specifically the hip hop community. It’s pressed on double CD and triple vinyl, and apparently the CD version contains a 40-page booklet of notes, which Soul Jazz are traditionally very good at.

Very recommended.

Damian Wilkes