Friday Five: this and that

“Don’t Wake Me” by the Cinderellas (1964)

“(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding” by Elvis Costello and the Attractions (1978)

“Death or Glory” by The Clash (1979)

“Baby, I Love You” by The Ramones (1980)

“The Last Song” by Sleater-Kinney (1995)


Friday Five: Old Skool Rap 2

Here’s part two of my old skool memories, this time with a nod to the West Coast…

5. “The Humpty Dance” by Digital Underground (1990)
In the late 80s, MC Hammer and Digital Underground were probably the two biggest hip-hop acts out of Oakland. Both crossed over to the mainstream in 1990, Hammer with his massive hit “You Can’t Touch This” and Digital Underground with this humorous track that became their signature tune. Digital Underground had already had a hit with 1989’s “Doowutchyalike.” Their sound followed the sampling traditions of the West Coast but they added something of an alternative Bay Area kind of feel to everything, too. In 1990 one of my friends and I spent hours playing the song and memorizing the lyrics. To this day when we see each other we can get through the first half.

4. “It’s Funky Enough” by The D.O.C. (1989)
The members of N.W.A. were all a part of the debut album from The D.O.C., as both performers and producers. No One Can Do It Better, the debut album from The D.O.C.——a rapper from Texas who also contributed to N.W.A.’s recording career as well as Dre’s solo masterpiece The Chronic——was a West Coast game changer.

3. “Express Yourself” by N.W.A. (1988)
If you’re talking West Coast ra, you don’t get bigger 1988’s Straight Outta Compton, the debut album of this historic gangsta rap group. I could have chosen a host of tracks from the album (side one starts with “Straight Outta Compton” and the goes to “Fuck tha Police” and “Gangsta Gangsta”——perhaps the mightiest first three tracks on a rap album) but this one is close to my heart. Not only do they pick a rich funk song to sample (Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band’s song by the same name) but they use it to create a classic dance track that’s also hard-hitting lyrically. When I got to college I would try to request this song at every DJ dance. They never seemed to have the record. Figures.

2. “Posse on Broadway” by Sir Mix-a-Lot (1987)
Anthony Ray was from Seattle. The song, from his debut album, makes references to the Capitol Hill neighborhood he knew well. Since just about everybody comes from a place where there is a Broadway, I’m sure some of that specificity was lost on the listening public. Sir Mix-a-Lot became a big deal five years later with “Baby Got Back” but this, his first hit, was no slouch. While it never crossed over to the world of Top 40 pop, it was a hit in every sense of the word. I think just about everybody I knew could at least sing the chorus.

1. “The Gigolo Rapp” by Disco Daddy and Captain Rapp (1981)
Also known as “The Gigolo Groove,” this song is considered by many to be the first West Coast rap song. The song is by Larry “Captain Rapp” Glenn and DJ Michael “Disco Daddy” Khalfani, two well-known LA figures whose brief union made history but didn’t make much of a splash in the music world. History has been kinder to them than the charts. Glenn was inspired by the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” but their song goes further in lots of ways. The roots of West Coast rap——in particular its sampling of funkier and groovier sounds from the 70s——are all on display here.

Friday Five: Old Skool Rap 1

Let’s go back in time children, back to the early days of hip hop. Well, early relative to my life. Let’s keep it East Coast this week…

5. “Flavor of the Month” by Black Sheep (1991)
Black Sheep was a duo with roots in Queens, New York.  Dres and Mista Lawnge both relocated to North Carolina in their youth, which is where they met and got started.  I’m sure this had something to do with their sound.  This was their breakout single from their debut album, an irresistible hook with the jazz elements that were the calling card of the so-called “Native Tongues” hip hop collective. Black Sheep might not be remembered for much more than this song, but they were also the first hip hop group to appear on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

4. “Me, Myself, and I” by De La Soul (1989)
I can’t say enough about De La Soul.  It sounds like an exaggeration, but this trio of rappers from Long Island, New York changed the world in 1989.  They did.  Pioneers of the “Native Tongues” collective, their sound was so distinctive when it hit the airwaves that you couldn’t not listen. As a teenager who just started going to parties the year they came out, De La Soul was one of those sounds that took a garage dance to another level.  They were among a handful of music makers that were on everybody’s playlists.

3. “Mary, Mary” by Run-DMC (1988)
Run-DMC came from Queens, too. By 1988 they were at the top of their game and the top of the heap of the world of rap. Perhaps the most enduring hit from their underrated 1988 album Tougher Than Leather, this “cover” of Michael Nesmith’s (of the Monkees) song is a slice of everything that made Run-DMC so distinctive. The rock-tinged sound still felt new in 1988, even after they and producer Rick Rubin (not the last time he’s on this list) had made that historic combination two years earlier with their cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” Run-DMC’s lyricism had become something more by this time, and the skills of Jam Master J on the turntables is undeniable.

2. “I Ain’t No Joke” by Eric B. & Rakim (1987)
Eric B. & Rakim’s debut album Paid in Full was a “game changer in the world of hip hop. Most agree that the Long Island-based duo elevated lyricism and rhyming to a new level, and that made others up their game. That brilliance is all over the place in this, their second single release. Rakim is doing what nobody was doing and before you knew it, everybody was doing it. “I got a question, it’s serious as cancer / Who can keep the average dancer / Hyper as a heart attack nobody smiling / Cause you’re expressing the rhyme that I’m styling…”

1. “I Can’t Live Without My Radio” by LL Cool J (1985)
James Todd Smith from Queens became LL Cool J because the “Ladies Love Cool James.” Sounds about right. This track is from LL’s debut album Radio, which was also the first full-length album release by Def Jam records. Produced by Rick Rubin (who’s pretty influential in hip-hop history), this showcases LL’s talents while providing a stripped down sound with that defined so much of hip hop at the time. Easily one of the most influential rap songs ever.  If you can put it into its context (1985!) and hear it with fresh ears, you might understand what a phenom LL was.

I was on the radio

Ring of Red: A Barrio Story is a play I wrote, based on the hundreds of hours of oral history interviews I’ve conducted with Vietnam veterans and their families. It’s on the stage now at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles, with three more shows to go this weekend: Friday, September 28 at 7:00PM; Saturday, September 29 at 7:00PM; and Sunday, September 30 at 2:00PM, followed by an audience “talkback.”

Our efforts were spotlighted in a story on The Frame, and arts and entertainment program that airs on the NPR station in Los Angeles, KPCC radio.  It’s a really well put together story, one that hits all the right points when it comes to me project and the play I’ve helped produce, with the help of theater folks who know what they’re doing.

Check it out online.

Happy New (Academic) Year!

Today is the start of the 2018-19 academic year at Pomona College!

This year is the start of my 17th year as a full-time professor.  It’s the start of my 23rd year in the world of college teaching (I started teaching at the college level as a TA at UC Berkeley).  Overall, this is my 29th year in higher education.

The kid that began his undergraduate career back in 1990 would have been pretty pleased to know that someday he’d be writing the above paragraph.  Not many days go by that I don’t think and feel how lucky I am to be in my line of work.  I get to learn new things on a daily basis.  I get to write and read.  And I get to spend time connecting young people to their own journeys of discovery.

I’m a lucky guy.

I’m looking forward to this semester.  I’ll teach my “Intro to Chicanx/Latinx Studies” class, my greatest pleasure and the reason I do what I do.  I’ll also teach my “Latinx in the 20th Century” seminar, where we get to go more into depth.  As if that wasn’t enough, in a little more than two weeks, the play I wrote based on my oral histories with Chicano Vietnam vets will hit the stage.  It’ll be a busy start but I got nothing to complain about.

So happy new academic year from me to you!

Friday Five: 70s mixed tape

Let’s pop in a tape and go for a ride…

5. “D’yer Mak’er” by Led Zeppelin (1973)

4. “Dance, Dance, Dance” by Steve Miller Band (1976)

3. “Domino” by Van Morrison (1970)

2. “Peg” by Steely Dan (1977)

1. “My Sharona” by The Knack (1979)

Friday Five: 80’s dance

Here’s part 3 of my homage to 80s R&B, my selection of some of the best dance hits of the decade:

5. “Let the Music Play” by Shannon (1983)
Too much 80s here but it’s all the right kind.

4. “Lovergirl” by Teena Marie (1984)
The soulful Teena Marie.

3. “Come Go With Me” by Exposé (1987)
I had a high school, lunchtime conversation once where we debated which member of Exposé was the sexiest.

2. “Don’t You Want Me” by Jody Watley (1987)
Her music had so many of the elements of 80s club tracks that they don’t get played much today. At the foundation, though, they were good beats from a great performer.

1. “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston (1987)
This is one of my favorite songs of all-time. My kids have been instructed to play it at my funeral.