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.
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