I first heard hip hop music back in 1980, I figure. I remember seeing a story on a news show about it or something. At that point, music hadn’t become an obsession yet. I don’t remember what other songs I may have liked at that point. I remember being into Kiss when I was a little kid. My cousin was into Black Sabbath and he kinda got me into it too. I loved “Rhinestone Cowboy” by Glen Campbell. That came out in 1975. And I remember really liking a lot of truck driving songs, especially if they were talking blues style. I think that’s why I liked hip hop so much when I first heard it.
From 1980 to 1983 or so, I was into hip hop and bought whatever records I could find. But I was also into some other stuff. I took an interest in my cousin’s growing collection of metal records. I was also kinda secretly into Duran Duran and I think I bought “Business As Usual” by Men At Work when it came out.
But when I heard Run DMC it was all over. From that point on (after ’83) I was a hip hop totalitarian. I refused to listen to anything else. I think it’s safe to say that hip hop took over my life by the time I was 11 years old. It was an obsession.
I feel lucky that I was born when I was because my high school years (which is a crucial time for any music lover) coincided exactly with the golden era (1986 – 1989). Those days were glorious. It was an exciting time for hip hop. It was beginning to come into its own in many ways, but it was still an underground phenomenon. Almost all the records were on independent labels and the biggest stars in the game were really dope – Doug E. Fresh, UTFO, M.C. Shan, Just-Ice, Superlover Cee and Casanova Rud, J.V.C. FORCE, etc. I was a downright militant fascist hip hop junkie.
In 1989 I started volunteering at my local campus radio station and soon after I started hosting my own show, which eventually ran for eleven years. Looking back it seems pretty much inevitable that I would host a hip hop radio show. I HAD to!
Then… 1990. The wind changed. I felt a disturbance in the Force for the first time. Two records were released that year that changed hip hop forever – “To the Extreme” by Vanilla Ice and “Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em” by M.C. Hammer. I honestly think that these two records were the first hip hop recordings I had ever heard that I hated. Before that, pretty much all hip hop was good! Not all of it great (although a crazy-high percentage was), but nothing ever terrible, really. But sweet jesus, these two records were not my cup of tea.
It angered and perplexed me that it was even possible for there to be any such thing as bad hip hop music. But what rubbed salt in my bleeding wounds was that both of these records were also hugely successful. In fact, I’m guessing that if they weren’t the two MOST successful hip hop records to that point, they must have been close – top 5, I’m sure.
I couldn’t stand it. I honestly couldn’t deal with it. My world was collapsing. Flood gates had been opened. All of a sudden there were all these corny people getting into “hip hop” (I refused to even recognize Hammer and Vanilla Ice as real hip hop). Parents liked these records! Hip hop was never music for parents! I took such huge offense to what was happening. I think I even took it personally in some perverse way! I felt that the world in which I lived was under threat of annihilation. I saw a no-good end coming and I felt strongly that I couldn’t just stand by as it happened.
In 1990, I went on a hunger strike. I was living on my own in my first crappy little apartment. I had no idea how to organize any sort of political demonstration. And of course, there was no internet yet, so I didn’t have a platform for a statement at my disposal. I just figured that word would get around, someone in the local media would catch wind and then it would get around from there. I vowed (to myself and a few stupid friends) that I would go without food until the mainstreaming and commercialization of hip hop music came to an end. I wanted Hammer to go back to the navy and Vanilla Ice to go back to riding motorbikes, or whatever.
I think I made it six days. Word might have gone around town a little bit, but the discussion was just about how much of a moron I was. The TV cameras never showed up. I just rolled around the filthy floor of my cat-piss apartment and moaned. I moaned all alone. Finally, my friend Rob (Sixtoo) kicked my door down and wrestled a granola bar into my mouth. He pleaded with me and bribed me with a few choice records from his collection. I had a good cry and finally relented. I was already skinny before I started, but still managed to lose a bunch of weight. I was very weak and wretched. Rob watched over me for a few days until I fully regained my strength. I was pretty much back to normal after three or four days, but it took months to get over the embarrassment.
Seven years later, Rob saw my mood darken again. But he was preemptive this time and talked me down in the heat of several horrible nights. If it wasn’t for Rob, who knows what sort of private rampage I may have enacted?
I was such an idiot. Sixtoo saved my life. Rob Van Winkle and Stanley Burrell come across as nice people on reality television. And as for hip hop music, well…