G. Jerome Jones on Hip-Hop

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Jones and Justiss, 2006

[We don’t often get guest posts at the “Money Jungle Safari”, but this is a welcome exception. G. Jerome Jones is one of my oldest friends, a multitalented multimedia pro who’s been a major influence on myself and others in the business. He’s done short-stories, plays, recorded a couple albums (one with DJ Zane III, the other with Jay Cole and the late, great Alan Justiss)–but he may be best-known for his spoken-word skills. I met him in 1997 at the old Nicotine Meltdown, through Justiss, when I came to write a story about it; I met Al Letson, Nestor Gil, Matt Butler, Troy Lukkarila, Chris Spohn and others all within the same couple weeks–a good summer!

Later, Jones was a founding editor of the original Section 8 Magazine, which ultimately delivered over 1,000 pages of original “local, national and international art, music, and information” to hundreds of readers. It would be impossible to say succinctly how important he was to building the organization to the global (and, quite possibly, intergalactic) status it hold today.

Jones reads from the 8, Elevations 2000

A graduate of Florida A&M University (one of the very best HCBUs), Jones hasspent most of the past decade in his native Barbados, where he continued to crank out material while developing his own greeting card/postcard business that shows great promise to fill some sizable gaps in that industry. He’s also working on a series of new releases related to his first love, poetry.

Jones recently took time to expound on a subject central to all our lives: Hip-Hop. He helped chronicle the formative earlier years of Duval’s stellar hip-hop scene in his reporting, and was the charismatic force behind the “Elevations” hip-hop nights held at Jack Rabbits under the 8 banner a decade ago. Artists like Willie Evans, Jr., Astronautalis, Paten Locke and dozens of others (a full list would be nice) all performed at those shows. Evans debuted “Underground Utilities” there, while Astronautalis once did a 30-minute freestyle while waiting for everyone else to show up. Epic. Enjoy.]

In Retrospect: An Old Head Takes a Look Back

Lord Monsta Ty battles Triclops; Zane III on the decks, 2000.

In many circles the question is often asked “what is Hip-Hop?” or “is that Hip-Hop?”  I’m sure most would agree that Hip-Hop is steadily evolving, and has come a long way from when it was birthed in the mid to late 70’s in theNew York Cityborough of theBronx.

As with any growing entity Hip-Hop has passed through many phases in its development and sadly many of today’s Hip-Hop heads don’t know, or care to know, about these changes. Most are caught up in the now, and really, why should they care about the history? No reason. But true Hip-Hop heads care about the history if for no other reason than that it did happen and without a doubt there was some timeless music that was produced and wonderful events that took place way back when. 

To many over the age of 35 the true essence of Hip-Hop was found in the “golden era” of the decade of the 80’s. In this time a great deal took place that shaped the styles of today. So let’s rewind a bit, sit back, as I bounce around through some of the moments and happenings that make Hip-Hop the lovely thing that it is to me. Me, an old geezer on the other side of 40, who by no long stretch of the imagination is an authority of this beautiful movement, but who, like many, is just another rabid fan and, thanks to time, has seen some thangs.

THE GOLDEN ERA- 1979-1989            

A cat by the name of Kool Herc is often mentioned as the one who started it all. Herc, originally fromJamaica, would take his sound system into the parks, set-up and throw a park jam, while doing this he would sometimes talk (or toast) over the instrumental records and do a bit of mixing. More DJ dexterity came with cats like Grandmaster Flash who was basically the man who started the whole scratching deal.

From the DJ came the rapper. Names like the Sugar Hill Gang with their hit “Rappers Delight” came out in 1979 with the lyrics by Grandmaster Caz who never got the credit. Kurtis Blow whose big hit was the “Breaks” and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five also began their careers in ’79-’80. In 1982 Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five dropped a bomb that showed Hip-Hop could be more than party music with their infamous “Don’t push me ‘cause I’m close to the edge…” the line that started the classic jam “The Message.” Also in ’82 Afrika Bambatta and the Soul Sonic force had a big hit with “Looking for the perfect Beat.” But it was RUN DMC who took it to the proverbial next level with their debut in ’83 – “It’s like that/Sucker M.C” and their success and “push” of the artform is still very much respected.

In the mid 80’s Hip-Hop was twisting in many different positions. New variants were sprouting from the main root. There were big tunes like Kraftwerk’s “Tour De France” andShannon’s “Let the music Play” which were examples of electro funk and freestyle or Latin Hip-Hop, but the so called pure shi8t was still being represented.

 A young, lean and hungry cat full of testosterone came forward in ‘84 with his debut “I need a Beat” and shook up the game. He was James Todd Smith, or LL Cool J as most people know him. LL was tight, but other cats were approaching it a bit differently. Folk like Doug E Fresh – the original beat box- and the group Whodini who dropped their album- “The Escape”(with classics like Friends, The Freaks come out at night and 5 minutes of Funk) also repped hard in ‘84.

The group UTFO also came out in ‘84 with “Roxanne Roxanne” and created the response trend, estimates are given that between 50-100 responses came off of that song. Another significant record released in late ’84 was 2 Live Crew’s “It’s gotta be Fresh”. This record, from down south, birthed the Miami Bass sound. In ’84 The Fat Boys were also around doing their thing and they became known as the most comical characters in Hip-Hop. Yea, Hip-Hop comics; something hardly seen in present times.

Fast forward to 1985. Many call this the last great year of Old school Hip-Hop. It was before the advent of overblown sampling. In ’85 RUN DMC collaborated with ‘70’s rockers Aerosmith and came with “Walk this way” and the early rumblings of  “gangsta rap” began with a track called “Batterram” by Toddy Tee.

A massive hit in ’85 was by the sexy Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam with their joint “I wonder if I take you home” causing intense reactions on dance floors. But it was Doug E Fresh who owned that year with his big tunes “La Di Da Di” and “The Show” which took Hip-Hop in a new direction.

In my opinion the years 1986 -1989 are the pinnacle years in Hip-Hop. I say this because so many important groups emerged in this time and so many other things came into fruition that pushed the culture along. 

In ’86 DJ Polo and Kool G Rap made their debut with “It’s a Demo b/w I’m Fly” produced by Marley Marl. The shi8t Kool G Rap was spitting back then could still rock crowds today. The Juice Crew and Boogie Down productions went to battle with “The Bridge” and “The Bridge is over” ,  and MC Lyte stepped into the mix with “Cram to understand”. Salt & Pepa represented for the females as well with their joint “Push it” and the Beastie Boys released “License toIll”. But without a doubt, the debut of Eric B and Rakim with “Eric B is President.” takes the cake and when they dropped the full length album in ’87 – “Paid in Full” everybody and they Mama was checking for this dynamic duo.

In ’87 rap began to spread strong on the West Coast with Ice T dropping an album that did some high numbers and got him a lot of criticism. Ice T showed that life on the West Coast was different from the East.  One of the most influential, controversial and revolutionary groups in Hip-Hop also stepped up in ‘87, this was the mighty Public Enemy, mixing hardcore rap with strong socio-political messages they were a shock to the system of America.

In 1988 MTV created a show dedicated to all things Hip-Hop with Yo! MTV Raps and the Source Magazine printed its first issue. NWA released “Straight Outta Compton and Slick Rick came with “Children’s Story.”

In 1989 came the birth of Hippy-Hop with the Native Tongue collective emerging. Artists that comprised this collective were people like Queen Latifah and the groups De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers. Their music promoted tolerance, respect, fun and harmony a sharp contrast from what many of their contemporaries where doing.

Okay let me, pause and admit something here. This info is readily available on the internet, that’s were I got it, and if you are interested it takes only a couple of seconds to google it up, but for me, writing this article and looking this stuff up, I must admit, was a lovely stroll down memory lane. Time traveling at its utmost. To me many of these songs conjure up images of what I was doing at the time: the chica I was checking, the different haircuts I had, the clothing styles me and my friends use to wear the different dances we use to do, the slang we use to sling, basically all the things that go into making you who you are. The memories, some of them lovely and bringing forth a chuckle, some not so lovely and bringing forth a sigh…ah the memories.

While all this was happening with the musical part of the movement the other aspects were also flourishing i.e. gaining notice among the masses and spreading.

Some of the first movies that featured break dancing where classics like Wild Style and Flashdance, these films showed audiences near and far what the kids in the NY ghettoes were up to and people took notice. Without a doubt the two main Breakdance crews at this time were the New York City Breakers and the Rock Steady Crew.

On the Graff side things were bubbling too. Although still illegal, some of the artsy fartsy crowd in the big-up art galleries in downtown Manhattan, and elsewhere, were becoming interested in the inner city art that they saw on the subway trains and on the sides of buildings, and art exhibitions started to feature some of these artists. In most Graf circles the name that often comes up at least once is the lord of Graf, Phase II who started taking Graf to another level in the 70’s.

Sadly many still think that the term “Hip- Hop” only pertains to the man or woman on the mic, when in fact Hip-Hop is the DJ, the M.C, the Graffiti artist, and the Breaker. The Four Elements. In the early days these elements intertwined and fed off of each other, the classic early 80’s movieBeat Streetshows this interaction in its entire splendor and is a good one to check if you’ve never seen it before. To me it’s fresh and innocent, undiluted by the bling  playa and gangster mentality of today.

Another movie that shows that Hip-Hop was bubbling not only on the East Coast but the West Coast as well was Breakin’ which came out around ’84 and featured two dancers- Turbo and Ozone- doing more of the “up top” dancing moves than the floor moves. Breakin’ also featured a young Ice T with his big hit of the moment “Reckless”.

THE ESSENCE

The simple answer to the question “What is the essence of Hip-Hop?” is that Hip-Hop is the DJ, M.C, The Breaker, the Graf-artist….but it goes deeper than that Hip-Hop is a culture a way of existing and expressing. It permeates the way you walk, talk, dress and view the world. It shapes the way you interact with others and is the soundtrack of your triumphs, dreams, wishes and frustrations. It’s not just something you listen to. Folk who embody the essence do more than just listen to the music they are a part of it. They are involved in the creation of all or parts of the whole. They follow the dramas and characters of it like house wives do soap operas. They discuss it and debate on certain aspects of it and they do so regularly. Simply put, it’s their religion and some folk are downright fanatical

In my life I have encountered quite a few individuals who I would say embodied the essence of Hip-Hop. My involvement with Hip-Hop culture dates back to 1984 that’s when I first became aware of it, when I bought my first album (Kurtis Blow “The Brakes”). It was new and the thing to do and I was like 14 years old and had a bit more independence. I can recall that summer clearly. 

Break dancing on a beach inBarbadoswith my cousin and some friends, in many ways that was my coming of age summer, we formed a lil crew called the Renegades, nothing much just playing around. After that summer I was in a crew with the boys from my neighborhood a crew called Rock City Crew although we were nowhere close to a city we were island boys after all. We took it a little more seriously though, battling other crews at downtown nightclubs, behind grocery stores when they were closed on the weekends, and on school compounds, moving with a roll of congoleum and a boom box we were ready.

Some of the people in my crew were my cousin Russell who was crazy on the floorwork, his specialty was swipes and the windmill. He would get so high and he was quick, nice and smooth with it. Then there were the brothers Thorne, Nigel and Ian, who were both deep into it. Nigel was the up-top man and had the perfect waves, and Egyptian Tuts, while Ian was a jack of all trades Djing and MCing along with the dancing. I remember many nites just sitting out on their front wall trading line for line scenes from  Beat Street which we had memorized or chilling in their front room listening to their old man’s  LP’s and 45’s.

There comes a time however in every teenager’s life when nothing else matters but the opposite sex and during this time I must admit that Break dancing took a back seat. When I moved to theU.S.in ’89, I was into other music as well as Hip- Hop. Going through college in the early ‘90’s I remember the different fads and dances that came, like the Polka dots and shiny black shoes and the -“ouch”- MC Hammer pants. Dances like the wop and the cabbage patch and others with names I can’t recall. I even remember riding around one Friday with my boy Harv, skipping class, just playing Dr. Dre’s The Chronic over and over again, killing the cassette.

It was only after my college days when I moved back toJacksonville,Floridathat Hip-Hop moved squarely back into my focus. Living there I met many folk who breathed it- too many to name- DJ’s with vast collections of vinyl who made beats and played at different clubs.  MC’s, with immense skill, trying, giving it all they had, honing their craft and believing the pie in the sky dream that they would get that ever elusive record deal. Breakers, full of black and blues who still pushed their bodies to the limit striving to execute that perfect move; and Graf-artists with Burners of intricate detail and tags on many surfaces throughout the city.

Along with some friends, I started a monthly Hip-Hop show called Elevations and tried to do some positive things with it. We strived to promote the culture and give it a home where it could grow, where cats (and kittens) could sell their independent product and make contacts. We also made it a point to hit folks-especially the youngsters- over the head with some new and innovative, fun ideas and also tried to provide a forum where it could get political and make changes. But more than anything Elevations was a show where the four elements could exist.  Some cool things happened and some things that weren’t so cool as well, such is life.

Lately I been working on a Play and the four Elements is one of the main ingredients in it, so I’m still doing my thing. From vinyl- to cassette- to C.D.- to MP3…..things change, that’s one fact that remains the same. But in my mind the essence of Hip-Hop is not in the tools, the trends, the flash and the posturing. Hip-Hop is in the people who live it, and when I say live it I mean they turn to it when they are up or down, not necessarily to make money off of it, although that is not a bad thing, but the rewards are basic….you do it because you enjoy it.

You hear a song, or create a song, or see a performance that gives you a lil energy boost and gets you through a tough day. You observe or create a tight Graff piece and you feel good, simple. You check a Breakdancer, or bust a move yourself, and you are still thinking about it many days later. Alone in your room you scribble verses down in your notebook and share with your bro and you both get a chuckle or little enlightenment.

On the turntables- 1 and 2- you are totally in the zone and if you at a club you get a wonderful feeling seeing the people respond to your selections, but if you are alone it’s cool  too ‘cause you totally immersed in it. With nothing in your pocket and hunger pains in your stomach you throw up your tag on a wall just to let folk know “Heh, I’m here…and I am Hip-Hop….”     

gjrome@hotmail.com

sheltonhull@gmail.com; August 19, 2011

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About Shelton Hull

I'm a writer/journalist with over 20 years experience covering all types of subject-matter, with a specialization in politics, music, food and dance. My work has been published in nearly 40 different magazines, newspapers, websites and zines, in addition to occasional forays into radio, TV and spoken-word. Former candidate for City Council District 14 in Jacksonville, FL (2011), and a proud member of Gator Nation.

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