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V/A - Big Apple Rappin': The Early Days of Hip-Hop Culture in NYC 1979-1982

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Artist: V/A

Album: Big Apple Rappin': The Early Days of Hip-Hop Culture in NYC 1979-1982

Label: Soul Jazz

Review date: May. 18, 2006

I can make no claims to be any kind of expert when it comes to hip-hop. Growing up in rural Arizona, it just wasn’t something I was exposed to outside of the occasional Salt-N- Pepa or LL Cool J video on MTV, unless you count the one kid at my Catholic elementary school who always wore a Malcolm X hat and talked a blue streak about NWA and Public Enemy. Much later on I would find out about Gang Starr and the Wu-Tang Clan and plenty of other things, but I was never really educated about hip-hop in the same way that I imagine people must be when they grow up closer to big cities like New York or Boston or Chicago.

From my vantage point, a release like Big Apple Rappin’ is an invaluable history lesson. The 16 tracks – plus 64 pages of photographs, liner notes and interviews – examine the birth of hip-hop in New York City during a four-year flurry of activity in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Needless to say, this isn’t just another old school compilation with the predictable Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash and Sugar Hill Gang classics. You know you can expect more from a Soul Jazz release, and they really deliver with this one. The compilation doesn’t come from left field in quite the same way as New Star’s Original Style disc or Stones Throw’s similar Third Unheard anthology of hip hop from Connecticut, but there are definitely a ton of songs on here that most people probably haven’t heard before. Aside from a couple of big names like Spoonie Gee and the Cold Crush Brothers, most of the featured artists are pretty obscure: T Ski Valley, Masterdon Committee, The Fly Guys et cetera.

You can really hear the influence of disco on some of these recordings, starting on the very first track with Peter Brown and Patrick Adams’ production for the classic “Spoonin’ Rap.” Another song apes the backing track from Michael Jackson’s “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” and Brother D & The Collective Effort’s ultra-political “How We Gonna Make The Black Nation Rise” is based around a loop of “Got To Be Real” by Cheryl Lynn. Reggae production techniques are all over the place too. “Rapping Dub Style” by General Echo is the most obvious example of this, but there are also some amazing echo effects on “Rock The Beat” by the Jamaica Girls. And Xanadu’s “Sure Shot” has the mighty Joe Gibbs himself behind the board!

Disregarding the aforementioned academic value of this double album, Big Apple Rappin’ is a hell of a lot of fun to listen to from start to finish. And that’s what’s most important, isn’t it? Whether you’re looking for some historical perspective on the emergence of hip hop or just looking to have a good time, there’s a lot to love about this release.

By Rob Hatch-Miller

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