Review Summary: What is this? Rap music? This will never last.
Archived Review: 1980
With disco music in such heavy control over the current music scene, it's only natural that lesser-known, party-themed variations of the popular sound start to take shape. One unknown city-flavored take on the trend has been causing a bit of a stir throughout the boroughs of New York. A completely different method of applying vocals to a disco track, “rap music” happens when an “MC” (rapper) rhymes lyrics briskly in a sing-speak manor, emphasizing syllables to form a musical narrative. This practice creates an entirely new form of music, created solely for the enjoyment of New York's black urban population. Outside the streets from which the sound is brewed, rap music will likely fall on deaf ears. Propelled solely by a local following, the rap sound will assuredly fail to ever resonate beyond its home where it's commonly played at block parties and in clubs. Kurtis Blow, however, does such a fine job crafting his raps that it almost sounds like something that could catch on; if not for its overbearingly strong city vibe.
Rap music started coming together with record spinning innovations by people like DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flowers, as well as the free-flowing rhyme style of DJ Hollywood -- who would in turn set the wheels in motion for putting the sound down on record. The first rap song ever pressed to vinyl was called “Rappers Delight,”
by a rap crew called The Sugarhill Gang. The track broke the R&B top five and gave Kurtis Blow the chance to cash in on the fad by releasing a holiday themed rap, “Christmas Rappin'.”
The song was a marginal hit and Blow followed it up with an even more successful single, “The Breaks.”
After succeeding in achieving a goal set by Mercury Records (two consecutive hit singles), Kurtis Blow was surprisingly given the green light to go ahead and make a full length rap album; the first and only of its kind. The move is a serious risk by a major label more than likely to end up with egg on its face when all is said and done.
Most of the tracks on Kurtis Blow
are a mixture of Kurtis' hard raps and disco-funk music, which sometimes accounts for more than half of the tracks' run time after the rapping takes place. The songs on Kurtis Blow's debut contain some strikingly original lyrics -- the kind of which people in a club just haven't heard anything like before. “Now just throw your hands in the air / And wave em like you just don't care!”
This kind of engaging stuff is fresh, blazing totally new ground. The disco sound, combined with the crowd revving raps, makes for a convincing call to the dance floor. Kurtis hypes his raps with further requests from the crowd like “Somebody say 'OH YEAH!'”
and “SOMEBODY SCREAM!”
Blow knows how to entertain a crowd, and he takes it a step further on his single, “The Breaks.”
A jingle-jangle funk riff supports the song as Kurtis Blow tells us how it is through a series of bad-break scenarios. The song is a statement about how life can beat you down, although the track manages to keep it light with some humorous circumstances mixed in with the bad: “The IRS says they wanna chat / And you can't explain why you claimed your cat.”
The humor also comes through in the Western inspired narrative “Way Out West:”
Way out West, from way back East
Come from the place you'd expect the least
There came a stranger dressed in black
From Harlem-Town, a long way back...
Words don't necessarily have to rhyme in order for Blow to make them rhyme. “I'm gonna make you sing / I'm gonna make you dance / They're gonna take you out in an ambu-lance."
And in his Christmas hit, “Christmas Rappin'”
: “...the grown-ups got some presents too / A new TV and a ster-e-u.”
Anything is possible for Kurtis Blow, which is why he is the most recognized and respected rapper in the quaint rap world.
Kurtis acknowledges the new sound's limited potential and switches gears late in the album, favoring his singing voice over his rapping technique. With “All I Want in This World (Is To Find That Girl),”
Kurtis Blow is soft as a kitten. The song is a touching soul ballad in tribute to all of the lovely women Blow is willing to romance: "A cute one, a shy one / A slim one, a sly one / A big one, a small one / A real off the wall one”
The rock and roll cover ”Taking Care of Business”
makes the case for Blow to stick to rapping, even if nobody is ever going to hear it. He sings about taking care of business while carrying no tone of serious intention to make good on his decree. It sounds as though he thinks business is a joke as he adds his carefree flair to the lyrics, ultimately creating a rendition even less appealing to rock listeners than the rap songs.
If nothing else, this record serves as a window into urban culture, giving outsiders a peek into what's happening musically within the concrete jungle. Undeniably a unique take on dance party music, Kurtis Blow may never receive proper recognition for the work he has done to make an album full of raps. His ability to create a string of rhymes in rapid succession is quite an impressive feat -- so impressive, in fact, that I can't imagine anyone else ever attempting to fill a record with this kind of music again. There's just nowhere else for the sound to go. Kurtis Blow has done such an excellent job on his record that he has virtually exhausted the possibilities for rap with his memorable, but likely soon-to-be forgotten, debut album.