One Nation, Invisible

The untold story of local hip hop: 1981 to 1996

T.C. Ellis, a.k.a. David Ellis, MC/producer: I grew up playing drums in bands. We had our band called Touch that was coming around at the same time Prince was playing in Grand Central in Minneapolis. We were looking up to those guys.

Robert Martin, Flyte Tyme trumpet player: That was our thing back then. It wasn't no gangs. That's what the gangs were: bands. There was a band on every other block. And that's how tough you were back in the days, who had the baddest band.

T.C. Ellis: Did you hear my first song, the "Twin Cities Rapp"? Basically, it tells the story of the music scene:

[rapping] Prince and André Cymone were the tightest of all

When they played in Grand Central on the Nicollet Mall

Prince proved that music was an art

Song after song, started topping the charts

He helped out friends he knew along the way

He produced the Time, yes, Morris Day

The Time as a whole, unbelievably strong

Jimmy Jam and Terry wrote their own songs

How did Prince feel? He said, "Hell, no!"

So Jimmy Jam and Terry decided to go

They did well on their own, like you might guess

Check out Janet Jackson or S.O.S.

That's the first rap song that I ever put out. And it was the first hip-hop 12-inch single from the Twin Cities area.

Travitron: Actually, Kyle Ray put out the first rap record in Minnesota. Only a few people have that record. It was based on "Rapper's Delight." He's passed away. He DJ'd at the Fox Trap and KMOJ [FM 89.9].

Kel C, a.k.a. Kelly Crockett, b-boy/MC: I would say the first known local rapper was me. My cousins were doing some flows and stuff, but they were kind of just doing it amongst their football buddies. To actually go out and say that this is what I'm doing for a profession, I don't remember too many guys doing that.

The first time I performed was at North Commons Park in 1981. They had some kind of talent show there, and I went up there and did a rap. I was probably about 15 years old. Rap wasn't popular then.

Delite, MC/DJ/producer: At the time, there wasn't a huge audience for rap, but I think there were a lot of people that were just curious because it was a new form of music.

Kel C: My uncle Roy Crockett managed a nightclub downtown called the Fox Trap, and my brother started DJing there in the '70s. My brother and some of my cousins, along with Kyle Ray, one of the founders of KMOJ, these were all people that I was around coming up as a young person. André Cymone's my cousin, so I seen Prince and Jimmy and Terry and all these guys playing in my Aunt Bernie's basement on a regular basis. My brother got in the DJ record pool, and that's where I kind of got my jump on hip hop: hearing them records he was getting from the East Coast.

Travitron: One of the first national shows here was between '81 and '82 with Kurtis Blow and this guy by the name of DJ Divine. It was at a roller-skating rink over north on Plymouth called the Northgate, which is now an employment center.

Kel C: We were roller-skating until it was time for Kurtis to perform. He actually didn't even come out of the DJ booth, but there was a window up there where you could see him. Me and a buddy of mine, we went into the booth after he got through, and we threw a few rhymes around with him.

Delite: When Kurtis Blow came back in '82, he held a rap contest at an old Minneapolis club [in the Seward neighborhood] called Duffy's. I remember being about 14 years old, and I actually won the contest. I won a hundred bucks and a bottle of champagne, which I was too young to drink.

Travitron: Grandmaster Flash played at Duffy's in '82. There's a picture of me and him shaking hands right outside the projects, back when KMOJ was in an apartment. We had met each other before in New York at parties. They called them beat parties then. Flash was like a wanted man there. That's how dangerous rap was in New York. I mean, people wanted to kill him. In New York, if you had a bad party, people were almost given liberty to take your equipment. When they said, "Shoot the DJ," they meant shoot the DJ.

 

Disco T, DJ: Travitron was the godfather. If you had a party on the night Travitron had a party, then your party wasn't getting packed. The best thing you could do was wait until his flyer come out, and try to throw something a week later.

Travitron: There were a lot of private parties because rap really wasn't accepted in the clubs. You couldn't get an established place. You'd have to rent out something, like the Electrician's Hall.

I had a club called Club Hip Hop in St. Paul on Selby that was notorious. I just got a warehouse and had my buddies spray-paint it. One of the guys who spray-painted it was Roger Cummings. His name was Roger Dodger. He sprayed up the place. And that was right across the street from a place called the People's Choice.

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