Various artists: Sounds of New York, U.S.A., Volume 1: The Big Break Rapper Party

Various artists
Sounds of New York, U.S.A., Volume 1: The Big Break Rapper Party
Queen Constance/Traffic

How loose were things in the early days of recorded hip hop? So loose that an all-female crew could open a record by chanting, "Dancing hard, dancing hard," before announcing, "We're the Universal Three"—and have the resulting 12-inch land in shop racks as "Dancing Heart" by Universal Two. Copyediting was the least of the late-'70s/early-'80s Harlem indie P&P Records' worries; the label was too busy pumping out variations on every R&B style they figured might make a dollar. That included some of the first rap records, and the best thing about the 11 cuts collected on Sounds of New York, U.S.A., Volume 1: The Big Break Rapper Party is how cheap and insistent they are.

Like a lot of indie-label cash-ins in the wake of "Rapper's Delight," the MCs here are stylistically either radio announcers in training (Sweet G's "Boogie Feeling Rap," Willie Wood & Willie Wood Crew's "Willie Rap") or raw kids from the block who figured if the Sugarhill Gang could do it, so could they. Teen Machine's "Teen Machine Rap" might be the most endearingly gawky disco-rap record (which is saying a lot), while Margo's Kool Out Crew transform already-clichéd-by-then A-A-B-B rhyme schemes and the words "clientele" and "viciously" into an unstoppable ball of momentum on "Death Rap." No one here has the polish of the Furious 5 or the Funky 4 + 1, much less the agility or attack of Run-D.M.C., who'd help halt this style well before even Rakim came along. And there are good reasons nobody raps like this anymore. But that just makes them even more lovable now.

 
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