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Freaky Kinky Nation 

The weird-ass, beautiful history of ’80s hip-hop, as curated by Tommy Boy records

Wednesday, Apr 26 2006
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Back when skeezers were freaky, hip-hoppers abstained from cussing and effeminate rappers like Slick Rick and Dana Dane flourished, hip-hop was one weird-ass, funky-fresh universe of its own conjuring. Tommy Boy records recently completed the release of its 12-CD series, Hip-Hop Essentials 1979–1991,which celebrates the highlights of that era. Sold as individual volumes, the collection — which is not limited to music originally released on Tommy Boy — will inspire b-boys and b-girls once again to execute two-legged applejacks and windmills on gym floors.

Volume 1: Jheri-curled and oh so debonair, the Egyptian Lover commanded local dance floors in the ’80s with exotic beats and Mesopotamian come-ons. On “Egypt Egypt,” he rapped, “Give me a freaky kinky nation/with a total female population” — this was the era’s humping music: sleazy, heavy on the cologne and moaning like a cheetah in heat. Among other dope cuts, chief are Beastie Boys’ house-party-movin’ “Hey Ladies,” Doug E. Fresh’s surrealist Fruit Loop masterpiece “La Di Da Di,” Sugar Hill Gang’s stanky food classic “Rapper’s Delight” and Grand Master Flash and Furious Five’s pop-locking robot jam “Scorpio.”

Volume 2: With “Going Back to Cali,” LL Cool J cemented the purring stud-boy image he would take to the bank. Not as macho and very particular to this inimitable period was Dana Dane, who employed a fake British accent borrowed from homey Slick Rick. Dane’s “Cinderfella” is a fairy tale where Dane plays an abused stepchild who woos a princess with his fly duds. Less essential is Tim Dog’s now forgotten “F**k Compton,” the beginning of West and East coast turf squabbles.

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Volume 3: An edited version of N.W.A’s “F**k Tha Police” is lacking some of its swagger. No one ever said “fuck” as furiously as Ice Cube, and these CDs are all “fuck”-less and “nigga”-less, though “fags” and “bitches” remain. Digital Underground arrived around the same time as De La Soul with a similar out-of-left-field vibe. It was not long till goofy themed dances like Digital Underground’s “Humpty Dance” and Joeski Love’s “Pee Wee’s Dance” disappeared. Bring that shit back.

Volume 4: Did MCs really call girls “crabs,” as UTFO’s Kangol Kid does on “Roxanne Roxanne”? Elsewhere, Kurtis Blow’s style of enunciating words like he’s rapping to a deaf person who’s trying to read his lips is the very essence of old school. As part of a skit in “8 Million Stories,” we’re encouraged to picture Blow randomly bumping into Run-DMC on the streets of New York, where they start rapping about the plight of a pregnant teen. Also on this disc, Run-DMC’s “Sucker MCs” should have convinced foolz in “bad Calvin Kleins” to stop biting rhymes permanently, but the biters will never give it a rest.

Volume 5: Rabbis were always hatin’ on Public Enemy, especially P.E.’s outspoken minister of information, Professor Griff, while their teenage kids were all jumping up and down on their beds to “Bring the Noize.” Showcased here on the song “Fat Boys,” the Fat Boys’ Human Beat Box was the flyest beat box of the era. He possessed the savoir-faire.

Volume 6: Coming correct with the clientele: Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, whose “New York, New York” is an astute, class-conscious tale of a fellow trying to get the fuck out the ghetto; Spoonie Gee’s slick-as-Afro-grease “The Godfather”; Eric B. & Rakim’s Shogun-warrior-cool “My Melody”; Boogie Down Productions’ bewildering vegetarian manifesto “My Philosophy”; and Biz Markie’s touching and probably very authentic “Just a Friend,” wherein he gets dissed by a girlie.

Volume 7: After a radioactive asteroid landed in the South Bronx in 1982, Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force’s “Planet Rock” went on to influence the fairly tiny hip-hop atmosphere of the time with its laser-guided, stupid-fresh electro-funk. Likely produced in an elementary-school science fair, this groundbreaking tune brought interstellar finesse to dudes strolling down the avenue lugging giant boom boxes.

Volume 8: A former bona fide criminal mixed up with a little bit of Edward James Olmos–style righteousness, Ice-T likely begat gangsta rap on his early records leading up to his smash “Colors,” which had more zing than the Sean Penn film it accompanied. It’s not right that perhaps the most enduring song of this period is Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It,” while the leaf-strewn pleasures of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check the Rhyme,” Schoolly D’s “Gucci Time” and especially De La Soul’s “Buddy” are like misplaced daydreams.

Volumes 9 & 10: On “Have a Nice Day,” Roxanne Shante disses KRS-One, saying he should “go on vacation” and that his name sounds “like a wack radio station,” but there may never again be a rap song as quaint, giddy and sweet as this one. Audio Two’s hip-hop career was as brief as Falco’s, though their hit “Top Billin’?” is a visceral kick in the jimmy, like mixing Pop Rocks with Magnum malt liquor.

Volumes 11 & 12: Biz Markie’s “Vapors” is about folks frontin’ like “this girl named Fran, the type of female with fly Gucci wear,” who wouldn’t pay fellow MC T.J. Swan no mind until he started sportin’ the “fly Valli boots.” Then shit changed. In 1986, Mantronix (represented on Volume 11 with “Fresh Is the Word”) sounded like the distant frontier of hip-hop, but rap’s future would not in any way resemble Mantronix’s now-prehistoric, Donkey Kong-esque computer farts.

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