You've likely never heard of A.W., but he's a Zelig-like figure who was there every step of the way during the West Coast hip-hop glory years of the '80s and '90s.
The man born Anthony Williams knew Ice-T "when he was stealing cars," palled around with Dr. Dre in his pre-NWA days when he was performing at Willowbook club Eve After Dark, and fended off Suge Knight's blood-thirsty German shepherd at Death Row Records.
He also helped birth the genre itself on our coast.
Along with an impresario named Duffy Hooks III, he launched Rappers Rapp Disco, which spawned the hip-hop song regarded as the first from the West Coast to get airplay, Disco Daddy and Captain Rapp's "The Gigolo Rapp," which you can hear below.
The 1981 track is so old that folks hadn't even decided how to spell "rap" yet.
He and Duffy also helped establish a viable national distribution network for local hip-hop music, which doesn't sound sexy, but was critical in helping L.A. artists establish themselves.
On Sunday at the Los Angeles Convention Center, Williams hosts the seventh annual West Coast Hip-Hop Awards, honoring Tupac, Nate Dogg, and Eazy-E. Scheduled live performances include Too $hort, Spice 1 and Kokane.
Ahead of the show, we talked to A.W. about early West Coast rap.
I've heard that, in the early days, West Coast hip-hop was disrespected as "party music."
New York did not respect West Coast artists. They didn’t respect the early rap from the West Coast, and they didn't respect Death Row. [Eventually] they were kind of jealous that the West Coast took over.
What kind of music were they playing at Eve After Dark when you used to go?
They played R&B, disco, [funk]. The music from that era included Cameo, Parliament Funkadelic, Foxy, Brass Construction…
And Dre would spin this kind of music?
Yeah, it had an R&B and disco kind of feel.
Was Dre regarded as the best performer there?
Yeah. He and The Unknown DJ was neck and neck. DJ Yella was also there, and he was good, but Dre started doing his own mixes. At that time the premier DJ in Los Angeles was Egyptian Lover, and he would be scratching on, like, five turntables [at once].
So, Dre was scratching over R&B music?
Yeah! It wasn’t hard. The big bad R&B era is what fueled the party rap era of the West Coast.
You know, without Cameo, without Kool and the Gang, without Rick James, without Chic, there would be no West Coast rap. Without James Brown there would be no West Coast rap movement, because these are the records that our parents played. We grew up on this.
So these were the records that we danced to, that we were pop-locking to, and then the rap era came second. The pop-locking and all that came in the late ‘70s. Then party rap came in, right behind. We used Rick James’ song “Give It to Me, Baby” on "Gigolo Rap."
Do you think the West Coast had a "chip on their shoulder" mentality?
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Oh yeah. From ‘81 forward we were told that West Coast rap was not real rap. Stations in New York like WBLS would never play our records.
A lot of West Coast artists couldn’t tour on the East Coast. Most of the West Coast tours were in California, Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Oregon. I don’t care how big you were on the West Coast, those were your boundaries.