It’s perhaps a bit of a departure from my normal retro topics but I wanted to focus on the subject of Hip Hop for a few posts. The main spur for this is my excitement for the upcoming NWA biopic ‘Straight Outta Compton’ which is currently in cinemas (comes out in the UK this Friday). My Hip Hop Week will culminate in a review of that movie but the other days will consist of the following…

Today – My Introduction to Rap
Tuesday – My Run DMC Top Ten
Wednesday – My Hip Hop Top Ten
Thursday – Hip Hop in other media
Friday – Review of Straight Outta Compton

You’ll realise very early on that while I have a passion for hip hop, which I’ve had for a long time, I’m by no means an expert. Far from it. You will see the gaping holes I have in my hip hop knowledge, but these are holes I’m currently trying to fill. I was partly spurred on to increase my hip hop knowledge after listening to the excellent Extra Helping Episode of the Nerd Lunch podcast with Paxton Holley from the Cavalcade of Awesome, Matt Ringler from Schlock Treatment and Tim Lybarger from The Neighbourhood Archive, where they drilled down into the topic of Run DMC.

Being a middle-class white boy from the UK, who didn’t have any friends who liked hip hop, my exposure was limited to say the least back in the 80s. The first hip hop song I heard was probably either Rapper’s Delight by the Sugarhill Gang or Walk This Way by Run DMC with Aerosmith. Following on from this for several years I was really only aware of the mainstream chart hits such as the Beastie Boys’ Fight for your Right, Ice Ice Baby from Vanilla Ice and the odd Public Enemy or LL Cool J track etc.

One reason I think I gravitated very quickly to liking hip hop was due to my stutter which was extremely bad as a child. Singing also gave me a release from the shackles of stuttering, but singing is something that you kind of have to be good at. Rapping is a different kind of skill and you don’t have to have a good singing voice in the same way. As it’s like speaking in a rhythm it managed to make my stutter disappear. I quickly learnt every single word to songs like Rapper’s Delight, Ice Ice Baby and Boom! Shake the Room (ironic because of the line about stuttering) and would often do my ‘party piece’ of rapping these songs to my friends. I still often do Ice Ice Baby for a laugh at karaoke parties to this day and do it without looking at the words in a desperate attempt to impress everyone.

I genuinely love the art form of a rap as a way of expressing yourself and I enjoy the way of speaking powerfully on a rhythm. If you want to overanalyse, perhaps another reason I enjoyed it in my youth was that the hard man image often associated with rap kind of helped me to draw confidence from that more assertive alter-ego or something like that. And although I probably only understood about 50% of the lyrics at the time I definitely liked the attitude and the irreverence that a lot of hip hop personified. I do love how Run DMC is family friendly rap that I can have on in the family home nowadays with no concerns, but I have always equally liked the no-messing gangsta rap style too. I know the subject matter isn’t something that we can directly relate to but I think it’s just like watching an action movie. It’s escapism as well as being culturally educational too. I do often wonder what it’s going to be like when my grandkids ask what kind of music I used to listen to and I play them an early Snoop Doggy Dogg track.

The turning point for me that opened my eyes to a wider world of rap was when I was about 12 or 13 years old and my older brother got hold of a couple of cassettes from a friend of his. One was the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill and the other was NWA’s Straight Outta Compton. I borrowed them and although I had to return the Beastie Boys one in a couple of weeks I managed to keep hold of the NWA one. I played that sucker to death. In many ways Straight Outta Compton was my gateway drug into a wider world.

But that wider world is still too narrow in my current eyes. I need to listen to more and I need to fill in the many gaps that I have. I don’t know much Public Enemy, I don’t know much LL Cool J, I don’t know much Tupac or Ice-T. What I do know well is NWA, Ice Cube, Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg and Eminem. I’ve got pretty much all their albums and know them well. I’ve also obviously caught all the mainstream hits from other artists but I’ve never really got into Jay-Z for some reason. And to be honest I do prefer the 80s and 90s rap scenes, and there’s a raw energy about the 80s hip hop that I love. The whole culture, the fashion, the style. I’ve always loved the whole street scene of hip hop, breakdancing, ghetto blasters, skateboarding, BMX etc. They’re all kind of related in some ways but most of them I’ve only really been able to admire from a distance. I’m determined to get into more hip hop though and it starts with these blog posts this week.

Whether you’re a rap expert or you’re intrigued to learn more, I hope you get something out of this week, and along the way if you have any suggestions for things I can add to my hip hop knowledge then please do let me know.

Tomorrow I’ll be talking about my Top Ten Run DMC tracks.