On this day in music history: March 18, 1983 – The hip hop documentary film “Wild Style” is officially released in US theaters. Written, produced and directed by Charlie Ahern and released through First Run Features, the film is one of the first to document the different aspects of New York underground Hip Hop/B-boy subculture including graffiti writing, MC’ing, DJ’ing and break dancing. It features a number of important and seminal figures to the movement including Fab 5 Freddy, The Cold Crush Brothers, The Rock Steady Crew, Grandmaster Flash, Busy Bee, Grandmixer DST (now known as DXT), and Lee Quinones. The accompanying soundtrack album (originally released on Animal/Chrysalis Records and produced by Ahern and Fab 5 Freddy) features many of the artists seen in the film (additional pieces by Grandmaster Caz and Chris Stein of Blondie) and becomes a musical cornerstone and often sampled part of rap in the years that follow. The original single LP is reissued by Beyongolia Records in 1998 as a double LP set (with extra tracks) in a gatefold sleeve, and as a further expanded edition for its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2008 by Rhino Records. Rhino also releases the film on VHS and later on DVD. “Wild Style” attains a major cult following over the years, and is recognized by the Museum Of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Institute Of Contemporary Art of Boston and the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for its ongoing cultural importance and significance.
On this day in music history: March 14, 1995 – “Me Against The World”, the third album by 2Pac is released. Produced by Easy Mo Bee, Sam Bostic, D-Flizno Production Squad, Brian G, Shock G, Johnny “J”, Mike Mosley, Tony Pizarro, Soulshock & Karlin, Le-morrious “Funky Drummer” Tyler and Moe Z.M.D., it is recorded at Enterprise Studios in Burbank, CA, Soundcastle Studios in Hollywood, CA, Pure Studios in San Diego, CA, Unique Recording Studios, Quad Recording Studios in New York City, Mobboss Studios in Oakland, CA, Westlake Audio and Echo Sound Studios in Los Angeles, CA from Late 1993 – Mid 1994. Coming off the success of his first Platinum selling album “Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z.”, various incidents in the prolific rapper and actor’s personal life during 1993 and 1994 threaten to upend his career, but does not slow down his creativity. The tone of the material 2pac’s third release is more personal and introspective than the previous two, dealing with his struggles growing up and the ones he faces during its creation. The album is led by the single “Dear Mama” (#1 Rap, #3 R&B, #9 Pop), written for and dedicated to Tupac’s mother, former Black Panther and political activist Afeni Shakur. The single becomes 2Pac’s biggest hit to date, and in 2010 is selected for preservation by the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress, becoming only the third hip hop single to receive that honor. It also spins off two other singles including “So Many Tears” (#6 Rap, #21 R&B, #44 Pop) and “Temptations” (#13 Rap, #35 R&B, #68 Pop). The album enters the R&B and pop album charts at number one while Tupac is serving time in prison, making him the first artist to ever have a chart topping album while incarcerated. The album is regarded by many as one of 2Pac’s best and most personal works. “Me Against The World” spends four weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart and Top 200, and is certified 3x Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 11, 1989 – “Just Coolin’” by LeVert Featuring Heavy D. hits #1 on the Billboard R&B singles chart for 1 week. Written by Gerald Levert, Sean Levert and Marc Gordon, it is the third chart topping single for the R&B vocal trio from Canton, OH. Having scored their second R&B chart topper and biggest pop hit with the proto-new jack swing flavored “Casanova”, also driving the accompanying album “The Big Throwdown” past Gold status, expectations are high for Levert to continue their string of hits on the next release. Lead singer Gerald Levert comes up with the initial idea for what becomes the title track of their fourth album. With the phrase “just coolin’” part of then current vernacular of the time, Levert decides to write a song around it. Showing it to fellow group member and songwriting partner Marc Gordon, the pair build the track from the drum pattern up. Once the song is finished, they decide that a guest star on the record would be a nice touch. The group ask rapper Heavy D. if he would be in collaborating with them, and he readily agrees. One of the first R&B/Hip Hop hybrid records, it is released as the third single from “Just Coolin’” in January of 1989, quickly becoming an R&B radio smash. The success of “Just Coolin’” not only brings LeVert their second Gold album, but spawns many imitators in its wake. Well into the 90’s and beyond, numerous R&B records with rappers adding a verse or two, become part of the musical landscape and aid in easing hip hop’s acceptance into the mainstream of R&B music.
On this day in music history: March 10, 1989 – “Buffalo Stance” by Neneh Cherry is released. Written by Neneh Cherry, Cameron McVey, Jamie Morgan and Phillip Ramacon, it is the debut single and biggest hit for the singer and songwriter from Stockholm, Sweden. Born Neneh Mariann Karlsson to a Swedish artist mother (Monica “Moki” Karlsson) and West African musician father (Ahmadu Jah), not long after her birth parents split, her mother marries American jazz musician Don Cherry. Adopting Neneh as a baby and taking his surname, the family move to the US when her stepfather accepts a teaching position at Dartmouth College. When Cherry is fourteen, she drops out of school and moves to London forming a punk band called The Cherries. Squatting in an abandoned flat in South West London with her friends and band mates, she performs with several bands including The Slits, The Nails, Rip, Rig & Panic and the New Age Steppers. In 1986, Neneh duets with Matt Johnson of The The on the track “Slow Train To Dawn”, during which time she meets her future husband Cameron “Booga Bear” McVey. Becoming a couple and musical collaborators, the pair work with producers Stock, Aitken & Waterman, and musician/photographer Jamie J. Morgan on a single called “Looking Good Diving” under the name Morgan-McVey in 1987. The B-side “Looking Good Diving With The Wild Bunch” features Neneh on lead vocals. Though it isn’t successful, it becomes the genesis of her breakthrough hit. “Buffalo Stance” makes reference to “Buffalo”, a collective of musicians, singer, models, photographers, hair and make up artists formed by Scottish make up artist Ray Petri. The “stance” refers to posing for a photo shoot. Neneh and Cameron remake the track with Tim Simenon of Bomb The Bass and producer Mark Saunders (The Cure, Erasure). Much funkier and edgier than its earlier incarnation, the half rapped, half sung song is given even more of a Hip Hop flavor with Simenon adding scratching and drop ins of Malcolm McLaren’s “Buffalo Gals”, The Rock Steady Crew’s “Hey You” and the sax break from Miami’s “Chicken Yellow”. Released by Virgin Records in the UK in November of 1988, “Buffalo Stance” takes off quickly, bolstered by an appearance on Top Of The Pops. At the time, Cherry is seven months pregnant with her son Tyson which attracts further media attention. The single is a big hit, peaking at #3 on the UK singles chart and becomes a smash across Europe. Generating major buzz as an import on US dance floors, it is released stateside and follows a similar trajectory when MTV begins playing the video. “Buffalo Stance” matches its UK chart peak, hitting #3 on the Hot 100 on June 24, 1989, topping the US Club Play chart and peaking at #30 on the R&B chart. The single and accompanying album “Raw Like Sushi” establish Neneh Cherry on a worldwide basis, also earning a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist in 1990. “Buffalo Stance” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 8, 1994 – “Hard To Earn”, the fourth album by Gang Starr is released. Produced by DJ Premier and Guru, it is recorded at D&D Recording Studios in New York City from Mid 1992, Mid – Late 1993. Following the back to back acclaim of their first two major label releases “Step In The Arena” and “Daily Operation”, Gang Starr’s fourth album is a musical departure from their previous work, featuring a harder edged and more stripped down sound. It features guest appearances from the Gang Starr Foundation collective including Jeru Tha Damaja, Group Home, and Big Shug as well as Nice & Smooth. The album is also Gang Starr’s first to carry a parental advisory sticker. It spins off four singles including “Mass Appeal” (#10 Rap, #42 R&B, #67 Pop), “Code Of The Streets” (#33 Rap, #83 R&B), “Suckas Need Bodyguards” (#44 Rap), and “DWYCK” (Featuring Nice & Smooth) (#25 Rap). Initially released on a limited basis on vinyl along with the original CD and cassette formats, it is reissued as a UK import in 2001. A domestic US reissue on 180 gram vinyl follows in 2014. “Hard To Earn” peaks at number two on the Billboard R&B album chart, and number twenty five on the Top 200.
On this day in music history: March 7, 1987 – “Licensed To Ill”, the debut album by the Beastie Boys hits #1 on the Billboard Top 200 for 7 weeks, also peaking at #2 on the R&B album chart. Produced by Rick Rubin and the Beastie Boys, it is recorded at Chung King House Of Metal in New York City, from Early 1985 – Late 1986. Combining stripped down beats with Hip Hop and rock samples, it is one of the main catalysts in crossing rap music and Hip Hop culture over into mainstream pop culture. The album spin off six singles including “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)” and “Brass Monkey”. The albums iconic cover art by David Gambale (aka “World B. Omes”) features an illustration of a 727 jet crashing into the side of a mountain. On tail end of the plane is the aircraft registration number “3MTA3”, which is actually an in-joke that when viewed in a mirror reads “EAT ME”. An instant smash upon its release, it becomes one of the fastest selling debut albums of all time, selling over a million copies in its first two weeks of release. The album makes further history in the 90’s as a catalog title. Following the Beasties resurgence in popularity after the releases of “Check Your Head” and “Ill Communication”, “Licensed To Ill” begins selling again at an unprecedented rate for catalog rap album. When Def Jam changes distribution from Sony Music to Polygram in 1994, it sells between 500,000 and 800,000 copies a year for the next five years. “Licensed To Ill” is certified 10x Platinum in the US by the RIAA, earning a Diamond Certification.
On this day in music history: March 3, 1989 – “3 Feet High And Rising”, the debut album by De La Soul is released. Produced by Prince Paul, it is recorded at Calliope Studios in New York from Early 1988 – Early 1989. Hailing from Amityville, Long Island, NY, the rap trio featuring Posdnuos (Kelvin Mercer), Trugoy The Dove (David Jolicoeur) and DJ Pasemaster Mase (Vincent Mason) along with Stetsasonic DJ Prince Paul producing, create one of the “masterworks of Hip Hop”. Titled “3 Feet High And Rising” after a lyric in the Johnny Cash song “Five Feet High and Rising” (sampled on “The Magic Number”), it eschews the normal variety of James Brown/R&B based samples, and typical B-Boy lyrical style and posturing. With its wide range of innovative and quirky sampling, combined with often humorous and thought provoking lyrics, changes the face of rap music and broadens its audience. An immediate critical and commercial success, it spins off five singles including “Me, Myself & I” (#1 R&B, #1 Club Play, #34 Pop). “Say No Go” (#32 R&B, #3 Club Play) and “Buddy” (#18 R&B, #27 Club Play). The colorful dayglo cover and inner sleeve artwork, is created by artists Toby Mott and Paul Spencer of the Grey Organisation (GO) British art collective. The album is remastered and reissued as a two CD deluxe edition in 2001. Originally issued on a single vinyl LP in 1989, it is reissued as a double LP set. In 2010, the album is named to the registry of the National Recording Preservation Board by the Library Of Congress. In 2014, De La Soul make their entire back catalog available free on the internet to fans. The group make the move when then master rights holder WMG (Warner Music Group), does not make it available online. The impasse is due to De La’s original contract with Tommy Boy not including the rights for digital streaming. As of this writing, De La’s back catalog is now back with Tommy Boy. The label announces in February of 2019, that it will make it available for online streaming. Though Tommy Boy does this without making sure all samples are cleared (to protect the group from potential lawsuits), or renegotiating De La Soul’s contract to give them a fair share of royalties. Claiming that they still owe over $2 million in unrecouped advances and other fees, De La Soul is offered only a 10% royalty on digital streaming, while Tommy Boy receives 90%. Due to negative public outcry, the label immediately postpones the digital release De La’s catalog, until the matter is properly settled. To commemorate its thirtieth anniversary, “3 Feet High” receives a limited edition vinyl pressing through the subscription service Vinyl Me, Please in March of 2019. The VMP release is pressed on clear multi-colored splatter vinyl. “3 Feet And Rising” spends five weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B album chart, peaking at number twenty four on the Top 200, and is certified Platinum in the US by the RIAA.
On this day in music history: March 3, 1987 – “Criminal Minded”, the debut album by Boogie Down Productions is released. Produced by Scott La Rock, Ced-Gee and KRS-One, it is recorded at Bayside Sound, Power Play Studios in Queens, NY and Tone Zone Studios in Elhurst, NY from Early – Late 1986. The seminal rap album quickly makes an impact in the New York Hip Hop community, anchored by DJ Scott La Rock and Ced-Gee’s (of Ultramagnetic MC’s) production and Blastmaster KRS-One’s hard hitting lyrics and delivery. The album spins off several singles including the classics “The Bridge Is Over” (chronicling the fierce rivalry between BDP and The Juice Crew), “Poetry” and the title track. Though it sells over 500,000 initially, the group sees very little in the way of royalties which lead to them suing their label B-Boy Records and leaving for Jive Records. After the initial release of “Criminal Minded”, B-Boy Records issues version featuring instrumental mixes of the entire LP, subtitled the “Hot-Club Version” with different sleeve artwork. A third album titled “A Man & His Music” is released after the death of DJ Scott La Rock in 1988. A fifteen track double vinyl LP, and featuring a photo of La Rock on the front cover, the set contains remixes of the “Criminal Minded” album. During periods when it falls out of print, it is heavily bootlegged as its reputation and status as a Hip Hop classic grows during the 90’s and beyond. The album is reissued numerous times over the years, with the master rights changing hands between Warlock, Sugarhill, Landspeed Records and most recently Traffic Group Entertainment. Besides vinyl, CD and cassette (the latter by Get On Down Records), TGE issues the full album as five 7" single box set in 2014. “Criminal Minded” peaks at number seventy three on the Billboard R&B album chart.