1/31/24

Rakim's Clothing Line, Urban Expedition


Two Rakim weeks ago, I covered Rakim's Rap City appearance, on which he promoted his clothing company, UBX.  About that: UBX stood for Urban Expedition. Rather than an independent clothing brand owned by Rakim, UBX was a label created by I.C. Isaacs & Company, Inc., a jeans and sportwear company founded in 1913. From then until the 1980s, the company primarily sold riding wear for the horse racing industry. In the 1980s, they were purchased by investors, started selling general men's and women's apparel, and made their way into J.C. Penney department stores. It was around this time that they also acquired Boss. By 1996, Boss become their best-selling line, accounting for more than 70% of annual sales. The acquisitions continued piling up, and in September 1999, I.C. Isaacs & Company announced the launch of UBX, an overt attempt to cash in on the streetwear trend that helped fuel Boss' rise. Or, as CEO Robert Arno put it, "The launch of Urban Expedition gives us the opportunity to capitalize on what we do best, providing style-conscious customers with cutting-edge fashions. By offering up-scale streetwear collections under a fresh new brand, we have an opportunity to capture a share of the audience who appreciates fashion-forward urban styling." The company hired Rakim to promote the line and even threw a party with Universal Records in November 1999 at NYC’s Metronome Restaurant & Lounge to celebrate the UBX launch along with the release of The Master. Also on the night's agenda: a preview of the Nelson George documentary A Great Day In Hip-Hop.

The only problem was that I.C. Isaacs was already running into financial trouble, had been since going public a couple years prior. UBX was discontinued in 2001. By 2011, I.C. Isaacs had completely divested from manufacturing and changed its name to Passport Brands Inc. 

Above: a selection of vintage UBX jackets, shirts and jeans floating around the resale market in recent years. Still unlocated: the Funkmaster Flex Great Day In Hip-Hop mix, a snippet of which accompanied the Rakim promo CD single handed out as an invite to The Master/UBX launch party.

Your Forecaster: Rakim (As Told by Art Of Noise)

Art of Noise were big in New York in the 1980s. How big? Getting played in clubs big, no doubt. But also pre-record-deal Public Enemy rapping over their songs big, Harry Allen doing spoken word sermons over their songs big. Did those WBAU airings make their way across the pond back then? Rakim definitely did. See: the UK-smash Coldcut remix to "Paid in Full." From there, Coldcut starts Ninja Tune. Ninja Tune begets trip-hop. And when Art of Noise return from a nine-year hiatus with Lol Creme (yes, that Lol Creme) in tow for high-concept comeback album The Seduction of Claude Debussy, it's Rakim, they ping to provide lead vocals on lead single "Metaforce."


Rakim had previously collaborated with Art Of Noise producer Trevor Horn on 1998's "Buffalo Gals (Back to School)," a reworking of Malcom McLaren and the World Famous Supreme Team's 1983 classic, and it's there that today's brief oral history lesson begins. 

Trevor Horn: "He remembered all the early hip-hop stuff I’d done with Malcolm McLaren like ‘Hobo Scratch’ but told me his favourite track was ‘Moments In Love.’"

Ann Dudley: "As soon as Rakim came up with the immortal rhyme 'Aerodynamic in the Evening Air' we knew that we had it!"

Paul Morley: "We just sent Rakim some information, thinking it wouldn't mean much to him, and he did this fabulous rap, throwing things out of context all over the shop."

Dudley: "He was very interested in it – the whole idea of what we were doing."

Morley: "We sent him this big raft of stuff about Charles Baudelaire, who’s one of my favorite poets. It was kind of interesting because one of the thrills of the whole thing was that he totally got inside the spirit of the record and didn’t lop anything on top of it that came from his world. [He] went inside what we were trying to do with the record and gave it something that then inspired us to cover other areas as well. It was a fabulous thing that he did. There’s some great images in there."

Dudley: "It seemed like Rakim represented the modern poet, the poet at the end of the 20th century, rapping about Charles Baudelaire, the poet at the end of the 19th century, and I've never heard those sort of rhymes in a rap."

Morley: "It was a wonderful moment. It’s like 'Splatter my wisdom in a design,' is a great way to describe painting. We were absolutely thrilled."


Sources
"The Noise are back in town," The Guardian, June 20, 1999; "Art of Noise makes a new impression with 'Debussy,'" CNN, September 27, 1999; "The Art Of Noise: Do You Dream in Color?" Ink19, October 15, 1999; "Anne Dudley and Paul Morley discuss The Art Of Noise," Chaos Control Digizine, 1999; "Does Rock ‘N’ Roll Kill Braincells?! – Trevor Horn," NME, November 11, 2021.

Additional reading: "Somebody Down There Loathes Me," The Observer, August 31, 2002; "The Velvet Revolution of Claude Debussy," The New Yorker, October 22, 2018.

1/30/24

Marley Marl's "My Melody" Remixes

Imagine you're Marley Marl. Eric B. has brought to your home studio an unknown 17-year-old Long Islander calling himself Rakim. The kid doesn't sound like any rapper you've ever heard. He's not putting much energy into this, won't get up from the couch. Shan comes in and has the same reaction. Matter of fact, the kid's like an anti-Shan. "Just let me finish doing what I'm doing," he says. So you do. And well, it's something. You don't know what, but something. The kid leaves, and you play it on the radio, and the lines blow up. Who was that? What was that? And now you get it. And you proceed to replay and remix it over and over for no less than a year.

1/29/24

More Than Friends: "A Variety of Party People in Unity"

"Friends," Jody Watley's hit single with Eric B. & Rakim, is known as the first R&B-rap crossover to achieve commercial success. To my ears, the song skates the lines between those genres and house music. Indeed, like most of Watley's hits, it landed on the Dance charts. The song's video, directed by Jim Sonzero, captures its broad appeal. "The video notably blends b-boys, drag queens, and a variety of party people in unity for a good time capturing a slice of New York nightlife at the time," Watley says. "Fabulous and street in its realness without pandering, being contrived or sending a negative message, certain stereotypes or coonery. Proud." 

That theme also comes out with the aptly titled, club friendly "Friends" Unity mix produced by André Cymone. However, there's another remix that deserves note in the annals of Long Island hip-hop history. I'm talking about the Extended Version, produced by Hank Shocklee, Eric Sadler, and Paul Shabazz of the Bomb Squad. Shocklee would, of course, later team with Eric B. & Rakim for "Juice (Know the Ledge)," one of the duo's biggest and final hits. But the "Friends" Extended Version is, I believe, the first release on which we can hear Rakim rapping over Bomb Squad production in all its deconstructive kinetic glory. 

Years after Eric B. and Rakim disbanded, the God MC would again collaborate with Watley for the remix to "Off the Hook," the lead single from her 1998 album Flower. The producer of that remix is D-Dot, another name that should be familiar to hip-hop heads, if for very different reasons. By the time "Off the Hook" released, practically every successful R&B album had at least one rap collaboration and vice versa. If "Friends" started the trend, Bad Boy Records' Deric "D-Dot" Angelettie helped to make it the formula for crossover success. While "Off the Hook" might not be as remembered in hip-hop circles, it still managed to hit number-one on the Dance charts. And it also provided Rakim the opportunity to reflect on his prior collaboration with Watley. "At the time, we didn't even realize what was going on," he told MTV News. "I wasn't sure our people was gonna accept it, everybody feeling me like one of the hardcore artists. But then ... it blew up."

One more deep cut while we're on the topic of Jody Watley: Those familiar with her full body of work know that she first rose to stardom as a member of Shalamar. The funk group has been sampled by all manner of rap producers. Whether Eric B. & Rakim ever made use of their records, I can't say. However, I can say that Hempstead rapper True Mathematics' 1988 single "For the Lover in You" is essentially a rap version of the Shalamar's 1980 track "This Is for the Lover In You," and in a final cherry-on-top-kind-of moment for this post, it's produced by none other than Hank Shocklee, Carl Ryder, and Eric Sadler. Hit the playlist below for all the above and then some.

1/28/24

(Completely un)officially licensed Rakim football post

Today is Rakim's 56th birthday. And falling on Sunday this year, it's the beginning of Long Island Rap's 10th (!) annual Rakim week. It's also, I gather, a day of some consequence in football. Below, Rakim, Ed Lover, and former Giants linebacker Carl Banks talk about Rakim's high school football years and the Starter brand among other topics, plus more football-affiliated Rakim content: the "Rice Returns" webisode for All-Pro Football 2K8 and the DJ Z-Trip-produced remix to "Let the Rhythm Hit 'Em" from the game's soundtrack.


 

1/24/24

PlusNone & Marlo DeMore - Imported Diesel


I first heard Marlo DeMore going on 10 years ago. I had just started this site and was searching Soundcloud for music to write about. Lo and behold, here was a rapper living around the way from where I grew up, and he had a show coming up at the pool hall I used to hang out at every weekend. The pool hall I used to hang out at every weekend did rap shows, what? A kid named Theravada also performed. It was a great show. A good time was had by all. Today, Imported Diesel dropped. Also today, I'm married to a beautiful woman who's my best friend and a physicist. We own a house in Lido Beach about a half mile from the Atlantic Ocean. It has a pool, too. All my enemies are dead, truly. 

1/19/24

Nikmoody - "Say It Twice" ft. Marlo DeMore

Most everybody can appreciate art that's so bad it's good, or at least we can all appreciate this being a thing. What now concerns me is the opposite. What about art that's so good it's bad? Not bad as in good, but bad-bad, awful, sucking hard. Today, I watched The Whale and concluded that this too is a thing. The Whale is a brilliant film. Anyone who says they enjoyed watching it is a liar or masochist. The Whale is like The Witch if it were set in a condominium and centered around food and Moby Dick instead of a goat and the devil. The Whale is so good I almost made myself watch Sound of Freedom afterward as a palate cleanser. I'm not saying The Cypher Tape, Nikmoody's album with 50 rappers on it, is so good it's bad. But the thought occurs. Anyway, here's the song with Marlo on it. Nikmoody has an EP called Rabbit's Foot coming January 31. Marlo DeMore has one called Imported Diesel coming January 24 (release party Jan. 26).

1/9/24

KAD - KADZLAB TAPE TWO

From Metal Face Akademy bomb shelter rubble rise a new crop of villainous rabble rousers. There's a Bronx-based self-proclaimed bot acting as such, launching album promotions as daily spam attacks, with no fewer than two more bombardments to come. And now here comes doom legionnaire KAD, riding the drive-in theatre intermission wave to concession stand infamy. Does he get in a few good licks?  Do prison reform programs channel car thieves to tow truck companies?

12/7/23

Armand Hammer & JPEGMAFIA - My Thoughts On Barbarians Dying

Extrasensory perception is just extra-sensitive hearing, the ability to tap someone's subvocalization, i.e,. thought patterning its way to speech. Ever go to a rap show and feel like you knew all the words to a song even though you'd only heard it once or twice? Or never? Ever rap along to a song's first performance? Of course, this could go the other way, too—a much more common occurrence I'd imagine. ROME is my favorite album of all time. "Barbarians" runs neck and neck with "Pakistani Brain" for my favorite song on my favorite album of all time. A fun little aside here: one time in Minneapolis, when Armand Hammer was supporting Ceschi, they opened with "Pakistani Brain" (as they often did for a stretch), and I forgot the opening lines to woods' first verse three times in a row. Living out there, imagining some rivalry between Minnesota and Wisconsin sports teams, I kept wanting to jump into "Whitey swept through like Green Bay," the beginning of his second verse. I believe I only made the mistake aloud once. But I digress. One might could say the way "Barbarians" bled into "Overseas" set the stage for the sequencing of every Armand Hammer album thereafter. It also made putting together this blend of "Barbarians" and "My Thoughts On Neogaf Dying" significantly more challenging than it sounds. In celebration of Peggy's placements all over We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, a phenomenal musical reunion, albeit one potentially overshadowed by DJ Stitches' involvement with the WBDTS Players, here's that blend. After after you might be surprised who’d clap, who scattered, who’d survive, who captured, with the Jew in the rafters. Free every goddamn body. Happy Chanukah.

11/27/23

KILLKURT - KURT MUST DIE 3

Just because you're paranoid do[es]n't mean they're not after you. The best freestyles ever recorded likely live only in a megamarket corporate office's Google Drive folder labeled surveillance footage. May a sentient language model one day learn from it to unironically obsolete another executive position. Get rich and dine tyrant, the most dangerous game. In this sense, KURT MUST DIE 3 recalls an anecdote, mysteriously wiped from the internet, about Marx and Engels walking the streets of London. Passing some royal estate or another, Engels says imagine, one day nobody will live like this anymore, to which Marx goes nah, bro, everyone's going to live like this, like, that's the whole point.