DJ Scott La Rock, Blastmaster KRS One & D-Nice, South Bronx (1986)

ScottLaRockBDP_south-bronx

Artist: DJ Scott La Rock, Blastmaster KRS One & D-Nice
Title: South Bronx
Description: single; album track, Criminal Minded
Label: B-Boy
Release date: 1986; 1987
First heard: 1987

Many people tell me this style is terrific …

I vividly remember back in 1982, a friend who was a couple of years older and had left school to work in Our Price in the town centre, Alan, brandished an import 12-inch by somebody called Afrika Bambaata. As he excitedly placed it on the spindle of my record player, he confirmed it to be the future of all recorded music. Planet Rock certainly sounded big, bold and different, albeit a bit fuzzy and not entirely to my taste at the time. (I was only just getting my head around Kraftwerk.) I must say though, Alan was a prophet.

It took me until 1986-87 for my own tectonic plates to shift. It was in this tumultuous period that I really went apeshit for hip-hop, a new-to-me genre that had been shaped by Afrika Bambaata when I was still at school. A graduate now, I wasn’t exactly flush, but I was living in a flat, eating boil-in-the-bag meals-for-one and spending my spare cash on Street Sounds Electro compilations, each of which, clearly numbered, acted as a vital, hit-and-miss primer into, well, street sounds. Catching up with this vast series which, thanks to the import acumen of label boss Morgan Khan, had been paving the UK dance scene since 1982, gave me a sense of purpose. John Peel played hip-hop, too, as questing as any of us schooled in rock about this vibrant, politically-charged American block party music (whatever block parties were).

I first heard South Bronx on Peel. Because I was carefully taping anything that sounded promising, I was able to play this tune until the magnetic layer wore off – although I never actually purchased it, and it wasn’t on any of the Street Sounds LPs I bought during that spree. I’d cut off the intro, in which Scott La Rock, KRS One and D-Nice politely introduce each other (“What’s up Blastmaster?” “Yo, what up, D-Nice?” etc.), so I had no real idea who was rapping and who was DJ-ing or if either of them was MC-ing or perhaps even toasting. Indeed, I had Scott La Rock down as the main rapper, as his name came first. And I didn’t really know where Boogie Down Productions came into it. I’ll tell you what I did know, though: South Bronx was as riveting a piece of music I’d heard in years.

A disarmingly simple staccato horn signature (da-da-da-da-da) announces a primitive, spidery beat with a drum-fill so Teutonically synthetic it’s almost comical, the sparse arrangement punctuated with single sampled notes, over which our three unidentified cheerleaders chant, “South Bronx, the South, South Bronx, South Bronx!” It is where you’re from and where you’re at. I had no context for this bulletin from what I didn’t know were the “Bridge Wars”, a fairly typical internecine hip-hop feud between the South Bronx and Queensbridge. Verbal border skirmishes were described in the rap, although this is an “answer song”, so I was coming in long after it had started (with Marley Marl and MC Shan’s The Bridge), to whit: “So you think that hip-hop had its start out in Queensbridge? If you popped that junk up in the Bronx you might not live.” Drum fill. Chant.

My reaction then was my reaction to much subsequent hip-hop: it was like watching an exciting film set in an urban part of the world I would be unlikely ever to visit. It was laced with threat, danger and deprivation (“Instead of trying to take out LL, you need to take your homeboys off the crack”), and seemed to tell a potted history of the musical form, name-checking Afrika and Flash, whom I already knew. I used my imagination to fill in the blanks.

B-boys gettin’ blown away, but coming outside anyway …

My planet was rocked. I subsequently learned that Scott La Rock was in fact the supple-wristed DJ of the outfit when I read of his death by gunshot, aged 25, in the NME. (The NME was all over hip-hop, and I remain grateful for the education.) The rapper whose rhymes I had so righteously and whiteously learned and parroted was KRS One (“the holder of a boulder, money folder”). The habit of rappers to rap about themselves in the first person made it a minefield without a Brodie’s Notes. Their braggadocio was new to me. None of the singers I’d admired sang about how great they were at singing, or threatening to kill singers from other bands. Call me shallow, call me a colonial, but I was electrified by the whole thing. La Rock and KRS wielded firearms on the album sleeve – an unhappy landmark for the genre, apparently – but I never had the album.

I arrived at the NME in 1988, wearing a baseball cap, but one with the Age Of Chance logo on it, as I’d welcomed the white, British indie rappers into my life with arms flung wide, and would witness Pop Will Eat Itself being coined offstage by a predominantly black audience at Brixton Academy before that year was out. It was a vexing time, but never dull.

Not all old-skool hip-hop stands the test of time. I retain a soft spot for the comedy of Doug E Fresh and the lack of self-consciousness about those early samples of Bugs Bunny, and I sometimes hanker after the sheer pioneering simplicity of much of what was on the Street Sounds LPs in the prelapsarian pre-Gangsta years: Whodini, Mantronik, Kid Frost, Roxanne Shanté, Newcleus, UTFO, early Run-DMC … so much treasure, but none more valuable than South Bronx, the South, South Bronx, South Bronx, the South, South Bronx.

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4 thoughts on “DJ Scott La Rock, Blastmaster KRS One & D-Nice, South Bronx (1986)

  1. I came to hip-hop in about ’86 thanks to Peel and one or two Gil Scott-Heron and Melle Mel (et al) records my brother had. But I had hardly any cash until I went to uni a couple of years later – so I heard and indeed taped a lot more of that electro stuff than I ever owned. I caught what I suppose was the tail end of the Street Sounds compilations – by the time I had serious money to spend on records, everything was getting a UK release anyway. I remember walking into town to buy Eric B & Rakim’s Follow The Leader 12″ even though I had a Chemistry A-Level exam that afternoon. It was my last exam but tomorrow wouldn’t do. It’s probably telling that I still consider Eric B & Rakim and Public Enemy to be “new school” and the period you’re talking about to be old school. Laughably telling probably.

    You capture very well that sense that these records were like transmissions from somewhere very else – some kind of front line, or cutting edge. I remember trying to figure out the slang and the gangs and just the whole thing. It all seemed important and vital – possibly because it kept telling me it was. I also recall trying to reconcile some of the uglier aspects of the lyrics with my middle-class UK white boy right-on politics. And as far as I could see the parts didn’t fit. Which I like to think is why I ultimately left hip-hop behind – because the gangsta stuff was just misogynistic bollocks (holding mics) – and that it wasn’t just because I got older and more boring. But it probably was the latter.

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    • I loved Follow The Leader, what furious sounds. I fully intend to add Paid In Full to The 143, by the way. It remains one of my favourite hip-hop tunes of the “old school”. I have lost touch with modern hip-hop, although so much has been blended into what they call R&B, it’s hard to recognise it as a form. I loved the Wu Tang Clan to the end of their tenure, as I’ve stated before, but there are very few out there of that calibre any more – at least from where I’m sitting.

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      • If I actually had a list of my top 5 bands of all time then I’m pretty sure Eric B And Rakim would be on it – I couldn’t pin them down to one LP, let alone one track. But as I said I was 18, and it’s an impressionable age. I hope there are kids out there now being similarly excited and inspired by something. I have no idea what that thing would be, but perhaps that’s inevitable.

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