Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Godfather of Rap

Any old school head who knows their shit will hold up Spoonie Gee as one of the titan lyricists of the dawning hip-hop age. His narratives, his cleverness without forsaking his street edge. Groundbreaking classics like "Spoonin' Rap," "Love Rap" and "The New Rap Language" with The Treacherous Three. But then, it's like the story ends. Almost a flash - a strong, critical flash that forever changed the genre -  but still not much more than a flash in a form of music that was evolving at light-speed. Once Run DMC and T La Rock came, it was over for all those disco dinosaurs. But Spoonie Gee hung in there, man.

After the Sugar Hill era, CBS Records took him out for a quick spin, releasing the single "the Big Beat," but it never blew up and that was enough for them. But a smaller, indie NY label was working with CBS in those years, and wound up hanging on to Spoonie for actually quite a long time. And you can't really blame anyone for not paying much attention to all this... The production on later singles like "Street Girl" and "Get Off My Tip" would not have turned any heads in the new era of big studio product like Whodini or even The Boogie Boys, and again with Def Jam just popping up on the scene. When "The New Love Rap" dropped that same year, it probably looked like the misguided flailing of somebody who should've retired years ago.

And by 1987, the year of Rakim and the early classic Juice Crew records, even the new school that had left Spoonie behind was old school. But anyone who took the time to check in on what Spoonie was still tinkering around with over at Tuff City was justly rewarded. Spoonie had caught up with up and coming, cutting edge super-producer Marley Marl in 1986, and from there it was back on!

In 1987, he released this: his strongest single since the old days, "The Godfather." As he says on the record, "I changed my style; people just didn't know it." Spoonie had never lost it as an MC, and on this record he was coming back full swing to take his title back. He had the swagger of "Spoonin' Rap" combined with an updated style that put him back on the forefront of the day's lyricists. And Marley gave him one of his toughest breaks, with some raw cutting and a blaring horn loop for the hook. This could not only fit in perfectly on Paid In Full, and even be one of the hottest songs. This was a serious monster jam!

Unfortunately, Tuff City didn't really have the reach to get his record out there to have the impact it should've. It got some play and earned props to be sure. And Spoonie has doing everything right. He had early singles with Teddy Riley just as he was on the cusp of exploding. He was killing classic breaks, stayed working with Marley. Tuff City put out a solid full-length, but just couldn't really get it out there nationwide and compete with the majors for publicity. It also didn't help that some tracks did sound kinda shaky and unhip, like his ode to boxer "Mighty Mike Tyson." It would be hard to sell that to kids whose minds were just blown by "Night Of the Living Bassheads" and "Fuck the Police."

But "The Godfather?" Holy fuck, that is just timeless, great hip-hop right there.  How many copies did it sell? Who knows. Forget about it. This record is like a litmus test: if it's not in your collection, it's wack and turns green. There's not a lot to the 12"... the main vocal version on side A, and the Instrumental plus a Dub Mix on the flip. Killers like this don't need a bunch of remixes or B-side bonuses. It just sits there and commands respect. Did you ever see the movie The Godfather? It's just like that except it's a rap record instead of a wheezy, shadowy Italian guy. But that's the only difference.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, but I'm gonna disagree with the portion which mildly suggests Spoonie lost it between leaving Sugar Hill and releasing The Godfather : I think songs like The Big Beat, Street Girl, and Take It Off were all great and Spoonie was the only class-of-1979 rapper who successfully navigated all the twists and turns rap production took between 1982 and 1987.

    It just sucked that he was stuck on Tuff City who were too stingy to shoot videos and too stupid to realise that a song like Street Girl was catchy as hell and had hit potential, it just needed trimming down to a more suitable length than 7 and a half minutes.