Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Who Were the Gifted 4?
When I was a kid, living in Central Jersey, I didn't have access to all classic, old school records that started our genre.. Everything from Run DMC and Whodini forward, sure; but all that disco era stuff was tough to get your hands on. Especially when all the stores had ditched vinyl in favor of cassettes and CDs. And of course, there was no internet. So people like me relied on compilation albums to get all the golden era classics from "The Breaks" to "Rappin' and Rockin' the House." And amongst all the founding fathers, legends and important records of the early days, there was sometimes a group in there, amidst all the others, who I didn't really know and didn't seem to have a history like everybody else: The Gifted 4.
Their name kinda blends in with all the Funky 4s, Treacherous Threes, Disco Fours... They sound like one of the bunch. But if you know your hip-hop history, you know who all those other groups are. The Gifted 4? Their song "Sounds of the Mic" was really fresh; but it seemed to exist in a vacuum. Who were the members? Where did they come from? Who knew? It's like they just popped into existence to round out these compilations.
But I really liked "Sounds Of the Mic," so when i got older I had to hunt 'em down on vinyl. And it was easy because they're not that rare; they had two 12" singles n Jive Records. It turns out "Sounds" was actually their second release.
Their debut single was called "Temper (Gotta Keep Cool)" in 1984. It's got a different feel to it that "Sounds' (which we'll come to). It's gotta a harder edge (for 1984), and feels more like a Furious 5 song along the lines of "Survival." They rap the hook in unison ("don't you make me lose my temper; if you do, you shall remember!") but they don't harmonize, and each MC tells a story about how they lost their temper and then faced the consequences ("and be a cellblock fool"). It's a serious song and the MCs are serious and tough on it. Even the instrumental is less disco-y and rougher, though it does have kind of a boppy electro riff during the hook.
There's a couple versions on the 12", including an Extended Version, Single Edit and and Dub Mix. And it's also got a B-side track, "The Arrival." It's more of a fun, typical B-Boy track, starting with them calling out their zodiac signs. They even name themselves: Jay, Guy, Chris and Mike T. So now we know who the members are. :) Overall, it's not as strong as the A-side, but the beats and MCing are still solid, and it's a good contrast to "Temper," giving you a more well-rounded experience. And there's a fun Shakespeare-inspired segment where they they call out "Hark! Who goes there?" before each MC raps, and DJ the even throws in some scratches.
Then we come to "Sounds Of the Mic," which also dropped on Jive, in 1985. It's got a couple versions, including a Di'Mon Dub Mix, Beat Mix and Acapella Version. But it's basically just the one song. But it's a lot of fun. This time the hook has them singing the chorus in an old school harmonizing style, "it's the sound of the mic, we rock y'all right!" Everything about it just sounds really good. The singing, the super catchy bassline, funky keyboard riffs, and the MCs, one of whom is putting on more of a radio DJ voice for this one. Credit probably primarily goes to the producer, but while the content boils down to nothing more than "get up and dance," it's just one of those records where all the elements come together and gel perfectly. There's even a surprisingly cool electric guitar breakdown, and it ends with them rapping acapella as the instrumental cuts out except for the hand claps.
Both their singles are produced by Dimon Brown, who doesn't seem to have any other credits; so I guess he was just down with- or possibly one of the actual- Gifted 4. He does also have a writing credit, but then so do four other people. So the Four might just be the MCs, and he's the DJ/ producer? That's just a guess though.
It's a shame these guys up and disappeared after this, because they were making records a lot better than a lot of their more famous peers. I don't know if they were a studio group (like the Timex Social Club or Snap!, where the label assembled them) or not; but it doesn't matter 'cause they were dope. Having such an old school name as the Gifted 4, and a style to match, however, was probably a death knell in 1985 when Run DMC changed the whole game. I'd love to find out some or all of them stayed in the game under new names; but as it is I have to recommend everybody at least track down the two singles we did get from the group. They definitely lived up to the "Gifted" of their name, whoever they were.