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.

5 comments:

  1. Hello,I am one of the members of the Gifted 4. My mc name at that time was "Mighty-Mike." The other 3 members were "Mr.J", "Guy Master" and "Chris Cross". We were the creators and writers of the group. we wrote our own rhymes and came up with our own hooks. Dimon Brown was our producer. We also had a DJ that was down with us called "DJ Amin" We were on Jive at a time when Houdini and Billy Ocean were hitting the industry pretty hard and the record label was sort of putting all of their energies into those two groups. So we had to pretty much market and promote ourselves. And at the time we were all pretty young and inexperienced in those matters. But we started a slight buzz in the industry even making it onto one Billboard magazine new artist lists and even having our song played on "American Bandstand" which was almost unheard of in rap at that time. But we got lost in the sauce with the label and got dropped from the label a few years later.And this was also before rap videos really hit the scene. But all in all it was an amazing experience being a part of the progression of original Hip-Hop music. We were also on a few compilation albums and tapes over the years. We appreciate the acknowledgement from this Blog and those responsible for the site! It put a big smile on this 51 year old grandfathers face!We are still all alive and kicking!!! "For Those Of You Who Don't Know My Name/Before I Was The Master,The M&M Plain/But Then I Had To Get A Title,To Soothe Your Delight/ Created The Name With Power!Now They Call Me Mighty Mike!!" Real Hip-Hop Lives on! " We Are The Gifted 4! And We'll Be Back For More! RRRAHH!" Peace!

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    1. Whoah! Werner, schedule an interview, stat!

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  2. Hey Werner Von
    It's true. If you seek, you'll find. The baby of the bunch (Mighty Mike) was the first to respond. I'll come thru in a bit to share my thoughts as well
    Mr.J on the check . Peace

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    1. Yes, please! I've listed to "Sounds Of the Mic" more times throughout my life than many of Hip-Hop's all-time biggest records.

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    2. Hey! Werner Von Wallenrod
      My name is Rick James (AKA) Mr.J. I held down the lead position in the group. The gifted 4 emcees.
      First of all, let me thank you for your interest in the group. It certainly makes me think. There may be some unfinished business to tend to.
      I was born in the U.S.Virgin Islands and raised in the Bronx, NY. I attended Dewitt HS, Lehman college and served in the U.S.Navy (Pearl Harbor).I'm a happily married family man and a supervisor with the NYC Transit authority.
      If I recall correctly, In 1981 or so Guy R.(AKA) Guy Master asked me to come and rap for a DJ who was attempting to form his own group(crew). That's when i met Chris Cross and his mc partner lloydie Gee.The 4 of us started out doing house parties with this DJ. There was a little issue between two of the members and lloye left the group. Guy R, then brought in Mike(AKA) Mighty Mike. The DJ moved onto other endeavors and we began to focus on becoming recording artist.
      We started holding our rehearsal's at Chris Cross's place, and Guy introduced us to a musician Diamond Brown. Diamond became our Manager/ Producer. Our first two singles "The Arrival" and "Rocking all night long", turned out to be only house party worthy. We then went back into the studio and recorded "Temper" and "Sounds Of The Mic".Mike came up with the concept( What motivates the party people. The music or the MC ?). Mike wrote the first half and Diamond wrote the second half, to solidify the concept. The rest of the members wrote their own introductory rhymes.Mike was inspired by the music from the song."There's something going on" by Frida (From the group Abba).
      Jive/Arista A&R Barry Weiss heard our conceptual songs and offered us a contract.This is always where things get a little fuzzy. The other members may or may not recall. A few weeks after the signing.Our Manager/Producer was driving a new car.In a conversation with him.He explained to me that he had sold the group, to the record company. Whoa!
      Our vanishing act came as a result of haste. the record company wanted new material. We went up to DB's place. He played some new music. Within 2-3 hours we had a song. We had never worked that fast before. I can't even recall what I said on that recording. I only recall the Hook and the bridge.You know the rest. It was presented to the record company with disastrous results.Termination of contract.So regardless of record sales at that time. If we had put in the time to create a well thought out conceptual song. There would have been a Gifted 4 3rd release.
      So at the end of the day.Experience is the best teacher of all. And i'm glad to be among the few that can say, Been there. Done that. Recordings, Performances and Royalty checks.
      Once again, Thank You Werner Von for your interest.
      Peace to my Gifted 4 brothers and DJ Amin
      GOD Bless

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