Friday, December 19, 2014

The Odd Men Out, part 1: Dynamic Breakers

So for the next two days, I thought I'd take a look at a pair of records by a couple of the more overlooked and forgotten releases in old school rap history. They also happen to share an interesting connection. Up first is a record by The Dynamic Breakers... without Total Control.

See, the Dynamic Breakers/ Dynamic Rockers were a break-dancing crew (I know, you never would've guessed) in the movement's heyday. They were one of the biggest and most well known right behind Rocksteady Crew and the New York City Breakers. So, they were great dancers, not rappers or musicians. But in the 80s, everybody was getting deals. Rocksteady had an album, graf writers like Futura 2000 and Fab 5 Freddy were getting money to make records. And so it followed that Sunnyview Records signed The Dynamic Breakers in 1984.

I once interviewed Cozmo D (of Newcleus, of course, who were Sunnyview's biggest hip-hop act), who did the music for that record; and he explained how it went down better than I could, "Now, they already tried to do a record, and they had these cats named Total Control who were rapping for them. Now they broke off with the managers, so Joe comes and gets us to produce a new track for the rap record. So we helped them write rhymes, and he gets Total Control to come in, too. So we do a whole new beat, called 'Dynamic' and Total Control are on there, but they didn’t get any credit… just the Dynamic Breakers. So the whole thing is Total Control rapping with Dynamic Breakers coming through with some weak raps here and there, because they were horrible. We had written rhymes for them, but they were really horrible so they had to get Total Control back in."

So yeah, Total Control never got credited as the artists on that record, but the song was at least titled "Dynamic (Total Control)" on the original 12" label. And it's a hot record. The MCs Dynamike and Frankie Dee rock pretty well over a fresh track by Cozmo, and their DJ even gets in some nice little scratching. The Dynamic Breakers parts are really brief, like cameos. There's just one part near the end where each member goes, "I'm Deuce. (He's Deuce!) And I'm just too fresh. You can put me on the floor and put me to the test." And they repeat that with each of the Breakers putting their own name into that couplet. All the other rapping is by Total Control. And while the record never became a huge hit, it's definitely a well-regarded electro-hop record that has stood the test of time. You'll still hear old school heads bring it up and copies still pass back and forth amongst record collectors.

But you know what record people don't talk about? "Kim," the follow-up record The Dynamic Breakers did in '85, without Total Control. This was their second and last single, which they did all on their own. You know, except musically. It's credited as a "Newcleus production," and instrumentally it's pretty fresh. It's a little more rock-ish with some live guitars, but still funky electro. It sort of reminds me of a softer "The Mexican" by Jellybean, except with raps.

Yeah, the raps. If the guys from Total Control ever wanted a little vindication, to support claims that they're responsible for the strength of "Dynamic," this experiment without them definitely demonstrates how keenly their absence is felt.Their voices, stilted flows and super-simple rhyme schemes are amateur, just riding the line of being embarrassing. The rhymes are contrived, too, like, "what's this all about? I don't wanna shout. Who's the guy you're seeing, does he have clout?" Or, "only a fool would fall for that kind of trap. That's why I'm singing to you this rap." Admittedly, some of the guys are vocally stronger than others, but it's the catchy instrumental really saves them. And it helps that they went for a concept song rather than freestyles to show off their (lack of) skills.

Like the title suggests, it's about a girl named Kim (not to be confused with Biz Markie's thing) who they're sweating but who may not like them back. In other words, a Roxanne record, except this time she's named Kim. Except with no clever or amusing raps. This time the rhymes are entirely generic and the weight is carried by a Newcleus-y instrumental. But... that's not a terrible thing. It really does sound good, and the Roxanne concept certainly worked for a reason. I actually do rather like this record.

I do wonder how they came upon the name "Kim" for this record. Apart from being a single syllable name they can shout for the hook, it could be any girl's name. And The Dynamic Breakers already had a member named Kim. Kim-A-Kaze wasn't involved with either of the records, but she was a dancer with the crew who formed a smaller, spin-off group called the Dynamic Dolls, who had just appeared in Beat Street the year before. She also choreographed the famous break dance performance for Ronald Reagan. I don't think the song's actually meant to be about her (if so, there must be some fascinatingly tumultuous behind-the-scenes stories of her running around breaking all the guys' hearts), but there's a good chance they chose the name as a deliberate reference. I mean, you can't go around performing a song where you're constantly professing your love and desire for a girl named Kim and not make the connection that one of the people on stage with you is named Kim, right?

So yeah. After hearing this, it's not surprising that the Breakers' recording careers didn't continue. But, taken on its own, this single is actually quite enjoyable. And check back tomorrow for another interesting little off-shoot record that time forgot tomorrow.

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