Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The First Virginia Hip-Hop Record?

Is this the first Virginia hip-hop record? That's what I've read about it online, and it seems to check out. It certainly comes long before any of the famous VA Hip-Hop acts we all know like Tha Supafriendz or Missy Elliot, and even before the oldest ones I've heard of, like the Too Def Crew. But then again, I'm assuming that's true based on the dates on discogs. I'm not exactly sure where they got them from, as there's no date on the label, and no other records by the same company have dates on their labels either. But assuming these dates are correct, then yes, M.C. Rockwale's "Cooley Tee" from Style Records and Tapes seems to be Virginia's first hip-hop single, released in 1986.

Happily, it's also a pretty good record; so it's worth looking into whether it's the first or not. The Cooley-Tee of the title is Rockwale's DJ, and he does some nice, old school scratching on the record. It starts out with Rockwale doing a corny London accent acting as a Cooley-Tee fan who's come to America to find him, but once he starts actually rapping, he's pretty good. I mean, it's very old school, so if mid-80s rap isn't your bag, this won't convince you with lines like, "hip-hop is hot, Liberace's not, so when you're hot you're hot and when you're not you're not!" But vocally he comes off well, very LL-inspired, over some well-programmed percussion and a funky bassline. And honestly, for 1986 and somebody who's coming out of a state that never made any hip-hop records before, Tee's scratching is pretty impressive. It's nice that he changes the samples he's cutting throughout the song rather than just making a consistent hook. "Cooley-Tee" actually holds up pretty well, and I'm disappointed they didn't seem to follow it up with any more records.

The record is produced by Grandaddy, who released his own record on the same label under the amended spelling Grand'Daddy. Again, there's no date on the label, and the catalog numbers aren't a huge help... would Style 1001 have come out before or after Style 112? I mean, presumably after, or else Grand'Daddy actually released the first Virginian hip-hop record. And that would be a shame because this record sucks.

The A-side is "Grand'Daddy's Party," and he doesn't quite rap on it. It's a dance record, for sure, with some rock & roll style saxophone and a girl singing the hook. Grand'Daddy just kinda talks for a while, without rhyming or a strict rhythm, about how great his party is. Then Grand'Daddy comes in for his part, just basically talking about how great his party is... he's kind of like Luke in that regard. He even leads a shout & call section, shouting, "New York, are you holdin'? (Yeah!), Chicago are you controllin'? (Yeah!)." I was going to say he definitely doesn't rap, but after a couple listens I realized his talking bit does actually rhyme. He also says everything twice, which is a little annoying.

But if you want to say that it's not rap-y enough to qualify as a hip-hop record to even be a contender for first if it does precede MC Rockwale, let me tell you about the B-side. It's called "Rap, Grand'Daddy, Rap," and he definitely does rap on this one. He's got presumably the same girls singing the chorus, and his rap is still pretty close to generic talking, but there is a more definite rap rhythm. His verses are as simple as, "Grand'Daddy is my name, rappin' is my claim to fame. You heard the rest, now listen to the best" with a flow like a clean Blowfly with a smoother voice. He tells a little story which makes it sound like he thinks Hollywood is in New York, because he flat out says, "I went to New York to make it good; gonna make my debut in Hollywood." This could almost be featured in my Wack Attack video series, but the B-side is actually listenable and kinda fun. The girls singing the hook are good, and once again there's a lot of saxophone. Maybe he's playing it himself and that sax is his real forte. Anyway, it sure is a strange reveal as the man behind MC Rockwale & Cooley-Tee.

I'd only recommend the Grand'Daddy record as a lark, but the Rockwale record's really pretty good. It's just the one song, with an Instrumental and shortened Radio Mix on the B-side, but it's worth picking up cheap, or if you're an aficionado of Virginian hip-hop history. This is Rockwale's only record, but apparently he's still in Virginia, now working as a dancer/ instructor under the name Pop-A-Dok. You can check out his website here, and he also does Michael Jackson impersonations. Pretty fun.

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