As it’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m on my own while going through a separation (but that is a story for another day), I thought I’d write about my first and true love, Hip Hop. Common said that he used to love her, (a classic track, and that MURS and 9th Wonder version is equally as good), meeting her when he was 10 years old and that’s about the time I met her. 1986 in the most improbable place on Earth for a seed from the Hip Hop plant to germinate. An old mining and market town in the hinterland of Greater Manchester, with towering mills looking oppressively over rows of old terraces as an ode to a bygone age and a council estate that competes in size with the rest of the town.
Radio and television very rarely played Hip Hop, but you would hear the odd thing, and obviously, my young sponge-like mind soaked up these alien sounds. One afternoon after school I found an LP and a tape my older brother had left next to our stereo, (we shared a room which I imagine pissed him off no end being several years older and myself being a little smart arse), and that is where the love affair began.
The albums where “Licensed to ill” and “Kings of Rock”. Two albums with similarities but also very different, my young pre-adolescent mind took to Beastie Boys first album immediately. It took a little longer to get into Run DMC, and as I was trying to decipher them like a strange code, more albums and tapes began appearing in our shared bedroom. The next batch to appear included, the first 2 Public Enemy albums, “By All Means Necessary”, “Lyrical King” and a few compilations including some Chicago house, which led to a few affairs with club music over the years but the relationship with Hip Hop stayed strong.
Those albums pulled me deeper into the rabbit hole and more and more classics came. I then started secondary school (high school), Madchester and the acid house scene was pretty big at school, and I was listening to 2 of the greatest albums of all time on one C90, “Critical Beatdown” and “Strictly Business”. To this day Kool Keith is one of my all-time favourite emcees, and the reason I see the world in a fucked up way, the man’s metaphors are just ridiculous. Along with that tape came a Red Alert mix from New York, the audio quality was dire but the music was golden. I haven’t even mentioned Eric B and Rakim yet, or the Jungle Brothers.
I still find it hard to put everything into a timeline, the summer before I started big school was pure overload time and it continued as I began buying albums, and listening to the only 2 Rap shows on radio, Jeff Young on Radio 1 and Stu Allen on Key 103, both had Hip Hop sections sandwiched between house and club music. Tape deck at the ready, I’d record the whole section then edit out the talking later on. I had an old Tim Westwood tape from his pirate radio days, then found some pirate radio stations broadcasting from Manchester. I’d stay up listening to them and breeze through school tired, thank god I have some intelligence.
The first actual albums I bought my self probably wouldn’t sit on many people’s greatest lists but I still have fond memories of them, “All Hail The Queen”, and “2 Hype”. Also soon after I had bought “Am I Black Enough For You”, “Salt with A Deadly Pepa”… Even the more commercial bands had a quality about them, maybe not cool looking back but fuck it! Listen back to Salt ‘n Pepa or Kid and Plays early stuff and the production is still dope, crisp and clean. At big school I met a couple of like minded lads, one of which is still a good mate. At this point the music consumption began growing exponentially, sharing albums and tapes, my brother was working at this point so “our” collection kept growing independently.
My first forays into record buying where solo, and from the likes of Our Price and HMV. Now there was a little crew forming and we would go on digging missions in the city and surrounding areas. We seemed to have our areas of expertise within Hip Hop, almost confined to labels and groups. We began being Hip Hop instead of just listening, tagging and graffiti and having run ins with older crews. When you look at the culture now, it just sits right in there as part of the norm, in those days though, white kids from working class families embracing this culture was met with derision especially in an area with an almost entirely white population. I hadn’t embarked on this path through rebellion or martyrdom, it was through love, love of the music, love of the culture , and more importantly the love of the fact it helped broaden my entire view point.
I had been listening to Jungle Brothers for a while when album came out with about a million tracks (“3 Feet High and Rising”), but it wasn’t that album that helped my view change it was the next album from the Native Tongues collective, “People’s Instinctive Travels and The Paths of Rhythm”. The sub-genre, known to some parts of the press as “Jazz Rap”, had arrived and I began an interested in not just the music, but the music it was based around. That led into some crazy directions and I love the fact Hip Hop didn’t just give herself to me but also her entire family.
In the modern era, everything seems to be more and more convoluted. But I know one thing, my love of Hip Hop is pure and I’ll always love her because while some artists keep trying to whore her out to the masses, we will always have the underground, and personally I will always have the first time I fell in love with her.
Words by Craig M. Riding