Herc Your Enthusiasm (13)

By: Douglas Wolk
August 14, 2013

busy bee

Thirteenth in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating old-school hip hop.



Bernard “Skip” McDonald doesn’t make a lot of noise on Busy Bee’s “Making Cash Money.” At least I’m assuming that’s him — as with a lot of records on Sugarhill — playing in the label’s house band, alongside bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Keith LeBlanc. (Spoonie Gee’s “Spoonie Is Back,” the year before, had had practically the same instrumental track.) Wimbish is doing all sorts of stunt-plane popping and slapping, and LeBlanc’s doing his usual killer-robot beatkeeping. During the verses, meanwhile, McDonald’s mostly just playing a tiny little guitar lick: a chicken-scratched seventh chord, its tone modified by a wah-wah effect, poking its head up for an instant five times every two bars.

McDonald had been a studio musician for close to a decade by the time of Busy Bee’s single — he’d recorded for Sugarhill boss Sylvia Robinson’s earlier label All Platinum Records — and he had a deep knowledge of the history of R&B. The riff he plays on “Making Cash Money” (and “Spoonie Is Back”) is the one that opens James Brown’s “Funky President (People It’s Bad).” That 1974 hit was, unusually for Brown, not recorded with his touring band (which included guitarist Jimmy Nolen, the guy who’d invented the style McDonald’s using), but with a New York studio group. The “Funky President” guitarists were Joe Beck and Sam Brown, both of whom were jazz musicians. (It’s not clear who played which of its two distinctly different guitar parts.)

“Funky President” was initially released, briefly, as “People It’s Bad (We Got to Get Over Before We Go Under),” before it was retitled after a throwaway reference to Gerald Ford assuming the Presidency. (The basic track for the song was recorded July 17, 1974, three weeks before Nixon resigned.) It’s mostly a call for Black American economic self-sufficiency (“Let’s get together and get some land/Raise our food like the Man”). Any of Busy Bee’s 1982 listeners with a memory of pop that went back eight years or so could scarcely have missed his record’s instrumental allusion to that other song about making cash money.

That allusion’s a commonplace one now — “Funky President” has been sampled on something like 400 tracks — but it wasn’t when sampling technology was still new and expensive enough that most hip-hop artists couldn’t afford to use it. Two years after “Making Cash Money,” D.J. Red Alert would cut Bobby Roach’s exclamation of “Funky!” from “Funky President” into “Hip Hop on Wax – Volume 2”; another two years later, Eric B. and Rakim would lob Alan Schwartzberg’s opening drum-drop into “Eric B. Is President.” As Stetsasonic put it two years after that, “James Brown was old/’Til Eric and Ra came out with ‘I Got Soul.’” You might have heard James Brown played at a party, but in 1982, “Making Cash Money” was about as close as you’d come to hearing someone rhyming over one of the Godfather’s old breaks on a record.


2013: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (old-school hip hop tracks): Luc Sante on “Spoonin’ Rap” | Dallas Penn on “Rapper’s Delight” | Werner Von Wallenrod on “Rappin’ Blow” | DJ Frane on “The Incredible Fulk” | Paul Devlin on “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | Phil Dyess-Nugent on “That’s the Joint” | Adam McGovern on “Freedom” | David Abrams on “Rapture” | Andrew Hultkrans on “The New Rap Language” | Tim Carmody on “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | Drew Huge on “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | Oliver Wang on “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | Douglas Wolk on “Making Cash Money” | Adrienne Crew on “The Message” | Dart Adams on “Pak Jam” | Alex Belth on “Buffalo Gals” | Joshua Glenn on “Ya Mama” | Phil Freeman on “No Sell Out” | Nate Patrin on “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | Brian Berger on “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | Cosmo Baker on “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | Colleen Werthmann on “Rockit” | Roy Christopher on “The Coldest Rap” | Dan Reines on “The Dream Team is in the House” | Franklin Bruno on The Lockers.

HIP HOP ON HILOBROW: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (25 posts about old-school hip hop) | DJ Kool Herc | Gil Scott-Heron | Slick Rick | Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels | Afrika Bambaataa | Biz Markie | U-God | Slug | Adam Yauch | Ghostface Killah | DJ Run | Flavor Flav | Scott La Rock | GZA | Schoolly D | Aesop Rock | Terminator X | Notorious B.I.G. | Melle Mel | Doug E. Fresh | Kool Keith | Rick Rubin | Rakim | Ol’ Dirty Bastard | Madlib | Talib Kweli | Danger Mouse | Kool Moe Dee | Chuck D | Dizzee Rascal | RZA | Cee-Lo Green | Best Ever Clean Hip Hop


2014: KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (typefaces): Matthew Battles on ALDINE ITALIC | Adam McGovern on DATA 70 | Sherri Wasserman on TORONTO SUBWAY | Sarah Werner on JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | Douglas Wolk on TODD KLONE | Mark Kingwell on GILL SANS | Joe Alterio on AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | Suzanne Fischer on CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | Gary Panter on SHE’S NOT THERE | Deb Chachra on FAUX DEVANAGARI | Peggy Nelson on FUTURA | Tom Nealon on JENSON’S ROMAN | Rob Walker on SAVANNAH SIGN | Tony Leone on TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | Chika Azuma on KUMON WORKSHEET | Chris Spurgeon on ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | Amanda French on DIPLOMA REGULAR | Steve Price on SCREAM QUEEN | Alissa Walker on CHICAGO | Helene Silverman on CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | Tim Spencer on SHATTER | Jessamyn West on COMIC SANS | Whitney Trettien on WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | Cintra Wilson on HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | Jacob Covey on GOTHAM.

2012: KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Captain Kirk scenes): Dafna Pleban: Justice or vengeance? | Mark Kingwell : Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | Nick Abadzis: “KHAAAAAN!” | Stephen Burt: “No kill I” | Greg Rowland: Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Zack Handlen: Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| Peggy Nelson: The joke is on Kirk | Kevin Church: Kirk vs. Decker | Enrique Ramirez: Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Adam McGovern: Captain Camelot | Flourish Klink: Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | David Smay: Federation exceptionalism | Amanda LaPergola: Wizard fight | Steve Schneider: A million things you can’t have | Joshua Glenn: Debating in a vacuum | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons: Klingon diplomacy | Trav S.D.: “We… the PEOPLE” | Matthew Battles: Brinksmanship on the brink | Annie Nocenti: Captain Smirk | Ian W. Hill: Sisko meets Kirk | Gabby Nicasio: Noninterference policy | Peter Bebergal: Kirk’s countdown | Matt Glaser: Kirk’s ghost | Joe Alterio: Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | Annalee Newitz: How Spock wins

2011: KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Jack Kirby panels): Douglas Rushkoff on THE ETERNALS | John Hilgart on BLACK MAGIC | Gary Panter on DEMON | Dan Nadel on OMAC | Deb Chachra on CAPTAIN AMERICA | Mark Frauenfelder on KAMANDI | Jason Grote on MACHINE MAN | Ben Greenman on SANDMAN | Annie Nocenti on THE X-MEN | Greg Rowland on THE FANTASTIC FOUR | Joshua Glenn on TALES TO ASTONISH | Lynn Peril on YOUNG LOVE | Jim Shepard on STRANGE TALES | David Smay on MISTER MIRACLE | Joe Alterio on BLACK PANTHER | Sean Howe on THOR | Mark Newgarden on JIMMY OLSEN | Dean Haspiel on DEVIL DINOSAUR | Matthew Specktor on THE AVENGERS | Terese Svoboda on TALES OF SUSPENSE | Matthew Wells on THE NEW GODS | Toni Schlesinger on REAL CLUE | Josh Kramer on THE FOREVER PEOPLE | Glen David Gold on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | Douglas Wolk on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | MORE EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES: Joshua Glenn on Kirby’s Radium Age Sci-Fi Influences | Chris Lanier on Kirby vs. Kubrick | Scott Edelman recalls when the FF walked among us | Adam McGovern is haunted by a panel from THE NEW GODS | Matt Seneca studies the sensuality of Kirby’s women | Btoom! Rob Steibel settles the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question | Galactus Lives! Rob Steibel analyzes a single Kirby panel in six posts | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing | Adam McGovern on four decades (so far) of Kirby’s “Fourth World” mythos | Jack Kirby: Anti-Fascist Pipe Smoker