Herc Your Enthusiasm (19)
August 22, 2013
Nineteenth in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating old-school hip hop.
AFRIKA BAMBAATAA | “DEATH MIX LIVE, PT. 2” | 1980/1983
Paul Winley’s blurb on the back cover of 1983’s Death Mix Live!!! 12” is split between stake-claiming, modest contrition, and historical foresight: “If you listen to this record, you’ll know why Africa [sic] Bambaataa is the best D.J. when it comes to cutting and mixing records. I was the first to record Afrika Bambaata [sic] as a record artist, along with the Cosmic Force and the Soul Sonic Force. But I must admit I did not do my best in recording them, but I hope to make up for those mistakes by putting together this record of what I think are some of the best cuts and mixes by D.J. Afrika Bambaata [sic] himself.” Bambaataa had left Winley’s label a couple years previous after getting fed up with Winley adding in superfluous live instrumentation to “Zulu Nation Throwdown,” and with Bam a massive sensation on Tommy Boy two years later, Winley figured he wasn’t above a mea culpa. But he did come up with a priceless one – even though there’s a bit of irony attached.
The irony is that Death Mix Live!!! is, and I am not kidding, one of the cruddiest-sounding recordings ever put out by a legitimate record label. I doubt it’s by design; if Winley had something better to offer than what sounds like a copy of a copy of a copy of an audience recording, I’d like to think he would’ve used it — even if everything about this 12” feels like it’s scrambling to capitalize on Bambaataa’s string of chart-burning hits for Tommy Boy. But for someone to shruggingly admit that he dropped the ball on capturing Bambaataa at his best on the sleeve of a record that sounds as bad if not worse than the fidelity you get by putting a tape recorder next to a TV speaker? The balls on this guy, huh?
And yet there’s a fascinating pull here between setlist and sound quality. It’s a recording from 1980, so there are no Stubblefield/Starks James Brown breaks or “Apache” bongos or other standbys of the cratedigger canon. It’s most telling of the times that the A-side (or “Pt. 1”) actually mixes in a straight-up hip hop record, something that was practically unheard of just a year previous; that the cut is Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “Superrappin’” must have been both a nod of recognition and a wise-ass callout to the man Bambaataa once helped Grand Wizard Theodore battle at the same venue, James Monroe High School, back around ’76. But on “Pt. 2,” Bam and Jazzy Jay start picking from the funkier corners of circa-’79 dance music: Vernon Burch’s “Get Up” (made famous a decade later when its slide-whistle break acted as the chassis for Deee-Lite’s “Groove is in the Heart”); Yellow Magic Orchestra’s “Firecracker” (an early, acknowledged influence on Bambaataa’s electro foundations); the cowbell-rattling “A Chocolate Jam” by session-player band The Chocolate Jam Co. It’s closer to disco than funk, but it’s a long way from Studio 54 – or the Paradise Garage or the Mudd Club or the Disco Fever or just about anywhere else.
See, the bootleg quality means that scratches sound like Brillo pads, the DJs’ shout-outs echo into borderline incoherence, and the breaks, whether synthesized electro-pop or slick session-band disco, are foggy and swampy — just not enough to derail the groove. Still, what sounds janky on audiophile terms is also, through time and decay and reverb-happy acoustics, a transmission through the firmament. This kind of fidelity’s weirdly fitting for one of the few (if not only) official recordings of a DJ set from the days when hip hop hadn’t yet ceded the spotlight to the MC. It’s distant, hazy, looming off in the distance; on the whole it feels closer to the dub of Studio One than the post-disco live-band jam sessions that the rest of the circa-’80 rap world was putting on wax. Winley didn’t do his best in recording Bambaataa here – except by fascinating accident.
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