Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock ’n’ Roll – H2


Most people would make the very safe assumption that I am not a fan of hip-hop but there was a time in my career that it played a very big part in my life. When I worked at Quality Records back in the late seventies we were the distributors for Joe and Sylvia Robinson’s rap label Sugar Hill Records. Their first release in 1979 was the ground breaking “Rapper’s Delight” from The Sugarhill Gang. It was revolutionary.  Master Gee, Big Bank Hank and Wonder Mike took the bed track from Chic’s “Good Times” and in one take rapped back and forth for close to 15 minutes.

It was a long detailed story that they weaved. A single version at just less than five minutes was released and became the first Top 40 hip-hop single. It actually did better numbers in Canada and was a huge hit in Quebec.

I don’t remember all of the details but we brought the boys up for a show supporting the remnants of The Ohio Players at the Roehampton Hotel on Mr. Pleasant (not a typical touring hotspot) and it was the first show I ever witnessed that featured no band and just three guys singing to backing tracks. It was strange.

They never equalled the initial success of “Rapper’s Delight” but I was always a huge fan of their third single “Apache”. Once again a rap song it was built on a combination of the 1960 instrumental hit from The Shadows and the 1973 version by The Incredible Bongo Band. Jump on it.

The revolution really took off in 1981 with the release of “The Adventures Of Grandmaster Flash On The Wheels Of Steel”. Joseph Saddler, aka Grandmaster Flash, was a New York legend and was one of the first DJ’s ever to manipulate sound by using nothing but records and turntables. Using a cross fader he could jump from one record to another and instantaneously change beats, spin records backwards, scratch them and basically inventing what we know today as sampling. That single took bits from “Rapture” by Blondie, “Good Times” from Chic, “Another One Bites The Dust” from Queen, “Apache” from the Bongo Band as well as sampling themselves with the song “Freedom”. From the first repetitive manipulation of the phrase “Ya say, ya say, ya ay” right into “one for the trouble two for the time” and then over to “Rapture” the first ten seconds of the seven minute song were like nothing I had ever heard before. It wasn’t rock in the traditional sense but still had all of the elements that made rock such a force. I obviously wasn’t alone in my admiration for their style as The Clash secured the band to open their infamous stint at The Bond in New York. Clash fans weren’t ready for this and booed the band off stage.  The biggest single the band released was “The Message” which was the eighties answer to Marvin Gaye’s iconic “What’s Going On” straight from the streets of New York. We brought them up for a show at The Masonic Temple and to see Saddler on the turntables was what I imagine what it would have been like seeing Hendrix live. It still astounds me as to what he could do with two turntables.

In 1984 two records on the newly formed Def Jam Records, and one on Profile Records, shaped the future of hip-hop. “Rock Hard” from The Beastie Boys took the lick from AC DC’s “Back In Black”, added a monstrous drum sample and rapped over top. It was heavy.  They had just signed to the Def Jam imprint which was founded by now legendary producer and eccentric Rick Rubin. It was like nothing else they ever recorded but it was the template for “License To Ill”. The rest, we well know, is history. Rubin had also signed a young artist LL Cool J and his first single “I Need A Beat” pushed the genre further along. At the same time another New York band was mixing rap, hip-hop and hard rock as Run DMC released “Rock Box”. The guitar on that song, by studio whiz Eddie Martinez (seen in the video), was a heavy as anything released by any rock group that year. With its more metal than hip-hop sound it was “rap” video played by MTV. For the oldsters in the crowd you might remember the late great Professor Irwin Corey explaining the origins of hip-hop in the intro of the video. Of course years later the band would partner with Aerosmith and bring their sound to middle America with “Walk This Way”.  These guys were rock stars in almost every sense of the world and I was glad I met and saw them all at the beginnings of their careers. The first time the Beasties played Toronto was opening for Madonna at Maple Leaf Gardens. I was sitting on the patio of “The Pilot” when a very young Chris Sheppard stopped to say hello and introduce me to the young New Yorkers. Of course Shep was well ahead of the game and I am sure the first time I heard “Rock Hard” he was spinning it at a local nightclub. The first time they headlined in Toronto it was at The Copa and I remember the moral backlash because of their lyrical content. It was a magical show.

One distinct memory I do have from this era involves The Fat Boys. The lads were performing at Heaven (before it was Rock’n’Roll Heaven – a column in itself) and after a series of afternoon interviews I went on a food run for the three of them. It meant stops at both Burger King and MacDonalds, sixteen hamburgers, fries and rings all topped off with Diet sodas.

Since those early formative years not many more records moved me as much. There was no denying the politics and force of the early Public Enemy records and the first NWA was the “Appetite For Destruction” for a second generation of hip-hop fans. I remember driving Sinead O’Connor to a press conference at Lee’s Palace as we zoomed across Bloor with “Straight Outta Compton” cranked to ten. One artist who should have made it was a young guitar prodigy from Quebec by the name of Merlin. He could play like Prince, had the attitude of P.E. and perfectly mixed rock and rap. He signed to Cargo, released a couple of brilliant albums and then faded off into the sunset. Damn shame, the kid was a star we could have called our own.

There are three really interesting hip-hop movies we are showing at NXNE next week that are well worth checking out. We have a double bill of “Jewish Negroes-KMS” and “Fugitives: Wax Live” at the NFB Thursday June 14th at 2:15 PM. Here’s the description from the NXNE website: “Rappers KMS are black Israelis, Ethiopian Jews whose families came to the promised land expecting “a land of milk and honey.” As with immigrants in many lands, they encounter an almost casual daily racism, which they counter with their own aggression, which is reflected in their music. They live in the large ghetto of central Israel. The film observes their daily life and catches the reality of black generation trying to find their identity in “white Israel.” It is a very interesting film as is “Fugitives: Wax Live”  On August 20, 2010, Def Jam rapper Wax (still unsigned at the time) arrived in Toronto to play a series of shows, only to be turned away at the border. Fugitives: Wax Live recounts the story of those who literally smuggled the star into the country, the live performances he belted out on that day, and the legal repercussions suffered by all – simply to throw one most badass hip hop concert.

The third film was also locally shot. “Ghostface Killah & Toronto’s Apollo Kids” features the Wu-Tang great in his first Toronto concert in years as well as spending some serious time with a group of local kids from Parkdale. The movie will be shown at The Toronto Underground Cinema on Friday June 15th at 5:15 PM.

Pretty good chance there will be no column next week due to NXNE.

Cam’s column appears every Thursday.

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On Friday June 22 local photographer Viliam Hrubovcak (check out his stunning work at will present the Shanghai Cowgirl with an exclusive print of Joe Strummer. Viliam and his wife and fellow photographer Jolie Feger, were long time friends of Strummers and spent time with him on his visits to Toronto. Usually they would all end up at the Bovine with owner Darryl Fine and Viliam is donating this print to Darryl. It will hang at The Shanghai (538 Queen West) for the summer and then move to its permanent home at The Bovine. The showing has been officially endorsed by Strummerville ( and Viliam will also be donating a proceed of his sales of Strummer prints to the charity.

Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, NXNE, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

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