Hip Hop was the first music that was truly mine…
Christmas, 1980. I was 11 years old, roller skating in a park in Miami, and I happened upon a kid about the same age as as me captivating two of his friends. He was regaling them with a tale of prowess, bad dinners, and stealing SuperMan’s girlfriend, and he was doing so with a lyrical style I’d never heard before. I, too was captivated, and tried as hard as I could to listen in without looking like I cared.
Eventually I had to move on (one can only skate back and forth along the same 15 feet of sidewalk before you start to become obvious, after all) but the singing I’d just heard was imbedded well within my brain. That night, as we were decorating our Christmas tree, the song that kid in the park had been singing came on the radio. My dad went to change the station, and I pleaded for him to leave it on. It was the full-length version of the Rapper’s Delight, all 15 minutes of it.
My dad only lasted 7.
I had for the very first time discovered a music that the adults around me didn’t like. I had something that was mine. However, It wasn’t the taboo that was attractive; I was absolutely taken with the music, the lyrical style, the stories these guys told. I also lived in a small town in Northern California, and when I returned home from visiting my dad for Christmas, it would be a long time before I heard any of that music again.
I had almost forgotten about it by 1983, but when Run DMC released their first album, Run DMC I was immediately drawn back in. Rap, as I would learn it was called, changed my world. Rap resonated deeply within my soul, and made me want to dance. Rap brought with it an energy that didn’t exist for me anywhere else, and Run DMC spoke a language I understood. The stories they told applauded chivalry, underscored the importance of education, and gave hope to powerlessness.
I learned every lyric, and knew each and every part by heart. Some songs I’d do just Run. others DMC. Sometimes I’d bounce back and forth, playing both parts and running out of breath faster than a smoker in a marathon. More than anything, I loved the creativity of the man behind the turntables. I knew every scratch on that record by heart. The moves I made to imitate the scratching may have been wrong, but the timing and intent were always right on.
To this day, Jam Master Jay is my favorite track on that album. I was blown away by Jay’s creativity, his musical sense of humor, and his incredible skills. I was a trainspotter long before I knew what it was called. I would constantly be amused and enthralled by Jay’s use of self-referentiation on subsequent Run DMC albums. Jay always made it fresh for newcomers, but rewarded the faithful with samples off of past Run DMC records. His sense of humor and skills set him as one of the all-time greatest Dj’s to ever put the needle on the record.
Jay pioneered Dj’ing into the mainstream, taking the art-form to places no-one else had ever been able to before. He merged rock and rap for all the world to see, sending Run DMC to new heights and reviving Aerosmith’s career at the same drop of a needle. He set the standard for Dj involvement, respectability, and commitment. He gave back to his community, and fought hard for the right to do so.
More than anything, he made me want to be a Dj.
Peace, Jay. The lives you changed continue to change more lives, and the wheel keeps coming ’round.