Part Two (Wrekka Stow)
Continued from Part One:
…to really understand why that record, those songs and countless others stand out so much to me and helped to shape my thirst for Hip-Hop, you would have to delve deeper into the beginnings of Hip-Hop. Not the actual beginnings as everyone knows where, when and how or at least they should. I’m speaking about how it began for the town I grew up in…
There are certain memories that stick with us in life. It may be your first kiss, your High School Graduation or your first car. It may even be the birth of your first child, when you finally finished paying the mortgage on your home or the lost of a loved one. In any of these cases or others not mentioned, if you are a true music lover, there was that one crucial album or song you were listening to that became that respective memory’s accompaniment. I personally have lots of those soundtracks.
from Raekwon’s instant classic “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx“, with my “Fresh out of High School, Working but not really intrested in going to college cause I just wanna PARTY and make MONEY in the real world” phase. Please believe, I soon grew out of it…
I hail from a quaint little artistic town, nestled in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains by the name of Asheville, NC. You may have heard of it because over the last ten years it has gained a little more notoriety in print, movies and even TV commercials as a hidden paradise for urban Yuppies, Buppies, Jet Setters and their ilk, looking for that out of the way, seemingly untampered with weekend getaway spot. Plus you would be surprised at the amount of films that get produced either completely or partially there or in the surrounding area due to said mountains and the ambiguity of the local scenery.
With a little “Movie Magic“, Asheville can be damn near Anywhere, USA. Plus its rich Arts and Cultural history doesn’t hurt either. I mean when you have riveting boring tourist attractions like the Biltmore House
(you will most likely remember it as being the mansion used for Macaulay Culkin’s residence in “Ri¢hie Ri¢h” and has also been in several other movies as well) and the outdoors-y snore fun of Sliding Rock, there is just no way you can keep it quiet from the rest of the world for long. Asheville is and has always been a Tourist town. Even the Minor League baseball team is called the Asheville Tourists and has a Hawaiian shirt wearing bear complete with suitcase and baseball bat as a mascot. (Which is probably a rather recent thing, since while living there and having the mis fortune of attending quite a few games, it was always the Famous San Diego Chicken running around crazy and bothering the players during his skits. Funny thing is that the more people that arrive there looking for those types of experiences, the more it can become something other than for the actual residents.
Anyway, I will admit that during my salad days growing up there, we were sorely lacking in the urban music area. There were only three major radio stations and all they played were Classic Rock, Country or Bluegrass. We did have cable TV but there was no “The Box” or other any other Video Channels that most Northerners can call up memories of from their childhood exposure to Hip-Hop. The closest thing we had was Friday Night Videos on NBC. This in hindsight was probably a good thing since it had more genre variety than The Box from my understanding when I listen to those privileged enough to remember having access to both. Plus since I was a kid and had no Jobby Job, FNV was free, opposed to The Box’s pay for play.
(Matter of fact I didn’t even know what The Box was until I took a school trip to Washington DC and happened to flip to it in our Hotel room. I won’t ever forget that because the video being shown was “Method Man“. It was the first time I or any other student in the room with me had even heard of Wu-Tang Clan and though we still weren’t sure what it was after watching it, we were mesmerized and speechless afterward, other than an immediate and resounding “That Ish Was Tight!!”)
It wasn’t until that magical day the cable company in Asheville announced that they were going to start carrying Music Television that things started to change for the town’s youth. A month or so after MTV became available and first aired, more and more of Asheville’s households decided to tune in and see what the buzz was about. Soon all of my classmates began to talk about the station’s content and of course I quickly pleaded with my Great-Grandmother to call the cable company so they would add it to our cable box as well. She eventually submitted to my repeated nagging requests and I was soon immersed in the Golden Era of the Music Video Age.
Thinking back on it now , compared to the commonplace of video channels of today, it was utterly surreal because at that time it really was THE all videos, all THE time MTV that you just can’t seem to find today between all the semi-staged reality shows, ringtone commercials and other fodder they show that has nothing to do with an actual VIDEO.
Back then, MTV showed you the entire complete video from beginning to end, no edits and no pop-ups insisting that you be the tenth person to send a text to 77958 for a chance to win a Meet and Greet with the Jonas Brothers or Miley Cyrus backstage at their next sold out concert of Teen Scream music.
It was also the MTV that had DEVO instructing me to “Whip it, whip it good” (immediately creating, in my young impressionable mind, an insatiable want of an actual bullwhip) and also allowed Howard Jones to exclaim to me that “Things Can Only Get Better” while I ate my oatmeal in the morning before catching the bus.
Any Ashevillein (or AsheVillian if you so prefer) in my age bracket will tell you that Yo! MTV Raps was the first time we had any major exposure to the kulture. Sure we had Record Stores (or if you prescribe to the “Under the Cherry Moon” spelling of the word ála Prince; Wrekka Stow) at the mall and around town, plus you could easily buy a copy of “WordUp!” or “RightOn!” (which I’m surprised are both still in print, let alone have actual websites) at the Grocery Store (yes I said Grocery Store and not Supermarket, get over it!) and after reading it cover to cover, take it apart to tape the pictures and posters to your bedroom wall, much to the dismay of your parents who paid the hard earned money for it. If memory serves me correctly we also watched Dance Party USA on the regular too.
It was like the eighties version of the Corny Collins Show in Hairspray or American Bandstand with regular kids all doing somewhat cool dancing to whatever music they deemed hot at the time. Don’t front and say you didn’t watch it either because you know you remember Andy Gury was the host and Kelly Ripa was a regular dancer as well. Hell, even Frank Stallone was on there a time or two. Although I don’t ever remember the episode where Will Smith was performing but it is in the credits as helping to jump start his career. It wasn’t that bad of a show honestly. There’s even an online petition to attempt to convince USA Networks to bring the show back to life.
Those were our only real ways of keeping up and unless you had some family members’ upstate mailing you cassette “pause” tapes they made from what was playing on the radio where they lived, you would still be kinda out of the loop on what was fresh and new. Better not let that tape get a millimeter out of your line of sight though. Best believe it would grow legs and walk.
When news that Yo! was going to start broadcasting with RUN D.M.C. being the hosts and DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince (who incidently introduced me to my first overly used slang of the day. I clearly remember them taking the precious time to define the term “Word” for me; as in “Word Up“, “Word To The Mutha“, “Word Em Up“, etc.) being featured as well, it spread around school like…hell, I can’t think of a proper analogy to describe how fast, wait…lemmie think back to the slang of the day…got it…it spread “with the quickness” and we all couldn’t wait for the last bell to ring so we could damn near run to our respective buses and arrive home in time to watch the landmark event.
I distinctly remember standing in Granny’s living room directly in front of the Big Wood Grained Floor Model Zenith. It had finally, after 20 years of use, stopped working but had become such a loyal piece of furniture that it just couldn’t be parted with. Well, that and the fact that money was way too tight to replace it with a newer one of it’s same size, prompted the purchase of the 20 inch color one sitting atop it. I stood there in amazement as I watched the classic Eric B. and Rakim jawn “Follow The Leader” displayed in full living moving color dance across the screen.
I then concocted a plan to ask my Granny for 7.99 to purchase the actual tape because I already had a dub my boy made me of “Paid In Full“.
After seeing the way the Follow The Leader video was like a mini-movie and the Gangster motif went with the song and Rakim Allah’s flow so well, that I was hooked. I mean seriously hooked, like my afternoons would consist of He-Man, G.I. Joe, Transformers and Yo! MTV Raps. I wasn’t gonna give up all my cartoons for Hip-Hop just yet but Yo! took the place of the Thundercats in my afternoon line up (that wasn’t easy either) but it was a start.
So, like any youngster that becomes infatuated with something, I began to emulate it all, from the clothing, slang, my walk, the music, everything. Thinking back on it now, I truly understand what Common meant when he stated that he has injected his whole being into music and it’s like his life has become a style.
Common – “Invocation“: