Kurtis Blow: the elder statesman of rap

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Kurtis Blow: the elder statesman of rap

Postby romeorock » Sun Mar 11, 2012 1:43 am

November 23, 2009

When hip-hop blew up, Kurtis Blow was there.

His 1980 song “The Breaks” became the second rap track to reach the Top 5 of Billboard magazine’s R&B chart (following 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight,” by the Sugarhill Gang).

In 1984, Blow joined Run-DMC, Whodini, the Fat Boys and Newcleus for rap’s first arena tour. The caravan was billed “Fresh Fest,” and it sold $3.5 million worth of tickets across 27 shows.

That marketing is echoed in “New York City Fresh Fest,” a one-off show that will present Blow, Kool Mo Dee, Rakim and others Nov. 28 at the Indiana Convention Center.

Blow — now an ordained minister living in Los Angeles — shared his old-school memories with Metromix:

What were your expectations going into the 1984 tour?
Most of the artists that first year were basically unknown. But I had a few albums out, and I was sort of like the headliner bringing out these other groups. So when we went around, I showed everybody the ropes: Introducing them to radio DJs and the different media outlets, how to act when you’re out on the road. It turned out really well. For people to see the Fat Boys for the first time was incredible.

What surprised you as you traveled from arena to arena in different cities?
It was an all hip-hop lineup, and a lot of people said we couldn’t do it. But it happened, and it gave us credibility. Your live show was everything back then. That’s how we were taught in the music industry: You release an album and then you go out on tour. If you have a good show, the people will like you so much that they would go out the next day and buy your record.

Thanks to YouTube, we can watch your 1980 performances of “The Breaks” on “Soul Train” and “Christmas Rappin’.” on “Top of the Pops” in England. At that time, your visual presentation was in line with a standard R&B singer. Did you and other MCs figure out the best way to perform live the more you did it?
I was scared to death during those performances. I was a break-dancer, and my live show was very different than those performances.

That era of hip-hop is known for its positive message. Do you regret the absence of that in modern music?
A lot of people say that. I’m one of the elder spokesmen of hip-hop, and I like the rap of today, as well. It’s faster, it’s wittier, and it’s more complicated. What we did back then was what we needed to do to get it to the mainstream.

Was the emphasis on fun intentional?
Yes. We had a code of ethics. We would never use profanity. Our mission was to make sure the audience had a good time, and when they left the concert they were feeling good.

I read a note about you helping to judge a talent show in Los Angeles in 1981. Was Ice-T a contestant?
Yes, and he cursed up a storm. I wanted to give him a zero, but I had to give him a 10. He was so good, and the crowd loved him so much.

Did that make you think West Coast rappers weren’t going to follow the same code of ethics you had in the East?
It definitely showed me there is another style of rap, which is hardcore and more edgy. It just wasn’t me.
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