Archive for October, 2011

Hip Hop, the New York based culture that began in the 70s, gathered steam and creative potency in the ’80s and became the dominant popular culture of the 90s, and beyond; provided economic opportunity to those with entrepreneurial spirits in its early days. It gave us Rap Music-the voice of the voiceless that infused the moribund, early 80s record business with a dose of the beauty of the streets.

On the whole, poor, working and middle class Black people along with Jews with vision, combined to create a new industry that would shape all that it touched, and resulted in playing a huge role in Barack Obama being elected to the US Presidency.

Several recent developments have given me reason to look back on where we were then, and how we’ve gotten to where we are: Jay Electronica, the lyricist to beat in the current game, has teamed up with Mobb Deep to give us the heat rock, “Call of Duty”. The intro features an excerpt from a speech by Winston Churchill that’s used to good effect, Jay shouts the recently departed Steve Jobs out and makes a plea for international unity in his guise as the “Chosen One”. This is Jay Elect’s strongest effort since his “Exhibit C” shook things up, started a bidding war and landed him on Jay-Z’s Roc Nation imprint.




Speaking of Jay-Z; he and protégée, Kanye West’s “Watch The Throne” project has had much-needed new life breathed into it by using the recently freed, T.I. on a guest collabo on their “Niggas In Paris”. Def Jam will have great fun using this one to set up the Watch The Throne Tour.

While en route to Memphis University’s Midnight Madness jump off for the 2011-2012 basketball season, Def Jam hustler Rick Ross has experienced two seizures, and been admitted to a Birmingham Alabama area hospital for the second time. Details are murky.

Jive Records was finally laid to rest by RCA; the last brand standing. Corporate maneuvering has resulted in the old home to Whodini, Blastmaster KRS-1 and Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince finally being put out to pasture along with Arista, and J Records, the two labels started by Clive Davis.

Jive’s greatest Hip Hop signing, and former RUSH Productions management client, A Tribe Called Quest were the subjects of a Sony distributed documentary that played better theaters everywhere over the summer. I served as the music supervisor on the project. The film, “Beats Rhymes And Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called” will be released on DVD on 10/18. Coincidentally, this year is the 20th anniversary of the release of, “The Low End Theory” project, the game changer that set the Native Tongue movement off for real.


All of this Def Jam/RUSh related energy has made me look back. I met the late George Jackson, the Hollywood film producer who hailed from Harlem when I was the National Director of Promotion for Def Jam, the tiny independent that was partially based in the college dormitory room of co-founder, Rick Rubin. The other base of operations for the little label that could, was the office of RUSH, the production and management firm that Russell Simmons headed.

At that time, Jackson and his producing partner, Doug McHenry were producing,”Krush Grove” the fictionalized disaster that was loosely based on Def Jam.. We had plenty of opportunity to get to know each other. Jackson & McHenry enlisted me to convince Simmons that a then little known Blair Underwood would be ideal to play the starring role in the film. Jackson remembered that I had decent film instincts, solid music chops and mad contact when 5 years later, he was looking for a soundtrack home for another project of theirs.

This is the twentieth anniversary of the release of the film “New Jack City” the crack epic with the tight screenplay penned by the noted journalist and author, Barry Michael Cooper. Blaxploitation scion, Mario Van Peebles directed and Jackson and McHenry produced

The film made stars of Ice-T, Chris Rock and Wesley Snipes. The soundtrack made an overnight success of racially mixed new jack swingers, Color Me Badd by introducing their smash, “I Wanna Sex You Up” to a hungry film going and record buying consumer base, and Giant/Warner Brothers Records became players in the early 90s Black Music business. I had a large hand in curating the soundtrack, and you can read a more detailed account written by Tamika Anderson in the current issue of Juicy Magazine that’s on newsstands now.




Last night, Rubin and Simmons held a joint lecture at the New York Public Library to publicize the release of a somewhat historically truncated coffee table book that’s been curated by the label’s former publicist, Bill Adler and it’s art department head, Cey “City” Adams. The recently released book takes a look at the first 25 years of the label in this, the 27th year of it’s existence.

Tweeting live from the event was Andre “Dr. Jeckyl” Harrell, the former head honcho of Motown founder of Uptown Records, mentor to Diddy, Mary J.Blige, Heavy D and Al B.Sure, former VP of RUSH Nd the progenitor of the world view know as Ghetto Fabulous. It was in his capacity as an executive at RUSh, that he convinced Russell Simmons to hire me as the first employee of the label that initially recorded The Beastie Boys and LL Cool J.

During Rick and Russell’s talk, Harrell began to Tweet about the late Sylvia Robinson, who along with her husband Joe, founded Hip Hop’s first dominant label, Sugar Hill Records, and how he’d inadvertently crashed his car while we were riding down the tree-lined street where the Robinson’s lived, when I pointed out the home of my former boss. Harrell was a kid from the Boogie Down and was overcome with excitement when he got his first glimpse of how much comfort a Hip Hop mogul’s money could by.





Sylvia and Joe’s oldest son, Joey, picked me off of one of the basketball courts in Soul City, and gave me my first shot in the record business by making me the head of college radio promotion for the label. I spoke with him on Monday, and conveyed my condolences on his mother’s passing.

Mrs. Robinson’s funeral was last Tuesday in Soul City. She was brought to the Community Baptist mega church, in my old neighborhood, by a horse-drawn carriage, reaffirming for one last time that there was truth in the title of her last hit as an artist; “It’s Good To Be The Queen”. RIP

I met Harrell in the VIP of the Roxy, the Money Making Manhattan based, roller skating disco that turned into Hip Hop central every Friday night in the mid 80s. It is the place where I first met Rick Rubin, Kurtis Blow, Rev. Run, saw Madonna perform to a track in a half empty club, and heard the Zululu overlord, Afrikaa Bambatta spin breaks, beats and classics for Hip Hop’s first crossover audience. Russell “Rush” Simmons woke Harrell from a sound sleep so that we he could be introduced.

A friend from Soul City was the son of one of the earliest Black card holders in one of the stage hand union’s for film. As a result, he was grandfathered in, and was working on Hollywood film sets in the early 80s. He’d been working on “Beat Street”, Hollywood’s earliest attempt to cash in on the Hip Hop heat that was based on the goings on at the Roxy.

My man had a lot of access, and had copped a couple of tickets to a break dancing and rapping contest that Coca Cola was sponsoring at Radio City. He came by my crib, scooped me, and we hopped on a bus and the A Train to mid-town. Inside the hall, a trio of overweight MCs called the Disco 3 won the rap contest. They would eventually rename themselves the Fat Boys, and would be positioned by Russell Simmons in conversations as the Monkees to Run/DMC, his little brother’s more serious band, who he viewed as Hip Hop’s Beatles.

The evening of the contest was a beautiful Spring New York evening. It was 1983 and the night that I met Russell Simmons, the man who along with Joey Robinson would be most responsible for my being embraced by the Hip Hop community. It is ironic that Joey’s mother, whose creative success inspired an industry was laid to rest the same week that DJ Double R and Rush were reminiscing about the label that picked up the baton that Sugar Hill passed on, and took it to a place that Jay-Z and Kanye are still running with. I love Hip Hop. This was a week that reminded me.

Shouts to Rush, Dr. Jeckyl, The Beasties, James Todd Smith, Glen E., Heidi Smith, The Ab, Tokyo Rose, Barry Weiss, Karen Durant, Chrissy Murray, Nelson George, Joey Robinson, Iris Perkins, Leslie, Sharon and Ruby, Flash, Master Gee and…The Wirk

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Ed Eckstine is an old friend and collaborator. He was the first Black president of one of the major labels. Before that, he worked with Al Green, Quincy Jones, Patti Austin, James Ingram, Chaka Khan, Ashford & Simpson, Rod Temperton, The Brothers Johnson, Michael Jackson, and Clive Davis. He ran a small imprint called Wing Records, and the Playa handled duties as the East Coast Director of Promotion for our small shop where we broke Vanessa Williams, Brian Mcknight and Tony Toni Tone. We are both fans of the NFL’s Los Angeles Raiders.

He is also the son of the legendary Billy Eckstine, who along with Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Ella Fitzgerald became one of America’s earliest crossover sensations. The smooth baritone, romantic ballads, and good looks of Mr. B had many a female fan prepared to ignore the accepted segregationist norms of the day. Mr. B also fronted the first be-bop big band that included Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey, Sarah Vaughn, and a young Miles Davis. In his travels, Mr. B befriended another young legend, the great football innovator, Al Davis. Davis passed away last week at the age of 82; Ed has graciously consented to share a few memories with us of his old family friend. Enjoy.


My father Billy Eckstine passed away on, March 8, 1993 at the age of 79. A sad day for sure. Six months prior he’d suffered a stroke; when his body shut down, it was just a matter of time until that day would come. I was in my office in New York, tending to my duties as President of Mercury Records, when I received the call from my sisters informing me of his transition. I issued a press release on behalf of the family, felt an electric jolt throughout my body and braced myself for the outpouring of love that was surely to come. Within minutes my assistant buzzed me and told me that Al Davis was on line two.

“Eddie,” I heard in that voice that every football fan has heard, exaggeratedly imitated over the years, “I just heard about “B” and I’m absolutely sick.”

“Thanks, Mr. D, it is really nice to hear from you now. I know how much Pops and you loved each other, so this is special, and much appreciated,” I said.

“Let me tell you something, kid, your Dad was a special guy. My favorite sing-uh and a real Raid-uh. First Sass (Sarah Vaughan) and now B. This hurts, I miss the S.O.B. already.”

I heard sniffles on the other end of the phone, tried my best to console the man who had called to console me. In an attempt to lighten the mood I said to him: “Mr. D, I’ve known you since I was a kid, but I don’t know how you and Pops came to know each other. Tell me.”


Scan 2


He said while laughing:

I was a kid, 19 or 20. I loved jazz, couldn’t get enough of it. I loved all of the singers — but Mr. B? That was my guy. Your Dad was playing on 52nd Street, and I was too young to get in at night so a lot of us kids would stand on the street, hovering outside the club door, listening to the music coming from the stage. In those days the artist would pull up in a cab, walk in the front door, and walk right by those of us on the street. Many would stop and sign autographs before entering the club.

I think it was a Thursday night, and I had positioned myself by the rail so when Billy arrived I would be right there to greet him. Couple of minutes later he pulls up, steps out of the cab, looking like a fucking king. When he stopped at the front, I said ‘hey Mr. B can I get an autograph? My name is Al.’ Girls are screaming and clawing at him, but he signed the piece of paper for me and went in. I stood outside and listened to two sets in the cold. When he left for the evening there I was to tell him, great set, B. He turned, shook my hand and disappeared into the night.

I was beside myself.

The next night I came back and did the same thing. When I offered my piece of paper for the autograph, I told him I had been there the night before, he said, ‘yeah I remember you’ — I now suspect that was bullshit. I was just another punk kid. But when he said that, I knew I had to stick around to see if I could really talk to him after the show.

Three sets later he appears and there I am standing there freezing my ass off. He looks at me and says, “it’s cold out here kid, go home.”

I looked at him and said can I talk to you for a minute Mr. B?

He must have felt sorry for me because he stopped and said, “what do you want?”

Billy, (like we’re pals, right) my girl and I are your biggest fans and I’m going to bring her to the matinee show tomorrow. You don’t know what it would do for me if when you get here tomorrow and you see us you’d make a point of saying hi to me.

I’ll never forget he looked at me and said, “sure kid, if you are here, I will. What was your name again?”
Al. Al Davis.

So my girl and I get to the club an hour and a half early. I didn’t want to blow this one. He pulls up, steps out, and is talking to someone. I immediately get nervous that he is going to forget.

Just then he turns around, looks at my girl and says, “hey Al, how you doing, buddy? This must be that pretty girl you’ve been telling me about — how you doing, honey?” She just melted. I felt like the coolest bastard in NYC.

He then turns to his manager and says, “make sure my buddy, Al, here gets a good table, and that nobody asks him how old he is. Tell them he is with me.”

“Let me tell you something, two people fell in love that night. The girl became my wife; and B, my fuckin’ man. Our paths crossed over the years. As I made my way in the football business, we shared many mutual friends. He was friends with so many of the great black players of the 50’s and 60’s like Buddy Young, Marion Motley, Tank Younger, Lenny Moore, Big Daddy Lipscombe, and Ollie Matson. Right,fully so many of them were skeptical about the white guys in the front offices and coaching staffs. I was what they called a ‘race guy’ who viewed everyone equally, and when guys would see that B liked me, it broke a lot of ice for me. I will never forget him.”

Al and I both shed a tear at this point, agreed to speak soon, and went about our business.

When I was seven years old (in 1960), the AFL came to Los Angeles with the Chargers, coached by the legendary and innovative Sid Gillman. Dad and Sid were friends, and Sid was known by the black players as one of ‘the good guys’. When he was in college, Dad had aspirations of being a football player in his youth, but a broken collarbone derailed those plans. A singer was born; but his love of the game, its characters, and their talents never left him.

In the pre-integration days of Black College football, he loved to visit his friend, Eddie Robinson at Grambling. He’d go to practice, reach out to his friends, Carroll Rosenbloom (who was then the owner of the Baltimore Colts) and Sid Gillman, regaling them with tales of a kid he’d seen at Prairie View and how they’d better get there tired asses down there to see these kids who could run like they’d just stole something and could catch a pass in a hurricane.

Al Davis was on Gillman’s coaching staff with the LA Chargers — where the vaunted vertical offense was developed — along with another future Hall of Famer, Chuck Noll, the coach of the great Pittsburgh Steeler teams of the 70’s.

When Al left to take over the Raiders another phase of his relationship with Dad began, rooted in the competition of two men and their football teams. Dad had standing invites from both Gillman and Mr. D. He was issued a gold pass from both teams for entry to any stadium where they were playing. It was assumed that he’d sing the national anthem when there. Pretty cool, obviously, but the Chargers and the Raiders played each other twice a year; therein the trouble began.

Al took to calling Dad the Raiders “designated singer” and having him introduced at Oakland Stadium as “the World’s greatest Raider fan” just to piss Sid off. Sid would have Dad escorted to his box in San Diego by security, just so he couldn’t sneak over to the Raider side of the field and see some of his Raider pals. Pops, of course, knowing a good opportunity to rib his pals, always made a point of being a front runner, threatening to only support the team that was doing better in the standings.

My brother Guy and I attended many of those games in both cities. Usually watching the games from the sidelines, which really wasn’t all that sexy when you were a small eight or 11-year-old trying to watch the game with 6′ 6″ Ernie Ladd standing in front of you. Not long ago on ESPN Classics, we were watching a replay of Raiders vs. Dolphin game and there we were in all of our afroed glory standing on the Raider sidelines with Pops.

Mr. Davis always laced us with Raider gear before it was fashionable, just so we wouldn’t wear Rams (Rosenbloom owned the team by then) or Charger swag. If Pops was playing a gig in San Francisco, Tahoe, or Reno, you could bet Mr. Davis and some of his Raider posse, Jim Otto, Willie Brown, Art Powell, Jack Tatum, or George Atkinson would be front and center.



When the Raiders moved to LA, Mr. Davis’ assistant, Fudgie, called to tell us that four seats had been put aside for us at the Coliseum on the 50 yard line, 30 rows up. Perfection. We kept those seats the entire time they were in LA.

When I called to say thanks, where can I send a check, he relayed the message: “send it to your old man. I know he is gonna bet against us at some point this year and lose his ass.”

The last time I spoke with him was a memorable day in Raider nation. It was the day in 2005 they signed Randy Moss. The phone rang and it was Fudgie, telling me to hold for Mr. Davis. I thought what could this be about?
“Eddie. How are you, kid? I’m just calling to see how those broken hands of yours are healing. Are you doing okay?”

Mr. Davis, my hands are fine. Where did you hear that they were broken?

“I didn’t have to hear it, you SOB. I haven’t heard from you so I just assumed it.”

We laughed, shared pleasantries, talked about the Moss signing. I respectfully avoided talking about how depressing things were becoming in Raiderland and then he told me he had an idea. “You still in the music business?”

Sort of, I’m no longer at Polygram and I decided to take a break to be with my family and figure out what to do next in my life.

He continued, “you know, we have about a dozen Raider stores across the state of California. I‘d like to sell some music in them. These kids today don’t know all the greats like your Dad, Sarah, Ella, Billie, Dinah and Steve and Eydie. I can’t find Eydie’s version of “If He Walked Into My Life’ anywhere — so shit, I am going to put it out myself. I figure we’ll press up some CDs put the Raider logo on them and start selling them in our stores. What do you think?”

Knowing that it wasn’t as easy as that, what with copyright and master ownership issues — this stuff had to be licensed — I was quickly mulling how to respond. “Well, Mr. D, my first response is really creative. I love my Pops and the other music. I appreciate your desire to carry their contributions forward. Honestly, you’d sell a lot more music if you chose metal and hip hop; that’s who your fan base is. I bet we could put together some only-for-this-project collaborations cause there are a lot of Raider fans in the artist community. I know you love Kay Starr, but honestly your fans don’t give a shit about her. As far as the notion of putting together some CDs, slapping the logo on them, and selling them in you stores, I was thinking of doing the exact same thing. I was going to get some tee shirts put the Raider logo on them and start selling them out of the back of my car. I don’t need to license it right? You’d be okay with that, huh?”

He thought about it for a second, and in that inimitable voice said, “Oh, so you’re a fucking wise guy, just like your Dad. God, I wish your Dad was here so we could talk about this Moss kid, I really miss him.”

God rest you Mr. D, just like Pops they tossed the mold when they made you.

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The Apple Seller



It started in a small way. I was living in a hotel on Sunset Boulevard that had a hot pool scene, sushi and Cuban food available in the lobby. I met a girl who was considerably younger, loved Hip Hop, old movies and Asian cuisine. I was an A&R executive at a hybrid record and internet company, and she was an undergrad at a west coast college. We both had taste, and a penchant for slick design.

She transferred east to one of the Ivies. The company that I’d been with went out of business (at least my division did), and I had a summer to hang out. Since she was in New York, I was able to see her and spend time on my home turf. She grew up with a mouse in her hand; laptops are standard gear for her generation. Turntables, amplifiers and televisions were the electronic accessories of choice for mine. When I met her, she was a struggling coed who ate a lot of ramen noodles, but she had a Macbook.

She’d lace me with an iPod for my birthday. Throughout the Spring, it’d stayed in the box that it came in because I hadn’t known what to do with it. Out of frustration with my ignorance, she insisted that I bring it with me on my next visit. Young folks are so impatient with those of us who are technologically challenged. She wanted to put me in the game, and expand my digital get down. I was storing mad CDs at her crib, and she showed me how to upload them onto her iTunes, and my iPod; that was it: I was a part of the revolution, and has it had, on many an occasion before, music lit the spark

She didn’t stop there. She inadvertently put me up on social networking, when she used to escape from time to time to someplace called MySpace. Curiosity led me to follow her there; first, on her Macbook, later, clumsily on my old Compaq PC and a dial-up connection. Previously, the internet, and personal computing were kept sexy by giving me access to out-of-town newspapers, e-mails with old friends, clients, collaborators and an underground website that would eventually have a lot of legal problems called Napster.

I went on tour with friends and came back a blogger. My passion inspired a friend to put me in the Macbook Pro game. I’d been hitchhiking on the information superhighway, and now I had a Ferrari. Coupled with a high-speed connection, I was now equipped to explore every known corner of the digital world. International Skype chats were made and received. I opened an iTunes account, I stored iPhotos and e-mailed them to friends, iPods and iPhone proficiency followed. Twitter and Facebook became tools to promote this blog. An iPad offered more flexibility and mobility. I met hundreds of new people, and reconnected with friends from the past. I became more fluent in the ways of the web, appreciative of the culture of Apple, and the genius of its co-founder, Steve Jobs.

Very few Americans have had the sweeping impact on society that Steve Jobs has had. Through his collection of elegantly designed and easily operated gizmos, he did the only thing that really matters: he brought people closer together. Along the way to that goal, he became the world’s largest music retailer, changed the way we shop with his ubiquitous Apple Stores, altered the film landscape with his acquisition of Pixar and brought the world to my fingertips. I consider myself fortunate to have lived in the era that gave rise to his innovative vision. My life has been greatly improved because of it. RIP.

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The playa has returned to his roots. Record promotion is where it all started for me, and that’s what’s up right now. New millennium R&B crooner, Carl Thomas is back with, “Don’t Kiss Me” a stellar mid-tempo ballad with a retro feel to it, and I am working it at radio. The record has started to garner airplay in the northeast already, and readers of this blog can hear early spins on WDAS-FM in Philadelphia, and in New York on WRKS-FM. Carl means business, and so do I.

Carl Thomas


I began to acquire my skills and feeling to promote records to radio, when I was a young, eager apprentice in the promotion department of Sugar Hill Records; history’s first internationally important rap label. The company was located at 96 West Street in Englewood, New Jersey. Soul City to frequent readers of this blog, long time residents, and true followers of the post 60’s American Black Music industry.

Because Soul City provided a more suburban and upscale experience, it became a mecca for members of the Black Music industry. And the King & Queen of the Black Music scene in Soul City were the late, Joe & Sylvia Robinson-co-founders of the All Platinum group of Soul Music labels, and Hip Hop’s first great label, Sugar Hill Records. In a town that Wilson Pickett, The Isley Brothers, George Benson, the Mizell Brothers, Van McCoy, Clyde Otis, Ed Townsend, Sarah Vaughn, Dizzy Gillespie, Eddie Murphy & John Travolta all called home at one time or another, Joe and Sylvia Robinson held sway over Soul City’s music community.

For the uninitiated, uninformed, the casual follower and the expert alike, it’s occasionally instructive to look back. The roots of hip hop go back to the early ’70s when DJ Kool Herc played a party in the recreation center for his sister in The Boogie Down Bronx. He began the practice of playing the most exciting parts of records that appeared in the middle of them, “the breaks” and rhythmically talking over them. Some of the early adopters of this novel approach to party music were colorfully named MCs; Cold Crush Brothers, Busy Bee, Treacherous Three, DJ Hollywood, Funky 4 + 1 More, Kurtis Blow, Grand Master Flash and The Furious 5 and others.

Forward thinking club owners, and independent party promoters began to take advantage of the exclusionary admission practices of New York’s mid-town dance music palaces (Studio 54, Xenon), identified a new niche and began to cater to the burgeoning hip hop audience by booking MCs to perform live.

People from Harlem, The Bronx and Soul City flowed through each others neighborhoods freely. Among them were, Joey Robinson, the eldest son of the Robinsons. Legend has it that it was Joey who frequented Harlem World, a hot club that was one of the early spots that catered to the Hip Hop audience, and guided his parents to the new art form that was being performed in the rec centers, parks and clubs of the city. This eventually led to a party being thrown at Harlem World for Sylvia, where she witnessed the excitement being generated by this new thing.

Joe & Sylvia Robinson


You could catch on as a percussionist with the Isleys, a roadie with Benson, or as a gopher with Pickett. But with the Robinsons, you could be a singer, musician, producer, or up and coming exec and not necessarily have had a great deal of previous professional experience. You could have also been the former leader of a classic standup vocal harmony group like Philipe “Soul” Wynne of the Spinners, or Harry Ray of the Moments, and gotten a shot at the charts one more time.

The music business is not just musicians, artists, publishers, retailers, labels and venues. It’s not just programming for radio stations and network TV. When it’s done well, it’s money for restaurants that serve label staff members, receptionists, janitorial employees, florists, cab drivers that pick up and deliver clients, car dealers who lease and sell vehicles to artists, and execs; real estate agents who make their living by catering to the needs of music industry pros, sponsorship money for Little League baseball teams, membership fees for teams in Harlem’s Entertainers Basketball Classic and more. At the heart of all of this economic activity sits hit records and hit record making. And Sylvia Robinson’s ear, studio chops and Joe Robinson’s business moxie, kept it a little hotter for many of us who were satellites in their orbit.

I got to watch Joe operate, and string the promotion, pressing, distribution and sales together. His records were wholesaled through a network of independent distributors, who controlled the sale of records in their various territories. I saw and heard Sylvia practice her craft in the studio, and pour the feeling that she’d acquired as a child star, label head, writer, producer and hit maker for parts of four decades into several sessions.

They were affectionately known by members of their staff, and extended family as Mr. and Mrs. Rob. Joe passed on in 2000 and Sylvia last Thursday morning. They were truly two genius level entrepreneurs in this thing of ours. I will forever be grateful to them for having taken a chance on an untried and untested kid, and showing me what has been my way of life for all of my adult experience. RIP, Sylvia Robinson, you did your thing.

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