Posts Tagged ‘Russell Simmons’


Glen E. Friedman has been a friend for nearly thirty years. He is a world class photographer with a new coffee table book out on bookshelves right now. I have written the afterword for the book. Here it is…

Game Recognize Game

For many of the players found in these pages, a Glen E. portrait, magazine shoot, publicity photo, album cover, t-shirt photo, or poster coincided with the moment when the subjects were breaking through from one level of the game to the next. From a singles deal to an album, club act to arena opener, from an opener to a headliner, from gold to platinum sales status, from releasing a string of important recordings to booking their first film role, from hanging with their clique to being outta here. Whatever the next level was, Glen was there with his vision to present them as they were precisely at that moment: ascending.

Because more often than not, Glen was there when their demo was moving around the hands of the few tastemakers who were empowered to sign them or when their first 12-inch single dropped and he heard it. He was there early because he was not merely an outside observer or on an anthropological expedition—he was a member of the movement and the community that he captured so dynamically and promoted relentlessly.

That’s how we met. I was there too, and, like him and many others, I was engaged in the day-to-day struggle of building the small but tight hip-hop nation into the international hip-hop culture and global business force that it has become. We were both living in New York and we’d see each other around campus. I had been the head of promotion for Def Jam, moved on to work at several other companies but kept close ties with my man Russell “Rush” Simmons. Because you could generally find Glen where the action was, he rolled with Rush too, and we were all friends and members of each other’s extended families.

In fact, “Rush” had a four-hundred-square-foot “mini” duplex, a walkup apartment in the dead center of Greenwich Village that Glen and I had keys to, crashed in, and where we all operated as unofficial roommates for a time. The place had a sky-blue facade with illustrations of pigs and elephants descending to the ground via parachute. Man, if those pigs could talk.

I made a living by putting records on the radio for labels that were cool enough to sign dope joints, but had no clue about how to get them any exposure. These small indie, mom-and-pop labels that were the first to develop hip hop and turn it into a cultural force, before multi-national corporations turned it into an economic one, were also the ones that consistently hired me and Glen. I got their records played, and he directed and shot their artwork.

So we weren’t only members of a community that was still getting most of its juice from the underground—a movement that had yet to be fully recognized by mainstream media, and a culture that at the time, very few referred to as such. We were also part of a loose network of young folk mixing shit up every which way we could, hustlers who made their way in Ronald Reagan’s America and Ed Koch’s New York, who attempted to instigate change in the status quo and use art to improve our lot in life.

Hustling times call for moves to be made, so while I was on a mid-’80s business trip to LA for a Black Radio convention. I ran into Glen, who was still based in Cali, and looking out for Def Jam and Russell Simmons’s acts when they were in town. I was there networking, raising my profile and looking for checks. Glen was passing through with Lyor Cohen. Glen and I didn’t know each other well then, so I hit him with it, “Where you from?”

Homie told me he grew up in LA, but started school in Englewood, NJ, and was born in Pinehurst, North Carolina. Later, he told me he really was a bicoastal kid who shuttled back and forth to see his dad on the east coast. He said living in Englewood at a young age really opened his eyes to racism and discrimination. He relayed a story about his best friend, who was two years older than Glen and Native American, and who was assaulted in a barber’s chair when his mom took him to get a haircut from white barbers! They fucked his hair up, and when they cut it all off, it left a mark on Glen that he never forgot. He also was living in Englewood when Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated, which also left a huge impression on him.

Pinehurst was my own mother’s birthplace, and Englewood—less than a mile outside of Manhattan—was home to the first fully integrated school system in America. The city has produced artists like John Travolta, Brooke Shields, Richard Lewis and Karen O. It is the place where Sugar Hill Records was based when they signed Grand Master Flash, and got the hip-hop ball rolling when they dropped “The Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. It is a place where creative freedom flourished, and many artists who benefited from it called it home. It is the place where jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughan once lived and Thelonious Monk died. Soul Man, Wilson Pickett lived there along with Rock & Roll Hall of Famers, the Isley Brothers. I know the town well; I was born there, grew up there, and broke into the record business by working at Sugar Hill. I was actually a classmate of Glen’s Native American friend from grade school. But Glen and I would not discover how closely we were tied together through our shared background until much later.

It is in that background where you may find clues as to why Glen, a kid of Jewish descent with a vegan diet, and far-left-leaning political tendencies; a kid who was already a graduate of the nascent skateboard and American punk scenes, rolled so easily with black folks on the come-up. It may explain why he relentlessly promoted the demos of eventual Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Chuck D and Public Enemy to countless tastemakers with the following prediction: “These guys are going to do for hip-hop what The Clash did for rock & roll.” Why he was the one to put me up on the first double sided De La Soul 12-inch, “PlugTunin’”/”Freedom Of Speak.” And why on the night after he first played the record for me, we went to see Queen Latifah’s first show ever, in an abandoned junior high school gym that on weekends doubled as a space for an underground party called “Amazon”; and why he walked around in the dead of winter with a self-recorded cassette of the De La joint with the hopes that he’d run into someone with a tape recorder and he could put them up on it too.

Glen was also the guy who shopped the first A Tribe Called Quest demo to that small group of cutting-edge labels that comprised the early rap business. And the one who first played Ice Cube’s Amerikka’s Most Wanted for me, with its early example of east-meets-west collaboration between Cube and the production team that laced the Public Enemy records with all that heat, the Bomb Squad. He dated beautiful black girls who wound up as doctors who graduated from Ivy League schools, and this may have been where he first learned that talent has no color and can never be held back by arbitrary boundaries.

With the exception of his confusing and misplaced love of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Glen has always been on point, but if you dig a little deeper, more facts can be unearthed. Pittsburgh was the team where MLB executive Branch Rickey landed, after he brought Jackie Robinson to the Dodgers, thereby breaking the color line. Rickey continued his progressive and contrarian ways when he built an organization that not only signed the Hispanic legend, Roberto Clemente, but would eventually be the first Major League team to start an all black lineup. Of course, to Glen, this was baseball like it oughtta be.

The late Dock Ellis was the pitcher who took the mound on the day the team sent that first all black lineup on the field. The legendary right-handed pitching rebel and malcontent threw smoke. Ellis would evolve into a symbol of black rebellion and a counter-culture hero who confounded the front office and baseball’s image-makers with his unwillingness to adhere to the status quo. By chance, Ellis met a loud mouthed, eleven-year-old Pirates fan yelling for an autograph from the stands at a game in Shea stadium. This resulted in Dock developing a friendship with young Glen Ellis Friedman. He was probably the first of many fuck-you heroes to cross paths with my man.

Like the artists that he photographed, Glen E. Friedman was a product of the underground and his commitment to youth culture, progressive politics, art, artists, and artistry is unparalleled among my collaborators, peers, associates, and friends. He is my Senior Vice President of Artistic Integrity, my comrade in arms, my man a-hundred-fifty grand, my Nigga. He made a home among talented outsiders, and by using his talent, his gifts, his contacts, and his power without discriminating, he lent credibility to the efforts of others, and thus greater access to the larger world. He became an advocate for hip-hop at the time when it was most in need of advocacy. He trafficked in authenticity, as well as conceptualized and documented images of rebels at work. He served it fresh daily.

And now you’ve made a move, you picked this book up, and you’re reading an essay in a publication filled with portraits that depict pioneers, legends and stars at important times in their lives and in their careers. You’re one of the smart ones, huh? You know what’s up? You’re probably a leader in your field and a top shelf player in your chosen area of expertise.

A top dog, a don. If not, then you have a book filled with images of people who are and were. And if you’ve got a combination of the right hustle, gifts, and skills, and the time is right, then maybe this book will help close the gap between where you are now and a spot at the top of the heap. Or maybe it will serve to remind you of what it was like when you were last there, and help you to recall the required swagger to get you back.

But remember this: the players in these pages, were not in it for the shine. They did it because they could. Their ethos was art for art’s sake, because it was not apparent that you’d get rich when you put your thing down back then. It was more likely that you’d put out a record that no one but your friends and family would ever hear. These players did it for love. If you got rich or famous, that was a result of a lot of sweat, more than a few tears, and the stars properly aligning in your favor; it was not the objective. They grabbed a mic, spit a rhyme, rocked the party, or dropped a joint because they needed to, wanted to, had to. They got on a roll, and used all of their heart, all of their training, and all of their skills to blaze that moment, and the next one, and the next, until they caught fire. And when they got just hot enough, Glen E. Friedman took their picture.


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In the late ’70s, I had a good friend and upstairs neighbor who was adventurous. Like many of us who’d grown up during the height of the Soul era, he was the type who wasn’t quite content with the Disco thing that had all the kids dancing, at the time, so he searched for more.

He listened to the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and Blondie, leaders of the Punk and New Wave movements, and began attending underground parties, in Queens and Manhattan, at unsanctioned and obscure locations that featured something called rapping. He had great stories. Seemed like he was having fun.

High school days ended all too quickly, and I went on to Boston, to college, and to make new friends in the local dance, radio and record communities. In the summer of ’79, my classmate, Jay Dixon, the current PD of New York’s Hot 97, invited me to join him on the air at WRBB-FM, Northeastern University’s 10 watt radio station. I played Jazz/Funk and Fusion records four days a week – the sort of stuff that Premiere and Q-Tip would eventually sample.

Time passed, and that fall, Steve Rifkind’s father and uncle’s diskery, Spring Records, released “King Tim III” by New York Funk clique, the Fatback Band. The record featured an MC in the break and change was in the wind.

The next month, a Soul music company, All Platinum Records that had fallen on hard times, and was located in my hometown, reorganized as Sugar Hill Records and released the game changing “Rappers Delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang. The change that Fatback promised came quickly, and through attending college parties, I began to see and experience what my upstairs neighbor had already known about.

Three years later, I was working in the promotion department of Sugar Hill Records, and I entered the Hip Hop community for life. My journey led me to cross paths with my mentor Russell Simmons, and I joined him and his partner, Rick Rubin in launching their Def Jam Recordings company.

Today, over thirty years later, I am Special Advisor to the Zulu overlord, Afrika Bambaataa, in his effort to erect a Universal Hip Hop Museum, in the Bronx, the place where it all started.

To do what must be done, we need to raise funds. Through the I’m In campaign, our initial objective is to design and build a virtual online museum, in advance of breaking ground for a physical space. To help us reach that goal, we have launched a Rockethub crowdfunding campaign at http://www.rockethub.com/projects/44101-i-m-in-support-the-universal-hip-hop-musuem We intend to raise $50,000 in the next 90 days, and $500,000 by years end.

This Saturday, in the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, along with our partners SoBro, we are hosting a Living Legends Of Hip Hop Block Party that will feature; Video Music Box legend, Uncle Ralph McDaniels, Kurtis Blow, Melle Mel, Grandwizzard Theodore and the planet rocker, Afrika Bambaataa and his Soul Sonic Force.

Join us if you can, donate if you can’t. Doing both would be the best choice. It should be fun.

Hip Hop has grown up in ways that were inconceivable on that day when I first heard “Rappers Delight” not all of them good. The time has come for serious and reverential curation, protection and presentation of this thing of ours. We intend to do it. Please help us in our cause.


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Adam Yauch was an energetic, intelligent and humorous kid of 20 when I met him almost 30 years ago. Along with Adam Horovitz and Mike Diamond, his two band mates in the Beastie Boys, I caught him playing the Roxy on 18th Street in Manhattan. He did a laughably bad parody of rap and hip hop while wearing a doo rag and a sweatsuit. It was their first gig at the old headquarters for hip hop and their ridiculous attire made them look like they did part-time security at a Times Square porn shop. At the time, it did not appear that they would have much future as serious players in the hip hop world. It just goes to show you that greatness can come from inauspicious beginnings. History has proven that I could not have been any more wrong. 

I was a young promotion man with access and taste who loved hip hop. I had arrived at that point in my musical journey by using a path that was paved by James Brown, Sly Stone, Aretha Franklin, Stax, and jazz fusion. Adam Yauch had arrived there byway of the well documented connection between punk and early independent hip hop. That first night we met, Yauch and the other two gave me and their then manager (Russell Simmons) a ride (in a rented limousine) from Manhattan to a party that some successful drug dealers were throwing out in Queens. 
At that time, the region in Manhattan south of 23rd Street was an unsettled wilderness of abandoned factories, apartment buildings, lofts and unrented retail space. The sort of barren, desolate wasteland that provided a perfect setting for creativity to flourish without interference. It was also home to a network of clubs where an eclectic menu of alternative, punk, synth pop, new wave, rap and underground records filled dance floors on a nightly basis. Artists, models, actors, musicians, writers, socialites, music execs and anonymous aspirants of all types blended to make up an exciting world where hustle fueled their desire for fame and turned dreams into reality.
The Beasties were fortunate to have met Russell and his young partner, Rick Rubin when they did. Simmons and Rubin had hit with a few of their independent productions, but had been stiffed by the labels that they’d released the records through. As a result, Rubin approached Simmons about partnering in a label and together they formed Def Jam Recordings. The Beasties were the first act signed, but the first record released was “I Need A Beat” by LL Cool J. 

A little more than six months after the night I met Yauch, I joined Def Jam as their first head of promotion, and I was given two records that featured the young MC that were virtually impossible to get played; “The Party’s Getting Rough” by The Beasties and “Drum Machine” by Yauch. Let’s just say that they had yet to crystalize their blend of humor, shock and frat boy lewdness that would allow their “License To Ill” project to be the first rap album to grace the top of the Billboard Album chart the following year. And that they were recordings that were still too rooted in the punk aesthetic to connect with the core rap audience. Fortunately, neither he nor his band mates were discouraged. They kept scratching and came up with a real rap record called “Hold It Now Hit It” produced by Rubin. 
Simmons was imbued with the spirit of P. T. Barnum, and Rubin was a young mystic who tapped into the deep dark pools of misogyny, sexism and ill male behavior that wrestling and heavy metal depended on to drive sales. He blessed his young charges with the benefit of his knowledge. They took it to heart and went on tour to support their record with chicks who appeared on stage in cages, and danced in leather bikinis with big ’80s style “Working Girl” hair. Their was a good deal of suggestive writhing to the beat and they presaged the booty music and dirty south based videos that would become popular in the next decade. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the inflatable penis shaped balloon that they used as a prop.
In response to these hijinks, there was tremendous controversy and outrage from just about every responsible adult corner. There were threats to keep the band from performing in England, voices in the Black American music community accused the band of reverse minstrelsy, feminists found their whole act to be reprehensible, but kids dug it. Black ones, white ones, females; all kinds. They represented youthful rebellion like no other band of their era. 
The decadence and excess led to a dark period that led to the band nearly breaking up and leaving Def Jam after one album. It is still the biggest seller in the label’s history. Out of that, something more important than sales happened: Led by Yauch, The Beastie Boys became a voice for tolerance, anti-discrimination, religious freedom and progressive causes of all types. They became the conscience of hip hop.
The last five times that I saw the formerly raucous college party band perform were all for humanitarian or progressive causes. In ’97 and ’98, I went to the Tibetan Freedom Festivals that were held in New York and DC. At the invitation of The Beasties, the worlds of hip hop, alternative, and cool were brought together in football stadiums to bring attention to the struggle of the Tibetan people to remove the oppressive foot of the People’s Republic Of China from their necks. I ran into Adam while he was skateboarding a block away from the old Roxy and he connected me with a contact to get VIP treatment.
The Foo Fighters showed up, Sonic Youth rocked, Radiohead, Tribe, De La, Herbie Hancock, Beck, Wyclef, R.E.M. U2, Gang Star and many, many others did their thing. Backstage was heat; Minnie Driver, Ben Harper, Laura Dern, Guy Oseary and a new couple out for their first public date; Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston all took in the music and good vibes. The former sweat suit wearers were using their power and influence to bring the international creative community together to raise their voices to fight injustice.
In the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11, when outright racist propaganda disguised as patriotism filled the news cycle, the Beasties decided to protest the coming war by throwing a show in New York’s Hammerstein Ball Room that featured a joint performance by Bruce Springsteen, Michael Stipe and Bono. The headliners who’d used an inflatable penis as a prop had raised a middle finger to the unholy alliance of Bush, big oil and the military industrial complex and foresaw the fallacy of the decade long mistake that lay ahead of us all.
In 2002, I went to Las Vegas to the House of Blues to see the Boys who became men, perform at a benefit to raise money for the family of their slain mentor and our old friend, Jam Master Jay. I went backstage to say what up to the crew and was received warmly. The jokesters lent their weight to an effort to ease the pain of our extended family members and set an example of how to turn your sorrow into action for the rest of us.
In 2008, they came to Charlotte, NC to play for Rock The Vote and help Barack Obama become elected president of the US, and in the process, swing the previously red state into the blue. Oh we had a time that night. I spoke with them all, but had a lengthy private chat with Yauch about his film directing and a potential project that we could work on together. We weren’t able to agree on terms, but if we had, I’m sure it would have been dope. Adam had a totally different take on the project than I did, but his ol skool flava was still apparent.
He came a long way from that first night in ’84. And in the wake of his untimely death, it has dawned on me that they became the most successful artists that I have ever worked with and represented the golden age of our thing to all corners of the globe. I am proud to have known them all and especially proud to have known Yauch, he showed us all how you can positively use power, even if at first, it doesn’t seem like you deserve it. RIP

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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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NBA insider David Aldridge has been commissioned by NBA.com to do a piece in observance of Michael Jordan’s induction into the Naismith Hall of Fame next week. He has decided to compile an oral history that he has asked me to contribute to. Please find a few of my observations below.



I am a music business veteran who grew up in New York with family ties in North Carolina, and I now live in Charlotte. When it comes to Michael Jordan, I am a particularly schizophrenic basketball fan. I am a lifelong die-hard Knicks fan and a UNC Tar Heel supporter since my teens. It pleases me to see that two of my cut ’em and they’ll bleed blue friends, Jewel Love & Kenny Smith have been invited to contribute as well.

Michael Jordan’s play as an undergrad in Dean Smith’s system was a joy to behold, and contributed significantly to my overall appreciation of Chapel Hill tradition. During the ’81-’82 NCCA basketball season, I was a DJ at WQMG-FM Greensboro and caught most of the UNC schedule on TV. Chapel Hill’s season was one long highlight package. I especially remember an offensive rebound and put back that Ralph Sampson was on the business end of, during the second regular season UNC vs. Virginia game. Having followed his exploits the entire year, I was not surprised to see Michael cash one for all the marbles in New Orleans later that year. It would prove to be a harbinger of the frustration that Pat Ewing (and I) would experience as a result of Michael’s competitive instincts and unbridled need to win.

Once Michael became a pro, the pride that I felt because of the success of a favored son of my mother and father’s home state began to turn into something else; to me, he justifiably became the enemy, as a result of earning the right to be called the greatest Knick killer of all time. He was a disruptive figure and an obstacle to all that was good from my mid 20’s to my mid 30’s. If one’s greatness is determined by the greatness of one’s enemies, then I am one of the greatest basketball fans in the country. I hated that guy with a passion.



I’ve met Michael three times. We have a few friends and many acquaintances in common. Most recently, I ran into him last year on the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend here in Charlotte. My old friend Q-Tip was in town to do a show in support of his latest release. We ran into MJ as we were going to the show. The Celtics had played his Bobcats earlier that evening and I asked if they had won. He graciously replied “No.” It’s interesting to see how he has had to learn how to handle losing later in life, as he’d helped to teach me earlier, through his consistent mistreatment of my beloved Knicks.

The second time we met, I was having dinner at New York’s Coffee Shop with the noted journalist and screenplay writer Barry Michael Cooper. It was early November of ’93. The leaves had fallen and you could smell basketball in the air. It was the beginning of his first retirement. We were seated in a banquette in the back and Michael was in a booth in the front. I walked up to his table to remind him that we’d met in the same restaurant the previous year when he was with Spike Lee and Charles Oakley (a great Knick). I told him that I didn’t want to interrupt his meal but I was dining with the author of “New Jack City” and that I would bring him over to introduce them to each other in a bit. Less than 20 minute later, the most famous athlete of our era made his way over to our table through a packed joint and introduced himself. He was thoughtful, polite and humble with a mild exception; he threatened to come out of retirement by the end of the season and crush my dreams of a Knick title one more time.



The first time we met, I was at the Coffee Shop in May of ’92 having brunch with Russell Simmons, Christy Turlington and a date. It was a gorgeous spring afternoon and we’d caught a playoff matinée earlier that day at the Garden. One of the partners in the restaurant came over to tell us that Spike would be bringing Michael and some friends by. I was in full Knick regalia; a blue windbreaker, new blue Nikes, Gap jeans and shirt, and a fresh, crispy, blue, orange and white Knick baseball cap. At the time, Chicago was defending their first of the Jordan/Pippen/Jackson titles and they were riding high. First year Knick coach Pat Riley had led his team into Chicago and stolen the series opener and he would have gotten the second one too, if not for some late game heroics from BJ Armstrong.

An impromptu table was improvised for the Jordan/Lee party. Michael was at the head of one end of the table. Russell, Christy and my date went and spoke to His Airness, I kept it moving and went down to the other end of the table to speak to Oak. I felt the need to stress the importance of hitting his free throws to him. I also spoke to Spike and his old partner Monty Ross. I was just about to leave when Michael made a huge smile, extended his hand toward me and said. “Hi, I’m Michael Jordan. Don’t be mad.”




Here is the link to David’s entire piece on MJ @NBA.com



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The tennis playing Williams sisters are on and trying to decide which of them will be walking away from the Wimbledon Women’s Singles Championship with the victor’s trophy; the same trophy they’ve passed between them for a decade. They’ve got the shine and the paper so, at this point, history is what it’s all about. Venus is attempting to catch the standard bearer—the great Billie Jean King—in overall grand slam singles titles, and Serena’s aim is to win for the first time in six years while exacting revenge for last year’s defeat in two sets at the hands of her older sibling. While putting this down, the playa has witnessed Serena dominate her sister and win the title in less time than it has taken to properly finish his blog.



In the world of other defending champions, the Los Angeles Lakers are on the verge of upsetting the NBA summer free agent marketplace by acquiring Ron Artest, the “True Warrior,” the nickname that he answers to during Harlem’s legendary summer tournament: the Entertainer’s Basketball Classic. The standout Queensbridge Projects product is an often troubled but gifted bare knuckles competitor who incited a riot after a Detroit Pistons fan threw beer on him. He is the best one-on-one defender in the NBA and a legit 20-point-a-night scorer; thus making him the rarest of breeds: a big time scorer who will do the dirty work at the other end of the court. His arrival in Laker land was made possible when emerging star and NBA Finals hero, Trevor Ariza’s agent miscalculated the amount of leverage their position held in their free agent negotiations with Laker GM Mitch Kupchack. It is worth noting that My Knicks drafted Ariza, traded him and passed over the hometown product, Artest, the year he came out of St. Johns. On another Laker note, my old friend Laker lead scout Rasheed Hazzard caught his first world championship ring with last month’s Laker defeat of the Orlando Magic. Get ’em Sheed! Stay focused! And congratulations to his brother and sister-in-law, Jalal and Shalott on the newest addition to the squad, Marley. Mother and child are both at home resting comfortably.



If you’re not a friend on my Facebook list, you’re missing out. We just had a celebration of some of the finer moments in the history of Black Music which is currently experiencing a worldwide resurgence, courtesy of the music of The King. Steaming portions of soul, funk, jazz and hip hop were served from the insideplaya’s You Tube archives all month (you can find my FB address on my blog roll.) Jazz fusion icons Weather Report were featured, and made us recall a time when shit was just a little bit funkier. The music of the visionaries Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff was represented by posts from Archie Bell & The Drells, The O’Jays, Teddy Pendegrass and MFSB. Minneapolis hat wearing hit men, Jam and Lewis were acknowledged, as well as the late Luther Vandross. Of course, the recently departed King was remembered too.

Black Music is a river that has flowed on and on, and on through the years. You can observe it safely from the shore, or you can jump in. I’m a swimmer, and have kept up with the currents for over a generation. I was especially blessed to have been at ground zero for New York’s hip hop explosion. The New York of Grand Master Flash, the Zulu overlord/DJ Afrika Bambaataa, Fab Five Freddy, Nells, The Red Parrot, Bentley’s The Roxy, Danceteria and The Fever. Funky Town USA was deep and rich in the feeling, and the beat was strong then. You could hear the urgent sound of hip hop in the parks, on car stereos, spilling out of boom boxes, and filling the ear drums and souls of restless kids who had been battered by supply side economics. The damage that had been wrought by exclusionary practices was assuaged by the intoxicating medicine of two turntables, a mic and funky individuals with extremely mad flow. The rhythm was airborne, and in the wake of “Thriller”, it seemed that just about everyone I knew was creative in some way or another: break dancers, graffiti artists, MCs, DJs, actors, comics and entrepreneurs were all getting their grind on to the fresh sound of the come up.







At the time all this was going on, I was a radio promotion executive for hire. In what was then a tightly knit business community populated by a handful of mom & pop operators, word of my prowess traveled fast. Because I had access to airplay at then powerhouse Urban, 98.7 KISS-FM, and the pioneering Black FM Heritage outlet, WBLS I was in demand. Good friends touted my skillz to the independently distributed record label community. The late Steve Salem, third generation Black Music exec, and SRC and Loud Records mogul, Steve Rifkind, and legendary Jive creative executive turned filmmaker Ann Carli (Tokyo Rose) all helped to put the playa in the game.



Success in music circles, and especially in New York music circles leads to increased access. Increased access leads to influence, and influence is courted and feted. As a result of this, I often found myself mixing with more established executives in the wider community. In the summer of ’86 I was invited to a party on a yacht that was thrown by the then small independent upstart Jive Records to celebrate the 3 X platinum success of their British (West Indian) Black Pop breakthrough sensation, Billy Ocean. In attendance that Friday night were some of the real and future playas in the game. Jive was then being distributed by Clive Davis’ Arista Records, so he was in the place to be. Additionally, then Arista promo don, and future Sony chair, Donny Ienner was present. A & R man Ed Eckstine was in effect. New Jack swinger Andre Harrell was on the list. My hostess Anne Carli was on board as was a young 19 year old NYU coed, Faith Newman. I should have known then that she’d make history of her own. Faith came to the party with an attorney, and we struck up a conversation that continued once we were back on shore. She was Jewish and from Philly, and was crazy about Black Music. She was current on all the latest hot twelve inches, radio cuts, mix show jams, club bangers and ballads. She was also capable of passing the acid test for flava, she could do any Black teenage dance that came out. You may scoff, but there were many a young Black adult who could not credibly do the “wop.” Faith had a lot of soul.



Night life was of major importance to the fledgling hip hop business because club jocks played your record first instead of waiting for it to be on the radio. It was this fact that gave the night world the edge that comes with being experimental. I had access to all of the important jocks and all of the important clubs. Faith became a club hopping buddy during that summer. She was living in a small Greenwich Village apt. and was ready to rock at a moment’s notice. As a summer of clubbing began to turn to fall, Faith needed to go back to school. She wanted to further her music business education and she was looking for an internship. I had contact at CBS Records and recommended her for an internship in the dance department. She flourished, and would eventually leave NYU early and land her first paying job in the game, a coveted A & R spot with Def Jam Recordings. Def Jam became her graduate program in hip hop. In the early ’90’s she bounced from Def Jam and took a position with it’s distributing label, and she joined the company where she first began to intern, Columbia Records, as an A & R executive. The gamble that she’d taken to leave NYU early was beginning to pay off, and would have a bigger payoff still. An artist/hustler/utility playa from her Def Jam days gave her a call about an artist that he was shopping. The hustler was MC Serch and the artist was another product of the Queensbridge housing project, the ill lyricist Nas who was then referring to himself as “Nasty” Nas.





A deal was struck for the young MC’s services and Faith got started making a record with the wunderkind. I had moved on to the A & R ranks myself and was busy making a bit of history with the signing of a young Virginian with a little talent of his own, and Faith and I were not in contact on a regular basis. When you become immersed in making a record, you are living, eating and breathing that project until you get that first record on the radio. Then you’re only breathing it, as you begin to fight with the rest of the departments in the company for their budgets, energy and contacts in support of your initial vision. This part of the game was made harder, as record companies at that time were primarily staffed to exploit rock and pop records. Even executives within the Black and Urban radio departments were not steeped in the vibrant street/club and business culture that was producing A & R executives like Faith Newman. But she was undaunted and proceeded to collaborate with her young charge and together they would not just make a record, they would make a hip hop classic, “Illmatic.”

Nas had appeared on the influential “Breaking Atoms” by Main Source and spit lava on a guest spot on “Live At The Barbecue.” I’d had the album, but at the time of it’s release I was immersed in compiling the soundtrack to the crack classic, “New Jack City.” The Nasty one’s debut went without notice by me. Serch and Faith had not been similarly distracted.

I first became aware that the Nas era was about to begin on an autumn night in ’93 in Brooklyn. I’d been playing basketball at the Eastern Athletic Club with the Simmons brothers, Rush and Run. The chauffeur driven black sedan that had been the vehicle for many a club runs was waiting for us after the run, and the driver Kenny Lee was accompanied by a friend, the young producer/MC/DJ/ trendsetter and Tribe frontman, Q-Tip. Our eventual destination was Cafe Tabac – the downtown model magnet of the moment.

We were listening to DJ Red Alert’s mix show on KISS-FM and the party starting “Gangasta Bitch” came on and blazed. Tip said, “I made this shit.” The radio was turned up past rattling so the bass could be felt just so. As was his habit at the time, Tip asked me, “What’s the hottest record in the street right now?” As many times as he’d asked the question, you would think that I’d be prepared to answer, but he ambushed me again. Mercifully, Red Alert came to my aid and distracted him by playing “Halftime” the debut setup jawn from Nas.



All I can remember of my impression of that first listen was a furious lyrical intensity that seemed to reach out of the radio, grab you by the throat, and force you to listen. I remember snatches of lyrics and punch lines, “Nas why did you do it? You know you got the mad phat fluid when you rhyme” “I set it off with my own rhyme/’cause I’m ill as a convict who kills for phone time.” He was aggressive, clever and inappropriate. He was mad B.

The CD that followed several months later contained 9 more examples of excellence produced by a squad of young hit men including, Large Professor, Premiere, Q-Tip, Pete Rock and L.E.S. All through the spring and summer of ’94 “Illmatic” was top 5 in my crib. It was an essential collection of beats and rhymes that served as a window to what was going on in the streets of New York. The album has been lauded by publications like The New York Times, Rolling Stone, The Source, XXL, and others as one of—if not the best—hip hop album of all time. No true hip hop collection is complete without it. After its less than enthusiastic initial reception at retail, it eventually went platinum in 2001.

The former NYU coed left Columbia Records, and Nas struggled with an ever increasing desire for mainstream acceptance on the part of his label, and his handlers without her guidance. Despite this, he became the voice of his generation and eventually left Columbia to sign with Def Jam. It is worth noting that when MC Serch first began to shop Nas’ demo he played it for my old basketball playing buddy Russell “Rush’ Simmons who passed on the chance to sign him. Faith Newman is now married to a nice Jewish doctor, living between New York and Pittsburgh, and involved in building a publishing company. We don’t do the clubs anymore, but we’re in touch.


Peace to Steve Kopitko, Clive Caulder, Gail Bruszewitcz, Pete Nice, The Latin Quarter, The Underground, Kool Lady Blue and Chuck Chillout

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