WITH the equally outstanding 'The
Message', 'Planet Rock' sprang hip hop
into being something of more force and
substance than was made evident by the
tint of fadishness which ran through the
second rate rap discs issued on the heels
of 'Rapper's Delight'.
stemmed from the combined efforts of
Arthur Baker, who produced it, Afrika
Bambaataa, the artist, and Tom Silverman,
who released the thing on his then
fledgling Tommy Boy label.
late 70s Tom had been an obsessive disco
fan and was publishing an industry tip
sheet called Disco News. When disco
became a dirty word the rag was revamped
under the new banner of Dance Music
Report. Publishing was handled out of
Tom's apartment and while it made him few
dollars, he did gain a knowledge of the
glorious music biz.
ducked out of his environmental geology
finals at college to set up Tommy Boy,
the first release being 'Havin' Fun' by
Cotton Candy. For this Silverman hocked
all his possessions and borrowed about
10,000 dollars. Ungratefully the record
sank without trace. But, again, it was
part of a learning process.
came the Jazzy Five's 'Jazzy Sensation'
which flogged a respectable 30,000.
"That to me was like a major hit. It
paid off the debts but then I had two
Silverman is a bubbly talker who, like a
lot of New Yorkers, would be interesting
to gauge in words per minute. He's proud
of his brainchild and the rumble it
caused in the industry at large.
Smallness and efficiency seem to be key
factors. Even now, when the label is
internationally recognised, it has only
recently moved to an office of
appropriate proportions. Including Tom,
there are three people on the staff.
crucial point was meeting with Bambaataa:
was looking into the reasons for my early
attempts at rap records failing. When I
met Bambaataa and the people from the
uptown scene, I discovered that rapping
isn't about rhyming words, it's about a
spirit. A feeling.
that meeting things were immediately
comfortable and immediately real. It
seemed that a whole lot else in the music
business was fake. Graven images and no
in America is the figment of some
mistaken imagination. Heavy metal and all
that, it doesn't exist around any social
group. You go uptown and you feel the
music. You can't really go anywhere and
find people bopping around to Molly
Hatchett. That's music to pop zits to.
This is a sociological statement and a
need that's in the blood of the people
who are into it."
BAMBAATAA sits in a Tommy Boy backroom,
one that is still under construction. The
rattle of hammers and drills fills the
air. Bambaataa can reel off a potted
history of the hip hop movement seemingly
without pausing for breath, a stream of
conversation dutifully punctuated with
relevant dates and places. An ability no
doubt practised to deal with the legions
of NY youth scene chroniclers from around
the world who've passed his way and
pumped him for answers over the last year
recalls the scene in the Bronx and his
first connection with Tom:
had been writing about me in the magazine
and talked about the Zulu Nation. The
Zulu Nation is a large young adult and
youth organisation which is basically
dealing with survival and the world
today. We have rappers and graffiti
artists, break dancers, people who road
manage other groups. Just people who want
to be around the music and go to
the 70s most radio was disco orientated
and hip hop was anti-disco. It had no
colour, it wasn't black or white but took
from a lot of things. Bits of rock and
jazz from everywhere.
those days there were no rap records so
we made cassettes of parties and they
went out all over the country. You might
have a cousin in North Carolina and you
could mail him a tape of what was
happening in the Bronx and he'd mail you
back a tape of what was happening down
were copies made, a cab company even had
tapes of hip hop which they would play to
passengers young adults who would rather
hear that than the radio."
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