When we talk about Hip Hop, its important to note that every city and region has its own unique histories and pioneering figures. In New York we give props to Hip Hop’s forefathers, DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash. They did the first parties, formed the first groups and developed the first techniques throughout the 1970s that laid the groundwork for those who came after. Here out west, 3000 miles away in the San Francisco Bay Area, we pay homage to pioneering figures Todd Shaw aka Too Short, Richie Rich, Freddy B and E-40 to name a few. Like their New York predecessors they too did the first parties, formed the first groups and developed some of the first techniques throughout the 80s that would influence future generations both nationally and around the world.
One of their signature contributions was laying down important blueprints on creating, recording and distributing music independently. The other important contribution from these pioneering artists was the how they used funk music and live instruments to develop the early West Coast sound.
Yesterday we caught up with Too Short at a barbershop around the corner from Mexicali Rose restaurant on 7th and Clay in downtown Oakland. Here he, explained that from the very beginning West Coast Hip Hop had live instrumentation. He noted that when he did his first recordings at 75 Girls record label, like everyone else they had a drum machine but it was complimented with someone playing keyboards, guitars or bass. There was no such thing as sampling for many of the early artists, Short asserted.
Short noted that he was in the tradition of many of his fellow artists and producers like E-40, Digital Underground and pioneering producers Khayree, Al Eaton, Studio Tone, Tommy Foster & Danny McElroy, and Ant Banks to name a few, in the sense that they all played in high school or college bands. Short went on to explain that he started out as a drummer who played in the band at Fremont High School. He said he was also a pretty good ‘one finger expert’ when it came to keyboards and guitar. He named off a string of records including Freaky Tales, Dope Fiend Beat and I Ain’t Tripping where he played the background instruments.
Short added that the use of live instruments allowed early artists to maintain a funk sound that was desired by those who came up either listening or being directly involved in the hundreds of 3-4 man garage bands that existed prior to Hip Hop showing up in the Bay Area. “It was all about musicianship”, he said. Short pointed out that within every Bay Area Hip Hop group there is someone in the fold who can really throw down on the musician tip. It’s part of Bay Area/West Coast culture and our legacy. Short talked about the influence that groups like Tower of Power and Sly and the Family Stone had on early Hip Hop in the Bay.
If folks really look closely at Bay Area rap groups you will find that many of them deeply rooted in band culture. I recall early Digital Underground shows where DJ Fuze would battle long time drummer Chopmaster J while Shock G also an accomplished musician would rock the keyboards as one of his alter ego ‘Piano man‘.
MC Hammer had a lot of early production done by Felton Pilate of Con Funk Shun. Later he would have huge bands at his live shows which included the original horn players from Earth Wind and Fire.
Before Paris also an accomplished musician made his mark as a political rapper, he started out as an artist who was moving in the direction of Prince.
Today artists like Boots Riley of the Coup not only have their own band, but recently teamed up with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine to form Street Sweeper Social Club.
Again Bay Area Hip Hop is derived from the funk bands that proceeded them.
This was a point that was re-emphasized by Richie Rich. He said that even though he doesn’t play instruments, he considers himself a musician because as an emcee he uses his voice and flows to play along with live instruments. He went on to add, that over the years he’s come to prefer rhyming with a live band because it allows him a lot of freedom to express himself and also be felt.
We spoke with both Too Short and Richie Rich about the new music venture that’s emerging from their camp. For those who don’t know, Too Short has teamed up with popular accomplished musicians Kev Choice and Martin Luther formerly of the Roots to form a band that has no official name as of yet. Also in the group is Silk E who many know as one of the Bay Area’s dope emcees, who often performs with Tony Toni Tone but as Short noted, she’s also an incredible singer.
During our interview Short talked about how the group has been able to bring such divergent sounds together and make it work. He pointed out Martin Luther‘s soul/neo sou/ and rock backgrounds. He talked about Kev Choice being a classically trained jazz musician who can ‘freestyle endlessly’.
‘He’s the exact opposite of me in the sense that he has super positive rhymes and spits rhymes about current events’ Short noted. But that’s what makes the group work.
Silk E rounds out the group with her unique sound and approach
Dubbed Towne Business, their debut performance is scheduled this Saturday September 11th at the Mezzanine in San Francisco. Short noted this will be the first of many shows they plan to do in the Bay Area before taking it on the road.
Here our interviews with both Too Short & Richie Rich-click the links below