With the success of “Rapper’s Delight,” the music industry begins to see interest in the potential, lucrative business of rap music. Rappers previously against the idea of selling records or even recording their performances such as Melle Mel and Cowboy start to demand to be paid more per show, creating a rift between Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five.
Angry with their promoter, Ray Chandler, the Furious Five do a show with DJ Tony Tone and Charlie Chase from the Cold Crush Brothers, prompting Chandler to send his security force, The Casanova’s, to threaten the Furious Five to return. To the dismay of the Furious Five however, their leader Grandmaster Flash still doesn’t see why anyone would prefer a recording over the excitement of a live show.
Looking to write about the rise of break-beats for Billboard Magazine, journalist Rocky Ford notices that most of the major shows in the city seem to be promoted by Rush Productions, headed by Russell “Rush” Simmons, the future co-founder of Def Jam. After witnessing one of Simmons’ parties, Rocky Ford leaves his job at Billboard and tells Simmons that he wants to record a single with DJ Hollywood and his partner Eddie Cheba.
Russell informs Ford that he has someone better: his friend Kurt Walker, a DJ and rapper who goes by the name of Kurtis Blow from the City College of New York in Harlem. Since the Furious Five are still in disagreements with their promoter, Russell Simmons books Kurtis Blow a gig with Grandmaster Flash spinning records behind him. Upon seeing the performance, Rocky Ford agrees to cut a single with him.
1980 Rapper of the Year: Kurtis Blow
Signing with Mercury Records after the widely successful single “Christmas Rappin'” (a riff on the Night Before Christmas that was easily placed on the radio due to its holiday themes), his following original single “The Breaks” would go on to become the first gold record in rap history. The song was later placed on his debut self-titled album, which prompted a tour opening for the Commodores. Kurtis was also the first rapper to have a major televised performance, appearing on the popular show Soul Train (video below).
“The Breaks” single also contained an instrumental version that inspired future rappers to “do it yourself!”, which was written on the record (pictured above), as well as prove that a successful career in hip-hop was possible. Kurtis Blow is also credited for creating the rap “hook,” since “The Breaks” is the first rap song to have a repetitive chorus.
“Clap your hands everybody, if you got what it takes
Cause I’m Kurtis Blow and I want you to know
That these are the breaks”
Bobby Robinson, owner of Bobby’s Happy House Records, is still selling out “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang the second the record comes back in stock. Since small time acts come in ’round the clock to try and get Bobby to sell their recordings, he decides to try and turn a little extra profit.
After setting up Enjoy Records, Bobby Robinson’s first hit would come from the Funky Four Plus One More featuring Sha-Rock, one of the first female MC’s. They record the track “Rappin’ and Rocking the House” without their DJ’s (the Brothers Disco) who opted out when they were told they couldn’t use pre-existing music like they do at their parties. Bobby Robinson’s nephew, Spoonie Gee, would be his next major hit with the song “Spoonin’ Rap” produced by DJ Easy Lee of the Treacherous Three, a rising young group including Special K, LA Sunshine, and battle-rapper Kool Moe Dee. They record their own single as well, titled “Body Rock.”
Curious to see what a real recording studio is like without Grandmaster Flash, the Furious Five cut the track “We Rap More Mellow,” but lose all the rights knowing nothing about the business side of the industry and are renamed “The Younger Generation” on the recording. Fresh off two successful singles, Bobby Robinson visits Grandmaster Flash after a show to try and sign them. After introductions, contracts are signed on the spot and the group tries again, recording the track “Super Rappin’.” Like The Brothers Disco, Grandmaster Flash is out of the picture, unable to sell pre-recorded music.
Across the coast, “Rapper’s Delight” is being heard for the first time and without the scene in New York City to go by, it’s California’s first taste of hip-hop. Teens hearing the single for the first time such as Andre Young and Tracy Marrow would appear five years later as pioneers of West Coast rap. By then however, they would be known, respectively, as Dr. Dre and Ice-T.
1980 – Hip-Hop Family Tree
Records Released in 1980:
Funky Four Plus One More – “Rappin’ and Rocking the House“
Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five – “Super Rappin’“
Kurtis Blow – “Christmas Rappin'” & “The Breaks,” from Kurtis Blow (Apple Music)
The Treacherous Three – “Body Rock“