Today’s pick brings me back to the dawn of rap with none other than one of its original pioneers, Kurtis Blow. His 1980 self-titled debut was a landmark record not only for the fact that most rap acts at the time typically only released singles, but also it was one of the earliest rap acts on a major label (Mercury records).
Those familiar with today’s rap culture might be slightly befuddled after listening to the Kurtis Blow album. This is old old school. Rap was more about fun and less about social and political issues. While he does touch upon the theme of economic hardship with the track “Hard Times”, he paints the picture with rather broad strokes. Furthermore, there’s not much in the way of sampling here (if at all). Among the credits are several studio musicians. It’s just a rap album; not hip-hop.
The song here most everyone would be familiar with is “The Breaks”. If you pay attention to the lyrics (which you should, it’s a rap album after all) you’ll realize he uses the word “breaks” (or “brakes” where applicable) in every possible sense, be in mechanical (“brakes on a bus, brakes on a car”), in relation to good luck (“breaks to make you a superstar”) and bad (“And yesterday you lost your job? – That’s the breaks”). Kurtis is obviously having a lot of fun here and is his best-known song for a good reason.
Most of the other songs are no slouch either. “Rappin’ Blow (Part Two)” is actually a ‘pick up where we left off’ of his previous 12″ single “Christmas Rappin'”. Also on side one is “Way Out West”, which is silly but good. It’s a rap competition played out like a Spaghetti Western. I looked at the credits to see if Kenny Rogers wrote the song. Nope. This was Kurtis. Good stuff – I had a great time hearing it.
Side two is where the album loses a little of it’s steam. “Throughout Your Years” and “Hard Times”, while not as good as side one, are still strong songs. But then we get to the third track. “All I Want In This World (Is To Find That Girl)”, besides being a mouthful of a title, is sung by Kurtis Blow as a slow-tempo soul piece. And it’s awkward. Really awkward. The lyrics don’t do him any favors (“A cute one, a shy one, a slim one, a sly one…”) but he might have rapped his way out of them. As it stands, it’s possibly enjoyable ironically, otherwise no.
Even stranger is the closing track, a cover of Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Taking Care of Business”. No I did not type that sentence into the wrong article. While it’s interesting to note it as the first attempt at bridging rock and rap, well before Run DMC covered “Walk This Way”, it’s also not very good. Again, he’s singing – though not as badly as the previous track. It even ends with a flamboyant guitar solo. This track, along with the previous, are so out of place, it’s like someone switched the album while I wasn’t looking.
But maybe I’m being a tad harsh on those two tracks. This was all relatively new. It’s like the time I tied Hot Wheels to the bottom of dog’s paws to make walking it faster. It proved to be less-than-successful but the intentions were good.
Despite the weak parts of the record, I don’t think I’m overstating it when I recommend this as required listening alongside Sgt. Pepper’s, Nevermind and Thriller. It’s an historical piece of music, and it happens to be gratifying to the ear. Break it up, break it up, break it up!