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V/A - The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip-Hop 1979—1983

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Artist: V/A

Album: The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip-Hop 1979—1983

Label: Stones Throw

Review date: May. 27, 2004

At Danny’s tavern in Chicago’s Bucktown neighborhood, people of every race, financial background, and scene status converge the first Wednesday of every month for “Soul Night.” Amongst a sea of bobbing heads, inebriated swirls, hoots, hollers and Red Stripe, three DJs take turns spinning 45"s from a time before anyone’s youth. Save for the three or four wallflowers taking notes, and wishing they had this opportunity, no one in the room knows what the fuck is playing (with the exception of the occasional James Brown cut), nor do they really care. The only thing the crowd cares about is scuffing up the hardwood floors and smearing lipstick, as three men provide raw, fatbacks of fried chicken tracks – the last artifacts of dead hopes and dreams, found in dank basements and dusty used record and thrift stores.

Connecticut – as far as hip hop goes – has always suffered the burden of its western neighbor New York. Because of this unbearable apple-shaped shadow, you can find the deadest of dreams in the CT. If Stez-O and the recently resurrected Dooley-O, are you’re only MCs worth mentioning (and even then, only a select bunch of true rap heads remember these two) then you know you’re in dire-States.

Thankfully, Stones Throw changes all that, and, to quote Jimmy Castor, goes “all the way back…back into time.” Compiled by funk-figure-head/archivist Eothen “Egon” Alapatt, Third Unheard is a raucous collection of tracks from a time when hip hop – all five elements of the culture – was comprised of pipe-dreams, and the idea of “making it” was getting to play the same disco twice within the same month. Not only that, but the scene was inhabited by a bunch of nerds. Graf artists that would destroy their bedrooms testing out paints and trying to replicate “Beetle Bailey” characters to a tee. Breakers would be cutting out the right size pieces of cardboard or linoleum, and sizing up iron-on letters to go on their crew sweatshirts. DJs would skip playing ball after school to rush home and do the only homework they liked – the kind that rotated clockwise. MC’s would mack and fail with the ladies, only to turn it into a slick verse associated with eating bad steak. And beat-boxers would be playing the same Bohannon breaks on their record player, trying to get the right timbre without too much spit. This was also a time when there was no “rap” section in a record store…to find titles off Sugar Hill and Enjoy, you had to peruse through the soul section, sifting out Patrice Rushen and Mtume records for something by The Sequence or Doctor Ice.

Alright, enough of this white boy from the sticks trying to explain hip-hop culture. Let’s dig into The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip-Hop 1979—1983. The album opens with “Rappin’ With Mr. Magic,” a downright gritty party cut that sounds like it was recorded in a pile of dirt. The reality isn’t that far off either. Rapped live over a tape-loop of Vaughn Mason’s “Bounce Rock Skate Roll,” Mr. Magic (who’s recorded output resulted in occupying a quarter of this compilation) introduces a dance called “the Punk Rock,” encourages females and white guys to shock the house, and pays respect to Bridgeport, New Haven, Springfield, Middletown, Hartford and so on. Like Rakim, it ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at. “Rappin’ With Mr. Magic” captures the essence of the longwinded above paragraph – a party jam that (like the Punk scene at the time) may have lacked a unique statement of intent, but overflowed with the idiosyncrasy of originality.

Elsewhere throughout this collection, Pokey Blow explains the importance of education over Herman Kelly’s “Dance to the Drummers Beat.” Horns, cowbells, and quadruple harmonies go apeshit over Outlaw Four’s “Million Dollar Legs.” The Forum Band applies Moogs and Percussion to turn Go-Go on its ear with “Be-Bop Convention Theme.” A fucking ventriloquist shows up for the nasal-y “Ventriloquist Rap.” The Cuzz Band honors the scorching soul of Funkadelic and Slave with “I Just Wanna Dance.” And the LOD Crew surpass Black Sheep by nearly 10 years, using the same SOS Band sample from the latter’s “Strobelite Honey” a decade earlier on the mighty call and response floor-cutter “Fill The Be-Bop.” What’s more dizzying about this cut is the interspersing of Chic’s “Chic Cheer” within the breakdown. Nowadays any producer could have the flavorful insight to pull that off, but back then, you know it was some nerdy beat-head going through his/her parents records to come up with something like that.

As hip hop moves toward its third decade, and the audience becomes younger, the history (much like any sort of culture/phenomenon) slowly starts to deteriorate. Facts become lore, old-school becomes ancient and mid-school is for parents. In times like these, its nice to now that someone like Egon spent months and months in dank basements looking for anything that said “Tri-State” or “Magic” on the labels, to save this small chunk of history from being a victim of revisionism, and to give life to dead dreams.

By Stephen Sowley

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