Music Article

The Age of Innocence

Early rap makes a comeback -- Old school rappers are returning to the front line, from Doug E. Fresh to Grandmaster Flash

Admit it: Seeing supermodels like Kate Moss wearing 1970s Adidas sneakers and nylon running suits makes you hanker for breakdancing, gold chains, and Kangol hats with the price tags still attached — not to mention the music that spawned all that, early rap. Well, pine no more, 'cause it's back.

Hip-hop has been around for little more than a decade, so the idea of an old school may seem premature. But a flurry of new releases by the genre's founding fathers points up the evolution in sound. Take Doug E. Fresh's pivotol 1985 rap single ''The Show'': You'll hear more melody, state-of-the-art rhyming skills, and an emphasis on fun and wordplay rather than gangs and gunplay.

''People want variety in rap,'' asserts Doug E., who freshened up his career last year with the hit single ''I-Ight'' and is working on a follow-up for Gee Street Independent. ''A lot of new artists won't be around long if they don't start to talk about other things besides 'I'm-a shoot you, I'm-a kill your mother and stab your family.' Nobody can be angry all the time. Audiences wanna go back to things that made them laugh and feel good. A lot of older artists' stuff is still in style.''

That's good news for Kurtis Blow and Terminator X. Blow, the first rapper to have a certified gold single with ''The Breaks'' in 1980, will release a greatest-hits album this spring. And Terminator X, the DJ engine behind the whining sirens of Public Enemy, has Super Bad, a compilation with fellow groundbreakers Grandmaster Flash and Whodini, in the works for P.R.O. Division/RAL/Chaos.

Whether the relative innocence of these early artists will in fact appeal to an audience raised on gangsta rap's barbed ire remains a question. But longtime rap producer Larry Smith (Run-D.M.C.) is optimistic: ''In the early days, rap wasn't as popular as it is now, but the message was the same. All rap is saying one thing: 'I am somebody.' That hasn't changed.''

Originally posted Mar 11, 1994 Published in issue #213 Mar 11, 1994 Order article reprints
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