The Rise of the West Coast (Know Your History Podcast)
Posted on April 26, 2012
For the first few years of its existence, hip-hop was something that you had to experience live. There were no commercial recordings, no rap albums, no 12-inch singles, no rap music on the radio. You had to go out to a block party or a club to see a DJ throwing down a set.
Hip-hop started with the DJ. It was born in the Bronx but not content to stay tethered to only one area. The culture and the music spread throughout the entire world in less than a decade. One of its first landing spots was some two-thousand miles away in the city of Los Angeles.
The interesting thing about hip-hop culture is how it can have very distinct regional sounds and styles. Wherever it travels, hip-hop is able to make itself at home and flourish there. This was definitely the case on the West Coast. It took a few years before the rest of the world would sit up and take notice of the unique sound and style of West Coast rap music, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.
Welcome to Know Your History, your monthly dose of hip-hop knowledge. I’m your host Chase March and for the next half hour, we will be exploring the Rise of the West Coast. If you’re tuning us in on the new Word is Bond podcast, it’s great to have you here. This is the third season of this show and we’re proud to have partnered up with The Word is Bond to expand our coverage here on DOPEfm. You can hear us every Saturday night on 93.3 CFMU on your radio dial or worldwide on cfmu.mcmaster.ca. For more info on us and what we do, visit DOPEfm.ca
West coast hip-hop seemed to come out of nowhere with the advent of Gangsta Rap in the 1980s, but the scene had been developing quietly under the radar for many years prior to that. Just like in its birthplace of New York, hip-hop had to be experienced in those early days and the scene in Los Angeles was flourishing.
Uncle Jamm’s Army was one of the premier party promoters in L.A. They started gaining a lot of attention, fans, and respect in 1978, one year before the first rap recordings came out of New York. They were a collective of DJs and musicians and pretty much ruled the hip-hop scene in Los Angeles.
In 1981, the first West Coast rap label was started. It was called Rappers Rap Records and the first group on the roster was Disco Daddy and Captain Rapp. They released a single that year but it was there song “Bad Times” two years later that made the most noise.
That was “Bad Times” by Disco Daddy and Captain Rapp. It came out in 1983, and by that time, the Los Angeles hip-hop scene was becoming quite large. We still aren’t in the G-funk age but you can almost hear the roots of that sound in this song. The synthesized baseline and the singable chorus really got people moving on the dance floor.
By this time, the parties that Uncle Jamm’s Army were throwing were becoming legendary. They needed to find bigger and bigger venues to accommodate the crowds. They even did a few gigs at the LA Sports Arena filling the stadium to capacity every time. Founding member Roger Clayton was able to bring in famous East Coast groups to these shows such as Run DMC, Whodini, Kurtis Blow, and L.L. Cool J.
But unlike those East Coast groups, Uncle Jamm’s Army had a more electro sound. They were influenced by a German group by the name of Kraftwerk that had been around since 1970. They released an album called “Autobahn” in 1974 and toured it extensively bringing this unique sound to North America.
Kraftwerk’s influence is sometimes overlooked but it really shouldn’t be. They have had a huge influence in early hip-hop music and you can hear it in the work of Uncle Jamm’s Army. This is “Dial-a-Freak” which was released in 1984. This is your host Chase March. Make sure you stay tuned as we will continue to explore the rise of hip-hop culture on the west coast in this month’s edition of Know Your History
That was typical of what you’d hear at an Uncle Jamm’s Army show back in the early 1980s. The electro sound was pretty popular in Los Angeles and their shows were hugely successful. It didn’t take long for the music of the parties, the clubs, and the arena shows to make it to the radio.
In 1983, local radio station KDAY 1530 am began spinning rap music 24 hours a day. They were the first radio station to dedicate their entire programming schedule to hip-hop music. They even beat New York to the punch there.
That same year, Egyptian Lover, who was part of Uncle Jamm’s Army, came out with his album entitled “On the Nile.” which featured a reworking of his popular single “Egypt Egypt.” The b-side of that single had the track “What is a DJ if he can’t Scratch?” and that’s the record I’d like to play for you now.
This is Chase March and we’re exploring the rise of West Coast hip-hop on this month’s edition of Know Your History. Stay tuned.
That was “What is a DJ if he can’t Scratch?” by Egyptian Lover and it was the b-side to his hit single “Egypt Egypt.”
We’ve been exploring the rise of hip-hop music on the West Coast and in particular in Los Angeles. So far we’ve only explored the late 1970s up to about 1983, and that was the year we first heard from a young MC by the name of Ice T. He released a record called “Cold Wind Madness” also known as “The Coldest Rap.” It had the electro type sound that Uncle Jamm’s Army was famous for. In fact, Ice T was pretty much the only rapper they had in the crew at the time.
In the following year, we were also introduced to Dr. Dre and DJ Yella. Before NWA, they were part of The World Class Wreckin’ Cru. They released a single “Slice” with the b-side “Kru Groove.” One year later, they released their full length album “Surgery.” It went on to sell 50,000 copies but this was only the beginning for Los Angeles based hip-hop moving large numbers.
Gangsta rap was on the forefront and it was about to change everything. Most people tend to associate the West Coast with this genre of rap music, but the truth is, it was starting to take shape across the United States by 1986. I covered Gangsta Rap in detail in Episode 12 of Know Your History. You can go to chasemarch.com right now, click on the Hip Hop History tab to read the article and download that podcast.
The West Coast had been building a hip-hop scene for years but the rest of the country didn’t sit up and take notice until Ice T released “6 in the Morning” in 1986.
Two years later, NWA burst on to the scene with “Straight Outta Compton. This group consisted of Dr. Dre, DJ Yella, Arabian Prince, Easy E. MC Ren, and Ice Cube. The group went on to sell ten million records and pretty much ignite the popularity of Gangsta rap.
JJ Fad, an all girl group, released their self-titled album in 1988 as well. Their single “Supersonic” went platinum and stayed on the Billboard music charts for about four months. They were also the first female rap group to be nominated for a Grammy.
West Coast artists had proved that they could sell records and that hip-hop was equally at home on either coast. Of course this is only the start of the story. The next chapter is all about Gangsta Rap, which I’ve already covered, but the third chapter is about the rise of G-funk. Stay tuned to Know Your History, your monthly dose of hip-hop knowledge as we will be explroing that topic in the future.
If you like what you’ve heard today make sure you visit DOPEfm.ca. We bring you the best in underground hip-hop each and every Saturday night on 93.3 CFMU. We have a podcast and live webstreaming available as well. You can also visit my site, the official blog of the show, at chasemarch.com
And thanks to our new partners at The Word is Bond. Look forward to hearing a Know Your History segment every month there, as well as some exclusive interviews and bonus podcasts. Until next time, this is Chase March saying, You Better Know Your History.