Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Top 10 Singers Who Rapped in Songs Before Rapping Was a Thing

Rap is one of the most popular and enduring genres in contemporary music. It has had a tremendous cultural impact and continues to be a dominant force in music and entertainment after 40 years in existence. The seeds for rap were planted many years before the hip-hop movement took off in the late 1970s. Recording artists would sometimes hit on a rhythmic spoken-word style in their songs that was very close to what we call rap today. These artists anticipated rap and showcased its potential as an effective mode of musical expression. This list in no particular order.

"Trouble Man" -- Marvin Gaye  

 Soul legend Marvin Gaye delivers a smooth rap break on his classic track “Trouble Man.” It is the theme song for the 1972 blaxploitation crime drama of the same title that stars Robert Hooks as a Los Angeles private detective/pool shark/ghetto fixer who’s on the run from both the police and a powerful crime boss. The film was directed by Ivan Dixon, who’s best known for his role as staff Sergeant James Kinchloe in the popular 1960s sitcom Hogan’s Heroes.

The song has an atmospheric, jazzy vibe with Gaye singing most of the verses in a soulful falsetto, and he also performs his rap in falsetto."Trouble Man" climbed to #4  on the R&B singles chart in the U.S. and peaked at # 7 on the pop charts.

Gaye wrote, arranged and conducted the entire soundtrack for Trouble Man; and the soundtrack handily outperformed the film. This was Gaye’s follow-up to his landmark album What’s Going On (1971). It was the late artist’s only film soundtrack and score.

Many young Marvel fans were first introduced to the “Trouble Man” theme through the blockbuster film Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). It is included in a scene from the film and is listed on the soundtrack.

"Trouble Man" at Amazon

"Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)" -- The Temptations

Motown’s marquee male vocal group the Temptations trade rap verses on their powerful political track “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today),” which hit the airwaves in 1970. This potent slice of psychedelic soul was co-written by the renowned songwriting team of Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield, who also produced it. The song touches on many of the burning social issues of the early ‘70s, including drug abuse, war, segregation, gun control, rising unemployment, racism and civil unrest. And sadly most of these are still big concerns today.

The way the group tag-teams some of their verses brings to mind the trade-off rap style of early hip-hop groups like Run-D.M.C. And lead singer Dennis Edwards’ rapid-fire flow on some of his verses would impress many of today’s young rappers.

“Ball of Confusion” is one of the Temptations’ most iconic hits of their psychedelic-soul era. It reached #2 on the U.S. R&B singles chart and climbed to #3 on the pop charts.The song has been covered by several well-known artists, including Tina Turner, Duran Duran, Love and Rockets, the Undisputed Truth and Anthrax.

"Pusherman" -- Curtis Mayfield

 Legendary musician/songwriter/singer/producer Curtis Mayfield raps throughout most of his influential track “Pusherman.” It is from his critically acclaimed soundtrack for the 1972 blaxploitation classic Super Fly, which is about a New York City cocaine dealer trying to find a way out of the drug game. The song touches on the immense power that drug dealers have over addicts to the point that they eventually become all things to them: “I'm your mama, I'm your daddy/I'm that nigga in the alley/I'm your doctor, when in need/Want some coke, have some weed.”

“Pusherman” is a forerunner to the early hard-hitting rap songs that addressed the harsh realities of street life in urban communities—classic tracks like “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five and most of N.W.A.’s discography.

Super Fly—directed by Gordon Parks Jr. and starred Ron O’Neal—has the distinction of being one of the most popular blaxploitation movies of all time. It has been a mainstay of pop culture for 46 years now. And both the film and the soundtrack have had a significant impact on hip-hop, thematically and visually. A Super Fly remake opened in U.S. movie theaters on June 13, 2018. It stars Trevor Jackson from the hit TV series Grown-ish and was directed by Director X.

Mayfield’s Super Fly soundtrack performed extremely well on the charts. It topped Billboard’s Top 200 album chart for four weeks and remained atop the R&B album chart for a staggering six weeks. It soon went platinum (a million copies sold). And the album boasted two top ten hits: “Superfly” (#5 R&B, #8 pop) and “Freddie’s Dead” (#2 R&B, #4 pop).

 "Pusherman" at Amazon

"Every Brother Ain’t a Brother" -- Imhotep Gary Byrd

This 1971 message song by radio DJ and recording artist Imhotep Gary Byrd was a direct antecedent to the rap movement that would take off seven years later. It’s eerie how Byrd’s rap here sounds so similar to the style found on early tracks by pioneering hip-hop acts such as Kurtis Blow, The Sugar Hill Gang and Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five.

The theme of the song is that simply being black doesn’t automatically make someone a part of the movement to uplift, empower and unite the black community. It is about people who only give lip service to the cause but haven’t shown through their actions that they are genuinely committed. They just do it because it’s the trendy thing to do at the moment. The song also points out that those who are extremely detrimental to the black community—such as black criminals who murder and rob  other black people—don’t deserve to be called a “brother” or a “sister.”

The multi-hyphenate Byrd is a true Renaissance man. His impressive resume includes radio talk show host, recording artist, songwriter, poet, award-winning producer, rapper, radio DJ and community advocate/activist. He’s the host, creator and executive producer of the Global Black Experience (GBE), the longest-running black radio broadcast in New York City’s history.

Additionally, Byrd has collaborated musically with Stevie Wonder on several occasions. He wrote the lyrics for Wonder’s songs “Black Man” and “Village Ghetto Land.” Both are on Wonder’s Grammy-winning album Songs in the Key of Life (1976).

"Every Brother Ain't a Brother" available in 45 vinyl format at Amazon

"Here Comes the Judge" -- Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham

Singer/comedian/actor Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham’s 1968 novelty hit “Here Comes the Judge” is one of the most influential proto-rap songs ever recorded. In fact, many consider it to be the first rap song . Markham was a man truly ahead of his time with this comedy classic. His energetic, highly rhythmic rap style was a big influence on young rappers at the dawn of the hip-hop movement in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s; and that influence extended to ‘90s rap artists as well.

The song was inspired by Markham’s comedy routine “Heyeah Come Da Judge.” The bit, which lampooned formal courtroom etiquette, achieved mainstream appeal after Sammy Davis Jr. performed it on the hit TV comedy variety series Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In. This eventually led to Markham being invited to perform it on the show. “Here comes the judge” soon became an oft-repeated catchphrase during that period and part of the pop-culture lexicon.

"Here Comes the Judge" at Amazon

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" -- Gil Scott-Heron

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" by singer/poet /musician/political activist Gil Scott-Heron is the quintessential proto-rap political song. This 1971 incendiary classic, as well as much of Heron’s work, has influenced and inspired many politically conscious rap artists. Due to his massive influence on the genre, Heron is often referred to as “the Godfather of Rap.”

This song is more relevant than ever in light of the turbulent political climate in the United States. It’s about how a large number of Americans are asleep; they are anesthetized on television, consumerism, drugs, and other escapist diversions and are totally oblivious (or indifferent) to the powder keg that the country is sitting on. And today there are even more diversions to keep people asleep, including the Internet, smart phones, social media, video games, etc. Heron was warning complacent and apathetic Americans to wake up from their stupor, because racial tensions are at a boiling point in this country and a true uprising may be brewing. And people won’t be able to watch it on the eleven o’clock news from the comfort of their living rooms.

"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" at Amazon   


 "Talking Blues"’-- Chris Bouchillon

Country and blues musician Chris Bouchillon recorded his influential song “Talking Blues” in 1926. It was released in 1927. Bouchillon is credited as the originator of the talking blues style.Talking blues integrates folk and country music and is distinguished by rhythmic speech with a free-flow melody and a very strict rhythm.

Bouchillon played mandolin and provided vocals for a string trio that was made up of him and his two brothers Charley (fiddle) and Uris (guitar). According to legend, Bouchillon’s talking blues style was born out of his poor singing abilities; in place of singing, he developed an engaging spoken-word style that utilized his strong rhythmic sense, great facility with words and dry wit. He used this new style over blues progressions played on guitar.

Talking blues has been called one of the key sources of modern rap. And in addition to rap, talking blues has had a significant impact on 20th century folk music. Iconic folk legends such as Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan often used the style in their songs.

"Talking Blues" at Amazon

"Undisco Kidd"-- Funkadelic

Parliament-Funkadelic mastermind George Clinton is known for his imaginative and witty wordplay. So it’s not surprising he has had a major influence on rap artists. The funk legend has always been an MC at heart, possessing a natural gift for the rhythmic spoken word. Had he been born say 30 or 40 years later, he most likely would have been a full-fledged rapper today. Additionally, Clinton and P-Funk were highly influential musically to hip-hop; the legendary funk-rock outfit’s music has been sampled on countless rap songs, and Clinton is cited as the second most sampled artist of all time.

And P-Funk’s sonic stamp is not just confined to samples. Their musical influence permeates popular music in many different genres and can be found in the work of big-name artists such as OutKast, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, Prince, Talking Heads, Childish Gambino, Snoop Dogg and D’Angelo, among many others.

“Undisco Kidd” is a track from Funkadelic’s 1976 album Tales of Kidd Funkadelic. Clinton tells the funky, quirky tale of a super-chill young brother known as The Kid who meets his match in the form of a stout mama jama named Bertha. She calls him out on the dance floor and then proceeds to “bump him all in the face”causing him to lose his chill.

Clinton’s rap is filled with his patented off-center humor, and his flow is smooth and clear. Some of these young mumble rappers today could learn a thing or two from the funk master on how to properly spit their verses.

"Undisco Kidd" at Amazon

"Subterranean Homesick Blues" -- Bob Dylan  

Rock’s poet laureate Bob Dylan shook up the music world with the release of his groundbreaking song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” in 1965. With this influential classic, Dylan helped further popularize folk rock, bringing it to the youth counterculture. The legendary singer-songwriter delivers his lyrics in a staccato spoken-word fashion. The song touches on myriad anti-establishment themes and is filled cultural and societal references. Dylan’s stream-of-consciousness lyrical approach is in the spirit of beat poets like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who were both big influences on him.

And beat poetry wasn’t Dylan’s only inspiration for the song. In a 2004 interview with Los Angeles Times music critic Robert Hilburn, Dylan said that Chuck Berry’s song “Too Much Monkey Business” and 1940s scat music were major inspirations behind “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

In addition to its impact on folk and rock music, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” also had a significant influence on rap music, both lyrically and thematically.

Moreover, the song’s promotional video clip is also quite influential. It features Dylan standing in an alley behind London’s famous Savoy Hotel flipping through large cue cards that contain selected words from the song’s lyrics. It’s often cited as one of earliest music videos. The iconic clip is shown at the introduction of filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker’s acclaimed documentary Don’t Look Back (1967), which chronicles Dylan’s 1965 tour of England.

Pennebaker shot Don’t Look Back on black-and-white 16mm film using a handheld camera. The film innovated the rock documentary as we know it today. In 1998, the Library of Congress selected Don’t Look Back for preservation in the United States National Film Registry due to its “cultural” and “historical” significance.

"Subterranean Homesick Blues” was the lead single from Dylan’s landmark album Bringing It All Back Home, released in 1965. It was Dylan’s first top 40 hit on Billboard’s U.S. Hot 100 Singles chart, peaking at # 39.

Subterranean Homesick Blues at Amazon

"Too Much Monkey Business" -- Chuck Berry 

Chuck Berry’s classic songs are distinguished by his adroit wordplay and masterful storytelling. The rock ‘n’ roll pioneer’s lyrical dexterity and prodigious storytelling abilities were just as important to his legacy as his musical innovations. Berry’s lyrical gifts are on full display on his 1956 track “Too Much Monkey Business.” This early proto-rap song is about the life of a harried working stiff who makes ends meet working a thankless low-paying job in the face of mounting bills and a slew of daily hassles and annoyances. Berry delivers his verses in a whiplash spoken-word style and only sings on the chorus. The lyrics are infused with the musician's signature humor, and his guitar work is stellar as usual. The song is the B-side of his classic “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.”

Bob Dylan has cited “Too Much Monkey Business” as the one of the key inspirations for his iconic track “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and has called Berry “The Shakespeare of Rock & Roll.” And Dylan is not the only legendary music artist who has shown appreciation for Berry’s song. Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Kinks have all recorded covers “Too Much Monkey Business.”

"Too Much Monkey Business" at Amazon

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