I NEED A BUFFERIN
"We are the centuries. We are the chin-choppers and the golly-woppers,
and soon we shall discuss the amputation of your head... we march in
cadence, chanting rhymes that some think odd." -- Walter M. Miller, Jr.
"Take masking tape and gently rap under chin and over the top of head to
secure wig from blow back." -- Project Blowed Instructions
The first time I stood in a deluge to hear a rap classic was July, 1986.
I was at Carowinds, a South Carolina amusement park with a rollercoaster
named after 160 proof moonshine. White lightning was comin' etcha from
the slate sky as Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three rocked "The Roof
Is On Fire" before a roofless palladium. The torrents only fanned the
fans as they chanted, "We don't need no Raid let the motherfu--"
Whoops, wrong song. I meant: "We don't need no water let the
motherfucker burn!!" Thunder whooped it up too, like God was whipping
Minister Jim Bakker with a bible belt (his PTL Club was just a few
notches down the road) for missing The Real Roxanne strut the stage in
her Painted On Guess. No matter, dim Jim, you'll still rock gas draws in
hell for gaffling your congregation.
Praise The Lord, Pass The Loot, Peep The Lyrics -- all stand and jump
for joy, the second time I stood in a deluge to hear a rap classic. This
time it's 1994, another summer, and I'm in New York's Rocksteady Park, a
fenced-in concrete plane at 98th & Amsterdam, where once a year the
hip-hop canon would feel real and not like a civil war re-enactment
dressed for battle.
This rhyme, it's O.C. doing "Time's Up." His warning: "Realize sucker, I
be the comin' like Noah." The storm is his hype man, backing the oracle
with a scowl and spitting crosshatched lines. The crowd spits back,
hardrocks too, and kids outside the park fly to the fence, spidering
fingers with wire, clinging word for word. "Time's Up." Everybody knows
it. Though not even in stores, the song is anthem. Go head in the rain
all day, you don't have to worry.
Later, the rain tsssts to steam. Straggling patter bounces off baldies
like the next idea, catching the freestyle flow of ciphers erupting
across the asphalt. On stage, the Cold Crush Brothers gingerly glide
through their routines, spoofing the harmonies of Harry Chapin and Toni
Braxton. At these Rocksteady Anniversaries, you can pretty much spit
anywhere (though I wouldn't recommend it) and hit hip-hop. From Herc
(who could benchpress Bambaataa) to Son Of Bazerk (Sorry, I was trying
to hit Jahwell). Take a look around. (As the Cold Crush Braxtonates, "MC
again! MC again!") Who's your rhymin' hero?
Actually I was looking for The Originators. (As the Cold Crush chant,
"Is it them? Nooo! Is it them? Nooo!") A friend points out two guys from
L.A. who, just a few buckets ago, had faded the wind over the "Deep
Cover" instrumental. (And the Cold Crush chant, "Who is it? Is it? Is
Mikah 9 and Aceyalone of the Freestyle Fellowship stand over to the
right enjoying the show. Also known to engage in an off-the-cuff chant,
they hail (geeah) from the West, where freestyling was once known as
"sky rappin.'" Where LAPD ghetto birds mince the overcooked air into
cube stake outs. In '91, Mikah 9 foreshaded the Rocksteady cross hatch
and opened the sky on the Fellowship's "7th Seal": "Be advised they'll
come, in the form of a pure black whirlwind."
B-boys in the park move in circles.
Shitfuckdamn, I'm a fan but I didn't want to go up and say something
like, "Hey, I like the way you guys rapfast would you tag up my
backpack?" No man is a fantasy island and I didn't wanna go out like
Herbivore Villechaize. (Herve pronounced "Boss" as "Bus," though in
L.A., the ones who bus' are not busters. Just ask Busdriver, and let me
off this yaw!) Next stop, Aceyalone. So I walked up and thanked Acey for
sending the hissy Project Blowed "advance" recorded on backwards masking
tape, where the only bass was found in Abstract Rude's baritone. The
scrabbled print on the cover read, "Who are we? Well we be the new
invasion speaking that tongue of a mystic language."
Speaking of which, I think, turning to Mikah, just what were you saying
on said tape on sped verse from a song called "Hot?" Mikah 9 is tall
enough to breathe in the deep end and holds hands with a woman tall
enough to dunk on him. On stage Tony Tone says he's never ever leaving
the girls alone. Mikah then leans down and tells me the entire verse at
a legible pace, beginning with a telephone bllling. "Bllling!!" Then,
"Hi? Deloris? I've just encountered erratic nirvanic interlopers en
route to seventh heaven call you back later." Click.
The lore is on the utter bend of the line. On the phone, with the same
guy, seven years later in Los Angeles, asking the same question. "What
were you saying when--?" "Hold up," says Mikah. "What'd I say?" He
runs back through "Hot" at a babbling whisper, jogging the memory around
his block in double time. "I was being introduced to a bunch of concepts
at that time so it was all over the place," he explains. "He was in this
Tasmanian style," says Abstract Rude, having watched Mikah scatter his
brain for the past 12 years. "All over the place, sporadic, dynamic with
sound effects." Moving targets are harder to hit.
"THE FIRST TIME I SAW LIGHTNING STRIKE I SAW IT UNDERGROUND"
On their '91 interlude "Convolutions," the Fellowship chased Miles
Davis' "So What?" in a flurry, catching themselves within "the
convolutions of hip-hop and jazz." Simultaneous release and tension.
"Hot" tells all the jazzrap crap to kiss its matazz. "You had all this
other shit going on in the world of hip-hop," says Fellowship mentor
JMD, jazz drummer and conductor of the Underground Railroad. "And on
'Hot,' they really wasn't trying to sing -- they was doing spoken word."
"Spoken word" may be misleading in the context of the LA underground.
Daily conversation flows from freestyle argot, naturally so because more
time is spent rapping than talking.
"Hot" was cut during Freestyle Fellowship's first session for their
Island debut Inner City Griots with a quintet of L.A. jazz cats who,
between Watts and Rodney King, had seen two rebellions and a lot of red.
1965 was all up in the grammar of 1992, as JMD enlisted bassist Nedra
Walker, saxophonist Randall Willis, trumpeter Michael Hunter and
legendary pianist Horace Tapscott, a revered community activist and
"Papa" of the Pan African People's Arkestra.
Mikah, Aceyalone, Self-Jupiter and Mtulazaji "not-a-word-to-play"
P.E.A.C.E. had approached JMD with "the head" for "Hot." The Head was
the Fellowship transferring the word "hot" into Horace's pouncing
fingers while in between Robert Smith chants, Acey bubbled in a
thermometer, awaking in sweat as if he ain't seen AC. The Fellowship put
the effin F in "free," so the space between The Head (& the ears) was --
"It was everywhere in between," wanders Mikah, "...and back to that hot
While jazz vocalists like Jon Hendricks and Eddie Jefferson would shadow
arrangements, "Hot" was inverse reciprocali. The musicians nodded with
The Head and then were like okay, roam if you want to and we'll just
walk it, but one thing, look out for Horace, he'll be around the bend,
fuckin with y'all. "We basically were freestyling to their words," says
JMD. "We did that shit in one take." Once the Fellowship was out of The
Head, the quintet no longer played verbatim, but with italicks, putting
spont in the font. "Horace played real wild and crazy," says Mikah,
recalling how Tapscott's piano answered his phone ring. "Horace is not
going to nail you down one form. He gave them a gang of space," adds
"As long as we got back to the chorus -- we could take it wherever,"
recalls Jupiter, known to take a gang of space and presto, change its
colors, tone, tune and make it do community service. "From there we were
like fuck it -- I went back to Tennessee, I mean we all had to go
somewhere, and P.E.A.C.E. went somewhere, Idon'tknowwhere -- I think
Mikah was on the phone or some shit."
Mikah was on some phonetic other shit, stretching and wringing his
chords while making the most of his unlimited, long (way out) distance
minutes. His Diasporadictum is only 45 seconds. But through a
peripatetic cadence and displacement, his flow traverses lifetimes of
pain, from a bomb on a South Central stoop to relashing "massamassa" on
a plantation. "It's interesting to see each vision," says Jupiter.
"Somehow it correlates in a weird way." Somewhere else in this 45
seconds, Mikah hops in a coup and scoops up "Beyonder," a 19-minute
futuristic Last Poets suite chanting, "Beginning of the end of the
And look, what light through yonder window breaks?
We've finally reached the liner notey part of liner notes, a song that
actually appears on this collection, and harmonizes Katrina & The Waves.
This OG version of "Danger" was recorded in the same session as "Hot."
Mikah begins his verse with yondermentioned Romeo and Juliet riff. And
then boppety bops about tears rolling down his face and ice cream
sticks? "Ice cream sticks?!?" he laughs, "What the fuck is that?" "We
was young man, don't trip on those ice cream sticks," says Jupiter, who
wrote Mikah's verse, which in the Fellowship's case is like jazz
musicians exchanging charts. "Outside, fools was still getting smoked.
There was drama. It's funny to see a serious-ass gang banger bumpin
'Danger.'" Especially when saggy S.A.G.B. sings Jupiter's part about a
mouse running into a sewer on a pipe dream.
Aceyalone intended Griots to also be G-riots, doing double time for
poets and bangers, cooling the incense burn with some Iceberg. Nor could
Island "understand the pain that Gs go through." Due to a tragically
myopic A&R, "Hot" was discarded. The "Danger" vocals were lost in a
muddled sample version and the Fellowship went out looting during part
of the mixdowns. "Inner City Boundaries" was the group's most celebrated
song and single, but by the time the video came out, Jupiter had been
arrested for armed robbery and the group was consequently "released"
from the label.
Island did manage to send out a promo video that included "Tolerate," a
PSAsskicking for LAPD Chief Darryl Gates. This power drill originally
appeared with the bottom of RUN's foot in '91, on the Fellowship's debut
album To Whom It May Concern. (That year Island released an underrated
slab by Funkytown Pros called Reaching A Level Of Assassination. Sticker
on the sleeve ironically read, "Finally, something dope from L.A.") The
Island video also featured each member going acapell-mell for two solo
verses. Mike panic zones for (and about) the end of all time, ending "in
the wink of an eye" and then blinking really hard to make it all go
"SPITTING OUT PIECES OF HIS BROKEN LUCK"
Inner City Griots also featured "Park Bench People," Mikah's solo cut
inspired from when he was homeless in South Central's Leimert Park for
six weeks. "We'd just see him in the park and not even think that he was
living there," says Ellay Khule of Hip Hop Klan. Mikah explains, "I had
this big army bag and I would take it behind the stalls behind this
building and change my gear, and hang out at the park. There were other
homeless people there, and I could get some food by bumming and get
cigarettes to curb the hunger. Sometimes get to drinking at night and
shit, if you don't have no home to go to, you may as well just sleep
where you at. I didn't think I'd ever talk about it but it came out in a
song." Art wasn't imitating life; art was living that shit, day in, down
"He was recalling the days when he was a homeless motherfucker," says
JMD, who might've seen Mikah sitting on the park bench from the window
of his second floor apartment, a block from Leimert Park on the corner
of 43rd Place and 11th Avenue. One afternoon at JMD's, after finding
temporary digs in DJ Kiilu's garage, Mikah saw himself out there, a
derelict of dialect muttering to himself, and the memory was looped into
a freestyle: "It took time for the soul to come/and when it came I saw
the same ole scene over and over again." "JMD played a loop of 'Red
Clay' (Freddie Hubbard) and I was looking out the window freestyling.
None of the lyrics to 'Park Bench' were written. Later we went in the
studio and transcribed them, but the original version has not been
changed or compromised one bit."
"I needed to get a new head so we wouldn't have to pay for that shit,"
says JMD, hurtling over samples in a single contractual bound. His
arranger Kevin O'Neal added vamping horns and vibes, while Ron Carter's
original bassline drones, not allowed to ascend as on Tribe Called
Quest's "Sucka Nigga," but pondered along with an acoustic guitar.
"'Park Bench People' was a tribute to the Gil Scott, Roy Ayers era, a
fusion between spoken word, hip-hop, jazz," says Mikah.
"A fusion of spokenwordhiphopjazz" -- lump it or lump it, it's usually
the knell sticker for a rap CD. Yet even people who like rap and hate
the Fellowship love "Park Bench People." "Later Mikah started realizing
that (Park Bench) was what people wanted to hear from him," says
Abstract Rude. "Versus what he could do and how far he could take it.
When we did 'Fruit Don't Fall...' in 1998, Fat Jack (OG L.A. producer)
pushed him, 'I really want the soulful, Park Bench Mikah.' He was on
that 'I'm-gonna-get-this-out-of-you type vibe.'"
Unreleased until now, "Fruit Don't Fall..." is one of Fat Jack's best,
evoking The Nonce's 94 B-side "Who Falls Apart," one of the most somber
tracks to come out of L.A. The mood fits Mikah's reflection on
relationship turmoil and infidelity. At the coda, Mikah says, "I hate
some of the notes I hit," and in blows Josef Leimberg's gloaming
"Mike's father played trumpet," says JMD of Lafayette Broadnax. "He
loved Freddie Hubbard." "He was part of the Central Ave movement," Mikah
furthers. "-- but drugs fucked him up." L.A. had its own Harlem
Renaissance in the '40s with the Central Avenue jazz promenade. In the
'50s, when the unions integrated, white musicians started sitting in on
the fabled Central Ave sessions, Hollywood starlets sat on laps, and an
uptight City Hall used shifty zone ordinances and eager police to shut
down an entire livelihood of clubs, theaters and businesses, leaving
scores of musicians and artists scrapping for work outside the
community. "Pops was one of them coulda-shoulda-woulda but never did
mufuckers," recalls Mikah. "Mama (Elaine Johnson) also played and sang.
She had one of those organs with the speakers that spun around."
Michael Lafayette Troy shares birthdays with Martin Luther King but was
"conceived after a Swansons TV dinner, a couple of amphetamines, a few
rails of snow, dark strong liquor" (from "Ghetto Youth" on Freestyle
Fellowship's latest album Temptations). Like his itinerant flows,
Mikah's head never rested in one place and has been on his own since 15.
From "0 to 9" he lived in a foster home in Inglewood, seldom seeing his
father unless being hauled to a gig where he'd sleep inside a kick drum,
using the pillow to muffle the after hours party. "I remember the
smells," he says in detached recall. "The smoke, the alcohol going
through the trumpet with the valve oil."
In 1978, he moved to his mother's house in "The Jungle" right before
South Central was introduced to Reagan via crack and gangs. "My mom was
Egyptian/Persian but characterized as white. You be walking with your
mom and everybody calling her 'snow bunny' and all this dumb shit. She
was hustlin, getting high. I'd sleep on the floor so that whoever nigga
my mom was fucking, or the rest of the hos, could sleep on the couch.
Didn't have my own room, pretty much had the raw deal. I grew up in all
this pimps and hos shit so that's why I used lyrics to escape. My mom
would stand me on this chair to make me feel good and I'd sing."
At age 4, his father would make him keep time while he practiced. "He
kept cracking me upside the head with the claves. He was trying to drill
it into me but it was fucked up, so for a long time I wasn't trippin'
music. Because my parents were into jazz I wasn't fucking with it." JMD
furthers, "If Ronald Reagan's tax-cuttin' ass hadn't ended all the music
programs in the schools, Mike might've been one of the baddest trumpet
players around. He had it in him to play -- just no instrument and no
Since Mike didn't want to play an instrument, and since he hadn't yet
become an instrument, he became "Microphone Mike" in '81. Enforced
busing lead to enforced bussin' and in sixth grade, Mike spat bawdy
Blowfly raps while watching neighborhoods drift by. A few raunchy rhymes
over sat Aceyalone along with the harrowing T. Spoon Iodine, a name
rivaling Spicey Hamm and Stewey Nuke 'Em, and meriting the words of Dino
"Volume 10" Hawkins: "There's only so many dope-ass names going around."
Mike, Acey and Iodine would become the MC Aces, though at first Acey
thought Mike was wack because he sounded so different. "Mike had a big
rep even back then," remembers Ellay Khule, a.k.a. Rifleman, a.k.a. he
spits like one. "If you was rappin' in L.A. you knew the name Microphone
In 1984, Acey and Mike tried to battle RUN-DMC at a Wendy's in Compton,
or at least gaffle the driiiiive thru. "That was me and Acey in full
b-boy gear, Kangols, brass name buckles and BVDs," laughs Mike, who had
been too young to get on the mic at the Uncle Jamm parties. "We saw this
big white Mercedes in the parking lot. Jam-Master Jay was on one of
those big cell phones where you had to hold the battery. Instead of
trying to get a deal or something we ran up on them like what's up with
the real b-boy battles?" And you all know -- Darryl and Joe had to catch
an airplane flight at a huge height. So the MC Aces had to settle for a
MC Frosty without the Spoon.
Like the old saying goes, "If you can't battle RUN-DMC at a Wendy's in
Compton, then you may as well call up KDAY and bag on Bobby Jimmy." 1580
AM KDAY (rhymes with "Heyday") was the only all-rap format station
(EVER) and helped launch the careers of Dr. Dre, Eazy E, Joe Cooley and
most importantly, some nut named Durl With The Curl. "Everybody would
call up KDAY to get their group name out there," says Khule. "I remember
hearin' Mike on the radio in the mornings. Him and Durl With The Curl
would call up the 'Bobby Jimmy Bag Hotline' and just roast back and
forth. Every day." "I don't remember what I said to him," barely recalls
Bobby Jimmy, a.k.a. comedian Russ Parr. "Other than his mom was real
cute except for the full beard and moustache." Bobby Jimmy was the Weird
Al of hip-hop parodies; to him "The Roof is on Fire" meant "The Roach is
on The Wall." His bag hotline goaded aspiring rappers to step to 1580
AM. Imagine some kid like Fat Lip dozing to the dozens ("Ya mama's got a
glass eye with a fish in it!") at 6 in the morning before being jolted
off his bunk bed by Bobby Jimmy's Vocoder ("Wake yer big butt up with
Russ Parr!") and eating six bowls of Ka-Boom!
"You mean I can get my favorite little rainbow sprinkles for only 2.79 a
dozen, huh?" -- Tibetan Jam, Chris "The Glove" Taylor, 1984.
Parr has one of those Radio Personality Voices that could sell a DJ Quik
wig to Tim Dog. "Mike and Durl were regulars because they didn't have a
life. I think he used to sit up at night and write so he'd be ready for
me. I'd play whatever instrumental, Egyptian Lover, Uncle Jamm's Army,
and let him roll. Mike had that gift. I don't think anybody could really
PLEASE FILL OUT YOUR R-9, PLACE TIME SIGNATURE ON THE EIGHTH DOTTED LINE
AND SUBMIT FREEFORM IN DUPLICATE.
"We used to rock over Cybotron's 'R-9,'" says Mike, recalling Juan
Atkins' creepy Electro classic. "We'd do double time over it. They'd say
'six step to beat R-9' and I was like 'hip step to the beat Mike 9.'"
Wait. Hold your Eohippus. Mikah 9 riding "R-9?" File that under "Dope
Shit That Happened But We'll Never Hear It," along with the live jazz
version of the Fellowship's "Respect Due," the P.E.A.C.E.-only version
of "Inner City Boundaries" and Mikah 9 spitting over the slinky guitar
funk of Frieda Nichols "Sweet Peter." Drats.
Ellay Khule knows. "Cybotron?! OH MY GOD -- that shit was the bomb, damn
near booty shaking in a way. You could either rap fast or slow and find
which beat you want to coincide with. A lot of rappers don't know about
that speed differential. Two speeds going on at one time. Just break
that shit down. Where you wanna be?" They could trace "R-9's" low
jittery keyboard and chop with the sixteenth note patter or spin their
tale on the 120ish BPM ass. Khule continues, "That's where we learned
early the breakdown of phrases and notes." Mike adds, "We'd try to loop
up 'Pack Jam' and 'Numbers' and slow it down."
While it took L.A. an extended version of a hot minute to get those
"D.E.F. Momentum" beats out of its system (rest assured boss, they still
bump in mine), Microphone Mike was riding the New York breaks and not
slowing down. But did Self-Jupiter ever play Jamie Jupitor when DJing
for the Sex Jerks at the Izod Dance? "They play all that Technicolor but
they wouldn't let us bust on the mic," grumbles Jup, who for effect then
blips off with some "Numbers" vocalese. The future Fellowshippers were
trying to unplug themselves from the electrodes. During an interlude on
To Whom It May Concern, an L.A. Dream Team record gets derided and
yanked off the turntable. Right before, Aceyalone urges, "Let it bump
for second!" You know he was tempted to ride that shit.
In early L.A. hip-hop, Re-Run was poppin, rappers in make-up raided
Falco's closet and Electro wore the Shabba pants. Worried about the bad
air days, L.A. Dream Team made a beat from the warning, "Don't breathe"
("Calling On The Dream Team"), goofing the Egyptian Lover breathalyzer
style running rampant in the mid-80s. "To breathe again or MC again?"
asked Shakespeare of the World Class Wreckin Cru. Meanwhile Mikah and
crew made fast beats out of words, infusing circular breath control.
For, why take a breath when you can take suckers out and they won't know
how you did it?
One summer day in '85, Mike battled Earl the Poet at Earl's hot dog
stand on Crenshaw Blvd, and Earl served his ass with extra relish. By
'86, D-Nice was hauling Scott La Rock's records, KRS-One was carrying
himself over the bridge with a ragga flow and Earl became Don Jaguar and
took Mike to New York, immersing him in Brooklyn's dancehall scene.
"Dancehall had those first rapid-fire lyrics with the patois," says
Mike. "I wanted to apply that to hip-hop but didn't want to perpetrate
like I was from Jamaica. So let me chop it up for what I'm worth, with
my twang. I wasn't the only one thinking about double time, triple time
rapping. First you had The Originators (Jay-Z and The Jaz in 89). Other
people were rapping fast but it was more of that JJ Fad style."
EENY MEANY GOTCHA KASHI, LIBERACE
If Baby D of JJ Fad had the bubba gum popping speed, then Mike was
gargling space rocks. He returned to L.A. wearing perma-crease jeans,
too big for his britches with an ego as brazen as his clunky buckle. In
'87, Microphone Mike wrote "Scream," a Skinny Boyish song by Rappinstine
that appeared on Macola's NWA & The Posse LP. There he ghosted, "You
can't kick it if you ain't got speed." In 1988, Big Daddy Kane's "Wrath
Of Kane" kicked speed like Mercury Morris in rehab, unleashing furious
triplet stage darkness over James Brown's "Give It Up & Turn It Loose."
Underground L.A. would take note, chop it up and serve it in a new
fandangled twangle tangle. "Kane came out with his triplets and 8th
dotteds -- that was just a piece of what you could do rhythmically,"
says JMD. "All those different rhythms frees your shit up. When I heard
it I was like, 'Finally, somebody's broke free.'"
"The techno beat became 'Funky Drummer' and we started chopping over
that," says Mikah. That year, his father gave him a trumpet and Mikah
reintroduced himself to jazz on his own terms. "He carried that trumpet
everywhere," recalls Khule. In 1989, the Fellowship formed, and
Microphone Mike rapped on the Arista single "Always," with R&B singer
One afternoon in 1990, Mikah 9 found himself in Chali Tuna's Friend's
Backyard, ripping up a 45 King break. "Right before that, Mike was
singing a reggae song over 'The Creator' by Pete Rock," says presiding
DJ Cut Chemist, wishing the videotaping had started earlier. "I'm so
mesmerized with the rhyme I don't want to focus my attention on the
crate." Cut Chemist keeps the same beat though the excerpts are from
three different phases of the party. "You couldn't see him because he
was melting down. You just hear rhymes and see people looking down at
the ground. That why he says 'I pick up some dirt, I stand up I'm about
to travel.' And suddenly he pops up." After leaving the track senseless,
Mike doesn't need a beat. Instead he says, "I need a bufferin."
THE BLOCK IS HOT
"I stand on the OG corner and tell old school stories with a be bop
tongue to the hip-hop future." -- Kamau Daaood, "Leimert Park"
Watts griot Kamau Daaood could stand (over six feet) beneath JMD's
window, across from the Leimert park bench, and watch his old school
stories pass in and out of a small strip of buildings, from portal to
door, passing South Central's legacy from Central Avenue to Leimert
Park. First there's Fifth Street Dicks Coffee & Jazz Emporium, where
Ornette Coleman's late drummer Billy Higgins once played like he was 17
after a liver transplant at 57. The be bop tongue wraps around the OG
corner to Higgins' World Stage Performance Gallery, where Daaood would
verbally solo with Tapscott's Arkestra and make people shed tears of
light. A few words down from Dick's is KAOS Network, a multi-media
Community Arts Program run by CAL-Arts Film Professor Ben Caldwell.
Buried in KAOS is the Project Blowed headquarters, site of many an open
mic smilewipe and label for the tape that holds "Hot" (Note all the wigs
plastered to the rafters). Outside of Dicks, you may bump into Watts
Prophets Richard Dedeaux, Amdee and Otis Smith. Their 1969 album Rappin'
Black In A White World warned, "Dem Niggers Ain't Playing" and a
paranoid COINTELPRO agreed, placing the spoken word legends alongside
Daaood and Tapscott on the FBI list, tucked in J. Edgar Hoover's
insecure garter belt. J. Hoovah must've feared the Prophets would incite
someone like Mikah, and that the boyz-in-tha-lab wouldn't be able to
transcribe his cryptic flow on "5 O'Clock Follies" (Rewind that, did he
really just say, "Fuck the whole Republican crew?"). "5 O'Clock Follies"
boggled the life of one Plug One and by 1991, could been found on the
Fellowship's To Whom It May Concern, a couple of bins over from Rappin'
Black In A White World and inside Final Vinyl, Kamau Daaood's record
store located between Dicks and Project Blowed. Keep flipping and also
find the Cannonball Adderley album used on another Mikah 9 solo cut
called "7th Seal."
"Rhythm and Sounds in Leaps and Bounds, Scales and Notes and Endless
Quotes" -- Last Poets
Whew! Blow out of Final Vinyl and clear your head. Scoot 2-3 miles up
north Crenshaw, pass the old KDAY sign, to the Good Life, a health food
store tucked in the crook of a small L of shops.One Thursday night in
'91, Mikah 9 performs "7th Seal" for the first time over a cassette.
"7th Seal" producer J-Sumbi assures that its mutant vocal is not
available at Final Vinyl, that he'd sampled it from a radio interview
where Miles Davis illustrated the joys of syncopation. As Mike sails
over a guitar accelerated to 45 rpms, you find the open mic registry
being suspiciously oinked by the Fellowship. This fabled night becomes a
live listening party from their debut tape To Whom It May Concern, on
sale after the show for the cost of a Ganja K dub sack. "'7th Seal' blew
everybodys mind for at least 2 years straight," says Ellay Khule. "People
studied that shit backwards and forwards -- even we don't know all those
words. That made everybody say like' I gotta get a tape out' or 'I can't
rap like so-and-so no more. I can't be in 80s, now we movin' to the
90s.' That totally transferred our musical thought."
A self-admitted "prude little old lady," Good Life owner B Hall got into
hip-hop through NWA and her concerns with impending 3 Strikes
legislation. Rule One at her weekly open mic sessions: Don't curse.
(Rule 1.5: Don't wear purple suits). "The word 'motherfucker' is a way
to buy time while trying to think of the next thing," says JMD. "You had
to get more creative with your lyrics in order to get your point
across." "The Good Life made us feel okay to sound different," adds
Medusa, who along with Koko, raised brows, natures and lighters when SIN
performed "Power Of The P." Chali Tuna made Good Life history when he
lead the crowd with "Shhh!!" as if innocently trying to hush them, until
they finish that shit with an "eeitt!!" B was nonplussed.
When the crowd chanted, "Please pass the mic," it was time to cough up
the chrome for the next shit. And if we check the list, one Thursday
night in 1992, it's Mr. Microphone, "steady blabbin oh my God, Jesus,
Jah" in a verse that'd reappear on "Way Cool" for Inner City Griots.
Fortunately, such classic Good Life stounds have been archived by Fish
and Ellay Khule, manning the tapedecks and freshening them with new
beats every Thursday night, even preserving the open mic logs(!), in
case anyone wonders who got on after Fat Joe was booed off stage.
In 1992, the Fellowship was heavyweight rotation on Mike Nardone's
playlist at KXLU Loyola Marymount, and the group visited his "We Came
From Beyond" show. The control room became a high school cafeteria. "It
was utter chaos," recalls Nardone, a hip-hop radio veteran. "They were
pounding on the board, banging on the window, making beats with anything
they could get their hands on."
1993. P.E.A.C.E. once rapped, "Grab my style and go up the path with an
evil-ass laugh." After scarring the New Music Seminar, P.E.A.C.E and
the Fellowship go a drillin' and a clearcutting up in the Catskills with
Leaders Of The New School. P.E.A.C.E. reports that trees were flying
through the air, that Mike and Charlie Brown were rappin about bugs and
leaves and that Busta Rhymes broke out "this crazy washing machine
style, aswooshing your clothes back and forth."
1993. The stentorian voice of Volume 10 can wrinkle linen suits and take
that ass to the cleaners. "I couldn't see past wanting to destroy
rappers," a hoarse 10 once told me back in '97, wringing his hands in an
alley behind Project Blowed. One Thursday night at the Good Life, 10
cracks the bell in bellow with his Joe Cocker opera. Mikah 9 follows the
eyebrowler with "Black Man Swing." "Just a little soul-searching mixed
with some shit talking," he says. Right. I bobbled the Bs and the
transcription was lost. Mikah's lyrics confirm it,
"IlostitIdon'tknowwhereitis!" Another entry for Flavor Flav's
With G-Funk taking over, rappers seeking stylistic refuge would cram
inside the Good Life. JMD started lugging his kit every Thursday so the
MCs could drop rhymes on drums. "First time I saw Mike at Good Life, he
just had a tape with some bongos, djembes, and hand drums and that
motherfucker was rawer and freer than any motherfucker I'd ever heard. I
think those hand drums set his style free."
Now, please expertly fold your Good Life flyer into Snake Plissken's
glider. Performed in '93, "Let's Fly" transcribed musical thought,
vowels for valves. Totally free, Mike chases a Branford Marsalis horn,
doodle looping over the dizzy edge of the Watts Towers, spreading his
grin and singing, "I'll be that laughing guy," walking on air he
snatched from every pursed lip in the room, from every bullfrogged cheek
blasting from the past, his fingers flipping on a trumpet, that, like
the ground beneath his feet, simply was not there. Ellay Khule was
there. "I remember when he first incorporated the invisible trumpet."
Abstract Rude was there. "I was thinking like okay, this guy wants to be
a trumpet." Blast!
"Mike was like the Charlie Parker of all these motherfuckers," says JMD
who started circulating vocalese tapes of Eddie Jefferson, King Pleasure
and Jon Hendricks' transcribed version of Miles Davis' "Freddie
Freeloader." "Once he learned how to shadow instruments he was off and
gone. They was already dope when I ran into them. I just giving 'em more
ammo." This helped Mikah stretch his vocalizing, to the point where
people thought he was the Bobby McFerrin interlude on To Whom It May
Concern. Fans will not mistake him for a Philip Bailey "Fantasy" on the
most recent "Free Energy," a one-take exercise with chronically
sustained high notes to crack your falsetto teeth. Here, Daddy Kev flips
one piano note over three octaves a la Digga on ODB's "Brooklyn Zoo."
(Imagine Ol Dirty yodeling along like Leon Thomas). Taped at a recent
Anticon show, "American Nightmare" is another free range stretcher. The
original freestyled version mimeographs a David Axelrod loop produced by
trumpet player Josef Leimberg in '98 for Mikah's yet-to-be-released It's
All Love album. As if things aren't fucked up enough, D-Styles of the
Invisibl Skratch Piklz has been known to transcribe Mikah's patterns
into scratch, and happens to appear on Timetable.
"He was chopping it like that before JMD put him up on the older cats,"
explains Abby Rude. "Once he realized this is something cats before him
tapped into but over a different music, he fine tuned it. It was kind of
like that movie Lawnmower Man (attention choppers!), where it gets so
powerful he realizes, 'I have it' and tries to go through every portal.
A good example of that would be Mikah's verse on the first
'Heavyweights'" (a posse upper cut from Inner City Griots). Announcing
himself in scrunchy quacks, Mikah claims he was influenced by "a sea
monster or some shit from the prehistoric chambers of childhood memory."
1994. With the Good Life literally spilling into the parking lot, Acey
and Abstract Rude opened another mic, a later Thursday session, down the
road at Project Blowed. "The Blowed was darker than a motherfucker
inside," explains Ellay Khule. "The moods changed to a darker feeling.
You could say whatever you wanted to say." "The Blowed was too
stylistically influenced by the Heavyweights," recalls the mighty
T-Love. "It got really wack as far as the battle shit when we're
supposed to be working together." That year Mikah 9 and Aceyalone signed
solo deals with Capitol, and Acey would release All Balls Don't Bounce
in 1995. Mikah would release nothing as Capitol was dismembering its
black music division, the first of its kind originally initiated by
David Axelrod in the early 70s.
No wonder Mikah took his "Sand To The Beach," a haunted unreleased track
produced by Punish in '96. The ethereal "hey-hey-hey" chorus is the wind
beneath my gully pits, SP-1200 protection that keeps the Donald Byrd
loop from cloning Large Professor's "Looking At The Front Door." The
chorus conjures that shriveling afternoon beach time, when Man blunders
through sandcastles wondering why his financial planner sucks, when
crabs bust out the fiddles and lobsterized families wash the kelp out of
their swimtrunks and say, "Hey let's miss the beautiful sunset and go
eat some shitty seafood!" "That song made Punish smile," says Ab Rude,
"And that's hard to do."
WHATCHA GON DO WITH THIS APPLE?
"Mikey Wikey hypes me, excites me." -- P.E.A.C.E., "Physical Form"
Please turn your playbooks to "Life Or Death." Those vocals came from
Mike's head, the same head that survived a gunshot wound. On the Prefuse
73 album, Scott Herren engrafted an eerie blinkinod track to Mikah's
acapella arrangement. On Daddy Kev's original skeletal "click track"
version, Mikah's voice layers production and lyrics at the same time and
in different cadensities. "It's one thing if you're monotoned and just
rapping in a cadence fast," says Mikah, "but I try to give it dynamics,
ups and downs -- a melodic structure that's interactive with the music and
key and pitch. Not just use a bunch of notes which are actual syllables
So, Mike, speak on that popular trend in rap that's banned in baseball,
that breaks bricks, that Paul C. innovated when breaking down breaks,
that Busta bussed on that Miss E interlude, that makes food smaller,
that Gift of Gab calcutted on Blackalicious' "Deep In The Jungle," that
is an illegal block in the NFL, that makes heretic peasants lose their
heads, that gladdens my soul as much as a Chep Nunez stabbit. So, in the
words of Ice Cube (frequenter of the Good Life): "Swing swing swing and
chop chop chop."
Mikah: "Call it auctioneering or microchop -- when I made that
assimilation I wasn't trying to be negative. There's still that
transcendental issue that our people have with slavery and how they were
attracted to that sound of an auctioneer. The chop is for when you want
to get Coltrane with it, not to mimic the auctioneer."
Project Blowed's address, Anywhere You Go, USA, now gets play from the
US Postal Service due to cultloads of fan mail. Anywhere You Go also
refers to permutations of the L.A. style translated throughout rap
geography, whether you're boning in Cleveland, speedknottin' in Chi-Town
or bouncing in the Dirty South. "That helps them (Fellowship) realize
what people want to hear in them," says Abstract Rude. "Those rappers
took what they thought were the best parts and fused it with their
content, and place it within their own arrangement and dialect." "All
our families is originally from the South anyway," says Khule. "They say
when you speak in a certain tongue that it has to be a certain speed --
but when you put it in another speed it sounds a bit different."
Check the slantbackcad'lac rhythm when Mikah catches the cowbell on
"Speechless" (Live on KZSU 90.1FM). From the chops came cuttin'
sessions with JMD, where they'd freestyle canons and polyrhythmic
fugues. "We'd do it the way jazz musicians would take turns cutting each
other in cuttin contests. They (Fellowship) didn't think of it as
exercises then, more like a challenge like this old man was trying to
shake us up."
"We'd rap within the card deck," says Jupiter. "We'd just exercise,
shuffle 'em and talk about the number or whatever you get out of
something. Mike would go into depth on the European origins. We'd hold
up objects and let our imagination bug out. That's what we were about
anyway. We wasn't skerred. It was never easy. It wasn't like, 'Watcha
gon' do with this apple?'"
Newer tracks like the Daddy Kev-produced "First Things Last" run like a
skill drill, scuttling down the piano's chromatic scale and then
casually whistling his way out the window. "Ultra Bap" and "Breath
Control" show more spit control; none of the vocals had to punched in
and there's always some "mongoloid mischief" afoot in the flurry.
"It's uncanny. Even just muttering, he's on beat," says Elvin "Nobody"
Estela, producer of "Telecommunication," an Ellay Khule woodchipper
demo. "Mikah has the weirdest timing of any rapper. He never repeats the
same meter twice." "You could fart three times and he'd rap over it,"
Jupiter shakes his head. "Even back in the day, he'd be saying some way
out shit you could never say to somebody, as a human. All the
battles, people were like, 'You won homie. I don't even wanna, no,
um-um -- You won. You got too many words you saying.'"
Like my old man would say, "He's got power where the busses don't run."
And when we got on that bus, my old Fish Camp Counselor would close the
doors and yell, "Let's get the road on the show!"
Dave Tompkins, Brooklyn, Record Heat Summer 2001
1. Let's Fly (Live At The Good Life '93)
2. Breath Control
3. Black Man Swing (Live At The Good Life '93)
4. Ultra Bap
5. Darkleaf/U.N.I.T.Y. Committee Party Pt. 1
6. Danger Ft. Freestyle Fellowship (OG Version '93)
7. Way Cool Acapella Pt. 1 (Live On KXLU 88.9FM)
8. Free Energy (Scat Version)
9. We Came From Beyond Pt. 1 (Live on KXLU)
10. Life Or Death (Click Track Version)
01. Island Acapella Pt. 1
12. Park Bench People (Alternate Version)
13. Speechless (Live On KZSU 90.1FM)
14. Darkleaf/U.N.I.T.Y. Committee Party Pt. 2
15. What You See Is What You Get
16. American Nightmare (Live At Rico's Loft)
17. Wake Up Show Freestyle
18. Sand To The Beach
19. Darkleaf/U.N.I.T.Y. Committee Party Pt. 3
20. We Came From Beyond Pt. 2 (Live On KXLU)
21. Fruit Don't Fall
22. Island Acapella Pt. 2
23. First Things Last
Tracks 2,4,8,10,23 Produced by Daddy Kev
Track 21 Produced by Fat Jack
Track 18 Produced by Punish
Track 6 Produced by JMD
Liner Notes by Dave Tompkins
Executive Producers: Mikah 9 & Daddy Kev