WIKKI WIKKI WIKKI....
How did I start breakdancing? Like a lot of Caucasian
breakdancers, my interest was sparked by seeing Michael
Jackson moonwalk on that Motown 25th Anniversary special.
I remember letting out a loud whoop of surprise when he
turned around and did it, and other people in my family
did too. I was something like 13 years old. I think the
first time I actually saw full-on breakdancing -- the
electric boogie, the wave, backspins, headspins, the windmill,
the worm -- was in a 'late-period' Gladys Knight & The
Pips video. I lived in Tabor, Iowa, so it wasn't like
I was going to see it on the street unless I did it myself.
Which is just what happened after I became part of my
very own breakdancing crew with a grand total of two other
friends, Chris Sola ("The Capricorn Kid") and
Dave Benscoter ("Benny D"). I had broken down
several cardboard boxes and taped them together so that
we had the de rigeur cardboard surface. I kept it in the
garage, and when the other two came over, I would pull
it out and throw it down on our paved driveway and we
would practice our backspins and worms and moonwalks.
People would drive by and honk and one or more of us would
acknowledge it with an electric wave that ran from the
shoulder out to an index-finger point of recognition.
One time a couple soybean-farmer-raccoon-hunter-lumberjack
types -- you know, rural Iowans -- pulled up in a pickup
truck. "Hey!" they shouted to Sola, who was a couple years
older than me and the best breakdancer in our crew. Benny
and I figured they were going to tell us to stop that
'faggot dancin,' but they weren't evil like that, and
they asked "Aren't you that dude who does that moonwalk?"
"Why yes," answered Sola, being humorously suave. "WELL
LET'S SEE IT MAN!!!" "I only do it for money," responded
Chris, a savvy 16 year old. The two rowdies actually dug
around on the floor and under the seat of their pickup
and came up with almost two dollars in change, which they
handed right over. Chris responded with a flurry of electric
boogaloo while moonwalking around their pickup, at which
they cheered and hollered and then drove off. When that
happened, I knew we were on to something. Well-received
(but unfortunately unpaid) performances followed at homecoming
dances and during a break in pep band practice.
thing we were on to was the music. As the only one of
us old enough to drive, Benscoter was in charge of keeping
us stocked with new and hip breakdancing music by taking
regular trips to Homer's Record Store in Omaha. He'd buy
various titles and then charge us $3 for a dub of the
good ones. There was no rap or hip-hop section then, in
1984, but certain rap titles were starting to leak into
record stores anyway. "Bennihanna" would go
to the soul or R&B cassettes section and painstakingly
browse through them, looking for any artist or group that
sounded like it might be rap. For example, The Treacherous
Three…if the group name had a number in the title, there
was a good chance it was rap, and if the cover picture
featured black men in warm-up suits, and/or the cassette
was released on Sugarhill or Enjoy Records, it was a sure
thing. It was in this way that Dave brought home amazing
records by (Kool Moe Dee's original group) The Treacherous
Three, as well as the various incarnations of The Furious
Five (with Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel), The Sugarhill
Gang, The Funky Four, The Fearless Four, and Crash Crew.
On a trip to Kansas City (to see The Jackson's Victory
tour, no less) I bought Run DMC's self-titled debut album
the same month it came out in 1984. No one else I knew
outside of the crew knew about them, and didn't for a
full two years or so, when their
cover of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way" became a huge hit.
It seemed we were the only people in all of Iowa who had
recently seen them on Soul Train, which we got
together and watched religiously every Sunday afternoon,
in hopes of catching the latest breakdance moves. A different
band would come on every week and do a live lip-synced
performance of their current single and usually one other
song. One week in 1984, Run DMC were the special guests.
None of us had heard of 'em, but we liked this new-to-the-plains
rap music, and we liked the way they looked. I remember
being disappointed with the very short scratch break during
their performance of "Rock Box," but I bought the album
anyway because of their rapping and matching black suits.
Sola had to buy an obscure hip-hop record while we were
in Kansas City too, and he opted for D'Ya Like Scratchin',
a 12-inch single by Malcolm McLaren. We were both on a
quest to hear some serious turntable scratchin', and,
not knowing anything about Mr. Rock'n'Roll Swindle's dubious
music career, we assumed it was the real deal, with a
title like that and the cover art, which featured black
guys in warm-up suits manipulatin' turntables. It turned
out to be not exactly a scratch-fest either, but kinda
cool anyway, and certainly breakdanceable, with McLaren's
pop sensibility comin' through. As for the Run DMC album,
it was incredible, side one alone rolling out five consecutive
hip hop classics in "Hard Times," "Rock
Box," "Jam-Master Jay," "Hollis Crew,"
and "Sucker M.C.'s." This time it was my turn
to make a dub for Benny. I think I even charged him $3.
I also made a cassette of it for myself so I could pump
it on the boombox for our outdoor breakdancing sessions.
I had also bought a book called Breakdancing:
Mr. Fresh and The Supreme Rockers Show You How To Do It!
This book had the obligatory step-by-step silhouettes
of people demonstrating moves, but it also had quite a
bit of interesting text. For example, at one point it
pointed out how strong of an influence comedy mime duo
Shields and Yarnell, who had their own network TV show
in 1977, were on the electric boogaloo. There was also
a great page that recommended certain tracks for breakdancing,
which led to many frustrating trips to Omaha record stores
for me, looking for but never finding the likes of "Punk
Rock Rap" by the Cold Crush Brothers and "Fresh"
by the Fresh 3 M.C.'s.
Around the same time, either Sola or Benny bought a breakdancing
instructional record that came with a poster and how-to
pamphlet. This record compiled some of the more popular
breakdancing hits of the day, such as "Rockit"
by Herbie Hancock and "Play That Beat" by G.L.O.B.E.
and the Whiz Kids. Intriguingly, it also included a great
jam called "Tour de France" by...Kraftwerk?
Those mannequin-like prog-nerd Germans? It reminded me
of my book, recommending "99 Red Balloons" by
Nena, and...gulp..."Owner of a Lonely Heart"
by Yes, right alongside the Run D.M.C. and Davy DMX. This
was quite a message to me: that anyone could be funky!
It also opened my ears to a pretty beautiful developing
undercurrent to hip-hop: 'electro' music. This was the
kind of bubbling synthesizer new-wave-disco drone-funk,
often with vocoder-ized vocals, that Kraftwerk inadvertently
invented. The electro jam I heard the most was "Scorpio"
by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
The electro jams I heard second and third most were both
by Newcleus, and they were called "Jam On It"
and "Computer Age (Push the Button)." As soon
as Benny brought home the Newcleus tape, we knew something
was slightly different about the band. The cover didn't
have a normal picture of them in track suits, but a wild
Pedro Bell-influenced funkadelic comic book illustration.
Here, I'll let
John Bush in the All Music Guide take it for just
a second: "The origins of Newcleus lay in a 1977
Brooklyn DJ collective known as Jam-On Productions, including
Ben "Cozmo D" Cenac, his cousin Monique Angevin and her
brother Pete (all teenagers and still in high school).
Many members -- MCs as well as DJs -- came and went as
the group played block parties all over the borough, and
by 1979, the group centered around Cenac, his future wife
Yvette "Lady E" Cook, Monique Angevin, and her future
husband, Bob "Chilly B" Crafton. (The foursome named their
group Newcleus as a result of the coming together of their
didn't know any of this background when I first listened
to the tape, so it was all the more mysterious. The first
track had a long instrumental intro that didn't even sound
like hip-hop, more like some freaky kind of new wave.
And then when the vocals came in, it wasn't even rap,
but this darkly smooth and deep singing voice, sounding
strangely detached (robot-like??) while delivering the
lyrics: "Computer age is here/Everyone must have
a machine/They say it's gonna make life easier/Well, I
can't stand it..."
"Computer Age" ended up being a great jam, with
the vocal melody really getting under your skin, and great
long trance-out electro-blip instrumental sections. But
"Jam On It" was the real classic, featuring
the old-school rapping of Newcleus frontman Cosmo Dee,
kicking lyrics like "On time, in your mind you see/you
gotta boogie to your best ability/you gotta funk it up
until it knocks you down/and when you're funkin' up, be
sure to pass it around/come on, let's go to work/we got
what'll make your body jerk/make you throw your hands
up in the air/shake your booty and scream, "Oh, yeah"/'cause
we are the Jam On Crew/and jammin' on it is how we do
the do/we'll funk you up until you boogie down/so come
people check out the sound, check out the sound, check
out the sound, check out the sound..."
The second rap by Chilly B ("I'm a surefire,
full blooded bonafide house rockin' Jam-On Production
MC") was even better than Cosmo's, but of course,
the real hook of "Jam On It" was the speeded-up
vocals of the other band members, a move heavily influenced
by Parliament Funkadelic and, well, Alvin and the Chipmunks.
These unforgettable voices played an infectious mere-mortal
greek-chipmunk chorus throughout the track, punctuating
the 'godlike' rappers from outer space having a lyrical
battle above them. When they kick the phrase "wikki-wikki-wikki-wikki"
over the beat, perhaps imitating a turntable scratch,
it had a novelty-song effect on the regional audience,
who came to ask for the song as "The Wikki-Wikki
Song." At one glorious moment, the chipmunks even
take over the rap to tell the story about what happened
when Superman came to town "to see who he could rock";
a classic Bronx block-party battle myth. Even if Newcleus
were from Brooklyn, they still knew how to defeat the
Man of Steel: "We rocked his butt with a twelve-inch
cut called Disco Kryptonite."
even comes back for one more rap, topping his first one
and maybe even Chilly B's. Just listen to the extensive
usage of the verb "to rock" in this real-life
pitch for Newcleus's sound system, Jam On Productions:
"I've got the beat that's oh so sweet/without me
rockin' it's incomplete/so rock this yo, rock that yo/rock
on and don't you dare stop/you rock this, rock that, and
that's a fact/ cause the Jam On Crew will rock your body
right back/rock a steam locomotive right off the track/and
give the whole wide world a funk attack/to the beat y'all,
get down/let me rock it to the rhythm of the funky sound/from
hill to hill, from sea to sea/when Jam On's rockin' everybody...scream!"
(Another notable use of "to rock" comes elsewhere
in the song, with this Sun Ra-ish line: "I'm Cosmo
Dee from outer space/and I came to rock the human race.")
I now realize that pretty much all of Newcleus's raps
were just advertisments for their block-party sound system.
Those were the days...record-buying influenced by street
trends instead of television trends. Maybe it's still
that way some places, but it ain't that way in Tabor,
Iowa and Lincoln, Nebraska...unless I'm the fool getting
the damn cardboard out and breakdancing myself....
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