Two of my heavyweight heroes have passed this week, and it breaks my heart. The retrospective reels depicting Joe Frazier’s greatness are a stark contrast to the sorry state of the heavyweight division these days (though Kirkland and Angulo’s Super Welterweight bout at the weekend was a throwback to a happier time). Anybody blinded by Ali-mania and some salty exchanges of words is a clown. Frazier’s vicious style and heavy hitting makes him a god. It’s a tragedy that he seemed to spend the last few years of his life in a different place to a formerly demonised Ali opponent like George Foreman who came out the other side (after a period of depression) a happy human being. This 1973 Playboy interview is worth a read ahead of any eulogies and the forthcoming documentary ‘When the Smoke Clears’ about Joe, Philly and the closure of his gym is promising too.
Then there’s Heavy D.
It was surreal watching the onetime Overweight Lover on Westwood.tv, pondering the excellence of ‘Blue Funk’ and thinking about how ‘You Can’t See What I Can See’ was up there with ‘Dwyck’ in the b-side stakes, only to hear of his passing. Hip-hop loves to wail and shout “whyyyyyyy?” to the heavens via social media and rap tribute during any passing, but Heavy D deserves a substantial mourning period — see that Drake album that’s been weeping salty tears from your iPhone screen since monday? That mix of macho bars and the soul stuff is the byproduct of the big man’s work, where a Teddy Riley production settled alongside the hardest of Premier beats without a single murmur of complaint. And that was during a time when Wreckx-N-Effect’s boys got vexed at Phife’s anti swing sentiments and EPMD were decrying R&B crossovers. Heavy helped make Puffy the man his is today, and Puff’s influence — regardless of your opinion of the Ciroc wielding ego — on pop culture as a whole is gargantuan.
Heavy D knew early on that there’s no such thing as selling out, provided that you do it right and that Sprite campaign pre-dates a slew of multi-national flirtations with hip-hop. Better that that, ‘Nike’ on the ‘Living Large’ LP in 1987 is an early ode swoosh with a Teddy Riley on co-operation that’s so shameless that Heavy even apologises at the end before angling for a promo deal. On the ‘Chunky But Funky’ cover, the Jordan IIs quantities are on the level of Heavy D’s scrawny opposites, the Skinny Boys. It’s a shame that one of the Boyz forgot his Italian-made classics on the morning of the shoot.
On a loosely related nostalgia note, Trevor Jackson and Richard XL’s live Ustream video construction of a UK rap mixtape the other day plus this 1986 DJ Mek footage of London Posse in Dublin as highlighted by the Hot As Balls crew brought back some memories of Mr. Jackson’s Bite It! work under the Underdog alias. Had his Playgroup album dropped in the MP3 blog era, the world would have collectively ejaculated tweet plaudits about it and the new generation of quasi-artistic MCs would hop on the productions for their Mediafire mixtapes. But the world wasn’t quite ready for that one and his Output imprint closed in 2006. Under his Underdog guise, Trevor dropped some bangers, at a time when the UK re-rub was a reason to skip a track. It’s interesting that he frequently downplays his musical ability at that time, indicating that treating the sonics the same way as graphic design, with a patchwork approach was the key to his sound.
While some Underdog work might have been lumped with the post-Muggs, THC-haze there’s an ambience and knack for psychedelia in the mix that could be fully appreciation when it was free from the distraction of comparison with beloved originals. On the Brotherhood’s ‘Elementalz’ it was out there. Some of the album might sound a little naive now, but the little gothic touches and lavish yet abstract art from Dave Mckean indicated that someone had taken their time putting it together in contrast to the graffiti fonts and barely Pentel tag fonts of rival British releases. It never set off a movement and as a nation, few lessons were learned and UK rap moaned and stagnated. Now the real appeal is in a hastily recorded road rap sound that’s too agitated to bother with lavish inlays.
This interview with Jackson is brutally honest at a time when many swagger around as one-man brands on a Klout score mission. He downplays a little too much of his work, but it’s clear that the graphic design and typography is still his first passion (check out Cynthia Rose’s ‘Design After Dark’ for some sleeve and clubland designs that typify the late ’80s to early ’90s, including some of Jackson’s Champion and Gee Street work). His site has a good cross section of his works so far, but Bite It!s street-level take on the Suzuki rhino and the attention lavished on some otherwise forgotten 12″s with Donald Christie’s photography.
Little Pauly Ryan EP’s been on here before, but it deserves a second appearance alongside Scientists of Sound and 100% Proof releases too. Who else was doing anything like that in 1992? He still works with Donald on video projects like this. That sloganeering should be memorable to ‘Phat’ readers too. I can’t help but think that that one-man, money’s-no-object (rarely the key to longevity in the recording industry) crusade against mediocrity deserves inspection from a wider audience as we champion some right old sh…actually, to honour Hev’s ‘Don’t Curse’ plea, it can get censored…shameless rubbish.