Hip Hop, Be Bop. Hip Hop, Be Bop. Hip Hop, Be Bop.
Plain. Simple. Catchy.
“Hip Hop, Be Bop, (Don’t Stop)” is my record everyone knows, and wants to know about, and it’s considered a cornerstone in hip hop and electronic dance music but its origins might surprise you.
If I told you this track came into being with the help of a gay porn movie, is that sacrilegious to hip hop? Well, it did.
It began around 1981, when I was about twenty and having my own album was nothing more than a dream, I was contacted by Gary Moody, a friend of mine, who was an editor for a sleazy gay men’s magazine called Honcho, or Mandate, something like that. His magazine was interviewing famed porn director Joe Gage, who, among other things, is credited for creating the “gay look” of the seventies: mustache, tight jeans, aviator sunglasses. During this interview, Joe mentioned he was doing a new film called Heatstroke and was looking for someone to do music for it. Gary replied to Joe he knew me; I did music, and said he would ask if I was interested. For me, the phone call from from Gary, asking if I wanted to do soundtrack for a porn movie, came from out of the blue. Being a young man, my first thought was at least I’d get to watch some free porn out of the deal and that would be cool, so of course I said yes. I followed up with Joe who told me I wouldn’t get to watch any porn, but he had $1000 in his budget for music for his movie: five minutes here, two minutes there, for a short which ran seven minutes total, including the title piece called Heatstroke. “Sure!” I said. I remember saying to myself with complete sincerity, “A whole $1000 to do an entire film score! Wow! I’m going to be rich!”
I was a huge fan of the electronic music genius, and followed everything he was doing at his label, Megatone Records and my Heatstroke soundtrack tried to imitate a lot of his music. Patrick was the musical mastermind behind one of the defining songs of the seventies: Sylvester’s mega-hit, “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), but I loved some of his equally good, if lesser known records, “Megatron Man” and “Menergy.” Like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones who made their mark in rock music around the same time, Patrick and Giorgio Moroder, another synth pioneer, were both hitting their strides in electronic music pretty much simultaneously, but Patrick’s music was more to my taste. His style was more fun and less musically structured than Moroders. I didn’t have Patrick’s experience, expensive synths, formal musical training, and big talent to work with but I knew I loved his sound and it inspired me. Using two synths: a Prophet One and a Prophet Five, as well as a Linn Drum machine, I made the Heatstroke soundtrack in about a week, which, in all modesty, is pretty fast. [i]
Little did I know that while Patrick’s work inspired me, my work inspired DJ Lance Weiss, to sample my track “Heatstroke” off a Betamax copy of the movie and make an acetate (basically a low grade record) recording of it. Not many people had access to an acetate recorder, which made the process of turning a recording of my song, taped off a cheap copy of a low-budget porn movie into a fragile form of a record, a very ambitious project.
Lance spun music at the Anvil in New York City, a notorious gay bar in the Meatpacking District on 14th St. and the Westside Highway. The Anvil was a 30’ x 40’ wooden tinderbox with sawdust all over the floor; back then everybody smoked and put out their cigarettes in the sawdust. How this place didn’t go up in flames, I will never understand. It opened at midnight and closed at noon, the last guests leaving wore dark sunglasses to stave off the inevitable and cruel daylight. I lived in the same neighborhood and frequently amused myself by watching the daily walk of a dozen or so drunk queens in leather harnesses, their asses hanging out of their chaps, walk up 14th street around 11 AM, past meat packers of a different variety. It was a Fellini kind of normal.
One night, about a month after the movie Heatstroke had been out in video stores, a friend called me from the Anvil and said, “Hey Manny, they’re playing your song down here!” So I ran down the street, around the corner and into the club, past Uba, the bald, fire-eating drag queen and past Toby, who specialized in stuffing extra large dildos up his butt, leaning over and launching them over the audience to the other side of the room. Sure enough, shortly after I arrived, my song came on again. I went over to Lance and said, “Wait a minute! Where’d you get that record? This is my music!” Shocked, he looked at me, and said, “That’s your music? Come down with me to a record company I work with tomorrow. They’ll sign you on the spot!”
We exchanged numbers and I called Lance the next day. As it turned out, he lived two blocks away from me and we arranged to meet his music industry contact. I had no idea where we were going, but we jumped on the subway and headed over to an office building on 39th St. and Second Avenue. I was very uncomfortable on our ride over there. Even though I had never been in a formal business office before, I knew enough to know my tight, torn jeans that displayed my knees and “wife beater” t shirt were likely going to make me stick out like a sore thumb in any office environment and this anxiety only fed into the manic, bipolar, depression issues I had been struggling with. Lance was not immune to my nervousness and tried to calm me down with small talk. “Mike is a great guy.” “This will be so cool. You’ll have a record out, buddy!” Most importantly he said, “Don’t worry. Let me do all the talking,” which indeed did make me feel better as I stutter when I get nervous, and was afraid I would fuck something up if I said anything. His words were additionally reassuring because I didn’t know what “normal” in these situations was. Most of my entire life had been spent in survival mode and more often than not, moving from one dysfunctional situation to another. In my reality, if the record label boss said, “Pull your dick out and make a silly face,” I would have done it without thinking twice, just to make them happy. The mere thought of being in a conventional environment, let alone a high stakes one like potentially signing with a record company, absolutely terrified me.
We got out of the elevator, went down the hall and into an office. I didn’t know, at the time, if it was an accounting office or a law firm, (I later learned it was an advertising agency) but there were several different names on the wall, including the name “Wilkinson”. After checking in with the receptionist, we walked down a corporate hallway to a door that opened into what seemed like a utility closet: a tiny, eight foot long by six foot wide room with no windows and a desk. A bunch of record covers were taped to the walls and Michael Wilkinson was behind the desk, talking on the phone, and motioning for us to sit down. Mike was a tall, handsome man in his mid thirties, with a big, seventies/disco, bushy mustache that looked like Tom Selleck’s. I later learned that while Mike was a partner in this firm, his real love was dance music and his hobby was compiling dance music remixes for radio stations and club DJs, which he sold through his music subscription service called Disconet. Somehow, his partners tolerated him never being at his real desk (that I ever saw), and indulging in this past time by letting him take over the office broom closet that served as the headquarters for his little operation.
Mike got off the phone, stood up, shook my hand and said, “Hi! I’m Captain Mike and my buddy Lance here says you did that “Heatstroke” song. Is it really yours?” I replied, “Yes, Sir!” trying to be businesslike and professional. He said, “I run a DJ remix service called Disconet that sends out unreleased songs and custom mixes to clubs and radio stations all around the world. I would like to put your “Heatstroke” track on our next release. Would that be OK with you?” The word “Sure!” came out of my mouth faster than the speed of light, and I didn’t know this was the beginning of my first record deal. As we chatted, Mike asked me what else I had song-wise. I told him I had been recording in my home studio for a few years and had maybe had twenty or thirty finished, unfinished and various available tracks. “Why don’t you get together with my buddy Raul Rodriguez? He helps me edit all the Disconet mixes. He can sort through what you have, and we’ll see what’s usable,”. I told him that was fine with me and after some small talk, Lance and I left the office.
I was in shock, but Lance was beyond thrilled for me and the fact he had had a hand in getting his favorite, current record out on a real label. I think he also assumed he was going to get some brownie points in terms of a free subscription to Disconet for “discovering me,” which I think he eventually did.
The next day, I got a call from Raul, who turned out to be straight, and about my age. He asked if he could meet me at my loft so he could hear some more of my music. Raul had been a DJ at New York, New York, a hugely popular disco, and had quit his job there to become a full-time music editor for Disconet. Having him come over was a little nerve-wracking. I wasn’t sure what tracks would be “good enough” to play for him and I didn’t know anything about his taste and musical ear. I’m not a trained musician, so I honestly didn’t know if he would laugh at the material I had. I never before showed my work to anyone. Raul liked everything I played for him, including “Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don’t Stop),” which, like all of my music at the time, didn’t have a name, just an identifying number (eg: Song Idea #23). Frankly, I hated this song because it had no formal structure like a verse, chorus, and bridge, and I initially considered it more of an experimental track, or at best, an album filler. I was much happier with “Man Made,” because I loved Kraftwerk, and like them, I had a fully synthetic band, and that song had more of a song structure. It was Raul’s idea to develop “Hip Hop, Be Bop” and I just went along with the flow.
We made a cassette tape with several song options for Mike, who ended up needing time to listen to them and asked if he could see Raul and I later in the week. When I returned to Mike’s office a few days later, Raul was already there and Mike greeted me with a warm smile and said, “Hey buddy! I think you’ve got some great music here! I want to put it out on a new label I’m have called Importe 12” “Sure!” I immediately responded and Mike replied, “Before I do that, you just need to sign this slip of paper that gives me permission to use it. Are you cool with that?” And then I said the words that would change my life. “I don’t know anything about legal stuff, Mike. Don’t I need a lawyer?” “No, no. You don’t need a lawyer; it’s just one page and there’s nothing to worry about,” he quickly said with a smile. I’m sure at this point you know where this is going. Being just twenty two years old, I knew nothing about the legalities of this and Mike was breathing down my neck to sign this piece of paper. He shoved it under my nose and said, “Don’t worry buddy, it’s all on the up and up. Everything is fine, buddy.” I was hesitant.. Was I going to get paid for my record? But Mike kept nudging me to sign, saying, “Don’t you want your song released?” and “No one else is offering you this great opportunity.” I simply gave in. He was very persuasive. I was a just a kid with no record company experience and suddenly there was a deal, right there, under my nose. I nervously signed the contract, which he quickly took from me and put in a folder in a drawer in his desk. Between my excitement and nerves, it didn’t occur to me at the time he didn’t give me a copy or any usual standard monetary advance. I didn’t know that was standard procedure until years later. He shook my hand, gave me a big smile through his Tom Selick moustache and said, “Well guys, let’s get to work!”
After signing the contract and leaving Mike’s office, I was panicky and anxious. Something didn’t feel right. I wasn’t clear on what exactly it was that I had just signed. That uneasy feeling of concern put a huge damper on my exuberance. Then by obscessing over what just happened, I got even more concerned about what I had to do to fulfill my contract. Even though I was scared shitless, I managed to go right into work mode, another survival skill. I was determined to deliver the best product I possibly could.
Raul and I had three weeks to figure out how to make the most of the one month of studio time Mike reserved for us. After listening to his input, we narrowed it down to eight simple songs and tracks made on my eight track tape machine and spent a fair amount of time planning on how we were going to “bump” them up to the studio’s large-format, twenty four track tape and mix it.
Based on Raul’s suggestion, we focused a lot on “Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don’t Stop). Even though it wasn’t my favorite track on my album, its creation wasn’t random. In the early eighties, there were basically three different kinds of music on urban radio: 1) Old school funk, 2) Rap, (like the Sugar Hill Gang and Rappers Delight) which was basically party dance music with an MC “rapping” lyrics, and then there was 3) “Hip hop” which hadn’t really been named yet as a genre. Hip hop originally referred to a type of dance music and my song “Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don’t Stop)”was actually named after slang jazz terms coined forty years earlier. “Hip hopping” meant dancing, not the urban definition we know today: your hips were “hopping” and “Bebop” was a type of jazz music. So, “Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don’t Stop)” meant: Keep dancing to the music, don’t stop.
I don’t want to give you the impression I am some kind of music historian. I’m not. What happened was one night Raul and I were out with sax player James McElwaine, who had performed on my song “Together Again” with me and Michael Rudentsky, and Cherry Vanilla on back up vocals. I was the robot. James had a background in jazz and somehow the conversation rambled over to hip hop and be bop in jazz terms. I liked the way those words sounded together and viola! We had a title and lyrics!
That’s it. Plain and simple.
While others had occasionally used the term “hip hop” earlier as part of a track’s lyrics, I was one of the first, if not the first to use it as a title and also as a song subject. Raul and I were some of the first people on a record to blatantly use the term “hip-hop” as the title and focus of a song. As I was one of the first people to bring this term into its modern use as the name for a new style of dance music, The New York Times dubbed me “the Godfather of electronic music and hip hop.”
Raul and I brought “Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don’t Stop)” and “Heatstroke” along with “In The Beginning,” “Man Made,” “Together Again,” “Hip Hop, Be Bop (Part 2),” “Six Simple Synthesizers,” and “Street Clap” to Vanguard Studios, the recording studio for the jazz label Vanguard Records. Vanguard Studios was a bare bones, “as is” dump. Unlike Electric Lady, that was super outfitted with the latest technology.. On Vanguard’s premises was a MCI brand 24 channel mixing board and it’s companion 24 track tape machine; a Studer two track half-inch mix down machine; and a basic plate reverb in a 5’ x 8’ wooden box. If you needed something extra, like a special effects box, you would have to call around and rent it.
When you walked through the studio door, there was an “outer lounge / green room” with a window that looked into the control room. The 30’ x 18’ control room had just the bare basics: walls covered with cheap, drab, sound absorbing fabric and equally cheap, drab, sound absorbing carpet on the floor. It had two windows with thick, double paned glass that functioned as both portals and sound barriers. One window looked out to the outer lounge, and the other, which was flanked by giant speakers on either side, had a view of the main studio where singers and musicians performed their parts. The control room mixing board and desk were on a large, wooden platform that took up most of the room. It was up so high that you had to walk up three steps to get to them. Raising the platform was necessary because there were dozens of input cables running from the recording room into the mixing board, whose connectors were at the bottom of the console. All those cables needed to be connected or disconnected easily, so the floor had access panels to service the spaghetti mess of wires. In front of the mixing board was a couch for people to hang out on and that is the sum of what Vanguard provided for its basic, hourly rental.
Maybe it was because of its bare bones accouterments, but Vanguard was rarely booked, so they would allow us to work there from 12 AM to 12 PM for about $50 a session, which Disconet paid for. Like factory workers, Raul and I would write, produce, record, mix, and edit, my record (and eventually others), in marathon sessions. For two people who had more or less randomly thrust together for work, Raul and I got along extremely well. He was funny and dishy (for a straight guy). We both chain smoked like chimneys and he couldn’t do a session without his “tall boy” supersized can of beer. After our studio day ended, we would part ways: me, to cruise gay bars, and Raul to chase pussy.
I would carry my extremely heavy 8 track tape recorder from home, on the subway! I was too poor to take a cab. God knows how I didn’t get robbed. We then used our studio time to “bounce up” the songs to a professional, twenty four track machine. One day, we also got some needed help from John Robbie, a well-known NYC session player Mike brought in for about three hours to help us add extra synth parts to fill out the sound. Normally, a session musician like John would make a couple hundred dollars to come in and play on someone’s album, and since he never personally gave me a bill, I assumed his work was part of my “big deal” and Mike had taken care of it, which he did, but in a sleazy way I could have never imagined.
By the time we were done recording the eight tracks we began with, we realized we were short one track and only had 45 minutes of studio time left for the entire project. Even though I had all my other tracks at home, there was no time to get them. I had to come up with something on the fly and such was the genesis of my song “Techno Trax,” short for “Technology Tracks” which was the only name I could think of on the spot. I remember Mike glaring at me and looking at his watch as I panicked to finish the track before the studio clock ran out. Did I invent the word “Techno” back in 1982, to describe electronic dance music and later became a well-known term? That’s for others to decide, but I was definitely one of the first to use it, if not the first.
A month later, the studio work on my album was done. At the time other dance artists had “singles” released. I was one of the first electronic music dance artist to release a full album of dance music. That was basically unheard of, back in those days. Dance artist were expected to be “one hit wonders”. Mike and Raul absolutely loved my album, because it was uniqie, totally original, and contained several good, dance tracks on it. And with that, my wild hip hop ride began.
[i] I completed the Heatstroke soundtrack and went on to doing a few other soundtracks for other movies in Joe’s porn empire, including two other gay movies for him. Handsome, and Cell Block #9. I also did a heterosexual porn film score for Joe, Girls USA, which starred famed Deep Throat actress Vanessa Del Rio. I got to meet Miss Del Rio in the screening room “premiere” which she attended fully naked, under a fur coat. She sat in the row behind me and I heard her comment to her friends, “I wonder who did the music. It’s fabulous!” I turned around and said “Miss Del Rio, I did.” She said “Let me give you my personal number, I’m doing a show at Show World, (which was a famous mega peep and live sex show theatre). “ I’d love for you to do music for my new live show”. Needless to say, after that, I tortured all of my straight male friends with how I had porn star Vanessa Del Rio’s personal phone number, and one of them actually offered me $1000 for it. Of course I never gave it out, but it sure gained me “street cred” with my straight friends, even though I was actually too intimidated to call her and never followed up on her generous offer.