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The Old School History of Philadelphia Hip Hop
The Old School History of Philadelphia Hip Hop

If you are not, this article will help you learn a little more about this city's rich musical heritage. Hopefully, by the time you finish reading, you will have a clearer idea of how Philadelphia hip hop started and what is happening now in this borough.

In 1979, the Sugarhill Gang released "Rapper's Delight," a chart-topping song that gave rise to a new pop music genre. But the song's actual author was not the Sugarhill Gang but rap deejay Grandmaster Caz. Caz, an early MC and deejay wrote the song's lyrics. The gang's success gave the song its title.

Before the 1980s, hip-hop had only been a niche in New York and California and was only a part of urban centers. The culture primarily comprised people from the housing projects and was considered illegal by the police. However, a few rap artists found success in Philadelphia. In Philadelphia, the rappers at "Rapper's Delight" had a significant impact on the city's rap scene.

Schoolly D


Schoolly D is the Founder of Gangster Hip Hop. If you are a record buff, you may be familiar with the artwork on the album cover, which he did himself. Artists such as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and many others attribute him as the reason they've made the music that they created. In 1985, Schoolly D and DJ Code Money released two songs that got them worldwide recognition and fame of the song "PSK," which we found out later was an acronym for Parkside Killers, and the other side of the record was Gucci Time.

Not long after the release of these songs Abel Ferrera contacted Schoolly D to use some of his songs in the movie King Of New York, starring Christopher Walken, Lawrence Fishburne, and Wesley Snipes. Schoolly D is the first MC that I knew of who refused to edit his music's profanity. It was in such demand that the radio stations edited the songs themselves so they could play them on the air. Schoolly D and DJ Code Money was one of the first Hip Hop groups to perform in many places overseas and was part of the Russell Simmons famous Rush Tour, which included some of the most legendary Hip Hop artists.

Schoolly D also debuted himself on his own record label from the beginning, then later signed to Jive Records and Ruffhouse Records. Nowadays, he's known for making the music for Auqa Team Hunger Force, including its theme song, but actually, Schoolly has done scores for many movies and Tv Shows and is still very active today.

D.J. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince

The early years of Philadelphia hip hop were exciting, with both neo-soul and street-oriented music taking off. D.J. Jazzy Jeff made his mark with the release of his 2002 album, The Magnificent. A pioneering DJ, Jeff combined street-wise hip hop with contemporary soul. His early years are a fascinating look at hip hop history in Philadelphia. But his legacy extends well beyond the city's streets.

Born in West Philadelphia, D.J. Jazzy Jeff Townes grew up in the city and developed an early love for music. By 10, he began spinning records and using his family basement as a practice studio. By his early teens, he performed on the ballroom and block party circuits in Philadelphia. He gained recognition for his innovative scratching skills. His work paved the way for some of the city's best-known hip-hop producers.

The Fresh Prince is the first rapper with his own Tv sitcom based in Philadelphia. The character's rise is a defining moment in the history of the city and hip-hop. Will Smith and Jeff Townes met in a West Philadelphia rap scene and later formed the duo D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince started rapping in Philadelphia during the 1980s. The duo won the first Grammy Award for best rap performance in 1989 with "Parents Just Don't Understand." This song was far different from the other rap songs of the time and helped push hip hop into the mainstream.

The Fresh Prince and D.J. Jazzy Jeff were Philadelphia residents signed to the Jive record label. While they had not yet made music for the show, they had made many popular rap songs. Their single, "Parents Just Don't Understand," became certified Gold and won the first Grammy for Best Rap Performance. The Fresh Prince's albums went Gold in 1988 and 1989. D.J. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince's song "Petite City" was even the show's theme song.

The rap world is indebted to D.J. Jazzy Jeff's work. Born in Philadelphia, the renowned hip-hop producer and D.J. made his name as part of the rap duo D.J. Jazzy
Jeff & the Fresh Prince. His music has achieved a Grammy for Best Rap Performance. With his debut solo album "Parents Just Don't Understand." His collaborations with artists such as Eminem, Talib Kweli, and Method Man have all been cited as key to the success of Philadelphia's hip-hop scene.

MC Breeze

“How can you talk about Philadelphia (rap music) without talking about M.C. Breeze? How are you going to go from Schooly D to Jazzy Jeff? You can't. MC Breeze is the link in the chain.” -- Philly Rap Pioneer Schooly D. Today's rap fans may not be aware of the pioneering accomplishments of West Philadelphia's M.C. Breeze. He was one of the first rappers to release music on his own label (Breeze Records); he was the first M.C. to have a record banned from Philadelphia Radio (“Discombobulatorbubulator”), and he was the subject of immense local pride when he was tapped to write and perform the theme song to fellow Philly Boy Sylvester Stallone's movie, “Rocky V,” under the name Joey B. Ellis.


A winner of Philadelphia Music Conference's Urban Legends Award (previous winners include DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Lady B, Schoolly D, and Jocko Henderson, among others), Breeze is also a bright, articulate, and multitalented entertainer who's been around since the birth of Hip Hop in Philadelphia. “Of all the Old School Philly Rappers, Breeze most represents this city,” says filmmaker Mike D on why Breeze was chosen to be the subject of the first Bring The Beat Back production.

“While other rappers were busy talking about how to fly their sneakers, cars, and gold chains, Breeze was reppin' Philly from his very first record.” That first record, an EP released in the winter of 1985, featured “It Aint'New York,” “Discombobulatorbubulator” and a ballad, “Another Sad Song,” and was entirely produced by Breeze. He wrote and performed all the music (keyboards, guitar, and Dr. Rhythm drum machine) live in a four-track studio and did the lead vocals. He even drew the artwork for the label and (later) album cover. Handmaster Flash, a member of his original crew, The Mighty B- Force, did turntable scratches and additional raps. The record was released on Breeze's own label and funded with money he saved delivering pizza for Dominos'.

While “It Ain't New York” was a hit (its title was lifted to promote the first-ever “Philly vs. NY” rap battle at the Spectrum in 1986), the song that created controversy and helped vault Breeze to his legendary status was “Discombobulatorbubulator.” A clever rhyme about the day in the life of Breeze, it was banned from local radio play because of its offensive remarks about Chinese food and the people who serve it. The ban effectively kept the song from “blowing up” outside Philly. Undaunted, Breeze would come back with a series of hit 12”, both on his label and several majors, that showcased his unique style of singing and rapping with a sense of humor. The pinnacle of his commercial success came after he signed to M.C. Hammer's Bust It imprint and was afforded the chance to write and perform 3 songs on the Rocky V soundtrack including the main theme. The second single, “I Thought U Were The One For Me,” a dance track, was a Platinum seller overseas.

After Hammer's fabled bankruptcy, Breeze had to make a choice. “I could either stay in (the Bay Area) and be broke or come back to Philly and be broke, so I chose here.” After suffering double family tragedies, which took him away from music for some time, his love for music and sharing with others has never been stronger. With money saved, he has built a recording, graphic art, and video studio from “a shell” of a building not far from the Belmont Plateau where he used to perform back in the day.  He is a co-founder (Along with B-Force's Disco Dave and Phillyhiphop.com's Funk Wizard Snow) of the Greater Philadelphia Hip Hop Alliance; an organization created to support and promote all elements of Hip Hop in the Del Val. Its most recent meetings have had attendance in the hundreds. He has just released a CD called “The Best  of Breeze and DJ Trevor,” which compiles all of his hits and rarities, and plans to release a collection of all-new material called “The Way I See It” in late 2005. A self-taught expert at 3-D computer animation, he has designed his own website (mcbreeze.com) and is directing both the live-action and animation for a completely digital horror film called “Hells Furie,” which is now in production.

The Roots

The Roots of Philadelphia Hip Hop are among the most enduring bands in American music. Founded in 1987, this hip-hop group is best known for its jazzy, eclectic
approach to music. The group's sound combines hip-hop with jazz and blues music and live instruments. The group's music has received global acclaim and is the subject of numerous documentaries. Listed below are some of the band's most famous tracks.

The Roots' first major-label album, "Do You Want More?!!, " was released in January 1995. The album featured keyboardist Scott Storch and samples from other recordings. It failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100 but was an instant hit in alternative circles. The group's next album, "Illadelph Halflife," became their biggest hit, charting in the top thirty on the Billboard 200. It was also the first album from The Roots to include samples of other music recordings.

The Roots formed in 1987 while attending high school in Philadelphia. Questlove and Black Thought had met at school and collaborated to perform songs on street corners.  In 1993, they became Philadelphia's most famous underground act. They toured Europe, and their debut album, Organix, won a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group. The Roots have continued to grow and have become one of the most influential acts in the genre.

Hilltop Hustlers

The artists involved in this book are a collection of O.G. Philadelphia hip hop producers and writers, including DJ Woody Wood. Woody was a part of the famous Philadelphia hip hop collective Three Times Dope. He discusses recording their 1990 album, touring the U.S., and breaking up with the Hilltop Hustlers. His interviews with him will give you a unique perspective on what it was like to be part of a legendary group.

The army of the Pharaohs is another group formed in the 1990s and spawned a cult following. They released two albums in 1998, The Amber Probe and Feast or Famine, which were influenced by underground sounds. The album closed with a single track called "I Who Have Nothing."

Steady B, born Warren McGlone, was one of the M.C.s who formed C.E.B. and later collaborated with KRS-One on the acclaimed Let The Hustlers Play album. Steady B released five albums during his career and helped put Philadelphia on the map. He was a part of the O.G. Philadelphia hip hop scene and is an integral part of the
history of Philly hip hop.

Despite his recent arrest for murdering a police officer, Cool C has a long and successful history in the Philadelphia Hip Hop scene. His rap career has been fueled by the legacy of his fellow Philadelphia emcees. In fact, three of his songs feature D.J.s and M.C.s. Among the legendary members of the Hilltop Hustlers are Cool C, Steady B, Three Times Dope, and the legendary DJ Warren McGlone.

Bahamadia

The history of Philadelphia Hip Hop goes back much further than the city itself. Its rappers are world-renowned and pioneered gangster rap music. From their first underground releases to collaborations with larger names, the city has produced a wide range of artists, from legendary rap artists to a new generation of talented rappers. Philadelphia rap has produced some legendary artists that have made musical history and have inspired the world.

Philadelphia's hip-hop history is not complete without the Legendary Roots Crew. These street kids began as a loose collective in the early 1990s. Later, they developed their style into one of the most respected alternative hip hop groups. Legendary Roots Crew is now the official band of the world's most popular late-night T.V. show. You can listen to their classical "Hypnotic" music on its official website.

Philadelphia's hip-hop scene has its roots in the city's underground music scene. In the late '90s, the group Army of the Pharaohs, which later went by the moniker "Reef the Lost Cauze," gained momentum in the Philadelphia hip hop scene. They teamed up with Ikon the Verbal Hologram to create the album "The High Life," which put him on the map in local circles. After this, they released "Invisible Empire" in 2003, followed by 2005's Feast or Famine, which featured the underground sensation Sean Price.

In Philadelphia we had many others like Lady B, Grandmaster Nell, Grandwizard Rasheen, Robbie B and DJ Jazzy Jay, DJ Bones and Malika Love, Master Vic and The Super MCs, Troy The Wonder Boy, Rockwell, and Baby D.S.T., Todd 1, Yvette Money, The Plush Brothers and many more. There are many groups and individuals who I didn't have room to name in this article, but I will do a follow-up story to continue telling the true story of our great Philadelphia music culture. We have so many legends in Philly Hip Hop and in all genres of music who definitely shaped our music culture worldwide. Let's all show our appreciation for our beloved artists and continue to support our sound which changed the world. Stay positive and keep the brotherly love alive. Peace.

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