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This blog post is continuing my look into 'What is Soul?'--searching deep into Spotify's vault for artists and songs that have a story to tell.
Most people know the story of the early years of hip-hop. One part that is often overlooked it is the history of the record dealers and collectors that helped locate the beats that the genre is famous for.
I want to focus on something different--the story of the break or the breakbeat, the portion of the record where the percussion or drum solo kicks in. The DJ's at block parties realised it was at this point the dancers would get more excited, even before the idea of hip-hop as a culture, and dancers were pulling off complicated moves similar to what would be considered breakdancing years later.
The DJ's used two turntables to keep the breaks going for as long as their skills would allow and to stay ahead of competing block parties they would have to find the best breaks, then of course the dancers themselves would want the records.
So the breakdancers or bboys, DJ's and later the record producers of the new music called rap would hunt down early rare funk, rock and soul songs that had long been forgotten and many probably would have been if it wasn't for three Record Labels and the work of the legendary Lenny 'godfather of the breaks' Roberts and Louis 'breakbeat Lou' Flores.
First came a more disco related compilation that no doubt influenced Lenny and Lou.
Super Disco Brakes (Paul Winley Records) - Harlem NY
The first release was in 1979, the artist names were changed to strange titles like "Arawak All Stars" and "The Mighty Tomcats". There were six releases ending in 1984.
Then Lenny and Lou's seminal break compilations.
The Octopus Breaks (Break beat Records) - Bronx NY
Unofficial or bootleg releases in the early 80's.
Ultimate Breaks and Beats (Street Beat Records) - Bronx NY
Official releases from 1986.
An Article in the face magazine from 1988 describes how Lenny and Lou were regulars at the Bronx River block parties made famous by Kool Herc and Africa Bambaataa, Lou had been a DJ since 1974 and both were already avid record collectors, they were eventually connected by their passion of early soul and funk.
Lenny noticed the demand for the breaks and with his knowledge of the records, shops and distributors set about buying as many of the records as he could to sell. He then set about looking for other records that had the type of breaks the DJ's were looking for.
According to an blog article by Robbie Ettelson written last year,
whole tracks were later remixed and recordings of early shows were bootlegged or illegally recorded. They were responsible for releases on Sure Shot records like "Big Beat" and "Funky President" and then Bozo Meko release Fusion beats, a pause mix tape by Afrika Islam
a member of Bambaataa's Soul Sonic Force. Later classic break tracks like "Champ" and "Get involved" were released and these bootleg records are what Lou called the foundation breaks and went on to be compiled in the Octopus breaks compilation.
Demand for the records receded for a while in the early 80's but when the sampler was used for hip-hop production by Marley Marl on Mc Shan's "The Bridge" using "Impeach the president" the time was right for an official release--this was on Street Beat records and named the Ultimate Breaks and Beats.
The following playlist contains all of the tracks from the compilations that can be found on Spotify. Have a dig and and enjoy the sources of many a classic rap recording.
This is where most DJ's and record collectors join the story. For the next five years until 1991, 25 records were released that have been a goldmine for all associated with the genre. The music and breaks in those records have been used on 100s of rap and pop songs and they still influence many records released today.
One record that was featured on Ultimate Breaks andBeats that has had such a massive influence on the music scene (especially in the UK) is the Winston's "Amen Brother", sampled over 1500 times, but that is another story for a future look in What is Soul. For now, why don't you see if you can recognise the break from this excellent cover version