In his 2005 book, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation, Jeff Chang devotes a chapter to Long Island’s musical and sociological influence on hip-hop at large—leading off, of course, with Roosevelt’s Public Enemy: the most important group in the history of the genre.
A year prior to the release of Chang’s book, freelance music journalist Jesse Serwer wrote a piece for the Long Island Press called “Lost Island: Fifteen Forgotten LI Hip-Hop Classics.” In it, he delved deep into the Island’s rich hip-hop history, beyond Public Enemy, beyond EPMD (Brentwood) and De La Soul (Amityville), unearthing gems from the likes of Spectrum City, J.V.C. F.O.R.C.E. and True Mathematics, among many others.
And as he dug, Jesse found himself immersed in a scene that had been unfairly buried; he found himself in touch with artists whose work was far greater than their legend. Claiming the top spot on Jesse’s list was Freeport natives Son of Bazerk’s Bazerk, Bazerk, Bazerk—a product of Public Enemy producers the Bomb Squad, but more James Brown than Malcolm X. As the Bomb Squad’s Hank Shocklee told Jesse for the Press piece, “That was my favorite project to work on. It should have blown up.”
Then, almost as if out of nowhere, this past summer—August 2010—Son of Bazerk were the opening act on a PE-led bill at Central Park’s SummerStage. However, to the disappointment of Jesse and a great many other hip-hop heads, Son of Bazerk’s set was limited to a single song.
“I’ve seen Public Enemy many times, and they’re still great live,” says Jesse. “But to be honest with you, I went to that show to see Son of Bazerk.”
The incident inspired Jesse to get the bands back together—literally—and to put together a show featuring Son of Bazerk, along with a number of Long Island’s other forgotten hip-hop greats: Leaders of the New School, Grand Daddy I.U. and Sugar Bear. The show goes down on Thursday, Dec. 23, at 9 p.m., at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. But here, today, Jesse gives us a rundown on the artists involved, and why they’re involved—the artists whose songs shaped not just the Long Island sound, but hip-hop itself.
Son of Bazerk
Jesse says: “Son of Bazerk are this crazy, eclectic, co-ed group from Freeport that came up under the wing of Public Enemy and their production unit the Bomb Squad when they were at the height of their influence in the early 1990s. It was actually ‘Bazerk’—Tony Allen, the group’s lead MC —who introduced Flavor Flav to Chuck D. and gave Flavor his first clock. Their album Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk was probably too out there for its time but, over the years, people have started to appreciate it for what it is: one the most inventive rap LPs ever. When the Press had me put together a list of ‘15 Forgotten Long Island Hip-Hop Classics’ back in 2004, there was no question I was putting Bazerk Bazerk Bazerk at the top of the list. This year the group got back together thanks to Public Enemy’s DJ Johnny Juice. He produced their new album, Well Thawed Out, and it sounds like they didn’t miss a beat. It’s true to their sound from 1991, but not trapped in that period, either. They were the opening act on Public Enemy’s East Coast summer tour, but unfortunately at their New York date at Central Park, they only got to do one song. That’s where the idea to organize this show came from. I thought they deserved to have a proper homecoming after all these years. Instead of just getting random opening acts, I figured ‘Why not get some other people from that period of Long Island hip-hop who were starting to come out of the woodwork as well?’”
Leaders of the New School
Jesse says: “Leaders of the New School are remembered today as the group that spawned Busta Rhymes. What a lot of people don’t realize is that he wasn’t the star at first. A guy called Charlie Brown started the group and came up with the concept for the Uniondale crew, who rapped about school and crafted their first album, 1991’s A Future Without A Past, around the structure of a school day. If you listen to their albums, they were very democratic and everybody carried their weight. Busta of course became a superstar and left, and we haven’t really heard too much from the other members since. That’s been disappointing because these guys were my favorite group back when I was in seventh grade. Their chemistry was just ridiculous. Leaders of the New School also came up under Public Enemy. Chuck D. gave Busta Rhymes and Charlie Brown their names. Johnny Juice was Busta and Charlie’s original DJ before they were known as Leaders of the New School, and, just like with Son of Bazerk, he’s responsible for getting Charlie, Dinco D and Cut Monitor Milo working together again, though Busta remains out of the picture for now. This show on the 23rd will be their first time on stage together in more than 15 years.”
Grand Daddy I.U.
Jesse says: “Grand Daddy I.U. is from Hempstead but he ended up coming out through Cold Chillin’ Records, home of Queens’ infamous Juice Crew. When he came on the scene with his first album, Smooth Assassin, in 1990, he had this effortless, laid-back style that was totally new at the time. He was sort of like Rakim, but less like a prophet and more like a pimp. He was wearing a suit and a bolo hat with a cane on the cover of that album. He eventually moved behind the scenes as a producer, but he’s been back on the scene making his own music again recently. He also has one of the funniest, most raw Twitter feeds of any rapper I know.”
Jesse says: “Sugar Bear is a guy from Freeport, Teddy Jackson, who got his name from the famous mascot for Super Golden Crisp cereal. He made a genius record in 1987 called ‘Don’t Scandalize Mine’ which was the only single he ever put out. It wasn’t very well known over here, but he went to England with it and it still gets played in British clubs to this day. It was kind of a hybrid of hip-hop and house—hip-house—before there was such a thing, and became a staple at the Hacienda in Manchester, the most important and famous club in England in the ’80s and ’90s. I met Sugar Bear a few years ago after including ‘Don’t Scandalize Mine’ in the ‘Lost Island’ story and we’ve kept in touch. He was Son of Bazerk’s manager back when they were a local group called Townhouse 3, so when I put together this show for them, I thought it would be a good opportunity for him to get back out there as well.”
Jesse Serwer is currently working on a book about Long Island’s hip-hop scene.
Son of Bazerk, Leaders of the New School, Grand Daddy I.U. and Sugar Bear will perform on Thursday, Dec. 23, at 9 p.m., at the Knitting Factory. 361 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn. $12 adv./$15 DOS.