Saturday night, B.B. Kings will be rocked by one of the most important hip-hop groups ever when the Furious Five take the stage to perform their iconic and infinitely important hits and classic routines. While plenty of hip-hop retrospectives in the past year have revisited and celebrated “The Message” and “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” as mandatory hip-hop listening, it would be a huge mistake to forget how many great singles the group released. We spoke to members Rahiem and Kidd Creole on the making of five of their other classic singles.
“We Rap More Mellow,” 1979
Rahiem: Around that time, the climate of the still pretty new hip-hop culture had producers who hung out at local hip-hop events and began to approach certain prolific hip-hop artists to make records. We were very eager and excited to release a record. We were approached by a small relatively unknown label called Brass Records. I found out it was released while shopping in Fordham Road in the Bronx when I heard it blasting out of the speakers at a record shop. I ran in as it had just finished playing, asking the guy behind the counter for a copy. I asked for the new single by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, he said he didn’t know who that was and that the song was made by “The Younger Generation.”
Kidd Creole: When we first started, we didn’t have any concept of recording. We were so outside that concept, we didn’t understand we could just take one of our routines and make a record. We didn’t know how to condense an eight hour party into a single. After “Rapper’s Delight” came out, we realized we could make one of our routines a song. We signed with Brass Records’ Terry Lewis (NOT to be confused with the Terry Lewis of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis fame) and he wanted to change the name to The Younger Generation. I don’t know why, it didn’t make any sense, we already had our reputation. We started as the Furious Four and whenever we got into a conflict with another group or management, we got ferocious and got into a fervor.
Rahiem: We went to the producer’s apartment, he lived in a housing project called Moore Houses in the Bronx. The locks were missing, and one of us leaned on the door as it swung open and there was no furniture there. The fake Terry Lewis was never seen or heard from again.
Kidd Creole: We looked at “Superrappin’,” the original joint as 12 minutes long. We still didn’t get the concept of taking one of our routines and making it into a song, so we took a few of our routines and made some rhymes, and instead of making three or four minute song, made a 12 minute song. It’s still condensed from eight hours, but was mad long.
Rahiem: This was the summer of ’79. We found out about Enjoy Records because we had heard Spoonie Gee signed to Enjoy and he had put out “Spoonin’ Rap.” We were eager to put out another record after not having been in complete control with Brass where I don’t recall having a contract, just a studio and a band. We actually did “Superrappin'” and “Freedom” in one-take, because those lyrics were lyrics we would perform every weekend, so in the studio it was second nature to perform. They set up five mics in the studio, so we went in the booth collectively and put our lyrics down for our “Switch overs,” [the technique of rapping in succession to “make five MCs sound like one.”]
Rahiem: This was the first single on Sugar Hill. For the productivity of the group at the time, we could have recorded more than one song at the studio, but that wasn’t the focus. We wanted to do the best one recording that we could, mixing it and mastering it to tweak it in a way so it would be radio ready. Initially we weren’t focused on recording an album, we were doing singles as a litmus test for later releases.
Kidd Creole: That’s when we started to come up with some original switch-overs and legitimate records. Not just recording routines. “Freedom” is my favorite. We were able to exhibit all of our styles. When we made “Survival” or “New York, New York,” that was just Melle Mel and Duke Bootee trying to re-create “The Message.” But when we made “Freedom,” we had switch-overs, ad-libs and everybody was on the record.
“The Birthday Party” 1981
Rahiem: “The Birthday Party” derived of initially using some of our call-and-response crowd participation routines, which were indicative of what we used at parties before we started recording, but we also recorded some lyrics at the studios because the track was more like an answer to “Freedom.” It had the kazoos, which were [Sugar Hill Records founder] Sylvia Robinson’s idea, and it was a really happy song. We wanted something happy to match that track, like saying “Happy birthday.” We used kazoos on “The Birthday Party” because they were on “Freedom” as well and we felt it would be safe to use as a musical signature.
Kidd Creole: It was a good atmosphere. Melle Mel wrote the switch over, and everybody came up with their own original lines. Everybody was responsible for writing their own individual rhymes, and Melle Mel wrote the switch-over. We showed our full versatility on “Freedom” and “The Birthday Party.” Our full repertoire.
Kidd Creole: The Tom Tom Club had recorded “Genius of Love” and Sylvia wanted us to record it over. When we were down with Sugar Hill, Sylvia decided basically all the songs we were going to do. “Write this song, we want you to do this.” We didn’t have any creative control. She came up with all the ideas and we just wrote the songs like that. We first got down with her and trusted her, so what she wanted us to do, we did. We weren’t trying to get in her way, we wanted to play ball.
Rahiem: The re-interpolation of “Genius of Love” was pretty much a no-brainer as it was pretty common at that time to do interpretations of songs that were popular at the clubs in local hip-hop communities. The crowd reacted a certain way, and we weren’t focused on making songs that transcended the local club, we weren’t thinking of making a song that would be embraced in other countries. We were trying to make a song that was indicative of the energy and atmosphere of our live performances.