This weekend is the official 40th anniversary celebration of the Ramones, which is being celebrated at Bowery Electric with a giant tribute concert. With a legacy that has influenced everything from music to fashion, the imprint they’ve left on worldwide pop culture only seems to grow with each passing year. But while everyone’s rightfully caught up in the proper acknowledgement of their groundbreaking ’70s output, another milestone for the group is being overlooked. Well, maybe milestone is a bit generous, as it’s more of a kidney stone, but regardless it’s one of the most peculiar pop culture moments of all time. Yes, Ramones bassist Dee Dee Ramones’ rap album under the name Dee Dee King is turning 25.
See also: Our Interview With Tommy Ramone Was One of His Last
Even among Ramones fans, Dee Dee’s late-80s rap endeavor isn’t a frequent topic of discussion. It’s a left field career decision at a time when rap was still such a counterculture that the joke of “I’m quitting to start my rap career” didn’t exist yet. Right as rap was finally breaking nationwide with Run-DMC’s Raising Hell and Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill, Dee Dee first showed off his rap skills with 1987’s “Funky Man.”
Claiming he’s a “funky man” and a “funky guy” with “funky bones,” the newly rechristened Dee Dee King was, according to legend, introduced to rap following a stint in rehab, which explains why the song contains the lines “Here’s some advice for everyone / Make the most out of every day / And remember that drugs don’t pay.” That in mind, there might be something to the speculation that Dee Dee’s rap endeavors were in some ways cathartic as the braggadocios mentality of mid-80s hip-hop lends itself well to Dee Dee reaffirming to himself that he’s been all around the world (“even to Japan”) and that he sang “Wart Hog.”
Dee Dee himself, however, viewed “Funky Man” and hip-hop itself as empowerment. As he said in the Ramones documentary End of the Century:
“When Schoolly D came out with that album, and he’d say, ‘What time is it? It’s Gucci time,’ you know, I understood that. It’s rising above oppression, a Negro being able to buy a Gucci watch. I get it. Great. I’m a Negro too.”
Yet, Dee Dee looks back at the album itself with a little less fondness, going on to say:
“It wasn’t so good anyway, the album. I couldn’t do rap. I was trying. I don’t know how. I’m not good enough to know. I’m not a Negro. I just can’t do it.”
Weirdly enough, 1989’s Standing in the Spotlight is something of a rap time capsule, containing basically every popular style of rap in the late-80s as performed by someone who both loves it but has little to no idea what he is doing. While part of the appeal for rap, not unlike martial arts, is that at a base level everyone has the tools to attempt it, there’s something almost admirable about Dee Dee’s ambition — the album was distributed by Sire/Warner.
It starts with “Mashed Potato Time.” This is clearly Dee Dee’s take on The Fat Boys, whose songs remaking classic tracks like “The Twist” and “Wipeout” saw them reach commercial success. Perhaps Dee Dee lifting from another Dee Dee (Dee Dee Sharp who originally recorded “Mashed Potato Time”) seemed like a good idea on paper, but as Nathan Rabin once pointed out, it makes all of Dee Dee’s raps from this point forward sound like “The Monster Mash.” While I’ve always found Bobby “Boris” Pickett’s finest hour to be great, even something of a “graveyard smash,” Dee Dee doesn’t really succeed as novelty or legit rap entity.
The overt influences continue. “2 Much 2 Drink,” the story of overcoming writer’s block by drinking sounds like an attempted smooth Tone Loc affair, the syllable-punching “Emergency” sounds like one man striving to pull off Run-DMC syllable-punching, and “The Crusher’s” wavering between screaming over guitars and exaggerated rap cadence sounds like Beastie Boys. While the latter was later covered by the Ramones and fully transformed into a punk song, hearing the rap version actually allows the humor of the narrative to stand out, making it the album’s silly highlight.
Standing in the Spotlight is probably most notorious for “German Kid,” where Dee Dee, over a catchy Debbie Harry-assisted hook, raps about being “half-American” and “half-German,” and raps a good chunk of the track in German. Harry, who was less than a decade removed from her rap in “Rapture” crossing the worlds of punk and rap on a mainstream stage, isn’t the only Blondie alumnus on the project with hip-hop credibility. Blondie co-founder Chris Stein plays the album’s guitars, which is less of a stretch than it seems as he also produced the score for iconic ’80s hip-hop movie Wild Style. Still, hip-hop had grown by leaps and bounds in the five years between Wild Style and Standing in the Spotlight and the album’s producer Daniel Rey, who hadn’t produced a rap record before and hasn’t since, really makes the entire project sound less like a rap record and more like a Ramones album that has rapping on it.
But the biggest critique of Dee Dee being too disconnected from rap to do such a project justice might be a bit overstated. The closer “I Want What I Want When I Want It” includes shout-outs to DJs Mr. Magic and Cut Creator, not the most obvious of name-drops when looking for instant hip-hop credibility. Despite this, Dee Dee’s opinion of the project in his 2001 autobiography, where he brags that Billboard allegedly said his rhymes “put the Beastie Boys to shame” remains just as absurd as when KoRN bassist Fieldy wrote in his 2009 autobiography that his own hip-hop side-project Fieldy’s Dreams was somehow an overlooked gem. Perhaps we are due for this generation to have a rock-bassist-rap-fling to turn the world on its ear. Until then, we have Standing in the Spotlight, a truly one-of-a-kind (you wouldn’t want there to be two) oddity.