Tommy Boy Music's 20th Anniversary

I met with Mo Ostin at Warner Brothers and I talked him into making the deal. It was a great deal for him. In fact he tells people it was one of the best three deals he ever made. It really was profitable. It was a great deal for them but not for us so after a few years we had to renegotiate."
The years between Tommy Boy's first blaze of electro-boogie success and the renewal that came with De La Soul in the late Eighties were distinguished by individual acts or records, rather than an identifiable sound. Alongside the Force M.D.'s, Brooklyn-based Stetsasonic was their strongest signing in the post-electro period. With seven members - Daddy-O, Prince Paul, Delite, Fruitkwan, DBC and Wise - Stetsasonic pioneered a number of trends, including a live drummer on stage and the use of jazz samples.
"Go Stetsa" was a tough example of the kind of sparse, scratch heavy records that were coming out of Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island after 1985. Though Stetsasonic kept up that energy in their music, their productions became more elaborate, their subject matter more thoughtful. With a Donald Byrd trumpet sample and lyrics that defended the use of the sampler as a tool that could revive the careers of fading artists, "Talkin' All That Jazz", released in 1988, confronted critics of hip-hop and sampling. "That really was an influential record on a coupla levels." says Monica Lynch. "Not only did it have this really great jazz groove. Also, it addressed the whole sampling issue in a very upfront way. Stetsasonic, and say Gang Starr, were really experimenting and mixing jazz with hip-hop. It was just that sampling at that time was a very grey area. It's still a controversial thing and there was that big argument over whether it was theft or art."
Stetsasonic's "Sally" was another track that looked back to the old-school by using new sampling technology to cut up classic breaks like "Mustang Sally" and James Brown loops. Early hip-hop DJs like Flash and Bambaataa had mixed an incredible range of records, including novelty speech albums and TV themes. For a generation raised on television re-runs of old cartoons, theme tunes were a favourite source. Tommy Boy's response to this mid-Eighties craze was Choice M.C.'s "Gordy's Groove", featuring Fresh Gordon, with a hook lifted from one of the most popular shows in American television history, Andy of Mayberry, with Andy Griffith.
The other approach to sampling was to go straight to the source. "Unity", the 1984 collaboration between Afrika Bambaataa and James Brown, was an early instance of hiphop embracing its roots. A six-part plea for world peace, the track was produced by Silverman with Bambaataa and played by a group of musicians that included Keith LeBlanc, Doug Wimbish, Skip McDonald and Robin Halpin. "James Brown was wild," laughs Monica. "He would call me on the phone all the time, always called me Miss Lynch. I remember once he told me he liked his women shaped like Coke bottles. I've never worked with anyone, before or since, who has been so great with his fans. Walking down the street with him or getting out of a limo with him was an unbelievable experience. Instant recognition wherever he went and always very kind and humble. It was pretty hysterical to hang out with him in off-hours when he had the pink rollers in his hair, the whole nine yards. He was from a different era, a different place, and he was a real gentleman. Very demanding but a real character.
"I know that Bambaataa was absolutely thrilled to be working with him. He wasn't intimidated but of course, he had the utmost respect. Bambaataa, first and foremost, is a fan. I have these lists that Bambaataa would hand write on yellow note pads, his list of the funk forefathers in order of importance. James Brown was always up at the top. He had nothing but the highest reverence for James Brown. You could easily envisage a lot of other scenarios where the hip-hop or R&B producer de jour comes in and says, 'OK, now we're gonna do this'. It wasn't like that."
In 1983, Monica Lynch had pitched a mailroom and messenger job to Joey Gardner, the 12" dance records buyer at Crazy Eddy.



Advertisement
Advertisement