Tommy Boy Music's 20th Anniversary

When Information Society appeared there with their three-piece suits and spiked hair, the place was packed. "It was so MTV to the kids there," Gardner recalls. "It was the first time that they ever came that close to something that was MTV, something that was so pop and seemed so worldly to them that they just exploded. They wound up coming back to that club every few weeks."
Tommy Boy signed the record and with Louis Vega, then the Devil's Nest DJ, Gardner remixed the wannabe-British sound of "Running" into something that was quintessential Latin freestyle. "They were sore at me a little bit at first when I did this thing," Gardner admits. "They were like, 'Uhhh, now we're reduced to this cheesy freestyle group'. But then when they saw the impact it had on the people when they came to perform in the club they just couldn't believe it."
Produced by Fred Maher, Information Society's 1988 album continued in a Human League/Depeche Mode/"Planet Rock" vein with added touches of freestyle. The group went on to be huge in Brazil, but their biggest American hit was "What's On Your Mind (Pure Energy)", another significant landmark in Tommy Boy's sampling sagas. "That was where we got to clear a Star Trek sample by hiring Leonard Nimoy's son as our attorney," says Tom Silverman. "It's very hard because Paramount doesn't clear stuff that they own very easily. So we had Mr. Spock saying 'Pure energy'."
With the rise of Def Jam, Run-D.M.C. and N.W.A., rap in the second half of the Eighties had become tougher, outspoken, yet more commercial than ever. The underground was overground. At Tommy Boy, Sweet Trio and Apache showed the two sides of the smooth 'n' nasty approach: Sweet Trio's "Non-Stop", a girl power rap with crashing beatbox and scratches, and "Gangsta Bitch", a Q-Tip production rapped by Flavour Unit alumnus Apache. Monica Lynch remembers this track with mixed feelings. One of her all-time favourites, it caused controversy for the label. "We came under attack from a lot of black womens' groups," she says, "because it was a shocking image, portraying female gangsters. We couldn't get a lot of radio play on it but it did really well."
After some years of patchy success, Tommy Boy's real renaissance came in 1988 with "Plug Tunin'", the stunning debut 12" by De La Soul. Stetsasonic's Daddy-O had taken a tape of Prince Paul's production work with De La Soul, a Long Island trio of two rappers and a DJ who called themselves Trugoy the Dove, Posdnous and Mase.
"It was one of those magic moments where you put the tape on and you say, wow," explains Monica. "It hit me and it hit me hard. For me, De La Soul were revolutionaries in a sense. Especially the video for 'Me Myself and I'. At that time, rap was starting to fall into cliches or creating styles that were not inclusive of the whole rap audience. They were the antidote to the prevailing macho, leather and chains aesthetic."
De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising was released in 1989, a time when Tom Silverman was wondering if the label would ever have a gold record. "Everybody else had a gold record," he says. "Only Fred Mineo at Select and I were the only ones who never had a gold record. I said, 'Fred, even Sleeping Bag has a gold record'. It was really irking until De La Soul broke the barrier that year."
Witty and experimental, structured as a series of game show skits, the album introduced a totally new sound to hip-hop. "Our music turns out that way," said Trugoy, "because of our backgrounds. Pos, his father would listen to old jazz and stuff like that. My mother and father would listen to a lot of reggae and calypso and Mase's mother listenend to a lot of R&B." The appeal of tracks like "Potholes In My Lawn", with its bizarre subject and easy-going conversational flavour, was quirky enough to introduce Tommy Boy to a college radio audience. "College kids really got into that record in a huge way," says Monica. "A lot of white kids, it appealed to what they perceived as a hippie, bohemian vibe that was a little bit more playful and creative than other things out there. 'Me Myself and I' was a huge, huge hit and that drove the sales of the album."





Advertisement
Advertisement