Kurtis Blow

Kurtis Blow

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Back in hip-hop's old school era -- roughly 1978-1982 -- albums were the exception and not the rule. Hip-hop became a lot more album-minded with the rise of its second generation (Run-D.M.C., Whodini, the Fat Boys, among others) around 1983-1984, but in the beginning, many MCs recorded nothing but singles. Two exceptions were the Sugarhill Gang and Kurtis Blow, whose self-titled debut album of 1980 was among hip-hop's first LPs and was the first rap album to come out on a major label. Thus, Kurtis Blow has serious historic value, although it is mildly uneven. Some of the tracks are superb, including "The Breaks" (a Top Five R&B smash in 1980) and "Rappin' Blow, Part Two," which is the second half of Blow's 1979 debut single, "Christmas Rappin'." And "Hard Times" is a forceful gem that finds Blow addressing social issues two years before Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five popularized sociopolitical rapping with 1982's sobering "The Message." Some of the other tracks, however, are decent but not remarkable. Switching from rapping to singing, Blow detours into Northern soul on the Chi-Lites-influenced ballad "All I Want in This World (Is to Find That Girl)" and arena rock on an unexpected cover of Bachman-Turner Overdrive's "Takin' Care of Business." While those selections are likable and kind of interesting -- how many other old school rappers attempted to sing soul, let alone arena rock? -- the fact remains that rapping, not singing, is Blow's strong point. And Mercury really screwed up by providing only the second half of "Christmas Rappin'"; that landmark single should have been heard in its entirety. But despite its flaws and shortcomings, Kurtis Blow is an important album that hip-hop historians should make a point of hearing.

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