Part 2

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I Remember

For me the eighties was the era of greed; a time of prosperity and rising house prices. The word Yuppie entered our language meaning young, upwardly mobile professional, I didn’t know any. The prosperity was not equally shared as I saw for myself what is called the North-South divide. As I travelled the country performing it became more apparent. Black people lived in the ghettos in Leeds, Cardiff, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol and Birmingham. Whenever I performed for them I wanted to give them something to be proud off, something to help inspire them.

Britain's first woman Prime Minister was in power. Strikes were happening all the time but my focus was on the next song. It was during this time the country suffered a severe recession, to tell you the truth it made no difference to me I was already in recession. The struggle would continue anyways. Many businesses failed and unemployment was reaching record levels. The Iron ladies severe policies and forceful use of the police caused civil protests. Violent disturbances broke out in Toxteth in Liverpool, Brixton in London and Moss Side in Manchester. It seemed that the country was falling apart but in truth the oppressed had enough. Just seeing her image on TV filled me with anger. As the era ended the new found prosperity was unravelling. For me nothing changed I just went on living the best I could with limited resources.

Technology jumped forward as computers became accessible for the home. The world saw for the first time the mobile phone and it quickly became the symbol of the time. These non-essentials items made me forget the fact that life was not what it should be. From being token items they quickly became essentials for us all and have been convinced we can’t live without them. The music of the time was Punk, for Britain’s rebellious teens. Some became Mods and made their weekend pilgrimages to Carnaby Street. They wore grey Farah’s and diamond design Pringle jumpers. I wore a black flight jacket and Lois jeans and old school Reebok classics. Worst of all I was forced to listen to the heavily manufactured pop sound of Stock, Aitkin and Waterman.

It was during this backdrop that something was transmitted to the UK that broke the recognised cultural boundaries. They were about to be replaced with a more inclusive arena that would give us a cross cultural arena. It begins in 1967, a teenager named Clive Campbell moved to America from Jamaica. He loved soul music, and was soon hosting parties in his neighbourhood. Using two turntables, he was able to reproduce the effects of the Jamaican sound systems that he was exposed to as child in Jamaica. He started calling himself Kool Herc and he became hip hop’s first Deejay. The early shows were collective events with singers, dancers, Deejays, and graffiti artists. More parties were held in other neighbourhoods. They were hosted by Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and DJ Red Alert. They began forming groups, the Cold Crush Brothers, the Crash Crew, the Fantastic Five, and the Treacherous Three. Culminating in the 1980s as hip hop took the commercial arena by force. Artists like Run DMC, LL Cool J, and Public Enemy gained mainstream exposure on radio and MTV. Before the chase for money outweighed the cause it was how we communicated truth. This was in opposition to mainstream news outlets who had failed us; this new movement was rapidly becoming my voice!

I was captivated by the animated colours and booming base sounds of hip hop. Colourful hats with large hi-top trainers with different coloured laces made hip hops pioneers larger than life. It was a fashion revolution in an era where social revolution was common place. What started in the ghettos of Harlem crash landed in the UK at the Lyceum theatre. It was like a fever spreading through the inner city; it was a case of who wouldn’t be infected by this. I remember thinking to myself that I wanted to be like these ghetto superstars who wielded their microphones with great poise. I had an unquenchable thirst that I needed to harness. I listened to tracks until they were a part of me. Throughout the eighties Hip hop formed an identity that took young people from the ghettos they were raised in and took them on a road trip to Africa via the ghettos of America. The Electric ballroom in Camden, Pink Elephant in Dunstable, the Lyceum in the Strand help to push this new craze resulting in a mainstream following. Other iconic venues for rap included Dingwalls in Camden Lock; the Arches in Vauxhall and Batchwood in St Albans.

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