Hip Hop started as a way to promote peace, love, unity and having fun. It was envisioned to serve as a creative way for urban and underserved communities to be able to express their life experiences. The culture of Hip Hop has been influential and has been considered as an artistic movement that entailed from so many influences such as Jazz,Gospel,Funk, R&B, Go Go, and Rock. New York City is known to be the Mecca and origin of Hip Hop. It started early in the 70s but became a major music influence in the 80’s. The roots of Hip Hop culture have a dynamic impact in everything from music, fashion, and politics due to the wide media influences. Hip Hop is a part of African-American history it has served as an artistic way of storytelling.
The key elements and foundations of Hip Hop consist of:
· Graffiti (aka Tagging)
· Beat Boxing
1988 The Past Present and The Future
Hip Hop was such a prolific era in 1988. It was a pivotal year with many artist like Eric B & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, EPMD, Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, N.W.A. and Boogie Down Production all produced albums that year that would ultimately transformed the Hip Hop culture to what it is today. Industry Rules had the opportunity to discuss the commemoration of Hip Hop with the legendary Doug E. Fresh also known as the “Human Beat Box” and discuss the past, present, and future of his career.
MHC: “Keep Risin’ To the Top” was an influential and historical song. What were your experiences and thoughts about the up and coming Hip Hop artists?
D.E.F: In 1981, I came through Harlem World. I was influenced by Luv Bug Starski, DJ Hollywood, Cold Crush, Threacherous Three, and Grandmaster Flash. I started to create my own thing when I started to see the Hip Hop game shift. Change is key. The only way to stay alive is that you have to shift. When I saw EMPD and other groups coming out, it made me know that I needed to continue to be as exciting and creative as possible. I never looked at them as a threat, I looked at them more as brothers and sisters getting down and being excited of this thing we called Hip Hop. Just like Salt-N-Pepa, they started their introduction to the game with a record dissing me called “The Show Stopper”. This was the song that gave them their wings to fly. I never came at them and still to this day we are friends. As a matter of fact, we are supposed to be on an upcoming episode of the game show Family Feud.
1988 was an interesting year. It was a transition year of the second wave of Hip Hop. I am the child of the first generation of Hip Hop. Like if the first generation had a baby and introduced it to the Hip-Hop five elements. In 1982, I introduced the element of beat boxing and in 83’ I created- Beat Street album but I was never fully able to push it out. Fat Boys had a record out right on the heals when I created the album “Just Having Fun” in 1984. A year later I released “The Original Human Beat Box”. In 1986, I came out with “The Show” with Slick Rick.
Run DMC and the Hip Hop movement was not looking as hot at that time because me and Rick took it to a different level. Rick style was extra ordinary and my style was unusual. No one had two Dj’s and after we did that you had Eric B & Rakim and all the others that were coming with their unique style.
This was a different time, Eric B. & Rakim said “I came in the door, I said it before, I never let the mic magnetized me no more.” They came with their unique style. The cadence of rhyming had changed the rap game dramatically. So, they were important to the evolution of Hip Hop because they carried the banner. It was like a race, when you pass the baton to the next guy. So, when Rakim had it he ran [with it], when Kane had it he ran [with it]. They were influenced by artist such as Caz (aka Kurtis Blow), Kool Moe Dee, and Grand Master Flash & Melle Mel. Then KRS-One got the baton and ran with it. The baton has to continuously be passed on to the next person.
The next generation you have Nas. He grabbed the baton then Puffy (Diddy) was working with me, I had to bring him through. Then when Jay-Z came out with “Reasonable Doubt” he bought it to my house, before he let it out, and asked me if it was hot. Then, Biz Markie use to bring by his records.
Eric B. & Rakim…I had to keep them together because they were about to break up. I knew how important that “Paid in Full” was it was a major transitional changer in the world of Hip Hop. Then you had Snoop with Dre that whole wave and then you got Master P, you have all of these different movements. But the one element in which they all connect is when each group decided to be who they really are and wasn’t trying to be New York. That’s when they popped. New York, was so influential to Hip Hop. It was never about being New York it was about being who you are. Each part of the country began to pop when they were their authentic self.
MHC: Tell me about how you came up with the “Fresh” in your name?
D.E.F.: One day I was battling different rappers in the lunchroom and took them all out at the same time. The school was saying this guy Doug E. is incredible. So, this kid who use to tag graffiti said that he wanted to write my name on the wall at school. He asked how did I take out those guys, I said I guess I got lucky, he said nah that wasn’t luck that was skill brother you did your thing. He said please man can I write your name, I’ve never seen anything like that. I said nah at first, but later agreed. He said tell me what you want me to write. I told him to write Doug E’s Fresh. He said ok I got you. He went down there and instead of writing Doug E’s Fresh he wrote Doug E. Fresh. The next day, I walked through school and everyone was saying what’s up “Fresh” and that is how I got my name. I don’t think I ever told anyone that story.
MHC: What is your take on everything you have seen and the state of Hip Hop today?
D.E.F.: Hip Hop today is very different than it was twenty years ago. I have seen the conversations within Hip Hop changed. Hip Hop is like seasons. You have winter, spring, summer and fall and in each of those seasons’ things change. In each of those seasons you have a certain energy that comes. For example, summer may be the fun you remember in Hip Hop, from house parties, break dancing, celebrating and having a good time. Spring may have been the time of the “Message” and insightful conversations such as “Don’t push me cause I am close to the edge”. Then you had the Gangsta Rap-Cats who talked about the different things they did or what they seen in a movie and wish they did. Then you had the materialistic side; look at my watch, look at my car, look at my diamonds and how much money I am making. You can put all these in different categories. Across all of the season, there was one common denominator and that was drugs all the way through. When it started, there were people sniffing cocaine, then there was weed, tabs, ecstasy pills, crack, alcohol with lean, synthetic weed… and all these other things. So, that has been something that has gone through every generation and has been the number one destroyer of some of the greatest artist we have ever seen on this planet.
I think it is important to look at all off these seasons. For me, the reason I am able to travel through all of the season is because I make the adjustment. I also hold on to my integrity within the adjustment and my integrity is my honesty on how I feel. The one thing I do is try to present the most honest position without judging another person’s position. Some artist is designed for a particular time because that is the mindset and spirit that the people are in. But, you have certain artists that are timeless, and they have the ability to transcend time through creative ideas and processes and originality while also being fearless.
MHC: How have you been able to stay consistent in such an evolving Hip Hop Culture as well as maintain such a remarkable reputation?
D.E.F. : In life, wherever you go your name walks before you! A friend of mind told me that a long time ago and it stuck with me. People may have a feeling about you in a room and that feeling can determine if they going to be like “Aww man I need to get out of here“ or it can determine if folks stay and be like, “Aww man-I Iove that person.” I think that comes from the way you treat people and having an “Attitude of Gratitude”. Treat people the way you want to be treated and take responsibility for the things you do and the things you say and “Make it You” and not trying to pretend to be somebody else. Over the years, I have seen many generations in Hip Hop, more than most, and the one consistent thing is when they say, “It is nice to be important”, I think, It is more important be nice. You have to be a stand-up guy. If you make a mistake you have to be able to say you made a mistake and stand on that mistake. That is one of the things that have kept me with a very solid reputation from generation to generation.
MHC: Tell me more about your new Go-Go Album?
D.E.F.: I decided to do an album honoring the Godfather of Go-Go Chuck Brown called “This One’s For Chuck Brown”. Chuck Brown created Go-Go that was born out of DC. I consider Go-Go to be the first cousin of Hip Hop. The ingredient of Go-Go is in a lot of Hip Hop songs but it wasn’t being acknowledge. I felt like Chuck Brown needed to be acknowledge for his contribution to the world. The song came to me in a dream and something said write a song about Chuck.
I was introduced to Chuck Brown in 1985 by Run (Run-DMC) during an event in DC, in the former Capital Centre. Run said “Yo man are you going to come to the show early?” I said why, he said “ Do you know Go-Go?” I was like nah, I really don’t know Go-Go. He said you got to see this. I went to my hotel room change into my stuff and came to the show early. When Chuck came on stage he tore the place up. So when he got off stage I ran to the back and said I never seen anything like that. Chuck was like this was your first Go-Go and I said yeah and then he said I like your stuff too.
The experience and energy was mind blowing. It was one of my most memorable experiences. There was over 20,000 people in the arena, just bouncing and moving in harmony. From that day in 1985, until he transitioned in 2012, we would automatically perform together if we was on the same show. One on my favorite songs by Chuck was “Bustin’ Loose”.
MHC: The culture of Hip Hop has transformed over the past thirty years. What is your outlook on the future?
D.E.F. : Hip Hop has changed the course of everyone’s life. It is [now] a multibillion-dollar business that was first created to prevent gang wars. What was done in Hip Hop have transformed the way how many of us have been able to take care of our families economically. It was like the CNN of the street, meaning It always gave you the newest slang word, gave you understanding of what was going on in different cities. It is still an incredible art form and it has so much potential as long as we protect it and be more mindful of the messages that we communicate. The power of Hip Hop have to come from multi-generations. I think it is important for older generations to connect with the newer generations. That is my plan on my next album.
Closing remarks: Doug E. Fresh is a respected pioneer in Hip Hop culture. He uses his messages as a way to enlighten people. He has used his platform for change and have collaborated with many artists throughout his career. He also founded with Dr. Olajide Williams, Hip Hop Public Health (HHPH) a non-profit organization in New York City that develops innovative, culturally-tailored evidence-based health literacy music and media for children and families. He has collaborated in the past with former The First Lady Michelle Obama on her “Lets Move!” initiative to combat childhood obesity. Also, he most recently developed “20 Seconds or More” video that consist of over thirty artists, to teach young people on the importance of hand-washing as a way to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Story written by Makeda Hannah Clement
All photos of Doug E. Fresh (cover & article) by photographer Bobby Glenn