The Cold Crush Brothers are revered as one of the very best of their era. This is a rather widely believed concept and rightfully so. What’s different about the legacy of the Cold Crush versus that of their peers is that most the other highly regarded artists of the time (EX: Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Treacherous Three, Funky Four Plus One More, Kurtis Blow, etc…) are mostly recognized for their records. In the case of the Cold Crush, history most praises them for their live show.
In fact, I see it and hear it time and time again when Cold Crush are reflected upon; historians, writers, and fans marvel about how they rocked the park jams, clubs and rec centers. The DJs, Charlie Chase and Tony Tone, kept the music on point. The MCs came with a winning combination of uniquely chosen harmonies, backed with raw rhymes and all that was supported by attention-holding choreography. The assessment is accurate, but those sentiments are generally accompanied by comments such as, “…not really known for their records”, “Their impact was not from records, but from…” or some variation of that. While it’s hard to debate the fact that none of their records made any real commercial impact, I think those comments could also get mistaken to mean they didn’t make quality or interesting records and that isn’t true. That leads to another common perception often expressed about them, that they weren’t able to translate that same energy that made their live show great into records. This is also something that I don’t completely agree with, at least not anymore than anyone else not being able to achieve that very difficult task. If anything, I would say their greatest obstacle was not being signed to a label that was good at promotion hit records.
Their first label, Elite Records, was really Underground and I believe that the one record that Cold Crush did on the label, “Weekend”, is the label’s first release. The label later followed with some equally or mostly more underground records from The Heartbeat Brothers and Mikey D & The L.A. Posse. After Elite Records, The Cold Crush moved to Tuff City. Tuff City ws a prominently known label in this era and had a wealth of great talent signed at one point or another; DJ Mark The 45 King, Davy DMX, YZ, Lakim Shabazz, Fearless Four, Freddy B and The Mighty Mic Masters, Spoonie Gee, Ultramagnetic MCs, Funkmaster Wizard Wiz, Mighty Maestro, etc… However, the label didn’t really churn out many success stories from those projects. At a glance I’m guessing their only true hits would be considered “The 900 Number” and maybe “One For The Treble”.
In their prime, The Cold Crush only released four true crew songs and I consider at least three of those recommended listening.
“Weekend”, from ’82, is a greatly under-appreciated gem and I remember really valuing this song as a kid because of how visually descriptive everything was. I would say “Weekend” is a fine example of them applying their live show strengths to a recorded piece. The intro begins with them doing a nice mixture of them all rhyming perfectly in unison and then quickly passing the mic around, highlighting the varying, but complimenting, tones of their voices. How they break down a typical week, day by day, is reflective of their creativity in developing conceptual lyrics.
The track starts to reach it’s highpoint once they get to what the root of the song is about, the weekend. Over the next few verses you are given a detailed visual of what an early 80s Bronx Hip Hop jam would be like, Cold Crush style. I could close my eyes, listen, and be there with the Cold Crush. The exact moment in the song where it starts to intensify is directly after they get the listener prepared to arrive at the party, “Finally it’s Saturday night, everybody’s gonna show/At the place where all the fly people go/You been working at school or your occupation/Now’s about time for some recreation/Slip on your shirt and designer jeans/The ones kind of tight at the hip and the seam/Then you shoot out the door like you’re running a race/And you finally arrive at the Cold Crush place/AND!!!” From there they go into that smooth harmonizing that was an essential part of what made their live show so captivating.
Musically, the song is minimal, which is appreciated and I suppose the benefit of being on such a small independent. Many of the early 80s, live band, Hip Hop records tended to be over-produced or have moments of over-production in my opinion. I would dread those moments where they broke out the horn sections or had the guitar solo or whatever other musical element was deemed appropriate by some music supervisor, despite the fact it ignored the bare essence of what Hip Hop was born on, the stripped-down break. I used to pray that songs didn’t have a bridge…ha. “Weekend” is clearly led by the drums, which are crisp and have a simple premise, but a perfect head-bop quality, with a bit of an airy effect. The accompanying music focuses its use behind the vocal parts to help maintain the mood and the breaks keep it raw with just the drums. Speaking of which, there’s an extra layer of realism that is captured with the background dialog and chatter that the crew does thru out the song. It was very commonplace to have that background crowd dialog in this era of Hip Hop songs, but you are probably hard-pressed to find a better usage of it than here. The conversations sound natural. Plus they stay locked in to the song concept and effectively transition into the next verses.
The Cold Crush followed with their next single in ’83 and it seems to be a more concentrated effort to capitalize on the inventiveness of their live show. They were known to think outside the box with their routines, pulling from Rock, Doo Wop, and other various genres of music to show diversity and ultimately transform an unlikely soundscape into something to be embraced by the Hip Hop fans of the South Bronx. This time they sought to also catch the wave of the other flourishing Street Subculture sweeping thru New York City, Punk Rock. The Cold Crush answered with “Punk Rock Rap”. I suppose for all practical purposes it’s a pretty ridiculous song and should be classified as a novelty record. However, when I first heard it, via a WBLS tape recording, I didn’t think about it in that sense. It just sounded refreshing and fun. Yet, in hindsight all the makings of a gimmick record are clearly evident; the fake British accents in the beginning, the silly repetitious word harmonies, and of course, a song titled “Punk Rock Rap” that technically sounds much more like a New Wave song (in my far less than expert Punk Rock VS New Wave opinion). One could even suggest that one of the most redeeming qualities of this song is being the source for the popular “Oh My God!” quote that was scratched to great effect on Doug E Fresh & The Get Fresh Crew’s “The Show”. Despite all that, I still have a soft spot for this song. I consider it one of the key feel good records of that era. I find myself alternating between bopping my head and shaking my head whenever I listen to it, which is probably more than you might expect or is really necessary…ha. I also find myself imagining what kind of weird dances people would do to this. I envision something that resembles looking like an upright standing electrocuted worm…
Tomorrow we take a look at Cold Crush at their finest lyrical moment on wax…