Last week I embarked on a mission to New York City. My mission, per usual, was to catch up with some 80s and 90s Hip Hop artists whose stories have gone largely untold. I was actually supposed to go the week before, but Hurricane Irene had other plans and resulted in my flight being cancelled.
Things definitely didn’t start out smoothly… First off, I had about 15 interviews set up the week before, but with the changed flight I was unable to get in contact to reschedule most of the interviews. Then upon landing in LaGuardia and taking a shuttle to Budget Rent A Car, things started to fall apart. I was informed of their new policy with debit cards, which I didn’t qualify for, so they unapologetically left me stranded at their check-in desk. I walked around the area to every other rental car place, all of which had friendlier and more helpful employees, but due to the holiday weekend, no one had cars available. After a bit of brainstorming, a flurry of phone calls, a sideline crisis, and lord knows what else, I secured a UHAUL Cargo Van rental in Manhattan. Finally I was just a $50 cab ride away from getting this party started. One might ask why would you need a UHAUL Cargo Van to do some interviews? Great question.
One of the artists that I tracked down to interview is the unsung Brooklyn legend, Vandy C. Thru out the 80s to early 90s he was one of the most prolific and multi-talented artists on the indie scene. He was signed as an MC to Select Records, he hosted a popular radio show (“Get Busy Or Get Lost”), produced a handful of artists (EX: The Jaz, Freak L, Kid Flash, Tray Bag, etc…), & competed in numerous DJ Battles (EX: New Music Seminar ’87 VS Mr Mixx of 2 Live Crew). He pretty much did it all and was on point in each area.
I was able to get in contact with him via Facebook and told him about my project to tell the “Untold Stories In Hip Hop”. I learned when he disappeared from the scene in the early 90s that he left on a path that lead to him becoming a Pastor. After trading a few emails he let me know that he was impressed with what I was doing. He also let me know that he had a basement full of records that he hadn’t touched in years and he had been looking for a new home for them. He told me if I came out to his spot in NJ to interview him that I was welcome to the records as well…about 3000 of them!!
Thus the need for a UHAUL! I picked up the van and things continued to get complicated. It was nearly the time I was supposed to meet Vandy C, who lives about 3 hours from downtown. He almost cancelled, but when I told him I had found a vehicle and was on my way, he saluted my persistence and was still down to make it happen.
After the long ride in, I finally arrived at his house. We went right to the basement to check out the records. What he passed my way blew my mind! I couldn’t believe he was just giving these to me. There were several times that I had to stop and go, “Are you sure?” He assured me he was. He told me it was something that he spoke of in his church, that if you have something you are able to give away that will benefit someone else then you should let it go. I let him know that I would do the same and I would give away parts of his collection that I didn’t need for my research to people who would appreciate them.
Digging thru the records I found countless records that I thought I would never find and many that I had never saw, including stacks of rare test presses. It was essentially a gold mine of 80s records. About 2000 of it was Hip Hop and another 1000 or so was a mixture of Dance, Soul, House, Reggae, etc… I did some quick organization of them and boxed them up and we loaded them in the truck.
Then I sat down with the man himself and did an in-depth interview about his career in the music business and his eventual road to the church. His story was fascinating. His archives are amazing*. The things he does with his church and for his community are impressive. This mission started purely in search of Hip Hop and ended with plenty of that, but also a wealth of spiritual energy. It was a powerful experience.
As I left his place I still had a huge mission ahead of me. I had 3000+ records and needed to get most of them back to MPLS and find good homes for the rest. I started to go thru my phone and call all my Minneapolis transplants in NYC. Plus some other NYC people I knew would appreciate free records. I explained the situation and people were definitely intrigued. I began to head towards Brooklyn and after an hour or so of getting lost I finally got on track and was on my way.
I pulled up in Brooklyn about 1:30 AM and Paper Tiger and Asaf** met me and went thru the records and each grabbed some crates of records for themselves. They helped alleviate a good portion of what I wouldn’t be able to ship and for the next 24 hours I just offered them to whomever I came in contact with if I thought they might be interested. When it came time to wind down for the night I hooked up with the homie, Eric Inka, to chill at his spot. I decided I was not leaving a truck full of priceless gems on the streets of Bushwick alone so I snatched up a pillow from his house and camped out in the UHAUL for the next 4 hours…sort of sleeping.
Although I had barely slept in days, I woke up just a few hours later amped up and ready to go. I knew I had to turn this truck in later that day and still had to ship my records and find a home for the rest. Plus I had another interview lined up. I did my research and found a UPS store, which was perfect since we have a company account. I got there and had to wait an hour for them to open so I grabbed some breakfast…my first meal in a day and half. I had been so consumed with Hip Hop that I hadn’t made time to eat either.
Then I started to securely tape up about 2000 records and get them ready to ship***. I go in to mail them out and the guy behind the counter informs me that he can’t process the shipment with our account number. I have to log in and do it myself to use our account. Of course, I only have the number and not the log in, so I’m calling around to get it, but can’t get the needed info. After I waited as long as I could I was forced to just pay outright for the shipping, which was considerably more than it would have been with the company discount. I’ll tell you this much, big boxes of heavy records are not cheap to ship…ouch!
Ignoring my inside tears from the lump of money spent, I headed on to my next mission, reminding myself of all the awesomeness in those big expensive boxes and hoping for their safe arrival. Up next was an interview with the King Of Chill at Headquarters Studios. For those that don’t know, King Of Chill is a talented Producer/MC from the Mid to Late 80s. He was in the group, The Alliance and was signed to First Priority Music, providing beats and/or writing lyrics for MC Lyte, Audio Two, Barsha, Kings Of Swing, MC Peaches, etc… He’s spent the last several years focused as an engineer working with D.I.T.C and probably most notably with DJ Premier at Headquarters Studios.
I apologized for being late, but explained my situation and of course, being a record fiend himself, he was intrigued so we went to check out the remaining records. He had some ideas of who could use them. Then we knocked out the interview, which detailed why he quickly left the scene at a time when he was one of the rising talents of the era.
Then we headed to drop off some records before I had to return the van. Speaking of which, we get to the van to find someone digging thru the glove box! I swore I had locked it. We find out it is one of the parking attendants. They are sort of freaking out because apparently I was supposed to check in with someone before pulling in. I just saw a guy behind the desk when I pulled up and assumed they saw me. They were pretty upset with me. I feel their pain, imagine all the sudden just finding a cargo van “hiding” in your parking garage. After they scolded me for about 5 minutes we were on our way.
We donated the remaining bit of records to A-1 Record Store. Then I dropped off King Of Chill and proceeded to make a move to drop off the van. I figured I’d be good. I was only about 10 blocks away and I had about 30 minutes… That’s when I finally experienced New York traffic. It was at that moment I realized that I don’t think I had ever driven in NYC before. I always had someone else drive or depended on the Subway and Cabs. That ten block drive became a slow motion mission. I finally got there about ten minutes past closing time. They were not trying to let me in at first, but then this one cool dude came thru and hooked it up. He represents one type of New York individual, the type that doesn’t get the most light. People generally think of New Yorkers as rude or emotionally unattached, but that’s just a part of the population. There are a lot of really good people out there, who will have your back and just don’t sweat the small things. They will help you work things out. I have repeatedly met those kind of people in my many trips to NYC to prove that theory.
Anyway, once I got those records taken care of and the Uhaul Cargo Van turned in the rest of the trip went pretty smooth. It was another three days of incredible stories, amazing food, great people, and a lot of Minneapolis representation. Shout outs to all the people I connected with out there: Inkla, Maria, Isaac, Julia, Fat Beats, Indigenous Flygirl, Mr Spice, Mic Profesah, Bizzy of Bad Boys, Ray Rock, Royce G of Superior 4, King Of Chill, Vandy C, Sugar Daddy, James Lynch, P.U.D.G.E, Paper Tiger, Diana, Oxygen of Sputnik Brown, Edan, All Mental, K-Def, Large Professor, Lord Finesse, Bill Sharp, Foodswings, Baked By Melissa, Zen Palate, The V Spot, Forbidden Planet, Vegetarians Paradise, K Prince, Subway Trains, New York Girls, European Travelers, Facebook friends with helpful info, Uhaul, and of course my IPHONE which was a great assistant ☺
I’ll be sharing some videos and more stories from my NYC experience really soon, as well as working on getting all the interviews edited and ready for posting. Stay tuned!
Experienced, Shared and Written By Kevin Beacham
*Vandy C owns the master tapes to pretty much all of his indie releases and productions. Plus, boxes of taped copies from his famed radio show. As well as a wealth of unreleased material that he recorded thru out the years that never saw release. Going thru that is the next mission…
**Shouts to others who helped out: Plain Ole Bill, Nobs, & Ben Cohen. Everyone else, If I didn’t call you, sorry!!! It was situation critical.
***Dear UHAUL your boxes suck. The records arrived today and they look like they travelled here via a fast moving horse and carriage on a rocky road. Thankfully I used about 4 rolls of tape to practically mummify these boxes or it would have been a mess. I been digging thru things and although the boxes are beat, the vinyl all seems to be perfectly fine…
Here are some flicks from the phone of Paper Tiger, it gives you a glimpse of what we are dealing with at 1:30 AM parked on streets of Brooklyn in back of a UHAUL sorting thru records... Purely grimey...