Numarx is a group I didn’t know a whole lot about back in the day, but they had this one track in particular that I was a big fan of in ’87. They were never a mainstream group so imagine most people never heard of them, but they have a very interesting history.
They were a Baltimore based crew who first got their start as a DJ crew. The founding member of the crew is DJ Spen, who is now world renown as a dance music DJ, but got his start making Hip Hop Pause Tapes. I found a cool interview with him online on BlogTalkRadio talking about his history (find that HERE). Between that interview and some Old School B-more heads posting up stories on OldSchoolHipHop.com, I was able to piece together a basic history of the Numarx.
DJ Spen was inspired from listening to Randy Dennis on WEBB AM Radio. The station would play mixes from a New York group called the AP Crew. DJ Spen appreciated what they were doing, but also realized that he was already doing the same thing in his basement. He put together a Pause Tape and his Mom drove him down to the station to drop off the tape and lo and behold they played on-air the next day!
Eventually DJ Spen wanted to recreate the Mastermix/Pause Mix style live, so he sought out some other DJs and began to form Numarx. The crew went thru a few early incarnations, but eventually settled with four core members; Spen (DJ), Junie Jam (DJ), Wanye (DJ), & Kool Rod (DJ/MC). They would rock using eight turntables!! Not long after, they got the final piece to the Numarx puzzle, KG a.k.a Kevin Liles.
Of course, now Kevin Liles* is a highly recognizable and respected figure in the Music Industry. He rose from unpaid intern to the President Of Def Jam in only seven years. However, in the early 80s he was doing his thing on the mic with Numarx.
Numarx moved from doing mixes on WEBB radio over to V103 FM and there they created some classic radio mixes that are heavily sought after by many collectors, myself included. Beyond radio, the crew also released the “Buss It” 12” in 1984 on the KMA label. The actual name on that record is Nurmarx, so not sure if that is spelling mistake or if they originally went by that name instead??
“Buss It” is a quality record that is comparable to a lot of what was happening at the time. Yet, it was in ’87 when they released what is their career-defining music, two songs on opposite sides of the spectrum.
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/a-buss-it-vocal.mp3|titles=a - buss it (vocal)]
“Rhymes So Def” used to get played on my neighborhood college station WNUR 89.3 FM in Chicago. For a while I didn’t even know who the group was. I would just catch it on various tapes while dubbing the radio. It just had this ill vibe with choppy hard drums that had more emphasis on the snares than the bass. It mixed in James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” from time to time to give it a more fluid feel. There’s a hard edge with a musical touch, executed perfectly with a rugged guitar stab that is sampled and played in a simple melody. All the while, in the background there’s some keyboard work that sounds like a remix version of the X-Files theme music. One thing you notice right away is how well it is arranged. There are a variety of beat changes, builds and drops, leaving never a dull moment. It’s not just about the music though. MCs KG and Kool Rod prove themselves to be quite capable on the mic, as one would expect when the hook asks the question, “Have you ever heard rhymes so def??!!”
The shining moment of the lyrics come in right off the top when Kool Rod drops some intelligence, elegance, and a dab of humor, “Chronological words, a geographical phrase/A proceed to put your mind in a baffled stage…”, after the killer intro he ends the quick verse with the heavy-handed warning to the suckers, “I got a crazy side to me that my momma ain’t seen!” That’s simple among the “Classic-est”….
Even the layout of the 12” leaves no mystery that they are a DJ/Production crew first and foremost. The A Side is called the “Extended Dub” version, rather than the vocal. The B-side starts with the “Radio Version”, followed, finally, by the “Regular Version”. However, don’t let the term “Dub” mislead you. The A-side is indeed a full vocal version, but after the main verses it just seamlessly “extends” into a Dub Version for the next few minutes and your listening pleasure.
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/a-rhymes-so-def-extended-dub.mp3|titles=a - rhymes so def (extended dub)]
Later that same year, they released another single, “Girl You Know It’s True”. As the title may suggest, it goes a completely different direction than the hardcore foundation of “Rhymes So Def”. It is more pretty musically and there’s a singing chorus, as they Rap about love. I never heard this song back then. I don’t think it made to much noise in the Rap world. However, as you may recognize as you hear it, and from the title, it is indeed the original source material for the hit song by Milli Vanilli. Oddly enough, Milli Vanilli was offered to record the song thru a producer in Germany.
I’m not sure if Numarx received any money or career traction from that Milli Vanilli experience. Perhaps there is something telling about their record label history. Numarx released both those singles on Studio Records, a Maryland based small indie label. However, in ’88 they issued a 7” on UK based label Bluebird with “Girls You Know It’s True” b/w “Rhymes So Def”. I’m assume it was that, in one context or another, that lead to the German producer asking Milli Vanilli to re-record the track.
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/02-Girl-You-Know-Its-True.mp3|titles=02 Girl You Know It's True]
As for Numarx, in 1988 they released their debut full-length album, “Our Time Has Come”. In this album you can see them taking some different steps from their “Buss It” and “Rhymes So Def” days and leaning more towards the “Girl You Know It’s True” market. Quite honestly though, no song on the album is more commercial sounding than “Girl You Know It’s True”. They use an assortment of B-Boy Breaks, Go-Go styles, R&B flavor, and a touch of Dance music to build the album. It’s one of those albums that struggles to find a fan-base. On one hand, they made some music with more universal appeal than a underground Hip Hop record, but didn’t result in any significant hits, so the audience they were attempting to reach virtually ignored it. On the other hand, loyal fans of “Buss It” and “Rhymes So Def” were disappointed and felt alienated by the record and their attempt to go “commercial”. Perhaps it was their years on radio and club DJing that influenced that direction. Doing both of those things they were gaining an understanding of how the music business works, but just weren’t able to capitalize on it at the time. Obviously, Kevin Liles had that latent talent within him to make artists commercially successful, but wasn’t able to manifest it until several years later with artists on Def Jam.
Then again, it’s not completely unfair to ignore the album. Although, nothing is bound to be more pleasing to the Hardcore Hip Hop fanatics than “Rhymes So Def”, there are some other notable tracks.
The album starts off with “Kool Rod”, a straight up battle rhyme joint that also features some flavorful scratching over a minimal Roland TR-909 (?) beat.
I’d say that “S.P.E.N The Confusion” is the easily the best new track here. It’s dedicated to the man on the wheels, DJ Spen. It’s the song with the strongest Go-Go flavor and has some hyped densely packed production. The tag line is pulled from “Rhymes So Def”, “Commander of ship, fantastic trip/My DJ cuts the hip!” DJ Spen flexes his skills nicely by cutting up an assortment of vocal bits & pieces, as well as flipping some KC and the Sunshine Band, “Uh Huh, Uh Huh, I Like It”…which transitions perfectly into the next track.
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/07-S.p.e.n.-The-Confusion.mp3|titles=07 S.p.e.n. The Confusion]
The “The Way I Like It” is a good joint with a hook that builds from a portion of “Rhymes So Def”. The production isn’t great, but it’s cool with solid opening and closing verses.
Although, there are some solid tracks in their discography, many would probably argue that their greatest contributions were their incredible radio mixes. I had heard about them for years, mainly from people seeking them and reminiscing about their greatness. I recently got my hands on two of them from the back in the day homie, Jason Mindus**.
Below are two mixes to give you a taste of their meticulous, conceptual, and skillful mastermixes, among some of the best in game!
Numarx Mastermix #1: This mix wastes no time coming out blazing and quickly gets into a blend of The B Boys “Girls” backing beat with some Phil Collins “In The Air Of Night” vocals on top. With some supported elements from The World Famous Supreme Team and additional soundbytes, I think that is Popeye is among them. It just continues on for the next 20 plus minutes with a collection of R&B vocals on top B-boy beats, intelligently placed quick-cuts, and other tricks. This mix relies heavily on their skills as producers and arrangers.
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Numarx-V103-pt-1.mp3|titles=Numarx V103 pt 1]
Numarx Mastermix #2: This one is a little heavier based on their cut n paste, editing talents and turntable skills. They give a new twist to tracks by Whodini, LL Cool J, Skinny Boys, Schoolly D, Run-DMC, 2 Live Crew, Cutmaster DC and more. DJ Spen even drops an exclusive verse in the mix, which shows he had some quality rapping skills as well. That leads into a Human Beat Box break that features more MCing by the Numarx crew.
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Numarx-V103-Pt.-2.mp3|titles=Numarx V103 Pt. 2]
I’m definitely on the hunt for more Numarx mixes and any mixes that are similar***. If you have any info or tapes, help a brother out…aight!
*More on Kevin Liles HERE. Quite the success story….
**Jason Mindus: Back in the mid 90s I did street promotions for Rick Rubin’s American Records. My awesome boss was Dan Charnas, the author for what I am continual referring to as easily one of the best books written about Hip Hop, “The Big Payback”. Also, working for the label was Jason Mindus who was cool people, but honestly the main reason I remember him is because of a tape he sent me. I was doing my Caught In The Middle Magazine then and he wanted to send me some of his hometown Baltimore flavor so he sent me a demo, which gave me my first taste of Labtekwon! I became instant fan and that made Jason Mindus the man forever…ha. We reconnected about a year ago via Facebook and started to trade some 80s radio shows and that’s when he sent me these…making me home the man forever again…double forever I suppose…
***Twin Cities people should be aware of J Love The Soundsmith, one of the finest Hip Hop DJs in this city. He’s originally from DC, but he used to strategically place his radio in his room to hear the Numarx radio mixes out in MD. He cites Numarx as a big inspiration for him to start on the wheels of steel. He also dida Numarx tribute mix that you can hear HERE!
Written By Kevin Beacham