About a week ago, a Vintage Vinyl employee was sorting through some dusty record crates in a back room storage area when he struck gold. He discovered a handful of still-sealed copies of a pair of rare albums that helped launch St. Louis hip-hop.
The albums were Nasty Cuts Records’ “The Power of Soul” and “Charlie Chan: He’s My DJ” (featuring Dangerous D and DJ Charlie Chan) from 1987, and Wiz-A-Tron Records’ “Culture Shock” by Early D, which was released in 1988.
According to Vintage's promotions and marketing director Jim Utz, the employee found “at least a couple of dozen of each,” and the store is now selling them for $6.99 each.
After sprinting from the RFT’s offices down Delmar to Vintage snag a couple copies for myself, I listened to them – and they’re phenomenal.
The Dangerous D/Charlie Chan album in particular is striking for its innovation at such an early stage of hip-hop as a genre. “Power of Soul” is like a cross between Pink Floyd and Tha World Class Wreckin’ Cru, with a laconic, reverb-drenched guitar backing old-school rap rhymes and cuts. It’s awash with James Brown samples and it climaxes with an alto sax solo that would be best played while wearing Ray-Bans in a smoky bar.
I spoke to DJ Charlie Chan, who was just 17 when the LP was recorded, about the story behind the disc.
“Dangerous D was about 14 or 15 at the time, and he and I rented a four-track and did some songs,” recalls Chan, who now spins on Hot 104.1. “Tom Ray [the owner of Vintage Vinyl] heard it and since he’s a big James Brown fan, he liked it and wanted to put the record out.” Chan estimates that only about 3000 copies were pressed.
“I think part of it was because we were always in the store buying music,” says Chan. ““UTFO, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Mixmaster Ice, DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Cash Money---anything they did on record I bought.”
The other album, Early D’s “Culture Shock” is almost equally impressive, especially given the weighty anti-violence, state-of-hip-hop themes it tackles.
"Shock" opens with an excerpt from a speech by civil rights leader A. Phillip Randolph that includes the line, “We are not a mob. We are the advance guard of a massive moral revolution for jobs and freedom.”
The track itself includes lyrics like: “We need the scene of hip-hop so don’t kill it” and the chorus implores listeners to “Stop the violence,” before concluding, “we didn’t start the violence so we can’t stop it.”
“That was when Nancy Reagan was walking around telling everyone to ‘Just say no,’” says St. Louis native Ronald “G. Wiz” Butts, founder of Wiz-A-Tron Records and the album’s producer. “And we were like, ‘It’s impossible to just say no, you got to give me more information than that.’ That’s why we were saying you can’t stop the violence, because we didn’t start it.”
Vintage owner Tom Ray is listed as the album’s executive producer.
G. Wiz, who now works as an independent filmmaker and hosts an old-school show on KDHX (88.1 FM), says the budget for the entire album was less than $5000. He says the “Culture Shock” was featured in the second-ever issue of The Source magazine.
Wiz says he’s gotten several calls about the Vintage find, including an offer from Tuff City Records to purchase the masters and re-issue the album. Ultimately, he says he just hopes that the next generation of St. Louis rappers takes the time to get to know their roots.
“When people come into the game, they think they know the game," he says. "You should always do some type of background and find out what went on before you. Everybody wants to be Nelly. If you ask them, he’s the first.”
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