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Melissa A. Weber

Based in New Orleans, Melissa A. Weber is an MA candidate in musicology at Tulane University. A respected crate digger and authority on funk, soul, and disco, she’s been featured in Nelson George's Finding the Funk documentary, Wax Poetics magazine, and the book Dust and Grooves: Adventures in Record Collecting. As the award-winning DJ Soul Sister, she hosts "Soul Power,” the longest-running rare groove show in the U.S., on WWOZ, and has performed with artists from George Clinton to Questlove. 

“Rapper’s Delight? The Overlooked Voices of Rap Before ‘The Message’”
In Loren Kajikawa’s Sounding Race in Rap Songs (University of California Press, 2015), the author writes that the “creation of the rap song,” often associated with the commercial success of the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979, shifted the primary voice of hip-hop music “away from the DJ and toward the MC.” The ironic success of the hit song, performed by three MCs who had no prior ties to the emerging hip-hop culture of New York, nevertheless influenced similar subsequent recordings and varying vocal styles of rap through 1982. This paper and presentation will showcase a few obscure and rarely-heard voices, both significant and interesting, whose recorded works are among several I’ve collected in my crate-digging pursuits. The focus will be on artists who did not record for Sugar Hill and Enjoy Records, the two largest rap music labels of the early 1980s, and I will demonstrate how these voices of hip-hop music owe much to two overlooked influences of early rap MCs: the disco DJ and the radio DJ. The voices of the MCs in these recordings demonstrate a scene where the potential (or hope) for commerciality, expression, and a good time are always at the forefront, displaying an innocence that would be shifted again upon the release of the darker, non-party oriented “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in 1982.

Rap music recorded between 1979 and 1982 is severely disregarded, perhaps because so much of it has not been anthologized, and remains alive only to the memories of those who faithfully bought 12” vinyl singles of this new dance music, which many critics then called a fad or “crap.” However, the voices and vocal styles of this essential period add to the story of rap music, and belong to men and women, as well as New York MCs and outsiders who were not necessarily part of the New York scene.

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