A film about Northwest hip-hop from 1985
Documentary Break Dance
1985 was an exciting year for hip-hop music in the Pacific Northwest. The year prior, breakdancers and rappers had taken over the Seattle Center for the KOMO Summer Break b-boy event. South of Seattle in Portland, an artist named Vitamix was making rapping and scratching tapes, some of which made it to the editors at The Rocket music newspaper published in Seattle. The Sub Pop and Lip Service columns in The Rocket both included reviews of several Vitamix efforts in the early ‘80s.
Meanwhile, Richard Peterson was a Seattle trumpet player who had released one LP in 1982 called Richard Peterson’s First Album. That record included traditional sounding covers of standards such as “My Sharona” by the Knack and “Sunshine” by James Taylor, but Peterson also took a step into modern music with a solid disco cut called “Death Valley Disco Days.” In 1985, Peterson released Second Album, with a bunch more standards.
Second Album also includes a modern song, a hip-hop track called “Documentary Break Dance,” which is a collaboration between Peterson and Vitamix. The song also credits famous writer and composer William Loose (1910-1991). Interestingly, Loose created library music and musical cues for film and TV, and released an undated record called Documentary Underscores. I’m just gonna go out on a limb here and guess that Vitamix had this record in his collection and used it to help create “Documentary Break Dance.” But this is just a theory until it’s either proven or disproven.
The vibe of “Documentary Break Dance” is very Malcolm McLaren-ish to me, and it reflects the fact that rap music was still searching for new directions and sounds. Run DMC had presented the most minimal possible example of rap, with just a drum machine for many tracks, while other early groups like Whodini and Newcleus tried to put more melody into their work. “Documentary Break Dance” is clumsy and unpredictable, sort of like the raw abrasion of Herbie Hancock’s 1983 hit “Rockit.” Vitamix drops some traditional early-era raps such as, “Well my name is Vitamix, now check me out, I’m in ‘Documentary’ to rock the house. I’m rappin and scratchin in a real loose style, Vitamix here to put your face in a smile.” Rap in Seattle was still finding its way in 1985, and experiments like “Documentary Break Dance” doubtlessly helped to inspire others in this genre. Written by Novocaine132