A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Let's Get Crackin'

Shock was a pioneering funk rock collective from Portland, Oregon. Between 1980 and 1983, they released four albums of jazz- and soul-inspired boogie jams and party songs. The group’s bandleader was keyboard player Roger Sause. He led a rotating membership of musicians, sometimes numbering as many as ten performers.

For Shock’s second album, Sause collaborated with The Magician, a Portland producer and local music legend named Marlon McClain, former frontman, vocalist, and lead guitarist for R&B group Pleasure. Throughout the 1970s, Pleasure released seven acclaimed albums on Fantasy Records. The Magician knew his way around the industry. He offered to mentor the group and helped broker a record deal between Shock and Fantasy.

“Let’s Get Crackin’” was Shock’s first big hit. It was co-written by Sause, McClain, and Shock vocalist, Malcolm Noble. Taking inspiration from “Rapper’s Delight,” Noble adopts a rap cadence, simple rhymes, and a talking vocal delivery. Early in the song, he raps, “This jam is not only nutritious, It can be, to the groovers, delicious.”

Released in August 1981, “Let’s Get Crackin’” quickly took over the airwaves in Chicago, Atlanta, and St. Louis. “Malcolm Noble’s slick, street-wise vocals and a recurring chorus hook ride this perky funky track,” wrote Record World magazine. The Portland Observer also championed the “impudent, highly infectious funk anthem.” The song entered the Billboard Hot Soul Singles chart in early September. It spent nine weeks on the charts, peaking at #52. By the end of the year, Fantasy Records reported they’d sold more than 100,000 copies. Rolling Stone magazine picked Shock as one of the decade’s top ten up-and-coming new artists.

Two years later, Shock called it quits. Sause and McClain continued to collaborate. Throughout the 1980s, the two wrote songs and toured together with Seattle smooth jazz saxophonist Kenny G. Noble continued writing rap music, changing his stage name to MC Ol’ Skool in the 1990s.

Thirty years later, in 2011, Shock released After Shock, a compilation of rarities, unreleased cuts, and live performances. On one track, Noble introduces “Let’s Get Crackin’” to an enthusiastic audience, declaring that “this is the song that put Portland on the hip-hop map.”

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

I'm Little Ray Rapper

Popular music was changing fast at the tail end of the 1970s. Disco had flooded the market and had certainly jumped the shark, as evidenced by the Saturday Night Fever album sweeping the Grammys in February of ’79, and the Comiskey Park “Disco Demolition Night” riot in June of that same year.

In Seattle, a music producer named David Perry was having success as a studio technician and also as a multi-talented musician. He worked on several popular records for an uptempo disco dance group called Salazar on Seattle’s First American Records. But when he heard the new rap sounds of Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow, and Blondie, he knew he had to do something with this new art form.

Mr. Perry gathered live musicians to play the backup elements, and he recorded his first rap track in 1980, titled “Get That Future Punk.” The lyrics tell of an extremely short ‘everyman’ character named Ray who tells humorous stories of his adventures trying to meet women. Perry recorded the vocals slower than normal, and then sped up the tape, creating a “chipmunk” effect to his voice. This studio wizardry adds humor to the punchlines and creates a cartoon-like effect. The second track Perry recorded was an even funnier track titled “I’m Little Ray Rapper.” This song had more punchlines than “Get That Future Punk” including lines like, “You make me feel ten feet tall and that’s triple what I normally am.”

Perry recorded a total of eight songs using this ‘Little Ray Rapper’ concept. First American Records in Seattle liked the project and in 1981 it released “I’m Little Ray Rapper” as the A-side of a vinyl single with “Get That Future Punk” as the B-side. It sold well and was picked up for an immediate 1981 reprint by a French label named Barclay, which released the song in France on 7″ (pictured here) and 12″ single formats. Perry was thrilled and planned to release the full Little Ray Rapper album sometime in 1982. But the owner of First American Records shut down his business suddenly, and so the album was shelved and never came out.

Fast forward to 2014 when six of these songs were released digitally by a company called Soundworks USA. My personal favorite from the expanded set is “Going To Mars” which predicts the spacey sound of Newcleus years before their first album. “I’m Little Ray Rapper” isn’t the first rap ever from Seattle, but it is definitely the first rap to be released on a record. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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