Kool Moe Dee, the first rapper to ever win and perform at the Grammys, spoke Wednesday night at the Henry Madden Library on his role in the beginnings of hip-hop.
“I’m your past and your future, in your present,” he said. “I’m where you came from, and I’m an example of where you could be going right here and now.”
The talk was organized by Dr. T. Hasan Johnson’s hip-hop research and interview project for the Africana studies program. The goal of the project is to give people in-depth information about hip-hop, he said.
When Kool Moe Dee came onto the hip-hop scene in the 1970s with his group, “The Treacherous Three,” he brought with him a new, more serious style of rapping.
In 1981, he surprised many by entering a freestyle battle and going up against one of the top party emcees of the time, Busy Bee, at the Harlem World Christmas Rappers’ Convention. Kool Moe Dee recalled taking down Busy Bee with lyrical precision.
A self-proclaimed lover of words, he discussed how this rap battle was pivotal in changing rap battles for emcees and lyricism. No longer was it about who could get the party the most hyped, but rather who could create lyrics that contained the best messages.
With a college education and having grown up during the time of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Panthers, Kool Moe Dee said he was able to create lyrics that were conscious of the African-American struggle.
He went on to talk about the struggles that he and other artists faced during the musical rise of rap and hip-hop. Not only were they faced with resistance from past generations and their musical taste, but also from the music industry.
Kool Moe Dee said The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rappers Delight” and Run DMC’s “Walk This Way” also helped pave the way for other musicians.
His hit song “Wild Wild West” reached No. 4 on the Billboard charts in 1988. He rapped through the early 1990s — a long time for someone who was told at 25 he was ‘too old’ to rap.