Image Courtesy of DavidBowie.com
The iconic artist known to the world as David Bowie passed away this weekend. The erstwhile chameleon succumbed to cancer at age 69 but even though he is no longer among the world of the living, he will forever live in our hearts and minds. While he was alive, he influenced numerous fans, musicians, artists, performers and creatives in a wide variety of fields. One of those spaces in which David Bowie had as great an impact as any artist was/is rap music. Bowie’s early records were no doubt among ones that would be played by Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and Pete “DJ” Jones on down to Grandmaster Flash, Grand Wizard Theodore and Jazzy Jay.
As a youngster in the late ’70s and the early ’80s, it was a common occurrence to hear Bowie’s music either played on the radio or in the homes of friends and family I visited. By the time Bowie released “Let’s Dance” in 1983, he’d been a constant musical presence as opposed to some old rocker experiencing a resurgence.
As a young music fan, I was placed in a unique position; the youngest in a household where my siblings were eight and six years older than me. Upstairs, we had family friends whose sons were both DJs that were 11 and nine years older than I was. I’d often tag along behind my brother and sister when they went upstairs and I’d become privy to music that the average four-to-six year old would never encounter. Even though I was a fan of David Bowie’s music from being acquainted with it from an early age, I didn’t know what he meant to other kids and follow music fans outside my immediate circle until I got older myself rather than merely soaking up what other people said about Bowie’s back catalog and aping them to sound smart as a pre-teen.
My teenage years coincided with the end of the first Golden Era (1988-89), the transition years between them (1990-91) then the early stages of the second Golden Era (1992-94). As we all know, the first rap record to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1990 (Vanilla Ice – “Ice Ice Baby”) sampled Queen’s collaboration with David Bowie but things went so much deeper than just sample sources. Bowie’s entire career and back catalog of albums was a better source to draw for creatives attempting to make timeless art in a youth culture and a fickle music industry that has sea changes every three to five years. But if you look at the songs David Bowie made that have been sampled in rap records as a gauge to determine his influence on the rap world at large? You are making a huge mistake akin to when Bruce Lee warned us about how if you focus on a finger pointing out to the Moon rather than the Moon itself you miss out on all that heavenly glory.
There is, of course, another way to measure Bowie’s impact on hip-hop…