“The Breaks” by Kurtis Blow (1980)

In his stand up special (which you should all watch and I would link if I could find it), Donald Glover did a bit about old-school rap, mocking the simplistic lyrics and sing-song word play that marked a lot of original hip-hop. I laughed at the joke, because it is-in part-true. A lot of those old routines are corny, and hip-hop lyrics have improved by leaps and bounds since the late Seventies. However, some of those old school jams (real old school jams for those of you 30 and under) are worthy of praise for being good songs in addition to being groundbreaking. Kurtis Blow’s “The Breaks” is one.

Kurtis was certainly on the advanced level as far as first-days rappers went, maybe just a few steps below dudes like Kool Moe Dee on the lyrical acuity scale. He also had legit star power, a level of charisma that few rappers of his vintage were able to muster up. He was able to withstand a not-so-subliminal dis from Don Cornelius when he appeared on Soul Train. And with “The Breaks”, Blow presented a litany of social and personal ills that was totally relatable to the average band (or at least those ills were relatable then…no one knows who Ma Bell is anymore.) And he did it over a funky-ass groove created by…well, who knows who played on “The Breaks”? The hired guns they enlisted created a very good approximation of the tight grooves the Sugar Hill Records house band made, though. And they keep the song interesting even when things veer to the “this song might be a bit too long” mark.

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