BOOK REVIEW: “Rap Tees” by DJ Ross One

Rap Tees photo RapTees_cover_zpstydq4wyk.jpg Rap Tees: A Collection of Hip-Hop T-Shirts 1980-1999 (powerHouse Books) is a book by DJ Ross One that honors the first era of hip-hop clothing that fans were able to buy not only as souvenirs but to show support for their favorite artists, just as rock fans have been able to for decades. Why is this significant? Because carrying a souvenir of your favorite music artist brings the fan closer to the artist, or at least sporting their logo on your chest makes it feel like a unique level of support even though that uniqueness is shared by anyone who buys a similar shirt.

DJ Ross One explores the many hip-hop T-shirts that have come over time. When it came to heavy metal T-shirts, its origins were rooted from the surfing and skateboarding communities, showing extra support by displaying their logo or a graphic design in reference to an album or logo. The rock T-shirt became a major part of the costume, especially for headbangers along with their denim fests and specific patches. Some of these traditions would be carried over into hip-hop, specifically when Def Jam became one of the first labels to make shirts for their artists and themselves. It seemed odd at first, for “why would anyone want to wear a T-shirt that said Public Enemy or the Beastie Boys? Why would anyone wear a logo in honor of a record company?” It’s the unusual dedication of “artist and record company pride” and once Def Jam’s clothing became a bit of promotion and hype when worn by other artists (Anthrax’s Scott Ian were Def Jam shirts religiously when he and the band went on tour in 1987 in support fo their Among The Living album), associated artists got involved before it began to open up to anyone in hip-hop willing to share their logo.

De La Soul shirts photo DeLa_shirts_zpssgz44ss9.jpg
DJ Ross One talks about the rise of a hip-hop shirt, whether it’s from through a company catalog or finding an offer in a cassette or 12″ single. Often times, snagging that T-shirt was a one-time thing not because they were thinking of creating limited editions, but because the budget was not big for hip-hop clothing, definitely not for a T-shirt. If you wanted a glow-in-the-dark De La Soul shirt, you had hoped you could get one or lose out. While many artists would have their own line of shirts in the early 90’s, the Wu-Tang Clan changed everything when they made a specfic line of clothing with their logos, originally just the yellow W over a black shirt. You had to hunt down those shirts when they weren’t widely available and once they obtained greater distribution, anyone who wanted to honor the power of the Wu could get one at the local mall. To be able to see T-shirts for everyone from Biggie to 2Pac, Digital Underground to Slick Rick, Queen Latifah to Nicki Minaj is interesting, for it also shows the progress of not only entrepreneurial success but the improvements of the designs themselves.

Rap Tees also touches on some of the bootleg T-shirts that were made not only in the late 80’s/early 90’s but in hip-hop for the last 25 years. If finding The Simpsons or Ren & Stimpy bootleg T-shirts became a trend, you may be able to find a bootleg shirt of your favorite artists at a swap meet, flea market, or corner store, even if the printing on the shirt might disappear after five washes.

Regardless, the hip-hop T-shirt managed to live in, not only for fans to buy but for ways to record labels, management, and the artists themselves to add to their means of promotion. Perhaps that means of promotion may have changed, for better or worse, with the rise of the internet and social media but fortunately if you need to find that specific shirt to sport, you may be able to find it on eBay, Etsy, or any other online merchant. Rap Tees shines the spotlight on believing in the hype from nothing more than a T-shirt and a silkscreen.

(NOTE: I was not able to get a hard copy of the book for review, I only received a digital edition. This review is based on that digital edition. You may order Rap Tees below from

FREE MP3 DL: “An Adventure To Pepperland Through Rhyme & Space”

If you read the title and know what Pepperland refers to, then you know it most likely has to do with The Beatles, and it does. Now you look at the graphic and are saying “but wait, I see Ol’ Dirty Bastard here. What’s going on?” In this case, it’s a remix project where Beatles samples were used to create new instrumentals for hip-hop songs. Look at all of the people who are on it, it’s insane. Here’s the track listing:
Part 1
Hello Hello – Edan
Mr Mustard – Big Daddy Kane
Second To None – Rakim
Taxman – The Notorius B.I.G.
Gentle Thief – Nas
Where I’m From – Large Professor
Country Grammar – Talib Kweli & Bun B
Parlay – J-Live
Twist – Salt-N-Pepper
Birthday Dedication – Busta Rhymes
Open Mic Session pt. 1 – Masta Ace, Percee P, Lord Finesse, Frankie Cutlass, Easy Mo Bee & KRS-One
Number Nine – YZ
Self Titled – Heltah Skeltah
Bang Bang – MOP
Pepper – Kool G Rap
Bring Your Friends – Public Enemy
Interlude / Bridge – MC Shan
Last Forever – Artifacts
For The Children – Freddie Foxxx
Ringo’s Big Beat Theme – Spoonie Gee
Hold Poppa’s Large Hand – Ultramagnetic MC’s
Open Mic Session pt. 2 – Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane & Rakim
The End – Run DMC & Afrika Bambaataa
Circles – Wu-Tang Clan
Brooklyn Walrus – Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Buckshot , Masta Ace & Special Ed
Part 2
Secrets – Slick Rick
Beneath The Diamond Sky – The Genius/GZA
Within Tomorrow – Busta Rhymes
The Beginning – Sunz Of Man
Gentle Drama – The RZA & Rugged Monk
Becausizm – KRS-One & Channel Live
Mary Jane – Tha Alkaholiks
Bong Water – Viktor Vaughn
Hold On
Love In Summertime – Ghostface Killah & Beyonce
And I Lover Her Crazy – Jay-Z & Beyonce
Ruffneck Soldier – MC Lyte
Hey! – Beastie Boys
Get Back To The City – Large Professor
Hard To Leave Home – Nas
The Flyest – AZ
And Who? – Heiroglyphics
Lonely Thoughts – The Notorious B.I.G.
Can You Dig It? – Gravediggaz
How To Smile – 2Pac & Scarface
A Day In New York – AZ, Raekwon & Ghostface Killah

Stream it in full above or if you just want to download it and carry it with you on your travels, head to

RECORD CRACK: P.S. I Love You – A Taste Of Honey’s “Sukiyaki”

“Sukiyaki” is a song that has popped up throughout the generations in the last 50 years, and has meant something for each one. For people of my mom’s generation, this was a song by Kyu Sakamoto. It was always played throughout Honolulu under its original title “Ue O Muite arukō”, and from what I’ve been told, even if you did not know Japanese, many knew what the actual song was about. In this case, “Ue O Muite arukō” was about a man who reflects on things in his life, and as he does so, he smiles and whistles so he will not be able to slow down and cry. If you read between the lines, if a boy was able to sing this to his girlfriend, it would make her cry because the lyric project a level of emotion that he normally would not share. Awwwww.

Due to the song getting a bit of airplay at a radio station in rural Pasco, Washington, it started to be played by a few other radio stations across the U.S. This is where things get blurry, and one day I’ll find out the true story, but Capitol Records would release the radio due to growing demand, and it became a surprise hit. Back then, songs that were not in England were sometimes considered a novelty. Whether novelty meant “a joke” or “not the norm” didn’t matter, but let’s face it: the song had nothing to do with food, but because most people in the United States were not familiar with anything Japanese, they gave the song a word that they were familiar with due to its assumed exoticness. That alone might give it “joke” status, but regardless, it worked. Play “Sukiyaki” to anyone of my mom’s age, and you might find them singing, as if they were trying to soothe the man whose heart did not want to cry.

In this promotional film made for the song, Sakamoto recreates the theme in the song, which is simply to walk and smile the best as you can. As the video comes to an end, he whistles the melody one last time as it fades into the sadness that can no longer be hidden.

20 years after its release, Capitol Records would find success with the song again when A Taste Of Honey released it. The group had become known for their funky bass disco slapper, 1978’s “Boogie Oogie Oogie” and while the group had not been able to meet with the same success with other singles, “Boogie Oogie Oogie” helped to extend their life a bit longer. To a degree, A Taste Of Honey had been looked by some initially as a novelty act, because the group were fronted by two women who played guitar and bass. Women have played instruments in bands for years, going back to the days of big band jazz, but the mainstream norm has always been to promote them solely as singers and their looks. A guitar, bass, or any instrument would be “a distraction from seeing the form of their bodies”. Groups like Fanny, The Runaways, BeBe K’Roche, and countless others went out of their way to change that, slowly but surely changing that perception. When people realized guitarist Hazel Payne and bassist Janice-Marie Johnson were very serious about what they did, they listened, buying not only the single but the album it was on.

The band’s third album was Twice As Sweet, and bassist Marie-Johnson choose to use the song’s original melody but write a new set of lyrics. In other words, her lyrics was not a translation of the original Japanese song, but most fans didn’t know or care. The new lyrics still reflected a level of sadness that made it exclusive to A Taste Of Honey, and it also changed the perception of the group since they had only been known for their big disco song. “Sukiyaki” showed audiences that they could be balladeers as well, and people believed in it, enough for them to take it to #1 on Billboards R&B Singles Chart and Adult Contemporary chart, and #3 on the Pop Singles chart.

For the single, Payne and Marie-Johnson wore kimonos, with Payne holding a sensu (fan) and both wearing geta (wooden slippers). It was very much a flashback to older times, and very much honored the song’s Japanese theme. For those of us who were young and becoming aware of girls and women, this shot was very sexy. Beautiful black women wearing something from Japanese culture? It was very much like the song itself, two worlds coming together to create something new. Payne learned how to play the koto and used it in the final recording (she would also play it during performances).

One of the lines in A Taste Of Honey’s version would be interpolated by rapper Slice Rick when he and Doug E. Fresh created “La-Di-Da-Di” in 1984. At a time when clearing publishing in rap songs were not an issue, the use of “Sukiyaki” was not listed on the original record, yet when the group, Doug E. Fresh, or Slick Rick would perform the song as solo artists, everyone in the crowd looked forward to singing the lines “it’s all because of you, I’m feeling sad and blue” along with them. “La-Di-Da-Di” has been sampled countless times over the years and has become a hip-hop standard. As the compact disc became the format of choice, there was a move to released the song on CD for the first time. But upon trying to clear the rights for the use of the “Sukiyaki” lines, Marie-Johnson denied permission, which is why for years, if you wanted to find the song on CD, every version had the “Sukiyaki” section removed. No one bothered to go to any existing multi-track for the song to simply mute Slick Rick’s vocal, so the final edit sounds sloopy. Fortunately, in the era of the MP3, one can simply hunt down for a vinyl rip of the song and listen to it as originally intended.

Nonetheless, “Sukiyaki” continues to have a life around the world, and when it is performed in English, you can thank Marie-Johnson for writing new lyrics to the original melody, and A Taste Of Honey to reviving it. By doing so, you can also thank Hachidai Nakamura for the music, Rokusuke Ei for the lyrical sorrow, and Kyu Sakamoto for being responsible for recording the first and only Japanese-language song to hit #1 on Billboard. Illegally, you can give props to Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick as well. Ah hee ho ha ho hoo hee, I can’t be your loverrrrrrrrrrrr. Domo arigato.