Kurtis Blow


Kurtis Blow, rap’s first signed artist, still keeping it clean after 3O years in the game

:: Kurtis Blow ::
:: Cleo Parker Robinson Theatre ::
::  August 14 ::

By Neil McIntyre

When Kurtis Blow recorded for Mercury in 1980, he became the world’s first rapper to get “the big break” and sign with a major label. Knowing what an amazing opportunity he had in front of him, to be the first to share hip-hop music with the globe, Kurtis considered the role a great responsibility. His first single, “The Breaks” saw him backed by a tight band and all of the weight of a major record company. The lyrics of the song reveal the fact he knew he was blessed: “Brakes on a bus, brakes on a car, breaks to make you a superstar.”

Kurtis did indeed break out and become a superstar, inspiring not only other hip-hop artists but changing the face of popular American music forever. Kurtis followed “The Breaks” with other hits like “Basketball” and the immortal song from the Krush Groove soundtrack, “If I ruled the World”.

He inspired Bob Dylan to take a crack at rhyming, recording raps with him on the same Kurtis Blow record that also includes an appearance from George Clinton. The vast span of his influence on main stream culture is illustrated by the Tom Tom Club’s huge hit “Genius of Love,” a song that pays tribute to the greats from Bob Marley to Otis Redding, and gives a hearty nod to Blow.

Blow toured extensively in those days, bringing hip-hop music and culture overseas for the very first time, in places like Paris, Berlin, Brussels and even Asia. His natural rapport with the audience, built on years of DJing at New York clubs and parties, had an instant overwhelming effect on live audiences, and he did it all on a plane that few hip-hop artists employ these days.

“I’ve recorded over two hundred songs and I have never used a profanity and I always thought that was just me trying to have some dignity, some integrity,” said Blow during a recent interview with The Marquee. “I knew that in order for this thing to last and spread all around the world.  It had to be wholesome, it had to be something that families could listen to, something people could play for their kid, something you could sing in church and I can sing all my songs in church.”

One can quickly tell that Blow’s words match his actions. He has most recently recorded a song “Magic Words” with a Colorado children’s rap group The Littleague about how important it is to say “please” and “thank you.”

He said those ethics came to him after an important meeting in 1980. “Jesse Jackson took me under his wing. He sat me down and he said, ‘Kurtis, I’ve got something I want to say to you and I want you to go back and tell all the other rappers this. This thing hip-hop, this thing rap could go far. You guys are going to become the heroes and the icons of the community. So this is what I need you to do: you need to keep it clean, Kurtis.’ So I did that. I went back to the Sugar Hill Gang and Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel and I said this is what we need to do, and we came up with a code of ethics,” said Blow.

While it’s a code that many modern rappers don’t abide by, Blow and his cohorts know that their old school ways are the reason for their staying power, after more than three decades in the business.

:: Kurtis Blow ::

:: Cleo Parker Robinson Theatre ::

:: August 14 ::

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• Grandmaster Flash

• Run-DMC

• Russell Simmons

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