Politics with Kurtis Blow

UK Smash Hits: 12-25 February, 1986

Mr Blow

The February 1986 issue of UK Smash Hits features the lyrics for Kurtis Blow’s single If I Ruled the World .  Having reviewed the evidence I think that it would be best to end this song title… “then we’d all be screwed.”

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In the first verse Kurtis explains how he became king through a political system of living in Rome and then London and then going to Washington where he proved as popular as limousines.  He’s probably paraphrasing the details.

In verse two Kurtis describes his first few days as king:

People start bowing as they reach for my hand

I said a thank you groove to the promised land

But now I must say goodbye to everybody

Tonight I see you all at my super dinner party

And later that night at my super dinner party

I was dancing to the beat and entertaining la de da de

Mr Blow’s ear for storytelling not only gives us this smooth narrative segue: “Tonight I see you at my super dinner party / And late that night at my super dinner party”, but also the evocative new adverb “la de da de”.

Drop. The. Mic.

Kurtis remains cagey about what he would actually do if he were king of the world although we do learn that he would “love all the girls”, which is a noble, far-reaching plan, but (a) probably there’s not enough Kurtis to go around, and (b) what about all the boys?  The second plank of his manifesto is that he will wear diamonds and pearls.

To get greater clarity on what Blow’s political views might be we can turn to the song America.  We learn in this song that America is Kurt’s favourite country.  We learn that Germany, Russia and Africa are countries.  We learn that America has lots of cool stuff like hot dogs, baseball, slaves, cotton picking, and “red, black and yellow and of course the Jews”.  We also learn that lots of countries don’t like America and take hostages and shit, and that one day Reagan will take the bat to them and everyone will be destroyed (although it is unclear if this is a good or bad thing).  It is also unclear if this is withering satire on the American military industrial complex or dreadful songwriting, but I’m going for the later.

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Perhaps his political views lie in reforming the economy.  He certainly is alert to the difficulties for the common person, as we can see in the searing Marxist trilogy Tough, Starlife and Hard Times.

Hard times spreading just like the flu

You know I caught it just like you

Preach.

In Tough he gives us not only a lesson in inventive similes, but a devastating portrait of economic hardship; hardship which is:

Strong like chocolate thunder

Rough like Stevie Wonder

Down like a limousine

Blind like a submarine

Hard like cold concrete

Between these two cri de coeur comes Starlife where Kurtis paints a portrait of a hugely wealthy R n B musician who “hits the notes that are so high the men just stare and the women cry.”

However, this promising start fails to develop into a critique of the bourgeoisie and instead turns into a blow by blow description of a rich pop star’s life as imagined by a nine year old boy.

In fact, Blow’s gift to lyrics is literalism.  His lyrics in the song Basketball are more like that debating game you play where you have to talk for as long as you can about a given topic without pausing than a rap that someone has planned in advance.

Basketball is my favourite sport

I like the way they dribble up and down the court

I like slam dunks and takin’ it to the hoop

My favourite play is the alley oop

Thanks for that Kurtis.  What are your views on vacuum cleaners?

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His last song seems to have been called, a touch optimistically, Back By Popular Demandwhich promptly bombed without a trace.

Curiously, Kurtis Blow is – aside from being sort of rap misfire – also a rap pioneer with some firsts in rap history and was, for a time, associated with some of the people who were to go on and become giants: Run DMC and LL Cool J among them.  The pop culture moment that captures them all at the edge of fame is a movie called Krush Groove.  There are quite a few clips from this movie on YouTube which also features the awesome Sheila E, but the movie itself is hard to get (even the inexhaustible Aro Video’s got nuthin’).

If you listen to Run DMC’s first album you will hear their version of Hard Times, the very same track that Blow does.  Why DMC got big and Blow didn’t is clear from the first two lines.  The Blow version, as we know, goes:

Hard times spreading just like the flu

You know I caught it just like you

Delivered, of course, in Blow’s jaunty manner.  Run DMC seem quite a bit angrier, with a better drum track, and a better ear for a line:

Hard times spreading just like the flu
Watch out homeboy, don’t let it catch you

Which is, for whatever reason, just better than Kurtis would ever achieve.

Some people might read this post and think I don’t like Kurtis.  I have just spent three days listening to his Best Of on repeat.

I love this guy.

Love. This. Guy.

One thought on “Politics with Kurtis Blow”

  1. He never really came across as an 80s rapper to me. He seemed forever a late 70s hip-hop guy (and was good at that, hence “The Breaks,” “Way Out West,” etc.)

    “Back by Popular Demand” was a really stark example of how gangsta rap had changed things. It’s the equivalent of telling Rick James to imitate a song by Nirvana or Nine Inch Nails.

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