By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
"You had guys who could rap!" marvels Chan. "They'd just start rhyming and you be, like, 'Wow! Who they? They goin'!' That had to be the most popular radio show in St. Louis history. Everybody wanted to go on."
Rodderick "Dr. Jockenstein" King died in 2007 from a stroke at age 55.
"At the time he was doing all that, Jock was almost old enough to be our grandfather," says Luqman. "But he understood his legacy would be these young people saying this 'bippity-boppity' stuff."
By 1986 it was clear that hip-hop was much more than the fad its early detractors had declared it would be. Run-DMC was partnering with Aerosmith to produce "Walk This Way," a seventeen-year-old LL Cool J had just released his first album, and the Beastie Boys were, yes, fighting for their right to party.
In St. Louis, three radio stations were playing hip-hop, as Majic 108 and KATZ (now 100.3 FM the Beat) joined Z100. The Animal House, a popular all-ages venue, hosted hip-hop shows headlined by national acts. A handful of local rap groups, including Frozen Explosion and Bit Bizarre, had recorded and released material. Virtually every record store stocked hip-hop on its shelves.
It was in that context that a seventeen-year-old DJ who called himself Charlie Chan (given name: Charles Beason) and Dangerous D (David Roberts), his fifteen-year-old cohort from the University City school system, stepped into Vintage Vinyl one day in 1987 and expressed their desire to make a record.
"David walks in and more or less announces that he would consider allowing us to release his album if we were smart enough," Tom Ray recalls. "In walks this fifteen-year-old hip-hop Napoleon. Kind of like: 'Here I am, hesitate at your own risk.'"
As fate would have it, Ray and Prince had recently ventured into the recording side of the music business by bankrolling an album by St. Louis blues legend Tommy Bankhead. It also didn't hurt that Roberts wanted to make a song called "The Power of Soul," a hip-hop tribute to Ray's boyhood idol, James Brown. They agreed to finance the record.
Chan and Dangerous D went to work in a makeshift recording studio in an apartment on Washington Avenue. G. Wiz, whom the pair knew from the skating rink, sat in on the production.
"Chan was a phenom. When he started out, all he did was live, breathe and eat turntables," recalls Chris "DJ Chilly C" Neuenkirk, a friend of the duo who was also present during the sessions. "And at that time [Dangerous D] was going through this metamorphosis from James Brown to Prince to hip-hop. He had a vision, he knew exactly what he wanted to do; he just didn't know how to capture it on a piece of plastic. That's where that union came to fruition."
In retrospect, the two songs the high schoolers recorded were ahead of their time — and a dramatic departure from what was transpiring nationally in the genre.
"Power of Soul" is awash in a languid, reverb-drenched guitar (played in the studio by a Vintage Vinyl clerk at a time when live instrumentation on a hip-hop album was virtually unheard of) and climaxes with a funky alto-saxophone solo. Samples of James Brown's trademark shouts of "Uhh! Good God!" are cut up by Chan on the turntables and punctuate playful lines from Dangerous D, like, "Wave your hands left and right and cold shake your butt/Everybody get stupid, lose control/And just go with the flow of the power of soul."
The B-side, "He's My DJ," showcases Charlie Chan's prowess as a turntablist. D asks his DJ to "make the record sizzle like you're cookin' some bacon," and Chan obliges with nearly twenty seconds of sputtering vinyl scratches. The song employs a martial-arts motif, complete with samples of the Bruce Lee film Enter the Dragon and references to "the Shaolin temple" that predate the Wu-Tang Clan, pioneers of that aesthetic, by nearly five years. They even utter the phrase "Ice, ice baby" — years before it became the chorus of the infamous Vanilla Ice hit.
When the album was released in 1988 on Nasty Cuts Records (a creation of Chan and Dangerous D), it received no radio play and went unnoticed by all but the city's most hardcore hip-hop heads. And although Ray and Prince could afford to press a few thousand vinyl copies, paying to ship the record to distributors in other cities was out of the question.
Chan couldn't have cared less.
"It's like if somebody told you you'd get paid to put your pants on. You'd be, like, 'C'mon,' 'cause you already do it every day," he says now. "I did hip-hop every day. I DJed every day, I produced tracks every day. We loved it so much. I wanted to get paid but didn't know the route to go — and didn't really care, either. We were just having fun."
Undeterred by the financial failure of "Power of Soul" in 1988, Ray and Prince agreed to fund a record label to be created and managed by G. Wiz, called Wiz-A-Tron Records.
Wiz says he was surprised by Ray's offer but jumped at the chance.