I was 16 when this record was originally released. I was still in school. I had a part-time job stacking shelves at Safeway, and once I`d given half of my wages to my mum towards my keep the rest went on clothes and vinyl. I`d listen to pirates incessantly – LWR, Kiss and Invicta – and on one of them Tim Westwood would run down the Groove Records chart. To be honest I can`t quite remember which station it was, but I think it was every Thursday night. I`d make a pause-button tape and write out a list, and then head up to Soho, to Greek Street and Groove, on a Sunday. I had to work Saturdays. The shop was usually quiet – Soho herself would be deserted – and pickings were always slim after the rush of the day before. My pockets weren`t bottomless anyhow. One, two, or maybe three 12s would be cool. Cool enough. If Tim`s top ten turned up nothing then Groove had more recommendations on their wall. Sometimes I`d stumble my way through them at the counter until they eventually had a title left in stock. That’s how I ended up with a copy of Ramm:Ell:Zee & K-Rob`s Beat Bop.
I didn’t listen to the record in the store – pretending that I knew what I was buying – which means I was more than thrown when I got it back home. I played it, played it, flipped it, played it, flipped it back, changed the speed, scratched with it. Searching for something. Something I must surely have missed. There was no Def Jam 808 boom shaking my bedroom, or LL Cool J brag and boast. It was on Profile but there wasn’t the cadence of label-mates Run DMC to chase, mimic, and learn word-for word….
“I took a test to become an MC and Orange Krush became amazed with me…”
No obvious electro punch to pop and lock to. I wasn`t happy.
I was clueless about the producer, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and I wouldn`t have made the connection between drugs and the mix. I wouldn’t have associated the song`s stoned dub-wise drift even with sensi, let alone all-night coked fueled studio lock-ins, or smack`s narcotic nod. I was ignorant of Jackie 60 and The Mudd Club`s new wave milieu. Unaware of the music’s similarities to that of Basquiat`s New York contemporaries – Bill Laswell, Johnny Dynell, and Lester Bowie. Beat Bop just sounded so unlike what I was expecting it to sound like. It wasn`t Newcleus. It wasn`t Hashim. It wasn`t Cybotron. It didn`t even have a break on it.
Instead for my hard-earned dough I got ten minutes plus of rhumba art-rock. Sparse, spaced-out, and hypnotic. Carried by cowbell and clipped rhythm guitar – with Ramm:Ell:Zee pulling on voices and personalities like a man possessed. A nasal Sir Nosed-up (see my previous lock-in comment) speaking in tongues. Seamlessly segueing between seemingly nonsense non-sequiturs. Letting loose a lyrical collage of borough shout-outs, graffiti tags and hieroglyphs**.
Just a few years later, Basquiat and Ramm:Ell:Zee both wound up being extremely important – they were the accessible, pop, face of ideas I found bound in the books of William Burroughs. They helped me to crystallize, visualize, Billy’s treatise and tracts on cut-ups, symbolism, language, and control. They taught me about burners as gateways, the dozens rebuilt as armour and missiles, that creation, “pieces”, could be magic – totems to repel ghosts.
This record is unique, a one-off, a document, art, all of these. It`s also turned out to be the most hip hop thing I own. Get funky in the place.
A version of this text appeared on the Test Pressing site back in 2014. The website having taken its name from Basquiat`s original “Tartown” artwork. Beat Bop is available once again, now care of Mr. Bongo.
If you’re interested in the music and art of `80s New York, then you should also head over to Musique Plastique where they have copies of a very limited 45 by Basquiat`s graffiti partner Al Diaz.
**Once you’d seen Charlie Ahearn`s film Wildstyle all of this made a lot more sense.