Long before SoundCloud, digital downloads, ringtones, and even compact discs, Hip Hop fans purchased their favorite musical releases in the form of vinyl records or cassette tapes. The true old heads and DJs are most familiar with 12’ inch vinyl. While others probably still have some of their cassingles (cassettes). Despite your medium of choice, one of the things that made those 12’ inches and cassingles memorable was the featuring of an A- and B-side.
More often than not, the A-side was the lead single, the song to generate buzz for artists and their upcoming album. I’m not an A&R; yet, the assumption is the lead single is the most fire joint on the artists’ album. It was the joint that pushed fans to the record store or at least had them on standby with their dub cassettes ready to record from the radio.
The B-side typically did not carry as much heat. Sometimes it was simply an alternate take on the A-side or perhaps an instrumental version. If the A-side contained profanity, the B-side would occasionally contain a radio-friendly version. Periodically, the B-side would present a different song and now and then the B-side packed as much heat or more than the A-side. Those times are the main idea for this series of essays.
I believe it’s only right to start this series off with the Get Fresh Crew’s (Dougie Fresh & Ricky D better known as Slick Rick) “The Show” and “La Di Da Di“. It was 1985, I was in sixth grade and my classmates and I banged on cafeteria tables in an attempt to replicate Dougie and Rick’s magic. To us, this was even fresher than UTFO’s Roxanne, Roxanne! We switched roles between beat-boxer and storytelling. It would have been above our heads to express how Dougie rapped like the classic MCs like Busy Bee or even predict that Ricky D’s style would remain instantly identifiable even at the height of the forthcoming Golden Age.
What we could discern was that it was much easier to perform our version of “La Di Da Di” than it was “The Show.” I mean, a bunch of 10 and 11 years shouting,
Oh, oh, oh my god!
falls tremendously short of the energy Teddy Riley concocted for the record. However, the rhyme-cypher vibe of “La Di Da Di” captured the lunchroom ethos while more closely maintaining the integrity of the song. This brings us back to our original question – was the B side, “La Di Da Di,” just as hot or even a smidgen hotter than “The Show,” the A-side?
Yes – by a thin margin, sort of like when Michael Phelps over Milorad Cavic in the Beijing Olympics gold medal swim competition. Here are three reasons why (even while acknowledging that they both were historical, culture defining songs):
1. Sing-along-ability – Nope, not after this sentence will anyone place Slick Rick in the same harmonious space as Luther Vandross. Yet, it is precisely because Rick can’t sing that all of us feel empowered to sing-rhyme along. Especially, when he evokes A Taste of Honey’s “Sukiyaki.” Indeed, he evoked a very similar harmonic and equally humorous attempt with The Beatles’ “Michelle” in “The Show” but his take on “Sukiyaki” is more brazen and more catchy as it arouses listeners to singalong in choral fashion. Imagine the best old-school Hip Hop party with a DJ that’s doing the damn thing and they are playing either of these songs. Now imagine like most talented DJs they turn down the music for crowd participation. At that moment, the crowd will sing more lines from “La Di Da Di” than “The Show.” Those French lines in “The Show” will have nearly everyone mumbling; yet, even as you read the following lines you just might sing-rhyme them just as Rick did:
It’s all because of you I’m feeling sad and blue
You went away and now my life is filled with rainy days
And I love you so, how much you’ll never know
‘Cause you took your love away from me …
I bet one out of two you even did the little cry thingy too.
2. Song structure uniqueness – Neither of these songs is structured in the regular verse-chorus/hook-verse-bridge- chorus/hook format. They are both unorthodox in structure and show the informality of a cipher in the park. I suppose a traditional musician would be hysterical with confusion in listening to “The Show.” One would really have to have an “ear” for such an experience to value it. “La Di Da Di” is less informal and easier to follow. Plus in terms of lyrical delivery, both feel and sound like MCs in the park doing their thing to stand out from the others. In some ways, these songs are emblematic of Hip Hop as it was from the early days until the mid-80s. Yet, with “La Di Da Di” listeners “got it” with the first listen whereas for the un–indoctrinated, the first listen of “The Show” would be confusing. Which to be honest, sort of establishes it as not for the mainstream – exactly what Hip Hop was and leads to the next point.
3. The MCs – Dougie Fresh is the original human beatbox and in some worlds he was the greatest entertainer. However, he isn’t a remarkable MC. Yeah, he rhymes better than me; yet, he is the same dude who blessed us with these bars:
Now through strengths and struggles, I made a vow
I put my hand on the Bible and I said “Thou”
Shall always rock the microphone …
Only Doug’s high-energy vibe could make those lines palpable. Again, this is not any shade toward Doug. If you take away the things that make him unique – beatboxing and entertaining – we are left with a rhyme style that was so common in early Hip Hop that it does not stand out. But Rick is a totally different story. In fact, stories or storytelling not only sets him apart from Doug, it establishes his place in Hip Hop history. As Andre 3000 and Big Boi would have us understand, Slick Rick is the master in “Da Art of Storytellin’.” “La Di Da Di” gives Rick more space to do his thing. His British accent draws in listeners. His verbal imagery allows the listener to “see” what he is saying. His sense of humor builds rapport with the listener. Those elements transform the listener into a participant in a day that includes being accosted by a former lover and her mother. For us – meaning me and my sixth grade classmates – being so cool that a girl and her mom lusted after us was compelling. Plus the girl from “The Show” who went “ROOOOAARRR like she was Tony the Tiger“; made us think this dude so cool that women just throw themselves at him and he nonchalantly turns them down. None of us was that cool and aspired to be as such. With his rhymes, Rick became more than just some rapper, he became a harbinger of the elevated rhyme patterns that would become a norm during the forthcoming Golden Age of Hip Hop.
“The Show” and “La Di Da Di” made me so much of an enthusiastic fan that I even purchased Doug and Rick’s 1988 solo albums – The World’s Greatest Entertainer and The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. As much as I enjoyed those albums neither provided a feeling comparable to that first metaphorical high felt by “The Show” and “La Di Da Di.” However, if you were to visit me and I was to play the record (yep, I still have the original 12′ inch) – I would hold the record between my palms, survey both sides, place it on the turntable, and commence to first playing “La Di Da Di” because it is slightly better than “The Show.”