Exclusive: Rich Medina Talks Most Influential Records
Interview: Rich Medina on the 11 albums most influential to him, including records by Fela Kuti, Afrika Bambaataa, James Brown and Paul Simon.
Rich Medina has become quite a familiar name. There's Rich Medina the poet. The Medina that throws the JUMP N FUNK Afrobeat parties and the weekly PROPS night at NYC's Le Poisson Rouge. Others may know Medina as a member of Rock Steady Crew and Universal Zulu Nation. Some became familiar with the DJ through the first season of Master of the Mix, or his debut LP Connecting the Dots (Kindred Spirits). Medina is also mastermind behind the AfroBeatles and Black President x King of Pop experiments/theories. Quite the busy man, Rich found time to chat with Okayafrica contributor Tasha Goldberg about vinyl and influences from around Africa and the diaspora. Below Rich details eleven of the most influential tracks from his collection.
1. Miriam Makeba, “The Click Song”
"Makeba was a natural teacher, and in her regal beauty, she popularized African music to the world outside of South Africa. She utilized the stage to teach and campaign against apartheid and she was able to do so because her sound was so beautiful. 'The Click Song' was an introduction to back African language in South Africa, and the energy displayed in her performance during "The Rumble In The Jungle" between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman woke many of my elders up to the idea of spirituality having a presence in secular music."
2. Paul Simon featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo, “Homeless”
"The South African band Ladysmith Black Mambazo brought to the world stage the vocal style isicathamiya and mbube. Joseph Shabalala formed Ladysmith Black Mambazo because of a series of dreams he had in 1964, in which he heard certain isicathamiya harmonies (isicathamiya being the traditional music of the Zulu people). Like many Americans young and old, Ladysmith black Mambazo was my first real experience seeing an all African traditional group alongside an American pop icon like Paul Simon, or alone on an American video channel. I loved it immediately due to what felt like a positive adherence to their traditional music being interpreted through the songwriting and pop music power of Mr. Simon. As a kid, I thought it very sensitive of Mr. Simon to allow LBM's presence to sincerely carry the tune, rather than 'feature' them for the sparingly solid reasoning found in many 'collaborations' today."
"This album was my true entry into studying Fela Kuti as a man and visionary. I knew who Ginger Baker was as Cream's feisty mad man of a drummer, but I was enthralled by this collaboration, which led me to explore the madness of Ginger Baker more deeply, as well as the story behind his epic journey across Africa via Range Rover to learn the tribal rhythms of West Africa and eventually collaborate with Fela on this seminal recording."
4. Fela Kuti & The Africa 70 featuring Sandra Isadore, “Upside Down”
"'Upside Down' is an interesting Fela tune because it incorporated the voice of his then latest muse, American Sandra Isadore. I found it most interesting at first due to her clearly non-African intonation, despite singing the tune in Twe English. That, in combination with the timeless message of Black displacement in the world of culture still touches me just as deeply today as it did upon first listen."
5. James Brown, “Mind Power”
"This was one of my mom's Saturday afternoon cleaning records. She would mock JB's words and dance through her chores like a child when this tune came on. Coming from a church family, my mother, older sister and I delved into the American secular soul realm at roughly the same time. Prior to the birth of my sister, my grandparents ran a tight ship regarding secular music, so in a sense, my immediate family and I grew up together on this song and LP from the time I was a very young boy."
6. Afrika Bambaataa & The Soul Sonic Force, “Planet Rock”
"Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force represented the new avant guard of Electronica when this record hit the street, roughly 30 years prior to the term becoming recording industry protocol. Electric boogie (or popping) to some was the dance form of choice for many burgeoning Bboys/girls around my way, and Bamabaataa's songwriting and musical landscape led to many of us finally finding the snap in our dance move transitions, the funk in digital musicianship, and the future of our mindsets as young kids who embraced the then infantile stages of what is now called Hip-Hop."
7. Funky Four + 1 More, “That’s The Joint”
"With a sister 18 years my senior growing up in central New Jersey, it goes without saying that she was one of the young Jersey ladies who loved to travel to New York to experience it's musical subcultures and deep corners. This record was a block party anthem in my neighborhood, inspiring many a local crew to get their routines together and rock the block parties outside Lakewood Community Center, the Kennedy Apartments and The Jungle on MLK Jr. Blvd. I bore witness to all that. Lucky me."
8. Cold Crush Brothers, “Fresh, Wild, Fly & Bold”
"The Cold Crush Brothers were the biggest, most popular thing out of NYC regarding rap music prior to the Sugar Hill Gang. Dubs of their shows trickled down the NJ turnpike to my hood via the cool kids who would brave the trip to NYC and Newark to cop music and gear. Those tapes were then painstakingly dubbed ad nauseum and distributed through various vendors, crews and music stores, making them a household name even 45 minutes south of Manhattan."
9. Captain Sky, “Supersperm”
"The quintessential second-generation breakbeat following 'Apache,' 'Bongo Rock,' and 'Dance To The Drummer's Beat.' Many MCs of the day around my way chose this break to rhyme to, many DJs would use doubles of this record to display their skills, and of course it goes without saying that the Bboys went bat shit crazy whenever it would come on. We loved everything about this break except that crazy ass suit homie was rocking on the cover. Yikes!"
10. Busy Bee, “Suicide”
"Busy Bee was basically the host with the most during the birthing period of Hip-Hop. He was also one of the only MCs with any commercial acclaim via recordings, albeit regional. 'Suicide' was a single that for some reason was HUGE in my hometown. You couldn't go to a jam or stand at the summer league games without hearing this record banging outta speakers, car trunks and boom boxes for that entire summer. It stuck to me because of that simple fact, along with BB's playfully clever delivery of such serious messages about his rhyming skills."
11. Kurtis Blow, “AJ Scratch”
"'The 1,2,3,4 Hit It' intro on AJ Scratch was one of my favorite practice records. It was downtempo (roughly 88bpm), which allowed time for a youngster like myself to try to catch that "1" on the backspin before the beat dropped, as a practice routine. This record will always carry a special place in my heart because I bought it with my own chore money and took the train to Vogel's Records in Elizabeth with my moms to cop this and T La Rock's 'It's Yours' at the same time. You couldn't tell me shit..."
For more from Rich check out AFRICA IN YOUR EARBUDS #14: RICH MEDINA FOR WORLD WATER DAY.