Give the drummer some
Orlando resident Tony Cook, an incidental pioneer
Published: February 3, 2011
It wasn't long before Cook put his appreciation into practice. Released in 1982 and credited to Tony Cook and the Party People, the song "Do What You Wanna Do" opens with band member Roy Hamilton rapping the lines, "We're party people from all around / We're bringing out a brand new sound / We don't care what we say / 'Cause nothing can stand in our way." Cook calls it "a rap record," but also says that wasn't the group's strict intention during the recording session: "Rap was just something we liked and wanted to incorporate." It comes across that way, not least due to the presence of a female singer, the glossy keyboard riffs and the simple, party-based rhymes. By 1982, hip-hop's cutting-edge MCs had upped their vocabulary; a year earlier, Kool Moe Dee famously faced off against Busy Bee, saying "Hold on, Busy Bee, I don't mean to be bold / But put that bom-diggy-bom bullshit on hold."
Despite Cook's embrace of hip-hop, "Do What You Wanna Do" only slightly resembles a rap song. It opens with the chant, "Don't stop us, we don't come from the planet Rock." Cook isn't sure if the refrain, which he didn't write, is meant to refer to Afrika Bambaataa's hip-hop anthem "Planet Rock," but it does cast the group as coming from a different musical world. That's not to say "Do What You Wanna Do" was a crass attempt to piggyback on the success of "Rapper's Delight" – a litany of corny songs like Frederick Davies and Lewis Anton's "Astrology Rap" and Captain Chameleon's disco-rap "Jive Ol' Fo" can claim that honor. Likewise, Cook is adamant that he was never pushed toward recording a cash-in by a record label executive: "They pretty much took me as putting down what I liked [in the studio] and what I was trying to push at the time."
Cook, who is not currently recording new music, hopes he'll benefit from this freedom in the long run: His focus these days is on organizing his back catalog with the aim of scoring further retrospective opportunities like the Stones Throw deal and seeing his work remixed, as happened in the early '90s when Cook's tracks "The Cook Monster" and "Trunk-o-Funk" were given new life by European dance DJs.
Tellingly, it's "The Rap," which is featured on Back to Reality and was recorded after "On The Floor" was released, where Cook gets closest to the hip-hop mark, thanks in large part to showcasing the vocals of the drummer's young stepchildren. Over not much more backing than a sparse, stripped-down drum beat, the kids freestyle slang phrases with little regard to anything like a formal verse and chorus structure. It was recorded in a small studio Cook ran in Augusta, but sounds like he took a tape recorder and captured the banter of some local kids who happened to be hanging out on the block.
Peanut Butter Wolf, who helped compile and mix down the selections that make up Back to Reality, calls "The Rap" an "early Southern rap record," but says when he first came across "On The Floor" while shopping for vinyl in New York record stores 10 years ago, he didn't detect any rap remnants in it. Part of the reason for this first take on the song, he says, is the differing perceptions of youth and adults, explaining, "Kids don't have the rules and regulations that adults place on themselves without realizing it." Listening to the two songs back-to-back, that youthful zeal resonates like hip-hop's hidden element.
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