Kurtis Blow Recalls Opening For Bob Marley In Reggae Star’s Last Concerts (Audio)

Although the Sugarhill Gang had one of Hip-Hop’s first massive hits in 1979’s “Rapper’s Delight,” Kurtis Blow was among the genre’s first stars. The Harlem, New York MC had Rap’s first gold album, and was a critical messenger of the music from the 1970s into the mid-1980s. Afforded early star status, the former Mercury/Polygram Records artist was one of the genre’s ambassadors, enjoying mainstream billing before Rap was treated as a genre. Thanks to that feat, Kurtis Blow is one of the only MCs (perhaps the only) to say he shared a stage bill with Bob Marley. He certainly was the last.

Interviewed by Ice-T, Mick Benzo and The Final Level Podcast, “The Breaks” star recalled a handful of nights with Bob Marley & The Wailers at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. In September, 1980, these dates were among the final legs of The Uprising Tour. Intersecting with Lionel Richie and his Commodores and Blow, the tour legs merged to boost New York City arena sales, and bring expanded audiences to the Reggae legend’s music.

Near the 1:10:00 mark of the interview, Kurtis Blow retold the story. “Here I am, on tour with The Commodores, doin’ this ’80 Platinum Tour. We did 80 shows, big halls, 20,000 seaters, every show. So we get to go to New York,” explained Blow, who later performed with James Brown. “Mind you, we’ve been working with Cameo, we’ve been working with Stephanie Mills, we have all different type groups comin’ to join the tour.” Trying to sell out the Big Apple, one promoter proposed a combined night, featuring R&B, Reggae, and Hip-Hop together. Kurtis recalled the pitch as: “‘There’s a guy—you might not know who he is, but I’ma tell you right now, you put him on the show, you gon’ sell out. He’s a Reggae guy; his name is Bob Marley.” The MC continued, “So they put Bob Marley on the end of the show; we sold out. In just like five minutes, boom—sold out! They add two more shows; we have three nights—sold out Madison Square Garden. Kurtis Blow openin’. Then Bob Marley, then the Commodores.” According to Bob Marley’s official archives, there were only two shows. However, during this tour, the “I Shot The Sheriff” star collapsed in Central Park, nearly ending his performances then. That information would go public later. Both NYC shows have recordings available.

Beyond their names on the Midtown marquee, Kurtis Blow claimed he met the iconic voice of protest, peace, and love. “So here I am, backstage, 20 years old, Madison Square Garden, top of the world. I’m backstage, standing next to Bern Nadette Stanis from ‘Good Times’ on my right, and Sarah Dash [of Patti LaBelle & The Bluebells] is on my left. Two cuties.” Blow continued, “So here we see a huge crowd of people on our left, in the corridor—a big mass of people moving towards us, slowly, walkin’.” Telling Ice-T, he detailed, “The crowd opens up, and a figure comes out: it’s Bob Marley! Bob Marley comes straight up to me, sticks out his hand and goes, ‘Kurtis, I like your stuff.’ [He] shakes my hand, and goes back into the crowd, and they walk [away].”

The second night, September 20, 1980, would be the second to last performance of Bob Marley’s life. Following September 23’s show in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Marley would lose a battle to cancer by May, 1981.

After speaking about Bob Marley and his subsequent death, Kurtis Blow reacted to last week’s news of his friend, DJ, and collaborator” Kool DJ AJ, who also passed. The man born Aaron O. Bryant had a profound impact on Kurtis Blow’s rise and subsequent industry career. “[A.J.] was a motivator. He was the inspiration behind Kurtis Blow,” said the MC-turned-pastor. “[He stood with me] when nobody would stand with me.” Blow famously made 1984’s “AJ Scratch,” saluting his DJ and inspiration. “He really should’ve been a rapper.” Ice-T added that he and A.J. kept in touch throughout the decades. “I’m always starstruck when O.G.’s in the game recognize me.”

Is it symbolic that two of Bob Marley’s final shows were alongside Hip-Hop’s meteoric rise?

Visit Ice-T’s Final Level website for more podcast episodes.

Related: Rest In Peace To Hip-Hop Pioneer & Kurtis Blow Affiliate Kool DJ AJ