In 1988, A Dozen Songs By Top Shelf MCs Went Missing. They’ve Been Found (Audio)
Back in 1988, there was a small studio and gathering place in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Top Shelf Studios was reportedly different than the usual places where Rap records were made. At a time when the culture was blossoming, MCs from across New York City liked the energy of the cramped space, the vibrant—and still dodgy part of town.
Early in their careers, Big Daddy Kane, Special Ed, MC Lyte, Grand Puba, Craig G, Jungle Brothers, Black Sheep, Chubb Rock, Biz Markie, and others recorded there. As the story goes, according to sources close to what transpired, “history was in the making until one unfortunate and violent incident. On the weekend of August 6 and 7, 1988 a riot took place on the outskirts of Tompkins Square Park. These hot summer nights were filled with smoldering clashes between police and demonstrators. When the smoke cleared the following Monday, August 8, the producers returned to their studio to find much of their equipment was looted during the melee. More importantly, the masters were gone as well. Shortly thereafter the studio closed its doors; and along with it, a little-known chapter in Hip-Hop history.” For 30 years the contents of those reels were thought to be missing. Meanwhile, the MCs who recorded there went on to iconic Rap careers, writing rich legacies.
The contents of the studio master reels have been found. They are releasing on November 30 as the Top Shelf compilation.
With that announcement, Ambrosia For Heads is proud to present two of the records from ’88. Lots of Juice Crew MCs used the studio. Biz Markie and Masta Ace were two such luminaries.
Titled “Biz Markie,” the MC/producer/DJ kicks things off with a beatbox and his whimsical charms. He spits, “I’m the humdinger, the microphone singer / Super bell-ringer, here to bring ya / The rhyme technique-a, the ill funk freak-a / Coming right out of your speakers and never reaching the peak-a / Perfection direction, in any section / My style is kicking like Chinese Connection / Most Valuable Poet, 13 years strong / The island of wrong is where I belong / Superb like Goldberg, iller than Godzilla / I scared Michael Jackson into writing a Thriller / The ginger ale sipper, the freestyle flipper / Never see me in a pair of Grand Union brown clippers.” Biz breaks apart his cadences to form rhymes, a talent that he does not get enough credit for.
AFH also proudly premieres a track from Biz’s close friend, Juice Crew band-mate, and “Me & The Biz” collaborator (which had not dropped yet), Masta Ace.
With a euphoric sample and drum arrangement, Ace raps about his day. Even 30 years ago, the Brownsville, Brooklyn man was subject to police profiling. Ace’s airtight flow is in the pocket as he talks about officers beating him, and eventually choking him to death.
Sadly at a time when the joyful of found relics is exciting, Masta Ace’s words show that 1988 and 2018 are too close alike in other ways. The “Music Man” (as he’d brand himself on his own debut that had to arrive) shows how truly gifted he was in his early twenties, just as he is today.
Here is the tracklist (simply the rappers spitting on the tracks) for the November 30 compilation:
1. Biz Markie
2. Big Daddy Kane
3. Craig G
4. MC Lyte
5. Special Ed
6. Doug E. Fresh
7. Jungle Brothers
8. Grand Puba
9. Masta Ace
10. Black Sheep
11. Smooth B
12. Grandmaster Caz & Melle Mel
13. Chubb Rock
There are two Biz Markie videos on AFH TV in the Ralph McDaniels Video Music Box library, including a performance from 25 years ago with JAY-Z and Busta Rhymes.
#BonusBeat: Big Daddy Kane shouts out Top Shelf: