In Praise of Grandmaster Caz
I was the first reporter to arrive on the scene of hip hop. The culture had already been fully created by middle school kids entering high school in the late 1970s. Hip hop peaked in the South Bronx before any realization reached the media in Manhattan.
There’s a lot of key figures that haven’t got their due, like Grandmaster Caz. I wrote the story of how he got ripped off by his former manager Hank back when I published the first history of hip hop in 1984, a book called Hip Hop, at a time that phrase wasn’t even in wide usage yet. I also had a movie deal with Orion that year, as I sold a script based on my three years of research, a script I titled “Looking for the Perfect Beat” in homage to Bambaataa, but it later became known as Beat Street. There’s actually another Beat Street tribute taking place downtown tonight, free to attend. Who knows, I might even make an appearance, although I prefer to remain more of a ghost on the scene.
Today Caz announced a law suit to finally get credit for much of the lyrics in “Rapper’s Delight.” When the song came out, half the Bronx assumed it was Caz rappin’, after all, the song used a lot of his signature raps and included his name at one point. Hank had done the usual sketchy move and pushed the real creative talent out of the way, playing like the material was really his? At the time Caz was really the poly-talent who could do it all: deejay, rap, b-boy, draw. But mostly, he invented the craziest and funniest rap lyrics you ever heard. And he had that golden voice of authority. He can easily stand up in a rap battle against anyone to this day.
I hope these real pioneers get their due some day, people like Caz, Phase 2, Coke La Rock, Sa-sa, and most especially Afrika Bambaataa, who really had the vision to unite all the elements as a cultural movement.
And here’s hoping Caz wins his lawsuit…..or at least gets the respect from the Rock’n’roll Hall of Fame he deserves….