It's the summer of 1996, and all along the eastern seaboard of the U.S., kids are grooving to one song, its infectious horn riff and gruff vocal blaring seemingly from every car and booming from every club: Let Me Clear My Throat. The song is propelled by a classic hip-hop beat, but the MC's rap is inflected with another unmistakable style: Go-Go, the native music of Washington, DC.
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The pioneer of this new hip-hop/go-go fusion is none other than DC's own DJ KOOL, and Let Me Clear My Throat is the breakthrough song of his career. The regional hit of 1996 released on a small independent label called CLR, is now poised to become the national smash of 1997 on Rick Rubin's American Recordings.
Let Me Clear My Throat is the latest salvo from DJ KOOL in a career which spans more than 10 years. Starting as a "between sets" DJ for legendary DC bands like Rare Essence, KOOL has been a key player in the Washington go-go scene since the early 1980s. KOOL began making records in 1988, and it was go-go's swing rhythms and call & response style that informed KOOL's first studio album entitled Music Ain't Loud Enuff (1990), a tremendous regional success.
In 1992, KOOL hooked up with Baltimore-based independent CLR Records, a small label founded by producer Steve Janis. Together, KOOL and Janis would devise the formula for the transformation of KOOL's music and his ultimate success as a recording artist.
As a recorded art form, go-go's energy and power had always been lost in translation from the live stage to the sterile studio. KOOL and Janis decided to bring the music back where it belonged. KOOL made his first live recording at Ivory's Nightclub in Richmond, VA, and the result was "Twenty Minute Workout" (1992), which became an underground classic, the single and album combined selling over 100,000 copies. KOOL built the hip-hop/go-go fusion style further with "I Got Dat Feelin'" (1995), and he followed that up in 1996 with Let Me Clear My Throat.
Taped live at Bahama Bay in Philadelphia, PA, the audience's excitement displayed KOOL's already growing following and added an intense dimension to the recording. "We do all these recordings in one take in front of thousands of people, instead of going to the studio and making changes," says Kool. "When you've got four to five thousand people there, you can't start and stop. A lot of hip-hop artists say to me, 'You've got guts to do that.' But I'm a club DJ, I'm used to performing on front of crowds. That's my job."
The result was magic. According to Steve Janis, the reaction to the track "Let Me Clear My Throat" was swift: "We just sent the record out, and people went nuts." The song spread like wildfire from club to club, station to station, and market to market -- first Richmond, then DC and Baltimore, then Philadelphia, then down through the Carolinas. Eventually, the little record on the little independent got as far south as Miami, and as far west as Chicago, all with no video and very little promotion. Let Me Clear My Throat, the album and single combined, have already sold over a quarter-million copies.
Early on, the record had attracted the attention of staff at American Recordings, and it was American which finally made the deal with the intention of breaking KOOL nationwide. "Kool is doing what no one else is doing, " states Dino Paredes, Director of A&R for American Recordings. "It's hip-hop informed by the go-go sensibility of working songs with the crowd. Kool came to American because we let him do what he does."
"Let Me Clear My Throat," as re-issued on American for a promotion blitz in 1997, features three brand-new remixes. The record features one remix by New York's top DJ Funkmaster Flex and another by DJ Mark the 45 King, whose classic record "The 900 Number" forms the music bed of the original "Let Me Clear My Throat."
The video, shot live (of course) in Philly's Gothum Club, was made in tandem with the "Old School Reunion Remix" and features incredible cameos by hip-hop legends Doug E. Fresh and Biz Markie. Appropriately enough, these two artists share one important thing in common with KOOL: They're of the few remaining hip-hop acts who know how to really rock a crowd. "Live performance in hip-hop has become a lost art," says American Rap A&R and Marketing head Dan Charnas. "That's why the new video is so refreshing."
DJ KOOL comes along at the perfect time, after a very tough year for hip-hop. "You never hear anything in my music that glorifies drugs or violence, or that disrespects a female or another man," says KOOL. "I'm not preaching. My music is basically about 'hands in the air,' and maybe while we're partying, we can forget about life's problems for a few minutes and have fun."
KOOL describes his unique style of party hip-hop as "Taking it back to where hip-hop began, when they weren't into gangsta rap...when hip-hop was about grabbin' the mic and having a good time."
Witness, then, hip-hop from a DJ's perspective. DJ KOOL's album, Let Me Clear My Throat, issued nationally for the first time on American Recordings.
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