808 State Of Mind: Proto-Crunk Originator DJ Spanish Fly
, January 25th, 2011 04:08
Phil Hebblethwaite, Editor of our big sister paper The Stool Pigeon meets one of hip hop's unsung heroes, DJ Spanish Fly
Ever hear the one about the pioneer who had the imagination and did the hard work, yet never got the props or money? It's not exactly like that with DJ Spanish Fly, but you can't deny a man his hardcore and his story hasn't really been told — not outside of Memphis at least. He does get his shouts there, especially from the city's most successful hip hop group, Three 6 Mafia, who were making a clear point when they flew him out to their adopted home of Los Angeles to drop a verse on 'First 48' — a Memphis legends track from their 2008 album, Last 2 Walk.
It's the internet, however, that's truly forcing catch-up on this neglected originator. A series of raw and innovative mixtapes that DJ Spanish Fly cut in the late-80s and early-90s have found their way online in recent years and they're blowing people's minds. "The MP3 dorkosphere got Memphis on lock," one blogger writes, and it's about time. As the total absence of any Memphis artists from last year's VH1 Hip Hop Honors: The Dirty South proves, the largest city in Tennessee is being written out of the rap history books, despite being the home of crunk.
Ask DJ Spanish Fly to define the early Memphis sound and he'll say, "It was a wicked, 808, slow, dope groove," just like his own music. Add to that his scattergun, repetitive lyrics, heavy basslines and gangsta lean and you pretty much have a definition of early crunk. No one could claim that Spanish Fly invented the genre (he certainly doesn't), but he made a significant contribution to its formation, not least by introducing an essential track to Memphis — 'Drag Rap' by New York group The Showboys. It's from there that the triggerman beat is taken, which also became an absolute staple of New Orleans bounce.
There's more. He says here that the buck jump dance — later known as gangsta walking or jookin' — took shape in the club he first DJed at, Club No Name. Now, because of YouTube, jookin' has gone global and the incredible video for Janelle Monáe's breakout hit, 'Tightrope', featured three Memphis jookers.
DJ Spanish Fly, real name Antonio Kimbrough, still performs in Memphis and for years he had a slot on the local hip hop radio station, Hot 107.1. You sense, though, that we're about to hear much more from the self-named "granddaddy" of Memphis rap (he's 40)...
...The full version of this article is available in Point Close All Quotes: A Quietus Music Anthology. Buy it now in the Amazon Kindle store.