Friday, April 6, 2007

The Walkman Days AKA I Let The Tape Rock Until The Tape Popped

I've touched on one of the many differences in how us 70's and early 80's babies grew up with hip hop versus the next generation of hip hop/rap listeners. Rather than write some essay on some journalist type steez, I've decided that I can only write a piece to help the younger cats gain some understand of an older cats "Hip Hop Is Dead/30 Is The New 20"type mindset based on our experiences growing up with hip hop...I'm gonna get semi autobiographical on this one:

Nowadays cats can just get on their computers and go to iTunes, swap out whatever songs they want to hear onto their iPods, throw in their earbuds and be out...We old heads WISH we had it so easy, son .We had Walkmans...that played cassette tapes. There were many different types of walkmans and they all had different types of problems depending on which one you had.

The best ones to get were the high end Sony, Panasonic, or Pioneer ones. The Sanyo, Aiwa and Sharp ones were also readily available at Circuit City, Tweeter and other electronics specialty stores. The better walkmans required the least maintenance, like head cleaning, dust removal or having to cop a precision screwdriver set to keep your joint working. No working walkman, no hip hop...I didn't want to be trudging through the snow in the cold ass winter (pre global warming) with no music playing...that shit was dead.

There were some real generic shitboxes available for between $10 or $20 dollars made by companies like Sylvania (who had no business making them), Coby, GPX and Radio Shack's Realistic line of portable cassette players...the walkmans they made were wack, but they more than made up for it with their selection of headphones. Radio Shack made the hip hop heads official affordable headphones of choice...the Koss Pro 35's. Not only did they sound ill, but if they shorted out you could return them as long as you kept the box and receipt. (They changed their return policy later)

Tapes were another matter altogether, you had to hold out and cop the best tapes possible because if you didn't, it was like throwing money away. If you bought cheap tapes they'd pop or get ate quick, wasting the hours I spent at the radio/stereo tape deck trying to record new jams off of the hip hop radio shows.The two biggest shows when I was in high school (1991-1995) were WMBR's Dope Jams Show and WERS's Rap Explosion Show. I used to sit there in front of my radio at night just waiting for them to play that brand new hot shit. We had multiple radio shows with different formats in most major markets so we had diversity and selection...that shit's out the window now. Everyones station sounds the same because they all have the same owners.

I'd have my radio on at night, sitting there in front of it with the buttons on Pause, Play and Record down for the full two or three hours trying to get exclusive joints off of the new EPMD, Spice 1, Scarface, GangStarr, Das Efx, Ice Cube, 2Pac, Tha Pharcyde, Geto Boys, Kool G Rap, OutKast, Beatnuts, Onyx, Del, Masta Ace, DJ Quik or Souls Of Mischief album.

I'd even switch back and forth between multiple stations trying to catch joints as well...using blogs,,,,,,,, and the Google bar is so much easier than the shit I had to go back in the days through to get new joints.

Pause tape recording required editing skills, rewinding and pausing at a place that didn't cut off the end of other songs was important. The levels on the radio has to be right, too. Walkmans with XBass or Bass Boost and equalizers on the side Nobody was gonna pay for a sloppy ass/wack sounding tape.

Everytime I filled up a 90 minute TDK with joints, I pulled out the tape cover and wrote out the tracklisting in graf letters. I'd make about ten or twelve copies of it using the tapes decks off of my radio and the big stereo in my living room with the TDK 6 and 10 packs we used to boost from Strawberries at the mall (they didn't have up to date security..this was the early 90's, son!).

I'd sell these mixtapes at school for $3 each to the fiends and dub my own bought tapes and sell them as well. The Da King & I, Cypress Hill, Black Sheep, Nas/Kurious two siders, Rumpletilskinz, Da Lench Mob, Boss and Leaders Of The New School dubs sold the best and ...come to think of it, I was a damn bootlegger!

It was important that every joint on a tape had to be dope, if you fast forwarded a track, you were killing your batteries. Depending on the Walkman you had, too much fast forwarding or rewinding loosened up the motor and the Walkman became useless because it couldn't play the tapes any more. The worst were those cheapass walkmans that switched sides on you automatically. If you didn't switch that option off on the Walkman, then it would jam up and keep switching sides until you just had to throw the goddamn thing out...heads weren't getting warranties on their Walkmans...they cost as much as the Walkman itself!

I can never get those telltale warning signs that my box or my walkman was about to eat my tape out of my head. First they tape started either playing slow or mad fast. Whenever that happened, you stopped your walkman immeadiately and took the tape out. If the tape had partially come out of cassette itself, all you had to do was tap the side a couple of times and it would go back in and play fine.

If the tape started getting chewed up, you had to get a pencil and wind the tape straight at each end until the tape would go through the reel with no problem. Then, you fast forward the tape and go past the scrunched up part. The tape should play fine and you just saved yourself some money.

There got to be a point when I became a "tape doctor", the cat that people would take their tangled up, unraveled, cut/popped, or chewed up tapes to. I was an expert at it from fuckin' up so many tapes from back in the days recording Rusty The Toe Jammer mixtapes and making pause tapes off of WILD and WRBB in Boston was I was a little kid (1980-1988). Another annoying issue with walkmans were of course, batteries. I got to be such a walkman veteran by the time I was in high school that I had it all down to a science.

The first thing I did when I got to school was to either put my Walkman in my locker or my backpack. Before I did anything else, I either removed the batteries from my walkman or turned one upside down. Why would I do this? Because if any of the buttons got pressed by mistake during the time the walkman was in the locker or the bag, the batteries would be dead by the end of the day and you'd be assed out with your 2Pacalypse Now tape in your dead Walkman on the iron horse ride home from school.

The size of your walkman was an issue as well. You had to either keep it in your pants or jacket/coat pocket on the outside or the inside. If your clip broke and it was summer, then you had to carry it in your own sweaty ass hands. It was a step up from carrying a radio on your shoulder (No Radio Raheem) but it still wasn't a good look.

The other part of being a walkman warrior that was wack were bullshit headphones. Some had cords that broke easy, some had the wires that would become loose going into the receiver and short out. Sometimes you had tie the wires in knots so it didn't get tangled up. Headphones had a variety of issues, sometimes the plastic ends that were around the metal band that adjusted your headphones broke right off.

In order to avoid copping new headphones, you'd have to tape them together. If the shit didn't hang right you'd look like a complete asshole walking down the could cover it up in the winter by rocking a skullie over them...which could potentially make you look like an even bigger asshole.

After a day of slingin' mixtapes and dubs, I'd have enough money to cop all of the releases I wanted from the new edition of The Source. Back then, The Source was THE hip hop magazine, if you couldn't get in The Source pages between 1991-1998, you pretty much didn't exist. Let me give you an example from one of the old Sources I got lying around:

I picked up a copy of the November 1994 Source (#62) with Redman on the cover. The other cover stories are "Atlanta: Hip Hop's Brave New World", "South Africa's Lost Youth", Parrish Smith (PMD of EPMD) and Organized Konfusion (Pharoahe Monch & Prince Poetry). As I turn to the Source System page that has the Best Buys and Heavy Rotation all included for November 1994, the following tapes are listed:

The Roots- Do You Want More?!!!??!
O.C.- Word...Life
The Coup- Genocide & Juice
Notorious B.I.G.- Ready To Die
OutKast- Southernplayalisticadillicmuzik
Organized Konfuzion- Stress: The Extinction Agenda
MC Eiht featuring CMW- We Come Strapped
Gravediggaz- 6 Feet Deep
Artifacts- Between A Rock & A Hard Place
Bone Thugs N Harmony- Creepin On Ah Come Up
Boogie Monsters- Riders On The Storm
Big Mike- Somethin' Serious

This is a mix of East Coast, West Coast, Midwest and Southern hip hop. Some of these joints could be considered backpack rap (The Roots, O.C., Organized Konfuzion, Artifacts), some could be considered conscious (The Coup, Gravediggaz, Boogie Monsters), back then it was just all considered HIP HOP...period. I miss that there used to be variety and a mix of groups (where have the groups gone?)...nowadays, you're lumped into a category, stuck doing one thing and that's what you do. How corny is that?

Tapes used to cost between$ 6.99- $9.99 each depending on if they were on sale or not, being that it was the 2nd Golden Era (1992-1996) I used to cop at least two tapes a week. That got to be pretty damn expensive for a teenager with no job, so of course as I explained above I got my hustle on. It was enough to afford my younger brother and myself tapes, Nintendo, Genesis, and later TurboGrafx 16 games.

It was an ill time for Boston Hip Hop as well...Funkmaster Flex had just signed Joint Venture (R.I.P. Fly Ty), Almighty R.S.O. had just signed a new deal, Top Choice Clique had a major deal (what up Jawn P!), Ed O.G. was making classics and Scientifik (R.I.P.) had just dropped "Criminal". Things were finally looking up for us.

I still have cases and shoeboxes full of tapes from label that have been folded for MAD LONG like East West, Chrysalis/EMI, Jive/RCA, Uptown/MCA, Rowdy, LaFace/Arista, Pay Day/FFRR, Delicious Vinyl, Tommy Boy, Mad Sounds/Motown, Loud/RCA, Priority Records, Tuff Break/A&M, Pendulum, Wrap/Ichiban, Fang/Continuum, Select Street, Ruff House/Columbia, Immortal, Nervous/Wreck, Big Beat/Atlantic, Elektra, Mercury/PolyGram, Profile, Cold Chillin'/Warner Brothers, Sire/Warner Brothers, Relativity, Wild Pitch, Hollywood Basic, Correct Records, In A Minute Records, etc....nowadays, there are only around 5 labels to sign to if you wanna get on.

The game was MAD different back maybe some of you can understand why some of us oldheads are so damn salty about Hip Hop half the time....look at all the shit we had to go through just to listen to it^!


Originally posted on December 15th, 2006 for my State Of Hip Hop Blog Series on


Mastermix said...

Love the piece,brings back memories.I still got some old shoeboxes with tapes in em to.One!

Unknown said...

oh hell yeah good man thanks for taking me longgg down memory lane and making me think about how many Walkmans I went through and more specifically headphones ha ha...I had all of the funky fresh Walkmans with the EQ and the Extra/Dynamic Bass...and what joints I used to put on those tapes.

I had Sanyo's, Sony's, Phillips, AIWA (these ones had the the funky 5 switch EQ) and man a lot pf others too.

I used to (as I am sure you did) splice up a tape if there was a "space" or a track was sounding munched up, or put some paper, tape across the top we record some new ish.

I fully agree with everything you stated but at the same time, I ma very grateful for what we get today and I personally think kids are just too spoiled with technology.

But my argument for mp3s is imagine, I mean just imagine if we had them in the 80's and 90's...I think because everything is so mad accessible these days that is why kids follow garbage and so much of todays music is disposable aka Recycle Binable



Unknown said...

forgive my spelling it is Easter ha ha

alley al said...

man, i finally got thru this long ass post.. lol..
you know, i never really thought about it before this, but i never went thru that many walkmans or cheap tapes. not me, personally.. but everytime (not really everytime!) one of my siblings or a friend borrowed a tape, it somehow wound up getting ate up!! even tho i'd been bumpin' it for months, as soon as they took it from me, it fucked up. and my walkmans broke cuz they'd get dropped cuz i'd be all late runnin' for the bus with 10 things in tow..

also, in the mid-late 90s when i was old enuff to learn or understand or give a fuck about other markets, i realized our ny/nj commercial radio was terrible!! we didn't hear any quik or scarface or spice 1 or a lot of those "outside" hip hop. the politics was tight. there was no room for indies, but you might catch a new joint/artist late in the evening, especially on the weekends. stretch and bob even made moves into the major station.
other markets had it good with some multi-coastal variety. when i would read the sway and tech playlists, i'd get sojealous and wanted to move out west just for that.

Masked Norteno said...

good stuff...

Stretch Armstong posted side A of this mixtape with EV he did back in the 90s. It is all one big mp3 but playing it like that brought back an extra level of nostalgia.

Travis said...

Yup, this brings memories for us 30 somethings for sure.

I still remember my favorite walkman I had. It was a Sony that had a digital tuner and shit. I broke that shit with in the first month of having it, but after that, the thing lasted me three years. By the time I finally got a new one, that Sony was so beat to hell that I had a rubberband holding it together.

I never had too much problems with Walkmans eating retail tapes, but if you bought cheap blank tapes, the shit was going to get ate one way or the other, so I always stuck to TDK's or Maxwells.

I think I did read this one before, but still a great read

vincentlopez said...

Last weekend, I spent a good 10 hours in my basement organizing and reading my old Source magazines ('91-'98) and I found the one with the Redman cover that you mentioned. I was reminiscing much as you were about the good old days. Variety and creativity are lacking in the mainstream today. I checked all of the old "Best Buy" lists as well and I was astounded to see such a wide range of artists whose CD's I had rushed out to purchase. And what ever happened to the irrelaceable anticipation of buying a new release? I almost died waiting for Nas' "Illmatic", Gangstarr's "Hard to Earn", Tribe's "Low End Theory" and Midnight Marauders", etc. The record store owners just knew I would be there on the day of release. Oh well, I'll continue to read those old Source mags and listen to those shoeboxes full of old tapes. For now, Hip-Hop lives in my basement!

Eric said...

Nice Read man....I feel you on that one...I wonder if we can still get our hands on back edition of THE SOURCE...quite a trip down memory lane...oh, and I got ya' linked up