A few years ago I picked up the second edition of Freddy Fresh’s The Rap Records, a meaty tome documenting hip-hop vinyl released by independent labels around the world between 1979 and 1994. During this era, hip-hop from New York City inspired uncountable regional scenes and one-off recordings outside the mainstream, all untouched by the commercial investment that’s transformed a neighborhood subculture into a billion-dollar business. The book isn’t exhaustive—to list literally every record would take lifetimes of work—but Freddy Fresh has done tremendous work corralling unknown rap vinyl in a guide that remains valuable even in the era of record-collector databases like Discogs.
As soon as I got my copy, I began applying sticky notes to any page with a record made or released in Chicago. Because I’ve been fortunate enough to have a job that includes reporting on local hip-hop history, I can call up the people who made it happen. But I always wonder about the MCs, DJs, producers, promoters, and personalities I don’t know about and can’t contact—the people who gave hip-hop a try but remain impossibly obscure or completely undocumented. Some of the local releases in The Rap Records were already familiar to me—for instance, I’d learned about Gucci D.’s 1989 Don’t Bite the Dust 12-inch (produced by house legend Steve “Silk” Hurley) from finding cheap copies in record stores over the years. But I’d never heard of Creators of Deadly Art’s 1993 single “I Jacked the Dopeman” till I picked up Freddy Fresh’s book.
To give you an idea how much research I do on my own, I’ve found a few records that have escaped even Freddy’s keen eye. I can’t remember when this happened exactly, but late one night I was trawling eBay for independent-label hip-hop vinyl and found a listing for an unfamiliar 1989 Chicago rap 12-inch—according to its orange center label, it was by Me & E and simply titled Rap. The going price was close to a month’s rent. Right now on eBay, someone is trying to sell another original copy for $400.
I couldn’t find anything else about this record in my haphazard Internet searches—until last week, that is. That’s when I noticed a new Bandcamp listing for Rap. Due to drop on Friday, May 7, it’s a reissue from Canadian archival label Mixed Signals (an imprint of Séance Centre), which helped rerelease a hard-to-find 1989 house 12-inch from Chicago’s LITIA=LOE last year. The Bandcamp page for Rap provides some welcome backstory, explaining that Me & E were rapper Chuck Prater (who’d later drop a solo full-length as Chuk Chu) and producer Eric “ELV” Davis (son of jazz drummer Arlington Davis Jr., who’d played in renowned 1970s spiritual-jazz group the Awakening).
Mixed Signals has so far made one song from Rap available to stream on Bandcamp: “Whatcha Need” is among the most sophisticated local hip-hop tracks I’ve heard from the late 80s. Prater smoothly rattles off cooler-than-cool verses that coast nimbly atop Davis’s refined, lively percussion, subtle synth bass, and tranquil synth washes. It’s not quite what I expected, but it’s everything I could’ve wanted from an archival rap reissue. v
Update on May 7, 2021: The Reader has received an allegation that Daran Records remains the copyright holder for this Me & E release, and that the label has not authorized the Mixed Signals reissue. Reached for comment, Mixed Signals has countered that Me & E own the rights to this music and are being paid for the reissue.
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