Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: UAA Announces ‘Masters Of The Mic Tour’ With Five Legends
When Clive Campbell, newly arrived from Jamaica, hosted a “Back To School Jam” in the small rec room of a Bronx apartment house on Aug. 11, 1973, he quickly learned that spinning party music popular back in Kingston wasn’t quite going over with his new neighbors as he’d hoped.
Campbell, better known now as DJ Kool Herc, read the room and adjusted accordingly by mixing in soul, R&B and funk – cutting in the most danceable grooves and drumbeats, switching back and forth on his turntables in a style later dubbed “merry-go-round,” and pumping up his sound system until dancing became irresistible.
The breakbeat was born and, with it, the very foundation of hip-hop — not just a genre of music, but a culture that dominates music, art, record and box office charts 50 years later.
One of Herc’s favorite artists to sample was James Brown, and it’s only fitting that the Godfather of Soul’s agency, Universal Attractions Agency – along with management companies Ramp Entertainment Agency and Mahogany Entertainment – should bring together some of hip-hop’s most innovative and historic artists to tour in celebration of the music’s 50th anniversary with “Masters of the Mic: Hip-Hop 50 Tour.”
The Masters of the Mic — Big Daddy Kane, Doug E. Fresh, Slick Rick, Rakim, and KRS-ONE — will take the party across the nation in late summer, with UAA booking.
“I would note that Universal Attractions discovered and worked with James Brown for his entire career,” UAA agent Jon Moskowitz says. “James Brown’s music was pretty much the blueprint for the golden age of hip-hop. So we’ve been there step by step in many ways.”
Big Daddy Kane was a JB acolyte, too, continuing the throughline. Recalling his debut single, “Raw,” he said, “These new James Brown imports had just come in, when I heard ‘I’m coming, I’m coming…’ I need that on the record. I took that to (Juice Crew producer Marley Marle) and we made the beat.”
The “Hip-Hop 50 Tour” will be an epic party, but also serve to remind fans of the history and culture of hip-hop, with each artist an innovator and originator in different elements of the movement.
“Big Daddy Kane was hugely influential and known as a ladies’ man,” UAA agent Nick Szatmari says of one of the tour’s leading men.
“Doug is ‘The Entertainer.’ Slick Rick, they call him ‘Rick The Ruler’ – he’s the patriarch. KRS-ONE is ‘The Teacher.’ And Rakim is ‘The God MC.’”
“Hip-Hip 50” dovetails with the end of another UAA project, the “One Nation Under A Groove Tour” with George Clinton, another architect of funk and hip-hop.
Szatmari and UAA co-owner and agent Jeff Epstein were headed to watch Clinton play a livestream show in June 2022 with jam/funk/jazz combo Dopapod.
“We sit down for lunch before we get there, and we’re realizing just how far we had come back from nothing with the shutdown,” Szatmari says. “Now, we’ve got to think about what the next big project is that we’re going to do. At the top of Jeff’s mind was the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, something he had been talking about for months and months prior to this.”
The “Masters of the Mic” franchise isn’t new; it’s been the moniker of artists performing on a series of UAA-packaged tours. Along with Slick Rick, Rakim and Doug E. Fresh on various pre-pandemic dates, UAA toured various iterations under the banner with lineups that included Salt-N-Pepa, DMX, EPMD, Black Sheep, Naughty By Nature and others. Typically, each artist came out a did their own separate set.
“There was a moment of inspiration when we knew we had to do this,” Szatmari says. “‘The Masters of the Mic’ is something we toured before. Nothing extensive — a few dates here and there. But it struck us as the perfect vehicle with some of the most influential people who had the first big, big mega hits in the genre.
“They were at the inflection point of when hip-hop came from an underground movement to a mainstream movement and really broke out into the mind of pop culture.”
Moskowitz, Szatmari and Epstein all pushed the vision forward for the 50th anniversary tour.
“We came up with this idea, that’s never been done, of having these guys all together and performing on stage with a band,” Epstein says. “It’s almost like New Edition, where everybody has their own careers separately, but now we’re having everybody on stage all at once performing all together.
“The five of them together encompass a very well-rounded portrait of the different channels in hip-hop,” Epstein adds. “It’s interesting, and Doug [E. Fresh] has his own take on it, like the five elements of hip-hop are included there. He likes to equate it to superheroes, and everybody has their own superpower.”
The show will encompass not just the music but different facets of the style and culture of hip-hop, and the artists represent each, Moskowitz explains.
Big Daddy Kane, who emerged in the late 1980s, is a master of rapid-fire rhymes and his first two albums, Long Live The Kane and It’s A Big Daddy Thing, are classics of the golden age of rap. A charismatic consciousness-raiser, Kane was equally famed for his style as an MC as well as his fashion. Exuding sexuality and charisma, Big Daddy Kane could sing as well – and his work reflects a soul sensibility as well as that of the B-boy battle rap scene from which he emerged.
Rakim, “The God MC,” also known as half of Eric B. & Rakim, is considered by many in the hip-hop universe as one of the greatest MCs of all time. His lyrics raised the bar for MCs, intricate and complex, yet with an effortless style that belied a carefully crafted rhythmic flow complete with clever wordplay and metaphor.
Rakim released four albums with DJ Eric B. including 1987’s Paid in Full and Follow The Leader the next year, both considered classics. His three solo albums, The 18th Letter, The Master and The Seventh Seal sealed his legacy.
KRS-ONE, nicknamed “The Teacher,” in the 1980s led the influential hardcore rap outfit Boogie Down Productions and is known for socially conscious and political raps – hence the nickname. His stage name is an acronym for “Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone.”
KRS-ONE, also at one time a prolific graffiti artist, took the party music of early hip-hop and used it as a tool to not only express rage but to educate – another of the pillars of modern hip-hop.
Doug E. Fresh, the “human beatbox,” possessed an uncanny ability to vocally imitate drum machines, effects, and even samples of other hip-hop classics. He was one of the biggest names in rap by 1985 and recorded classics of his own, “The Show” and “La Di Da Di” with the Get Fresh Crew, including Barry Bee, Chill Will and DJ Ricky D – who reinvented himself as Slick Rick and launched his own highly influential career and reunites with Doug E. on the “Hip-Hop 50 Tour.”
Slick Rick would stretch beyond even the much-sampled classic “La Di Da Di” to establish himself as one of rap’s most lyrical storytellers.
With the solo debut release of 1988’s The Great Adventures Of Slick Rick, the London-born MC would surpass his success with the Get Fresh Crew, reaching platinum sales and becoming an inspiration for generations of artists to follow.
The members of the “Hip-Hop 50 Tour” are foundational artists upon whose shoulders those who came after stand, and who established the building blocks of a global cultural and musical juggernaut.
Their work influenced later, classic West Coast rappers like Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg as well as their East Coast counterparts in such towering figures as Sean Combs, Jay-Z and Notorious B.I.G.
“George Clinton was a huge influence on all that too, but they all still sit on the shoulders of these guys in the generation before even Snoop [Dogg],” Moskowitz says. “It’s not about diminishing one and bringing up the other. But it’s the first step in hip-hop taking over globally. Snoop and Cube and Dre, these guys took it to completely another level.
“They became like the first billionaires in hip-hop, breaking the barriers of becoming industry giants, going past the culture of being musical influences, and that’s the next step. This is where we see ourselves today; hip-hop has saturated every corner of pop culture globally, and every style of music globally.”
And it all started in an apartment building in the Bronx, where DJ Kool Herc lived and introduced the merry-go-round style of using multiple turntables to spin those James Brown drum beats and breaks.
“That’s ultimately what this all comes back to,” Szatmari says. “It was just a block party with families and friends hanging out, eating, drinking, having fun, and enjoying music, you know. And that’s at the core of all of this.”
The Masters of the Mic “Hip-Hop 50 Tour” is well along in the planning stages, and it’s expected to hit about 20 cities, including a leadoff event at the Filene Center at Wolf Trap near Washington, D.C., with tickets going on sale soon.
Szatmari says it’s expected to kick off the weekend of Aug. 11-13, coinciding with the anniversary of that first Sedgwick Avenue “Back To School Jam” in the Bronx where it all began.