Music consumption in the modern age is a far cry from the 1980s. With streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music and SoundCloud saturated with material, fewer and fewer artists are releasing albums. Instead, we have seen a shift towards quick singles that die out rapidly. As such, we rarely get classics and are now subject to copious amounts of mediocre tracks that get thrust on playlists, generate clicks and make easy money. Hip-hop, alongside other genres such as pop and R’n’B, has been dramatically affected by this quick-click culture that has emerged in the music business and has indisputably seen a decrease in the number of projects you can call a ”classic.” However, looking back to decades such as the 1980s, you will find true examples of the word.
One song released in 1983 that can be considered as such is the graffiti-hip-hop collaboration track ‘Beat Bop.’ Produced by the Brooklyn visual artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, the song contains vocals from the rapper K-Rob and the iconic graffiti artist Rammellzee. Jean-Michel Basquiat is a revered figure who operated in New York during the early to mid-1980s, and widely revered as the spearhead of the abstract graffiti movement. Known as one-half of SAMO—a Manhattan graffiti duo who used the art form in a poetic and satirical capacity.
Far from an emcee, Basquiat first released his production on Tartown Records in 1983 and then proceeded to put it out officially via Profile Records. The track hears K-Rob and Rammellzee flow over a 10-minute arrangement of psychedelic instruments and abstract sonics. ‘Beat Bop’ sounded unlike anything out at the time, and the 12-inch single was limited to only 500 copies. The single’s artwork is an exclusive hand-drawn sketch by Basquiat, and, as such, a copy of the sonic and artistic miracle has been valued at over $1,500.
The song’s visual elements will never be recreated as Basquiat died in 1988, and Rammazellee passed away in Tribeca in 2010. This year the record celebrates its 40th-anniversary and is considered a vintage collector’s item. In an undated interview with Glenn O’Brien, collaborators Rammellzee, K-Rob and Al-Diaz (Basquiat’s friend) spoke about how the record came about.
Revealing how he met Basquiat at an event, K-Rob explained, “One day, I happened to be at an event in the East Village, and it was everybody in there. Everybody. Russell Simmons, Zulu Nation, Futura, Dondi. Madonna was in there. There was this guy, I can’t remember his name now, but he was originally supposed to make a record with Jean-Michel.” He detailed how he got up on stage and rapped for the crowd and continued, “After that, Jean came up to me and was like, ‘Hey, hey, hey, K-Rob, you’re really, really good — I want you to stop by the studio such and such day.'”
At this time, K-Rob admitted he didn’t know who Jean-Michel Basquiat was, disclosing, “I was like, ‘Who’s this guy? Who’s this guy with the dreads?’ Nobody was really wearing dreads out in public at that time. But everybody was flocking around this guy. He was like the Eddie Murphy of the art world. Then he gave me his number; I threw it in my pants pocket and went home.”
Little did K-Rob know that the track he then recorded would become a classic and the most valuable record in hip-hop. You can hear ‘Beat Bop’ in the video below.