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As the first commercially successful rap artist, Kurtis Blow is a towering figure in hip-hop history. His popularity and charisma helped prove that rap music was something more than a flash-in-the-pan novelty, paving the way for the even greater advances of Grandmaster Flash and Run-D.M.C. Blow was the first rapper to sign with (and release an album for) a major label; the first to have a single certified gold (1980's landmark "The Breaks"); the first to embark on a national (and international) concert tour; and the first to cement rap's mainstream marketability by signing an endorsement deal. For that matter, he was really the first significant solo rapper on record, and as such he was a natural focal point for many aspiring young MCs in the early days of hip-hop. For all his immense importance and influence, many of Blow's records haven't dated all that well; his rapping technique, limber for its time, simply wasn't as evolved as the more advanced MCs who built upon his style and followed him up the charts. But at his very best, Blow epitomizes the virtues of the old school: ingratiating, strutting party music that captures the exuberance of an art form still in its youth.
Kurtis Blow was born Kurtis Walker in Harlem in 1959. He was in on the earliest stages of hip-hop culture in the '70s -- first as a breakdancer, then as a block-party and club DJ performing under the name Kool DJ Kurt; after enrolling at CCNY in 1976, he also served as program director for the college radio station. He became an MC in his own right around 1977, and changed his name to Kurtis Blow (as in a body blow) at the suggestion of his manager, future Def Jam founder and rap mogul Russell Simmons. Blow performed with legendary DJs like Grandmaster Flash, and for a time his regular DJ was Simmons' teenage brother Joseph -- who, after changing his stage name from "Son of Kurtis Blow," would go on to become the first half of Run-D.M.C. Over 1977-1978, Blow's club gigs around Harlem and the Bronx made him an underground sensation, and Billboard magazine writer Robert Ford approached Simmons about making a record. Blow cut a song co-written by Ford and financier J.B. Moore called "Christmas Rappin'," and it helped him get a deal with Mercury once the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" had climbed into the R&B Top Five.
Blow's second single, "The Breaks," was an out-of-the-box smash, following "Rapper's Delight" into the Top Five of the R&B charts in 1980 and eventually going gold; it still ranks as one of old school rap's greatest and most enduring moments. The full-length album Kurtis Blow was also released in 1980, and made the R&B Top Ten in spite of many assumptions that the Sugarhill Gang's success was a one-time fluke. Although the album's attempts at soul crooning and rock covers haven't dated well, the poverty-themed "Hard Times" marked perhaps the first instance of hip-hop's social consciousness, and was later covered by Run-D.M.C. Blow initially found it hard to follow up "The Breaks," despite releasing nearly an album a year for most of the '80s. 1981's Deuce and 1982's Tough weren't huge sellers, and 1983's Party Time EP brought D.C. go-go funksters E.U. on board for a stylistic update. Around this time, Blow was also making his mark as a producer, working with a variety of hip-hop and R&B artists; most notably, he helmed most of the Fat Boys' records after helping them get a record deal. 1984's Ego Trip sold respectably well on the strength of cuts like the DJ tribute "AJ Scratch," the agreeably lightweight "Basketball," and the Run-D.M.C. duet "8 Million Stories." Blow followed it with an appearance in the cult hip-hop film Krush Groove, in which he performed "If I Ruled the World," his biggest hit since "The Breaks."
"If I Ruled the World" proved to be the last gasp of Blow's popularity, as hip-hop's rapid growth made his style seem increasingly outdated. 1985's America was largely ignored, and 1986's Kingdom Blow was afforded an icy reception despite producing a final chart hit, "I'm Chillin'." Critics savaged his final comeback attempt, 1988's Back by Popular Demand, almost invariably pointing out that the title, at that point, was not true. In its wake, Blow gave up the ghost of his recording career, but found other ways to keep the spirit of the old school alive. In the early '90s, he contributed rap material to the TV soap opera One Life to Live, and later spent several years hosting an old-school hip-hop show on Los Angeles radio station Power 106. In 1997, Rhino Records took advantage of his status as a hip-hop elder statesmen by hiring him to produce, compile, and write liner notes for the three-volume series Kurtis Blow Presents the History of Rap. The same year, he was a significant presence in the rap documentary Rhyme and Reason. Blow's music has also been revived by younger artists seeking to pay tribute; Nas covered "If I Rule the World" on 1996's It Was Written, and R&B group Next sampled "Christmas Rappin'" for their 1998 smash "Too Close."
Curtis Walker (born August 9, 1959), professionally known by his stage name Kurtis Blow, is an American rapper and record producer. He is the first commercially successful rapper and the first to sign with a major record label. "The Breaks", a single from his 1980 debut album, is the first certified gold record rap song. Throughout his career he has released 10 albums and is currently an ordained minister.Hess, Mickey (2009). Hip Hop in America: A Regional Guide. Santa Barbara (CA): ABC-CLIO. pp. 34–35. ISBN 9780313343216. Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. p. 93. ISBN 1-84195-017-3.
Life and career
Originally from Harlem, Walker began DJ'ing under the name Kool DJ Kurt. While attending the City College of New York, he met Russell Simmons. After joining his operation, Walker and Simmons branched out into other parts of New York City, mostly around Queens. He moved from Dj'ing to MC'ing and adopted the name Kurtis Blow. Simmons son DJ Run assisted with his live shows.
In 1979, aged twenty, Kurtis Blow became the first rapper to be signed by a major label, Mercury, which released "Christmas Rappin'". It sold over 400,000 copies. Its follow-up, "The Breaks", sold over half a million copies. He was also the first rapper to perform overseas. He released ten albums over the next eleven years. His first album was Kurtis Blow, while his second was the Top 50 pop album Deuce. Party Time featured a fusion of rap and go-go. Ego Trip included the hits: "8 Million Stories," "AJ Scratch," and "Basketball". His 1985 album, America, garnered praise for its title track's music video. From this album, the song "If I Ruled the World" became a Top 5 hit on Billboard's R&B chart. Towards the end of the 1980s, he recording career waned and he moved into production.
Besides his own work, Kurtis has been responsible for hits by The Fat Boys and Run DMC. Run began his career billed as 'The Son of Kurtis Blow'. Lovebug Starski, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Full Force, Russell Simmons and Wyclef Jean all have been produced by, or collaborated with, Walker. Former label mates René & Angela had their R&B chart topping debut "Save Your Love (For #1)" was produced by him. Along with Dexter Scott King, Walker co-ordinated "King Holiday," a song to celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday, released in January 1986.
His acting performances and music coordination in several films includes Leon Kennedy’s Knights of the City and the hip hop film Krush Groove. As host and co-producer for Das Leben Amerikanischer Gangs, an international film production's focus on the West Coast gang scene, Kurt crossed international waters for inner city justice (1995). As host and associate producer for Rhyme and Reason Kurtis gave an informative account of the status of hip hop, while he participated in the three volume release The History Of Rap in 1998.
Kurt has spoken out emphatically against racism. He was an active participant in the Artists Against Apartheid record “Sun City”. Kurt has worked with Rev. Jesse Jackson's Operation Push and National Rainbow Coalition in Chicago. Kurt has also worked with Rev. Al Sharpton's Action Network in New York City. In 1995, he started working on-air in radio, Power 106, the #1 CHR radio station in Southern California. He hosted 'The Old School Show' on Sunday nights, featuring hits from the past. He also worked for Sirius Satellite Radio on the Classic Old School Hip Hop station Backspin on Channel 46.
Beginning in 1996, Kurt was featured in a hip hop display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. While in the same year, rapper Nas debuted at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with his version of "If I Rule The World". In 1998, the group Next released "Too Close", in which the music of "Christmas Rappin'" was sampled. ASCAP honored Kurt and Next at a gala affair on May 26, 1999. In 2002, he traveled to the Middle East to tour the Armed Forces bases performing seventeen shows for the troops. He was a judge for the 8th annual Independent Music Awards.
In October 2013, Kurt was featured in the debut music video for the song "Hip-Rock" by Christian band Bride Dressed in Black.Cite error: The named reference :0 was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Huey, Steve. "Kurtis Blow - Biography". billboard.com. Rovi. Retrieved December 17, 2014. Cite error: The named reference The_Great_Rock_Discography was invoked but never defined (see the help page). Benny Negro. "Exclusive Interview with Kurtis Blow". Bcyde Video (YouTube). Retrieved 2011-06-03. Independent Music Awards - Past Judges Martin-Osuagwu, Deanna (January 9, 2014). "What Ever Happened To… Kurtis Blow". jetmag.com. Johnson Publishing Company.
As the founder of The Hip Hop Church, Kurtis serves as rapper, DJ, worship leader and licensed minister. He became an ordained minister on August 16, 2009.News item on NPR.com, 'Rapper Turned Minister Kurtis Blow Is 50, August 9, 2009, (accessed December 17, 2014).