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Kurtis Blow

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  • Born: Harlem, New York, NY
  • Years Active: 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s


Biography All Music GuideWikipedia

All Music Guide:

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."


Kurt 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 15 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[edit]

Originally from Harlem, Walker began DJ'ing under the name Kool DJ Kurt.

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 500,000 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.

^ Huey, Steve. "Kurtis Blow - Biography". billboard.com. Rovi. Retrieved December 17, 2014. ^ George, Nelson (1988). The Death of Rhythm & Blues. New York, NY: Pantheon Books. p. 191. ISBN 0142004081. Retrieved June 16, 2015. ^ 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. ^ Cite error: The named reference :0 was invoked but never defined (see the help page).^ Independent Music Awards - Past Judges


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. Recently in December of 2014, Kurt was the Guest MC of the "Hip Hop Nutcracker", a well received rendition of Tchaikovski's holiday classic.

^ News item on NPR.com, 'Rapper Turned Minister Kurtis Blow Is 50, August 9, 2009, (accessed December 17, 2014).

References in popular culture[edit]

The They Might Be Giants song "Where Your Eyes Don't Go" on their second album, Lincoln, featured the lines "You're free to come and go/Or talk like Kurtis Blow."The Ice Cube song "Now I Gotta Wet 'Cha" featured the line "I'll Kurtis Blow yo ass away/Like AJ".The R.A. the Rugged Man song "L.I.'s Finest" featured the line "These are the breaks like Kurtis." and his song "On the Block (Golden Era)" features the line "At the roller rink no skates on, early 80's girl chasing, Kurtis Blow these are the breaks on."The Tom Tom Club song "Genius of Love" featured the lines "Steppin' to the rhythm of a Kurtis Blow / Who needs to think when your feet just go."The song "Christmas Rappin'" was featured during a Christmas episode of the TV sitcom Martin.Bruce Haack's 1982 single "Party Machine" featured the lyric, "Low low low like Kurtis Blow/ Down down down like James Brown."The song "Music Matters" by Faithless mentioned Kurtis Blow: "From Bamma Lamma to Tamla Mo, Curtis Mayfield to Kurtis Blow".Blow is mentioned in the film Notorious. When The Notorious B.I.G. was a child, he is shown to be a fan of Blow. As an adult, The Notorious B.I.G. sings Blow's "The Breaks" with his young daughter listening and learning it.The 2Pac song "Old School" featured the line "Remember poppin' and lockin' to Kurtis Blow, the name belts".In the fourth chapter of Chronicles: Volume One, Bob Dylan says he knew Blow, and that it was Blow who introduced Dylan to the rap genre of the time (mentioning contemporary artists like Ice-T, N.W.A. and Public Enemy). Dylan also appears on the first track "Street Rock" of Kurtis Blows 1986 album Kingdom BlowA brief reference to "8 Million Stories" was made in the 2009 hit "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z.In 50 Cent's film debut "Get Rich Or Die Tryin", there is a party scene in Marcus's house where two girls are holding a Kurtis Blow album and are singing lyrics from "The Breaks".In Chris Rock's Hip-Hop mockumentary "CB4", MC Gusto (played by Chris Rock) says he's going to send a search party and find Kurtis Blow.In the video game NBA 2K12, "Basketball" is used in the opening video and is also part of the game's soundtrack.A poster of Kurtis Blow can be seen in an episode of Everybody Hates Chris. The episode is Everybody Hates Houseguest."The Breaks" is a featured song on the game Dance Central 2 for the Xbox Kinect."The Breaks" is also a featured song on the game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, on the radio station Wildstyle Pirate Radio.In Cedric The Entertainer's Starting Lineup, Cedric speculates on having a black president. After some comparisons of Bill Clinton's behaviors, he predicts that, Scooby Doo-like, Clinton will remove a mask, to reveal he is Kurtis Blow.In Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake's duet "History of Rap", they sample the opening line to "The Breaks."On February 27, 2014, Jimmy Fallon and LeBron James performed a parody of the Basketball music video called Wastepaper Basketball.Snoop Dogg mentions Kurtis Blow and The Breaks in his song Ups & Downs. ^ "Wastepaper Basketball". YouTube. The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. February 27, 2014. 
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