BY VICKIA JOHNSON
We all know February is Black History Month and as a commemorative time in the history books Right On! Digital would like to shine the spotlight on various entertainers and tastemakers on www.rightondigital.com. The list starts off with hip hop pioneer Kurtis Blow and in the coming days will include Derrick Johnson, President of the NAACP; Spike Lee; Regina King; GREEN BOOK’s Mahershala Ali, George Tillman and others. This will be a great addition to the Right On! Digital archives, and we hope our readers will enjoy reading the spotlights we share on these amazing individuals.
Kurtis Blow shares a very unique and special place in the archives of Right On! Magazine. He was the first rapper to appear on the cover of a national newsstand publication, Right On!, and has had a successful career as an artist, producer, actor, activist and is currently a minister. Blow is the Chairman of the Universal Hip Hop Museum, which is slated to open in the Bronx, NY in 2022. Blow took time out to discuss some of his meaningful achievements with Right On! Digital.
INTERVIEW BY CYNTHIA HORNER
RIGHT ON! DIGITAL: You have accomplished so much in your career, which began in the 80’s. What was one of the most memorable achievements?
KURTIS BLOW: One of the most memorable achievements in my career was producing the “King Holiday” song which was in honor of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It all took place in 1985 when I got a call from Dexter King . It was scary because I hung up on him at first because I didn’t believe it was him. But he called back and said, “Hello, Kurtis, this is Dexter King and we at the King Foundation would be interested in you producing a song commemorating my father.” And we started talking and I started talking to the people from my label (Mercury/Polygram) and they actually sponsored the recording of the song by taking care of the studio costs. I got together with a songwriter and pulled in most of the artists, people like Melle Mel and Whitney Houston. Whitney actually blew up the speakers when she was singing the high notes. The engineer wanted her to redo her vocals but I said no, which is why when you hear her vocals you hear a little bit of the distortion. Just being there and seeing Teena Marie, Stephanie Mills, Ricky Martin, Menudo, Full Force, Run-DMC, Whodini….
Now we did the song, the label paid for it, but we needed a music video and Prince got ahold of it and decided to give us the money to pay for the music video since he had heard of the song. He put up $90,000 and that’s how we got the video. What an amazing artist. But that shows how important the project was and I was thankful and proud to be a part of it.
RIGHT ON! DIGITAL: When you were contacted, was it because you were at the top of your game?
KURTIS BLOW: Two things. I was the hottest producer at that time. I had worked with Fat Boys, Krush Groove, etc. and was co-producer of the Sun City project which was like We Are The World type of project and I had a rep of being a hot producer.
RIGHT ON! DIGITAL: Were you an activist?
KURTIS BLOW: I never thought about it even though I did get involved with Rev. Jesse Jackson and Operation Push’s Rainbow Coaltion. I was involved with the Youth Division of Operation Push and I was a follower of MLK and his career and legacy. I followed the way he (Dr. King) went about things back then and why he was so successful. He was the most incredible American in the world for human rights and he ranked right up there with Ghandi, as far as I’m concerned. I was honored to be associated with the family and big shout out to Dexter Scott King.
RIGHT ON! DIGITAL: We are going to show the video below your interview but would you say that a project like that be easy to do thiese days?
KURTIS BLOW: That was a three-day project and I got a chance to go to the museum and see the artifacts and experience the cultural history and we saw how we were going into the new era and experience the vibe and the overtone of love which is so important. It comes across in the video. I felt In my heart that I was part of something very special that we were there to commemorate this great leader.
We can do something like this these days. We can do a tribute to Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X and one for Barack Obama. Young people should be inspired by these leaders.
In South Korea, the government sponsors the B-boys; they go out there and train them. Why not support the culture since hip hop is the number one genre of music? The Universal Hip Hop Museum (www.uhhm.org) has an education committee where we use hip hop as a way to teach curriculum.
RIGHT ON! DIGITAL: A lot of people don’t know much about the song “Sun City” as it was recorded in 1985. You were right in the mix there!
KURTIS BLOW: The song, “Sun City,” was recorded by Artists United Against Apartheid which was written and produced by (Little) Steven Van Zandt. At the time there had been a lot of talk about racial inequality and a lot of artists vowed not to play at Sun City (a resort in South Africa). I helped by bring artists like Scorpio, Run-DMC and Africa Bambaataa into the project.
RIGHT ON! DIGITAL: You are our modern day hero. Who have been your heroes?
KURTIS BLOW: I grew up without a dad. I had a lot of fictional dads that were my heroes– Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Jimmy Castor (musician) and Walt Frazier were my dads. I became a summation of these heroes and that’s how I got through life and tried to repeat their good qualities. I made them a part of my personality. I never wanted to repeat their mistakes. And that’s how I grew up and got through turmoil.
FOLLOW KURTIS BLOW ON TWITTER @KURTISBLOW1
WATCH KURTIS BLOW AND FRIENDS PERFORM “KING HOLIDAY”
ANOTHER THROWBACK VIDEO–“SUN CITY”