By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
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Egyptian Lover asked and Rodney O and Joe Cooley answered: Rodney was the MC who could rap and Joe the DJ who could scratch, so deftly that he came within a few ticks of beating DJ Cash Money at the NYC New Musical Seminar turntablism championships in 1988—but the championship went to the other guy, and Rodney and Joe wound up back in LA, deprived of the credit they deserved but more righteous for it. They'd put it simply with Fuck New York (an answer to Tim Dog's "Fuck Compton," as well as a frank relation of their own experience) and best on Fuck New York's "U Don't Hear Me Tho," a song where Rodney pounds out the frustration with his usual velar plosive flow: "Time for me to kick another fly funky verse/And if I die, put a sound system in my hearse/You don't hear me though/Here's a title, bro/I'm callin' money when I slam down my domino . . ./I got a New York critic in a choke hold/He dissed my record 'cause he didn't like my vocals/I'm not friends with my peers so I'm overlooked . . ."
And so he sadly was, except by people who remembered that foggy time just before N.W.A et al. demonstrated for the less-informed rest of the world that hip-hop wasn't just a New York novelty: early LA rap, when jackets were shiny and beats dipped no lower than booming 808 bass and no higher than hissy Linndrum snares, with Zapp or Ohio Players or Parliament samples as armature. Dr. Dre was in the World Class Wrecking Cru and Rodney O and Joe Cooley—from Riverside—were selling hundreds of thousands of records on Egyptian Lover's independent label, concluding their first Me and Joe full-length with "Everlasting Bass," a party-pop electro song that won tons of love in Miami and gifted dozens of future battle-break records at 0:55 with Rodney's falsetto "Ev-er-lasting bassssssssss!"
They were wild and riled coming into 1988—Rodney shouting hard and loud like he was waiting for the studio mic to sass back and Joe dissolving his articulating intercarpals into turntablism canon, aiming the artillery for Rodney on acrobatic songs like "Supercuts" (where he plays cat's cradle with some bassline) and flip "DJs and MCs" (where he pokes out from behind the turntables to say, "I'm Joe Cooley now/Standin' in front!"). Nothing but up the good hard way until that electoral-college loss to Cash Money at that championship in New York—Joe had his 1200s panting (or so the sloppy tapes sound), and when he finished, someone yelled, "All right, Joe!"
And then the tallies came up and he lost by a single point, and everyone booed—if Cash Money didn't get the popular vote, he took that title and more, bro, and Rodney and Joe still pushed out another few years of tuff contender tracks ("I got humps for the boulevard! . . ./I like my shit loud so I get a headache!") that hunkered down when they should have taken off. Unjust near miss for two guys who were there a tiny bit too early but still understood the world for how it really worked: "What goes up must come down, ho/They didn't give a fuck about you years ago/So what you gonna do when it starts sinkin'?/Motherfucker, you'll probably start drinkin'!"
RODNEY O AND JOE COOLEY WITH DIGITAL UNDERGROUND, LORCENY RUNNAS AND JOHNNY BLAZE AT THE HOUSE OF BLUES, 1530 S. DISNEYLAND DR., ANAHEIM, (714) 778-BLUE. SAT., 8 P.M. $20-$22.50. 18+.