1988 was a pivotal year for rap music.
Those who witnessed revere it as the most pivotal. As far as production, it was the culmination of affordable sampling technology, the rise of the bedroom producer, and the rise of breakbeat compilations—which made diggin’ in the crates a lot easier, and in some cases, unnecessary. Lyrically, it was a time that brought rap music some of the most diverse subject matter; from some of the most creative groups and solo artists of the genre. EPMD, Stetsasonic, The Jungle Brothers, MC Lyte, MC Shan, The Audio 2, Too Short, Doug. E Fresh, Biz Markie, Eric B. & Rakim, NWA, Ultramagnetic MCs and Slick Rick all dropped some of their best work in ’88.
And on June 28, 1988 lightning struck twice: with the release of both Long Live The Kane by Big Daddy Kane and It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back by Public Enemy. Kane’s debut full length release and Public Enemy’s sophomore offering would both prove to be defining albums for the artists and become standards in the genre.
In the case of Kane, this was the dawn of one of the most revered emcees to ever grab a microphone.
The world first witnessed King Asiatic on 1987’s “Get Into It” and it's B-side “Just Rhymin’ With Biz/Somethin’ Funky.” Listeners were immediately open to Kane’s vocal tone, cadence, and use of metaphor:
I give ya’ girl the kiss of death just like a vampire, stomp out M.C.’s just like a campfire/I go Rambo gigolo Romeo – Friday night spend money on a ho-tel to get a good night’s sleep.”
It was obvious that Kane was one to look out for. His follow-up single, “Raw/Word To The Motherland," was also released in 1987 and solidified Kane while creating anticipation for a full release.
“Raw” was the song that inserted Kane’s name into the conversation with the other lyrical giants that were emerging in the mid to late '80s period affectionately known as the first Golden Era. “Word To The Motherland” was the piece that showed that Kane was not only a superior wordsmith, but that he also possessed knowledge of self – fitting nicely among his counterparts like Public Enemy, Rakim and the emerging Afrocentricity that was surrounding the music and the culture. A radio promo freestyle of “Raw” featuring Kool G. Rap was circulated furthering the anticipation for an album even more.
But it would be "Ain't No Half Steppin'" that changed everything.
"That was a sample by the Emotions called 'Blind Alley' that I got from Biz Markie,” says Kane. “It was the same day that Biz found the 'Get Out My Life Woman' record. He had been lookin’ for it for two years and he called his DJ Cutmaster Cool V because he was so excited. I said that means that you don’t care about this Emotions record and he told me that I could have it. I grabbed it, and I always wanted to use that 'Ain’t No Half Steppin’' hook because that was street slang that we used. I took it all to Marley’s crib and he hooked it up and I laid vocals. It became a masterpiece."
I took it all to Marley’s crib and he hooked it up and I laid vocals. It became a masterpiece."
- Big Daddy Kane on recording "Ain't No Half-Steppin'"
Kane says further that he suggested the horn riff and sample of E.S.G.'s "UFO," but Marley felt that the song was becoming cluttered. “I had in my head how I wanted the song, and at first we were going to throw the 'UFO' break in only during the hook, but Marley threw it in throughout the verses, and the final product pretty much matched what was in my head."
Long Live the Kane features the Brooklyn emcee showcasing his lyrical virtuosity on a number of tracks. One of the most notable is the rhyme tour-de-force "Set It Off."
“I was hangin’ with Biz at [superproducer] 45 King’s house," Kane recalls. "And he played a beat that he tailor-made for Biz that was really slow, but Biz didn’t like it. I said that I would take it, but I wanted it faster. He knocked it up a few beats per minute, but I asked for it to be much faster. 45 found that interesting because that was the original tempo of the beat, it was only slowed down to match Biz’s flow. He took that disk out and put another one in with the same beat at the faster tempo with a sample on it, but he said that I couldn’t have it because it was for a Public Enemy remix and he was waiting on confirmation [for]."
But Kane's persistence paid off.
"A few weeks later, he called and told Biz that I could have it," says Kane. "During that time, I was listening to a James Brown compilation and there’s a horn break down on 'Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved' and I knew I wanted that for the beat, so I got Marley to add it. I was also inspired by 'Sex Machine' from that same compilation, and I wanted something to match the energy from the intro when James is talking and then the beat drops. I said the let it roll, get bold intro and then the beat came in after. That structure came from 'Sex Machine."
"['Raw'] was my breakout," says Kane. "Before 'Raw' I had only done 'Just Rhymin’ With Biz' and no one was booking me because they didn’t know who I was. I had a record out, but I was sittin’ home broke. I really wanted a record by myself, and 'Raw' was it.”
Originally, Marley gave Kane a different beat for “Raw” that was more in the vein of Biz Markie's “Make The Music...” and Kane wrote his lyrics to that. "The original beat was much slower – maybe 94 beats per minute," Kane says. "The night before we recorded, I went to this girls house that I was dating and I was looking through her records. She had a copy of the 'Black Caesar' soundtrack by James Brown and 'Paid The Cost To Be The Boss' caught my ear, but Marley had already made a beat so I blew through it. When I heard the horns from 'Mama Feel Good' I knew that I had to make them fit on Marley’s beat, but I did what Biz always did before going to Marley’s house to record. I went to Downstairs Records to see if there were any other elements."
From there, the track came into full form.
"There was a brother who worked there named J.C. and he played a few new James Brown records that had just come in," recalls Kane. "One of them was the horns that Kid N’ Play used on 'Do This My Way' and I can’t remember the other. The last one was 'I'm Comin' by Bobby Byrd and I knew that I wanted that one. I took it to Marley the next day and he still wanted to use his beat, but after I played 'Im Comin' he agreed that we needed to use it. Marley looped the beat so that the snares would hit on the 2, but I told him that he needed to catch the offbeat snare."
Marley had already dumped the beat to tape and he told Kane that it was too late. Kane insisted and Marley had to resample the entire beat and dump it to tape again. When Kane suggested the “Mama Feel Good” horns Marley wasn’t pleased. "Man, this sounds like Public Enemy – we ain’t tryin’ to sound like them," he says Marley complained. "They wanna be down with the Juice Crew." Once the song was put together with the horns, Marley had to admit that they had a hit on their hands, and he cosigned making it the next single that he was eager to play on the air on WBLS radio.
And Kane's Islamic perspective and pro-Blackness would play a major role on Long Live The Kane. "[Word To The Motherland] was me giving my people a message that we needed to come together. I wanted to speak to my people about my people and let them know that we can be proud of who we are. I found the beat on a breakbeat record and there was a brother in L.G. projects that I used to hang out with named Shim Shawn. He had a Casio keyboard and a mixer that could sample, so we would sample drums on the Casio and if we needed to loop we would use the mixer."
It was another track indicative of how closely Kane and Marley worked together on the album.
"I put it together there, to take it to Marley’s house," Kane says. "We actually tried to do that with 'Just Rhymin’ With Biz' because I did that with Shim Shawn at his crib too, but we couldn’t get the equipment to connect to Marley’s so he had to do the samples over again and dump them to tape."
When Kane is asked what’s his favorite song from LONG LIVE THE KANE to perform live, he says emphatically: “'Set It Off!'"
"That’s my favorite song to perform from my catalog, period," Kane reveals. "If I’m losing energy on stage, or I’m in pain and moving slow – 'Set It Off' takes me there automatically as soon as that beat drops.”
Long Live The Kane is considered by many Kane fans his best album and it’s also considered one of the best from what is arguably the best year in the genre for full albums.