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Untouchable: Breaking Down the History of Kangol Kid and UTFO

Untouchable: Breaking Down the History of Kangol Kid and UTFO

The smile. The most recognizable thing about Kangol Kid was the smile that he flashed until his last days. Behind that smile was a genuine cat, who never acted like he was one of Rap music’s early super star dancers, M.C.’s and producers. Kangol's charisma was a part of the long-standing appeal of U.T.F.O.; the legendary foursome that helped announce Hip-Hop's "new school" mainstreaming in the mid-1980s.

Kangol Kid and I played phone tag for almost a full year before we finally sat down for multiple marathon length phone conversations where he revealed everything that I have wondered about U.T.F.O. since I was a teen. These conversations took place in 2019 before Covid and before Zoom calls were the chosen form of communication. There was so much information that I told Kangol that we would need to release multiple parts. When Covid hit and Zoom became the preferred method of communication I suggested to Kangol that we redo the conversations as Zoom calls. As always he was agreeable and replied "just let me know when Jay." We spoke of doing a Zoom call in October of last year, but Kangol entered the hospital for the last time before our conversation could come to fruition. I will forever be grateful for the jewels of information that Kangol shared with me.

The Beginning

There’s an era of Rap music that I refer to as the lost era - the period of time after the disco influenced late 70’s Rap recordings and right before the sample heavy Golden era that started around 1986. That time period produced some of the most influential output in the genre’s history, but outside of Run-D.M.C.’s early rock records ("Rock Box" and "King of Rock") and a few records like "The Show" by Doug E. Fresh and The Get Fresh Crew and "Request Line/The Roof is On Fire" by Rock Master Scott and The Dynamic 3 history has forgotten much of the music and many of the groups and artists of the mid 1980’s Rap scene. Brooklyn’s U.T.F.O. is one of those groups.

quotes
There were only two groups in our neighborhood who would have been competition – Howie Tee and his group The Sure Shot 4 and QDSL - Quadraphonic Sound Lab”

- Kangol Kid

“In the early days we weren’t even known as 'Kangol & Doc' (Doctor Ice)," Kangol Kid explained. "Everyone referred to us as 'Sean & Freddy.' We met in the neighborhood; Doc lived one block away from me. I didn’t even know his name, he was just the kid that I would see doing these 'moonwalking' dance moves and I was pretty good at dancing myself, so we would show each other moves. Our first-time dancing together was when a new Popeyes restaurant opened in our neighborhood and for the grand opening they were giving free food to whoever could dance the best. We won the contest and formed the group that day. Eventually the members of Whodini saw us dance and asked if we could we tour with them. This was early before the Fresh Fest days. If you look at the video for 'Rap Machine' from their first album you’ll see Doc and I dancing and there are also some television appearances of us dancing to 'Magic's Wand' while they perform.”

According to Kangol, the neighborhood knew that he could dance and Rap, and that Doc was only a dancer at first. He built his reputation by going to parties and arrogantly challenging anyone who grabbed a mic or got on the dance floor. As his name spread as a dope M.C., he kept hearing about an M.C. named Special J who eventually became The Educated Rapper, also known as EMD. “In our East Flatbush neighborhood Utica Avenue separates the 40s from the 50s. In the 40’s it was all about me and in the 50’s Special J was blowin’ up. Word got to me about auditions for a Rap group in the neighborhood from this guy named Claude. I arrogantly asked Claude who would be auditioning cats in our neighborhood for a group and not tell me about it. Claude took me to the spot where the auditions were being held and Doc came with me. When we got to the house it was Special J and Mix Master Ice was on the turntables! After me and The Educated Rapper rhymed back and forth for an hour we agreed that we should be in a group together. I insisted on bringing my dancer Doc into the group and he insisted on bringing his D.J. Mix Master Ice. Doctor Ice didn’t rhyme but said that he could learn and we formed UFO right there. It stood for Untouchable Force Organization. We later changed it to 'U.T.F.O.' because there was already a group called 'UFO.'”

Mix Master Ice echoes Kangol’s memory of their start. “Me and EMD were part of the same group and a few of us were M.C.’s. In fact, I tried to be an M.C. because it didn’t cost any money. D.J.’s had to buy equipment. Kangol & Doc used to dance together as The Keystone Dancers and Kangol rhymed too. Kangol and EMD were gonna battle each other, but they decided to form a crew together instead. Since me and EMD were already together, we formed The Untouchable Force Organization.”

Beats and Rhymes

Full Force was an R&B band that was having trouble getting a record deal according to Mix Master Ice. “Full Force was looking for dancers and since Kangol and Doc were dancing in the neighborhood they started dancing for them. Full Force started to shop themselves as a production company to better their chances of getting a deal and U.T.F.O. was the first group that they produced. Our first record was “Beats and Rhymes.” “Beats and Rhymes” was a sonic roller coaster ride. Released in 1984, “Beats and Rhymes” contained a heavy amount of harmonizing which was a throwback to the M.C. crews that dominated before Rap records. EMD, Kangol and Doc weaved effortlessly between rhyming and harmonizing and Kangol Kid switched between pig Latin (an urban street slang that he would soon utilize more) and straight rhyming. Full Force’s combination of drum machine beats and synthesizers didn’t disappoint and fit well in this era where less was better as far as production.

Mix Master Ice was missing on this debut and says that he was a member of the group, but that he was hanging with the wrong people and clowning around with more interest in the street than the group. “When the record came out it was a wakeup call and it was a blessing because I almost missed the boat on that one.” Kangol Kid agrees. “Mix Master Ice wasn’t returning calls; he wasn’t showing up for rehearsals – nothing. In fact, on the pictures for the “Roxanne, Roxanne” single he isn’t there because we took those when we were doing 'Beats and Rhymes.' Mix Master Ice finally showed up the day before we went into the studio to record 'Roxanne, Roxanne' and he was upset because we were about to get Howie Tee to do the cuts and scratches.”

quotes
This 'Roxanne' song was a last minute second thought”

- Kangol Kid

"Roxanne, Roxanne"

In November of 1984 with no promotion, no video (at the time) and no indication of what was to come; U.T.F.O. released “Hangin’ Out”/”Roxanne, Roxanne” and simultaneously changed the game while launching a few careers. “'Hangin’ Out' was already complete and ready to go and at the last minute Select Records requested another song” says Kangol Kid. “B Fine of Full Force suggested that we write a song about a girl named Roxanne.” Even though “Roxanne, Roxanne” wasn’t physically on side B of the record, it was intended by the group and the label to be a B side, which is an extra song – almost filler – to round out a single. “Hangin’ Out” was the intended hit and musically it sounded like a continuation of “Beats and Rhymes." There were lots of synthesizers and harmonizing, and Dr. Ice’s iconic “candy rap” where he incorporated the names of several popular candy bars into his verse. “Hangin’ Out” was a great song, but it was nothing groundbreaking.

“B Fine told me to write about this girl that won’t give me the time of day and he told EMD to do the same. He then told Dr. Ice to rhyme about finally getting her, and of course I complained, so it ended with none of us getting the girl. We just threw something together because we really didn’t care about it. Remember: “Hangin’ Out” was the hit and it was already recorded and ready to go. This 'Roxanne' song was a last-minute second thought,” says Kangol Kid.

Though “Roxanne, Roxanne” was a second thought, it was an opportunity for Kangol to let B Fine hear a beat that he had been working on at Howie Tee’s house. “Full Force was hands on as a production unit and nothing was done musically without their approval. We knew early that we wanted each M.C. to rhyme to a different beat. I had been messing around with a beat and we incorporated it into the song. B Fine programmed Doc’s part and EMD had that rhyme already -  “she thought my name was Larry”, but it was about a different girl. Howie Tee took the drums from Big Beat and sampled them into a machine called Sample Matic that had 1 second of sample time. He replayed the “Big Beat” drum pattern because we didn’t have anything that could loop it that long.”

Many great turntablists of today were directly inspired by the cuts of Mix Master Ice, specifically the cuts on 'Leader of The Pack'”

“Roxanne, Roxanne” made history in a few ways. Full Force had a couple of their own Roxanne’s ready to answer U.T.F.O. Queensbridge M.C. Lolita Gooden aka Roxanne Shante’ made her own version at the request of her neighbor D.J. Marley Marl ,beating Full Force to the table of their own game and creating Rap music’s first diss record introducing Shante’ to the world with 1984’s “Roxanne’s Revenge.” Full Force called their Roxanne The Real Roxanne and released a song by the same name, while Brooklyn’s Sparky Dee released “Roxanne You’re Through”. By the time the “Roxanne Wars” were over, there were dozens of replies, mostly by those wishing to cash in on the phenomenon. When asked what he thought about “Roxanne’s Baby”, “Roxanne’s A Man”, “Roxanne’s Parents” and other replies, Kangol said, “It was flattering and a few of them were funny, but I was trying to be great like Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5, The Cold Crush Brothers and Run-DMC. While I appreciate the fact that I was part of something that people wanted to emulate, it was annoying that these people couldn’t be original like we did."

The Album

The gargantuan success of “Roxanne, Roxanne” led to the self-titled 1985 album that established U.T.F.O. as a force to reckon with. The format and template for full length Rap albums was still in its early stages and the group checked all boxes for what was expected of a Rap album at the time. “Leader of The Pack” was the D.J. dedication cut that solidified Mix Master Ice as one of the better scratch D.J.’s in the genre. Many great turntablists of today were directly inspired by the cuts of Mix Master Ice, specifically the cuts of “Leader of The Pack." Many early Rap albums contained ballads that were performed by an outside entity like a producer on bandmember affiliated with the group. “Fairytale Lover” was a song that Kangol Kid had written in his early teens, and it appeared as the last song on side A of the album. Kangol sang lead on the song which received a fair amount of quiet storm airplay and the group performed the song on Soul Train in 1985. “Bite It” which was also performed on Soul Train was a song that encouraged followers, imitators and copy cats to think for themselves. Kangol Kid performed a “Gremlin” style human beat box over a mostly drum machine backing track complete with Mix Master Ice’s signature “Change The Beat” scratches and dope verses by the three M.C.’s. “Calling Her A Crab” was a further assault on Roxanne and “Lisa Lips” was the tale of the neighborhood promiscuous female. In addition to being one of 1985’s best full-length Rap albums, this offering established personalities for each group member: Kangol with his signature hats, the suited Educated Rapper, The Doctor Ice who literally dressed in scrubs and stethoscope and Mix Master Ice who often dressed in full ninja uniform. The album cover which was a picture of a teenage girl’s dresser complete with cosmetics, jewelry and a lipstick covered picture of the group served to establish the group as teenage sex symbols and this image would be doubled down for the shirtless album cover of Skeezer Pleezer, their sophomore album.

"Skeezer Pleezer"

“For the second album, EMD had to leave the group to take care of some personal issues,” Mix Master Ice explains when asked about the glaring absence of the Educated Rapper on the cover of the second album. Singles like “Kangol & Doc” and “We Work Hard” highlighted the chemistry between Kangol Kid and Doctor Ice; “Split Personality” continued to showcase their lighthearted and humorous side. But the absence of EMD was definitely felt. “Pick Up The Pace” which was featured in the Krush Groove motion picture was the only song that EMD performed on..

The Reunion

Lethal is perhaps the most complete U.T.F.O. album. EMD was back, and looked and sounded like he never left. And the video and song “Ya Cold Wanna Be With Me” was without question their best release since “Roxanne, Roxanne” three years before.  Where “Roxanne” saw the group in more of a begging posture, “Ya Cold Wanna Be With Me” saw the group with more of a “take me or don’t” attitude. The M.C.s sounded like they were glad to be back in Full Force – pardon the pun and that confidence level was present on tracks like the go-go-influenced “Mo’ Bass”, the slow and provocative “The Ride”, the rock guitar laced title track “Lethal” with Anthrax and the throwback heavy “S.W.A.T.” Tracks like “Ask Yo Mama” and “Master Baby” revealed an explicit side that the group would soon explorer further.

"Doin' It"

In 1989 U.T.F.O. dropped “Doin’ It” which didn’t feel as disjointed as “Skeezer Pleezer,” but something about the album felt incomplete. Though Doctor Ice was pictured on the back of the album with the rest of the group and on the first single “Wanna Rock," he was missing from the video. In 1989, Doctor Ice also released his solo album on Jive Records titled “The Mic Stalker." For the first time Mix Master Ice rhymed on a few of the songs and this added to the awkward feel of the album. At this point Kangol had produced two albums with his side project Whistle who had enormous success in 1985 with “(Nothin’ Serious) Just Buggin” and he had just started work with them on their 3rd and biggest album, Always & Forever

By 1991, U.T.F.O. signed to Jive Records and released Bag It And Bone It which looked and sounded more like a 2 Live Crew album than one by U.T.F.O. The album cover featured a huge dog bone covered in a condom and though the group was always provocative and explicit, it had never been full on vulgar until now. Mix Master Ice was appearing as a vocalist on many more songs and had essentially taken Doc’s place as the 3rd M.C. in the group. “We were always explicit though. “Master Baby”, “S.W.A.T.” we were one of the early explicit groups before it was popular. I started rhyming more on “Doin’ It” trying to fill the gap from Doc going solo. I’d just gotten into Islam around that time too. I hate talking about “Bag it & Bone It” and I won’t point fingers for the direction of the album, but I will say “If You Don’t Wanna Get Pregnant” was all Kangol’s idea and that’s why he rhymed alone on that.” Says Mix Master Ice. One of the best songs on the album was EMD’s solo effort titled “Somethin’ For the Head”.

The last song credited to U.T.F.O. was “Lollipop” which featured Kangol Kid, EMD and The Real Roxanne and was part of their 1996 Greatest Hits album. Disagreements over rights, credits and trademarks plagued the group over the last few decades and they were unfortunately not able to fully iron out all of their issues before EMD and Kangol Kid both passed away. The legacy of U.T.F.O. is so much more than “Roxanne, Roxanne” and those who witnessed it witnessed the best of what the genre has to offer.

Those who knew Kangol Kid remember him as a soft-spoken family man who would do anything for his children. Whether he was helping his sons (who inherited their fathers’ natural talent) shop their music or treating his young daughter like a princess, a simple glance at his social media reveals a selfless man who looked out for many during his time on this Earth. The outpouring of visitors that Kangol received in his last days is a testament to the man that he was. In addition to acting, he had so much planned for the future. He will be missed, and his contributions to music and popular culture will forever be celebrated and remembered. 

R.I.P. Kangol Kid

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