re:Discovery – Mixmaster Gee and the Turntable Orchestra’s “The Manipulator”
I lost my hip-hop virginity at age four. Many of us unequivocally remember first getting turn out to the culture, whether from hearing Eddie Cheba at a block party, seeing cops chasing graffiti artists or watching B-Boys laying out cardboard to duke it out with head spins. My preamble to Hip Hop came in a more preposterous fashion; it all started with Michael Jackson.
In 1986, Run DMCand Eric B. & Rakim were leading a musical revolution, but I was a faithful storm trooper for the Moonwalker’s Empire. It took some meddling from my big brother to puncture my MJ coated plastic bubble; my brother inadvertently recorded a rap song at each end of my Thriller cassette. Instantly caught off guard, my face contorted into a Picasso-type pose. The song didn’t possess Quincy Jones’ meticulous sheen, yet its rawness matched Q’s sonic intensity. The foreboding synths had a new wave tone, but the rolling drums kicks and cash register rings kept it real industrial. Real hard. Hearing scratching for the first time floored me. The sight of it was so vivid in my head. My juvenile ears couldn’t understand the words until the mystery MC proclaimed, “I Am the Manipulator! M-A-N-I-P-U-Lator!” Those ninety total seconds completely galvanized my curiosity.
“The Manipulator” is a lyrical how-to guide for DJs. Covering everything from unsealing the vinyl to setting the anti-skate, Mixmaster Gee had equally simplistic and prophetic wordplay, especially when describing the inevitable “wear and tear” of his records: “Fortunately/Technology/Has created crystal clear clarity/That eliminates pops, ticks and hiss/Which is why I rock the house via Compact Disk!” Genius. Gee was quite the innovator. In 1985, his “Like This” featured one of the first back scratches on wax. And as one of the first producer/rappers, he preceded future multi-taskers like Dr. Dre and Q-Tip. Gee, a.k.a. Greg “Ski” Royal, became a knob-turning force for Bobby Brown, SWV and a mixer on The Chronic.
As for me, “The Manipulator” was my gateway to hip-hop, prompting attempts at break dancing and record scratching, each leading to ridicule and an ass whipping from my mom, respectively. To this day, whenever I hear the demonic, maniacal laughter of Vincent Price that closes “Thriller,” or MJ’s sublime, groveling ad lib fade-out of “The Lady in My Life,” I catch myself saying, “T-t-t-turntable Orchestra, rock the house!”
*This was originally published in Wax Poetics Magazine, in issue 41, May/June 2010. Special thanks to Brian Digenti and Andre Torres*