Sample This: The Birth of Hip Hop (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
December 9, 2013 by Dennis Amith
“Sample This: The Birth of Hip Hop” is a fantastic documentary that goes into the history of early hip hop and explores the history behind a song that would be an important song in the development of early hip hop, “Apache” by the Incredible Bongo Band. Informative and fascinating, “Sample This: The Birth of Hip Hop” is recommended!
© 2012 Propinquity Films. All rights reserved.
DVD TITLE: Sample This: The Birth of Hip Hop
DATE OF FILM RELEASE: 2012
DURATION: 83 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: Color, 1:78:1, Stereo
COMPANY: Kino Lorber Inc.
RATED: NOT RATED
RELEASE DATE: December 10, 2013
Written and Directed by Dan Forrer
Produced by Bob Burris, Tara Larsen
Associate Producer: Sean Lalla
Music by Perry Botkin Jr.
Cinematography by Philip Hurn
Edited by Michael Levine
Narrated by Gene Simmons
Perry Botkin Jr.
Rock Stead Crew
Leon Sylvers Jr.
On the streets of the Bronx in the summer of 1973, DJ Herc took the percussion breaks from an obscure album and extended them by playing them back to back. The song he used: ”Apache” is considered the national anthem of hip-hop and is one of the most sampled tracks in the history of the genre used by artists from Will Smith to Missy Elliott to Amy Winehouse to Nas, Kanye West and Jay-Z. Narrated by Gene Simmons (Kiss).
Before hip hop became popular in America, DJ’s were experimenting with scratching and sampling during the ’70s but one song would become the hip hop theme back in the ’80s and that was “Apache” by the Incredible Bongo Band.
But before “Apache” would become the hip hop national anthem back in the day, how did “Apache” become used in the hip hop scene? The song is still being used today as parts of the songs continue to be sampled or featured on songs from various music talents.
But how did “Apache” come about and who were the people behind the music and those who made it popular among the hip hop scene?
That is what filmmaker and writer Dan Forrer wanted to find out through his documentary “Sample This: The Birth of Hip Hop” which will be available on DVD courtesy of Kino Lorber in Dec. 2013.
Forrer researches the early days of hip hop and how it all began with one song… “Apache” by the Incredible Bongo Band.
But what is this band that created the song and how would it become a legendary song that hip hop legends would call it the “National Anthem” for hip hop music?
Find out in “Sample This: The Birth of Hip Hop”!
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“Sample This: The Birth of Hip Hop” is presented in 1:78:1 aspect ratio, stereo. The film was shot digitally and for the most part, picture quality is very good. Of course, as a documentary, there are going to be archived footage from different video sources, so some sources will look better than others. But for the most part, picture quality is good on DVD, music is clear via its Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack.
“Sample This: The Birth of Hip Hop” does not come with any special features!
Having grown up during the beginnings of hip hop music and even partook in break dancing during my childhood, I don’t think any who has followed hip hop music has never heard of “Apache” by the Incredible Bongo Band.
May it be from music featured on tracks from Missy Elliot, Amy Winehouse or samples featured in plenty of hip hop tracks, some may have heard it on Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince of Bel Air” TV show or even his recent appearance on “The Gordon Ramsey” BBC show which Smith, his son, Ramsey and Alfonso Ribero were seen in the YouTube viral video, dancing to the song.
“Apache” is a song that has managed to continue to live on, maybe not the entire song, but samples of it or portions of it.
And with the documentary “Sample This: The Birth of Hip Hop”, filmmaker Dan Forrer does all the research to uncover what was behind the song but also helping reunite surviving members of the Incredible Bongo Band.
Narrated by KISS’ Gene Simmons, the storyline begins with former Robert F. Kennedy employee, Michael Viner. A man who was there for RFK’s campaign until he presidential candidate was assassinated. But he would eventually move to music and was respected for his business intelligence.
And he would produce an album titled “The Best of Marcel Marceau” and for those who got the joke that Marcel Maceao was a vine, the album released by MGM Records would feature 19 minutes of silence and 1 minute of applause. And yet, Viner claimed that he sold 45,000 of the record and he was given a production deal by MGM Records.
And through the film “The Thing with Two Heads” (which starred “Rosey” Grier, who also worked for Robert F. Kennedy and lived temporarily with Viner), as he was working on the film’s soundtrack, it would introduce him to now legendary composer, producer, arrange and musician Perry Botkin Jr. (who created many ’70s hits such as “Bless the Beasts & Children” and “Cotton’s Theme” which was used for “The Young and the Restless” and Nadia’s theme for the Summer Olympics).
Needing tracks for the album, The Incredible Bongo Band was born and the song “Bongo Rock” was used for the film’s soundtrack. And surprisingly, “Bongo Rock” took off in Canada.
Knowing they needed to capitalize on the song’s popularity, Viner and MGM Records made up a story that the band was from Canada (when they were actually from the United States). And because of the popularity of “Bongo Rock”, an album was made under a new name, “Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band” and to be authentic that it was from Canada, the album was produced in Vancouver, Canada and needing a bongo player, the band hired King Errisson, who was well known for his bongo playing in Nassau and was discovered by Sean Connery and featured in James Bond 007 film, “Thunderball”.
And the documentary would introduce us to the musicians of the Incredible Bongo Band such as congo player King Errisson, drummer Jim Gordon and musicians that were in Vancouver or near the area such as keyboardist Robbie King, bass player Jerry Scheff, guitarist Mike Deasy, saxophone musician Steve Douglas and more. And how this group would create the song “Apache”.
But it’s the story behind these musicians are very fascinating. Mike Deasy was sent by record producer Terry Melcher to record music in the mountains and those people were Charles Manson and his group (note: it’s important to note that the reason why Terry Melcher knew about Charles Manson and his group is that Beach Boys Dennis Wilson picked them up as they were hitchhiking and had them stay at his home). Melcher recorded and took drugs with the group while up in the mountains but through this documentary, we learn that Manson tried and his people tried to kill him.
But because an album was not made with Manson (he was spurned by Terry Melcher), Manson wanted revenge on Melcher and went to the home that he once lived in, but instead was now owned by Roman Polanski his wife Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski and Steve Parent, who were all murdered as a message for Terry Melcher.
The other chilling story would be about Jim Gordon, a talented drummer known for his drum break on “Apache”. But with the heavy narcotics, Gordon developed schizophrenia and tried to kill his wife and murdered and dismembered his own mother.
And as for Michael Viner, he was suffering from cancer and he was also a silent witness in the payola scandal which would take down record company execs.
The documentary would take viewers to the years before hip hop and how DJ Herc would discover the album at a store and realize he found something special and playing it at DJ Gigs, while Grand Wizzard Theodore discovered the album and would use it to play the song in reverse and in the process would scratch back in 1975. By 1977, Grandmaster Caz would use “Apache” to take part in DJ battles, while he had “Apache” and he was taking on DJ’s showcasing disco and by the ’80s, the Rock Steady Crew would be using the song in their b-boy dance routines.
And “Apache” would become one of the greatest songs in hip hop history.
Of course, there is so much more to this documentary but it’s the research and the exclusivity that Dan Forrer was able to get with these musicians and present them in the documentary, showcasing their music talent from their past but also discussing what these musicians are doing in the present is rather fascinating.
I never knew about Michael Viner prior to this documentary and now, we realize that not only was he behind the silent “The Best of Marcel Marceau” album and the Incredible Bongo Band, but he was instrumental for “Books on Tape” and also was the whistleblower for the payola scams. The documentary does a good job of going into Viner’s personal life and showing us how he was after Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination and what he did with his life after the tragedy and how he was a fighter when it came to having cancer during his 20’s.
The film of course goes into the musicians involved with the Incredible Bongo Band, the first incarnation and the second and third. But also how these musicians actually play a huge part in music that many of us probably didn’t know much back then.
As for the DVD, picture quality is good as well as the stereo soundtrack. There are no special features unfortunately.
But overall, “Sample This: The Birth of Hip Hop” is a fantastic documentary that goes into the history of early hip hop and explores the history behind a song that would be an important song in the development of early hip hop, “Apache” by the Incredible Bongo Band. Informative and fascinating, “Sample This: The Birth of Hip Hop” is recommended!
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