Mix It Up

MP3 download Double Dee & Steinski – The Lesson 1 – The Payoff.mp3

MP3 download Double Dee & Steinski – The Lesson 2 – The James Brown Mix.mp3

MP3 download Double Dee & Steinski – The Lesson 3 – History of Hip Hop.mp3

The most unlikely outsiders to make a distinct, lasting impact on hip-hop were two ad men named Douglas DiFranco and Steven Stein—Double Dee & Steinski, respectively. Together, they produced a series of 12-inch singles in the mid-1980s now known as “The Lessons.” Steinski had been attending hip-hop shows around New York since the late-1970s, and by the early-1980s he had turned Double Dee onto the scene as well.

“We had been going to the Roxy quite a bit,” Steinski says, “and we understood what a hip-hop remix could be. We were seeing the cream of the hip-hop deejays in the world every weekend—Red Alert, Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay, DST, just to name four off the top of my head.”

The two started their collaboration in 1983 when Tommy Boy Records held a promotional contest that challenged the entrants to remix the recently released single “Play That Beat, Mr. D.J.” by G.L.O.B.E. and Whiz Kid. The grand prize consisted of a Tommy Boy Records shirt, Tommy Boy’s back catalogue, and a handsome $100. At the time, Stein was working as an advertising copy supervisor at the firm Doyle Dane Bernbach, and DiFranco worked in a commercial recording studio that produced radio ads, which gave him an extensive knowledge of audio editing techniques.

Instead of simply remixing the original, Double Dee & Steinski pulled the song apart and put it back together, adding several elements not in the original. Their contest entry was called “Lesson 1 – The Payoff Mix,” and it included spoken word recordings, an old Little Richard song, dialogue from movies, even voices from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration—as well as snippets of contemporary hits like Culture Club’s “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” and other recordings.

“Douglas would listen to something and he’d go, ‘Oh, okay, we need to edit that down and slow it down a bit, and add an extra beat here,’” Steinski remembers. “Douglas was expert, expert, expert. What I added was ideas and thoughts along with his ideas and thoughts.”

Dance and hip-hop music legends Jellybean Benitez and Afrika Bambaataa (and others) served as contest judges, who were supplied with pizza and beer. “Lesson 1” was the clear and obvious winner, and the judges reportedly burst into applause at the song’s conclusion.

“It was great,” says Tommy Boy CEO Tom Silverman, “but they ended up creating a record that would never be legally released.” His company’s attorney was sure it would provoke a lawsuit, “So we released it to radio stations promo only,” Silverman says, explaining that they only serviced it to radio, not record stores.

It was the first of a series of three “Lessons” that were big underground hits, not only in the United States, but across the Atlantic Ocean.

“It created a lot of noise, and it also established them internationally,” Silverman remembers. “It was very popular, but again only on bootleg.”

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“Double Dee and Steinski’s records—Lessons 1, 2, and 3—were so important in kicking off the sampling revolution,” said Matt Black, part of the British duo Coldcut. “I was into hip-hop, and Double Dee and Steinski’s records sparked something in me that said ‘Hey, this is fucking cool. We’ve gotta do this with a four track.’ So, that was the original inspiration.”

In 1987, Coldcut recorded their debut 12-inch single, “Say Kids, What Time Is It?”—which mixed James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” with a song from the Disney film The Jungle Book, along with a couple dozen other elements. Matt Black sent their single to Steinski, who remembers, “I think it came with handwritten inscription that said, ‘We made this because of you.’ I listened to it, and I went, ‘Wow, this is great! Oh my God, that Jungle Book thing. That’s awesome!’ So yeah, I was very impressed.”

“People were sampling before that, but Coldcut and Double Dee & Steinski changed everything,” adds British-based, Russian-born DJ Vadim. “Those records would take rock and roll records, pop records, funk, reggae, rock, heavy metal, classical, Indian, world music, and then blend them together. … So, in five minutes, and you could hear 60 tracks.”

After amicably parting ways with Double Dee, Steven Stein continued to make records, most notably “The Motorcade Sped On,” credited to Steinski & Mass Media (in this case, “Mass Media doesn’t refer to a person, but rather mass media itself”). It remixed television and radio broadcasts of the John F. Kennedy assassination, throwing in snatches of JFK speeches—including his “I am a Berliner” speech—and the song is introduced by Ed McMahon trumpeting, “Heeeeeeere’s Johnny,” from The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Steinski says that he found a lot of that source material on vinyl (there’s a whole subgenre of JFK assassination LPs), which he pulled from his collection. It was an influential record, particularly in Britain.

For years Steinski’s music has largely gone unheard, because of the same copyright issues that prevented his first record from being sold a quarter century ago. Thanks to the Illegal Art label—the same indie record company that has released Girl Talk’s sample-laden work—Steinski’s work has finally been compiled in a retrospective double CD, What Does It All Mean? 1983-2006 Retrospective, released this past summer.

The clock is now ticking on when the first lawsuit will drop.

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