The Third Unheard, Waterbury Republican
Brynn Mandel Waterbury Republican (Connecticut) June 20, 2004
POOKEY BLOW NEVER MADE IT BIG. He never visited Jacob the Jeweler for
diamond-encrusted bling; neither, did he tour countries where fans who
barely spoke English rapped along with his lyrics. Success, the kind that
has since made household names and millionaires out of hip-hop stars Jay-Z
and 50 Cent, eluded him.
By 1983, the musical career of 15-year-old Pookey Blow, born Jerry Pearson, was over. A couple of the teenage rapper's cuts earned regional recognition, but fame and profits that his uncle/producer envisioned never materialized. Today the 36-year old New Haven native is stationed at the Army's Fort Hood in Texas.
The aspirations of Pookey Blow's uncle, would-be mogul Tony Pearson, followed a similar ilar path.
"By no means will I pollute my mind and think I've had any success as an entertainer," said the elder Pearson, recalling his attempt at, becoming a P. Diddy predecessor. "Haven't had any success, didn't make any money."
Approaching middle age and producer of the hip-hop cable access show "Holla Back Video" broadcast in several cities including Waterbury, Tony Pearson was perhaps best known as Mr. Magic.
That is, if people knew him at all.
In the late 1970s, Mr. Magic was Connecticut's equivalent of Kool DJ Here, a founding father of rap and among those who vie for the title of innovator of hip-hop. During the decade of Richard Nixon and "Saturday Night Fever," Mr. Magic emerged as a regionally known deejay and Ansonla record store owner.
After seeing the way the crowd reacted when he spun Kurtis Blow's 1979 "Christmas Rapping" album for the first time, Tony Pearson became intent on producing the first rap album to come out of New England.
With "Rappin' With Mr. Magic," a track replete with shout-outs to cities from Ansonia to Springfield, he succeeded. He sold a couple records, including songs from a small roster of artists he recruited. Tony Pearson even sought to capitalize on Kurtis Blow's success by giving his nephew a similar stage name.
But unlike counterparts in the New York area who became famous for songs like "Rapper's Delight" and "The Message," that's about as far as things went for Tony Pearson. Or other early Connecticut rappers.
A second chance at more widespread recognition for the could-have-been stars might come with this month's release of "The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip Hop 1979-1983," a labor of love produced by 25-year-old Seymour and Oxford native Eothen "Egon" Alapatt.
But even Mr. Magic had his doubts.
"There's no place on radio for this stuff," said Tony Pearson, noting he wouldn't air some of these early songs on his own show since the sound is so different from what today's listeners know. "But there is clearly people out there that would buy this stuff."
Can music from artists whose near-misses with stardom date back a quarter-century resonate with today's dramatically different hip-hop audience? Alapatt doesn't expect it to.
Maybe, the connoisseurs among hip-hop heads will get it. And perhaps even youngsters who are buying those throwback T-shirts and Kangaroos sneakers that are popular now will hear something they like in the period music of "The Third Unheard."
But instead of jockeying for commercial success, Alapatt said he views the music he spent two years tracking down as "historically important." Alapatt spoke with reverence of the early Connecticut rappers whose records couldn't transcend state borders, but who he nonetheless believes "stood on par with New York" artists' eclipsing work
As its title suggests, the album attempts to bring belated attention to a burgeoning musical scene that went largely overlooked. "I don't know how the average Jay-Z fan is going to wrap his head around this. I don't care," said Alapatt, whose Los Angeles-based record company, Stones Throw Records, prides itself on putting out music its producers like and not necessarily material that will sell volumes.
As a result, Alapatt's "The Third Unheard" becomes as much an anthropological homage as it is an album release.
Alapatt became enamored with hip-hop as a 6-year-old accompanying his father to work at the University of Bridgeport Still a toddler when Mr. Magic and other area artists made their first forays into rap, Alapatt came to know of them through hip-hop contacts he developed as a teenager and, later, as a radio station manager at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Throughout those years, the idea of making a Connecticut hip-hop album stayed in Alapatt's mind.
Two years ago, he began tracking down the obscure records and contacting artists. These were the men who were there during the infancy of a movement that has become a billion-dollar industry.
In those early days, rap music was a different beast Producers would bring bands into the studio, and songs - which sometimes ran as long as eight or nine minutes - were recorded in one take.
"The energy these guys had was insane," said Alapatt, explaining how Mr. Magic might have been the first musician to broker a deal to use another artists' recorded music in his own - a practice that equates to modern-day sampling. "There was no rules, and it's exciting because of that."
The freedom allowed for certain novelties. After all, it is not every day the listener comes across a rap song featuring a kazoo solo or a back-and-forth between a ventriloquist and his dummy, as the release offers.
"You have people who were up there doing whatever they felt was right for the music at the time," said Alapatt, who advocates that listeners not dismiss the songs as simply primitive sounding. "Give it a proper look in a proper light. Not only listen to the music, but get the story of the people."
While the artists attested to giving it up for want of money, those featured in "The Third Unheard" may yet reap financial reward. Artists will receive half the profits on a prorated basis. And between the couple thousand copies shipped in the first few days of sales and advances paid by Stones Throw, "invariably they've made more than they did back then," said Alapatt.
The Third Unheard: Connecticut Hip Hop, 1979-1983
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