After my article on Futura 2000 came out in the New York Daily News, Futura quickly catapulted to international stardom, and among the first patrons to arrive on his doorstep were The Clash, who hired him to paint a canvas backdrop during their performances and gradually worked him into a feature performance slot on the tour. After The Clash asked Futura to write a rap song about himself, he sat down and composed 7-verses on a long piece of cardboard, filling both sides to the maximum in his immaculate style. Futura never mentioned his strained relationship with Ali or the incident in the tunnel, though, which is the part I found so fascinating, but did give Fab Five Freddy an entire verse. In my book, Hip Hop (which has just been re-released with color photos and illos), Freedom, otherwise known as Chris Pape, tells his version of the Futura-Ali saga, there are so many variations. The photo of Futura (above) was taken by Stephen Crichlow around 1982.
To give you an idea of how crazy things were at the time, immediately after publishing the first article on hip hop in the Voice, I’d written a story about Arlene Smith and the Chantels, which went into their relationship with Morris Levy, who would later become a thinly-veiled character in The Sopranos epic. Levy routinely took all publishing rights from his acts, something common at the time. Although their records were huge hits and Arlene was the first goddess of rock’n’roll and pioneered the girl group sound, she ended up feeling used and exploited and broke. Her story was a bit sad, but my editor at the Voice, Thulani Davis, who was black herself, loved it. It was a message I wanted to send to the Sugarhill acts, who were then about to be destroyed by Sylvia Robinson, who was busy creating her own phony hip hop acts like the Sugarhill Gang, who would have been laughed off the stage at a South Bronx jam, since their style was so soft and weak in comparison to the delivery of a Busy Bee or Melle Mel or Grandmaster Caz or Kool Mo Dee.
I stupidly sent a copy of the story to Arlene before it was published, however, and she showed it to her agent, who called me and told me to retract the story and he would help me write a better version. When I refused, he said he was personal friends with Voice music editor (Robert Christgau) and my story would never see the light of day in the Voice. And that’s exactly what happened. Christgau blocked publication of a story that had already been accepted by Thulani. (You can read that original story on Arlene on my smashwords site though.)
So I drifted over to the SoHo Weekly News, where a news editor named David Hershkovits expressed interest in publishing my ongoing hip hop research, the only such editor in America at that time. I first wrote a story on Crazy Legs and the Rock Steady Crew and then David asked me to go interview Futura, who was just back from a European tour with The Clash. Futura graciously handed me the piece of cardboard (above) that he’d first written his rap song on, and he said I could keep it, which was nice because I’d already paid him $100 for a framed photo of his Break train, and this was a major trophy he threw into my lap.