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Bill Stephney

Bill Stephney was the first president of Def Jam Recordings and the co-founder and co-producer of the legendary group Public Enemy. Stephney was music supervisor for a number of major motion pictures including Boomerang, CB-4, The Ladies Man, and Clockers.

 

Abstract:

"These Are The Breaks: How a few dozen obscure records transformed the world of pop music"

As the legend goes, the children of The Bronx in the 1970s couldn’t afford extravagances like pianos, guitars and drum sets; so they turned their turntables and records themselves into musical instruments. The objective for the new musician – The DJ – was to find the “breakdown” or “break,” the brief moment in many works of music where the instrumentation strips down to just the beat, in service of the party people in the rec rooms, parks and playgrounds, some who came to dance, some who came to rhyme. It became a contest of sorts – the quest to find these often painfully short nuggets of music. Most were obscure – here-then-forgotten r&b singles, album filler, deep cuts from movie soundtracks, experimental music, foreign records. They were songs like “Apache” by the Incredible Bongo Band, “Hihake” by the Lafayette Afro-Rock Band, and “Synthetic Substitution” by Melvin Bliss.

In the mid- to late-1980s, these breaks actually started showing up in rap tracks, first “scratched” in from turntables and then “looped” through digital samplers and sequencers.Within a few years, this small “canon” of break records not only powered the increasingly popular genre of hip-hop, they began showing up in the music of the biggest, mainstream pop stars of the day: Madonna, U2, REM, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Limp Bizkit, Moby, and more.What this meant, essentially, is that a select group of sounds familiar only to a small group of folks within a few square miles in The Bronx of the mid-1970s became the rhythmic foundation of global pop music for the next two decades. How and why did this convergence of urban geography and music history happen? What were the consequences and odd fallout from the “breaks” breaking worldwide – beats that are still on the charts and on TV commercials at this moment, even if the records that spawned them never saw that kind of success.