For those of you too young to remember Kurtis Blow, here's a quick summary: godfather of rap.
Kurtis "Blow" Walker, best known for late- '70s and '80s hits The Breaks, Basketball and If I Ruled the World (which Nas sampled a decade later), was one of hip-hop's pioneers. He was the first rapper signed to a major label, the first with a certified gold single, the first to tour internationally and the first to score an endorsement deal. Blow set the stage for acts like Run-DMC and Grandmaster Flash and, while the music he describes as "progressive, funky disco" may seem unsophisticated by today's standards, his career paved the way for today's rap superstars.
"I can recall being in the projects, and the older guys playing the music. Their biggest artist that they loved was Kurtis Blow at the time," rapper Flo Rida told tbt* this week. "They used to be mimicking his rhymes, playing inside the wash house — the Laundromat — banging on the laundry machines, singing his records."
All these decades later, Blow, who turns 50 on Aug. 9, is still making records — but with a higher calling. A born-again Christian and licensed nondenominational pastor, Minister Kurtis, as he's now called, oversees hip-hop-themed churches in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and his native Harlem. He also fronts the holy hip-hop group Kurtis Blow and the Trinity. They criss-cross the country in a 12-passenger van, performing and speaking at churches. Sunday they'll be at Tampa's Crossover Church.
Earlier this week, Blow spoke with tbt* by phone from a tour stop in Selma, Ala.
What's the difference between touring now and 25 years ago?
The numbers are different. I used to have between 10,000 and 20,000 back 25 years ago. Now the numbers are smaller. Anywhere between 100 and 1,000 now. ... But I'll tell you, there's more meaning in what I'm doing right now.
What do you think of the direction rap has taken?
I actually think that the lyrical flows are faster and wittier and more complicated. It's a challenge for an old-schooler to keep up.
But you shouldn't have to keep up. You're the originator. Do you feel pressure to keep up with these kids?
Not a pressure, no. It's like a project — a school project.
So who are your fans? Are they people who grew up with your music, or are they a new generation of fans?
Both. ... A lot of smart kids out there do their research, and they find out about me, and they come out to my shows. Like in Europe, it's mixed 50-50 young people and older people, over 40. But predominantly, you know — c'mon, it's an over-30 crowd.
You have a birthday coming up.
Yeah, the big 5-0!
How will you celebrate?
They're giving me a party in New York at one of the biggest clubs in New York. It's called the Shadow. The owner (is) giving me a big party. They're going to put it all on the radio and everything. Actually, it's going to be my last party.
Because I'm going to get ordained the next week. I'm just going to stop partying, going out to clubs and stuff like that.
You've had so many firsts. Why do you think you were the first? Do you think it was God who chose you as the first, or do you think it was hard work?
No, it was definitely God.
Because somebody had to be the first.
Somebody had to be the first, and I was blessed. That's a beautiful thing.
Have you figured out why God wanted it to be you?
No. When I meet him, I'm going to ask him, though. (laughs)
Sources: Billboard.com, MTV.com