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(The Aleems, with Hendrix and friend Faye Pridgeon)

Since the 1960s, when they worked and recorded with their friend, the great Jimi Hendrix, all the way through to the 1990s, the legendary twin brothers Albert and Arthur Allen, known as the Aleems (a.k.a.,, the Ghetto Fighters, Prana People, Us and Fantastic Aleems) have been responsible for providing the best of rock, blues, R&B, dance and rap with their musicianship, performance and production artistry.  Their place in music history is well established as premier independent record label pioneers, and their status as collaborators with, and recognizers of major music talents, has propelled them to Hall of Fame attention and recognition in the world of black music in particular, and popular music as a whole.

Tunde Ra and Taharqa Aleem (keyboards and guitar specialists respectively, as well as vocalists), began their careers in the 1960s, working, traveling and socializing with the greats of rhythm & blues, such as Big Maybelle, Bobby Womack, Sam Cook, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Clarence “Blowfly” Reid and others. They learned the inner workings of the music industry through their association with Harlem legend Fat Jack Taylor, owner of the Ro-Jack Records independent label, and co-owner of the famous Harlem World club, of which the Aleems would also establish co-ownership status with Taylor. (Harlem World would later be known for the large number of pioneer rap acts that performed there.)

During this period the Aleems met Jimi Hendrix by way of a couple of girlfriends, and shortly after, they soon shared living space together in a house in Manhattan’s Park West Village for a period of two years. They also later began working with Hendrix as singers and musicians, calling themselves the Ghetto Fighters. They put on a free concert in Harlem on 134th Street in 1969 with Hendrix, and recorded three albums with him, Cry of Love, Rainbow Bridge and War Heroes, in addition to working on their own projects. Hendrix had planned to give the Ghetto Fighters wider exposure through special projects he was developing to present to the world. After Jimi Hendrix’s death in September of 1970, the deeply hurt and saddened twins decided to put the entire Jimi Hendrix experience on the side as a pleasant memory, and move on with their own careers, changing their name to Aleem from Allen in the process.   

By the 1970s, the Aleems hooked up with the New York Knicks’ basketball Hall of Famer Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. A music enthusiast, Monroe later established music business concerns which included the labels Pretty Pearl and In Your Face Records. Around 1977, the brothers recorded two songs for Monroe’s production company, one under the group name Us which resulted in the song “The Ostrich” for Spring Records, the other, as the Prana People, recording the single “Is Your Life A Party?”

Into the early 1980s, the Aleems established their own independent label, called Nia Records. This time recording as the Fantastic Aleems, they recorded the song “Hooked On Your Love” on that label. The work featured the background vocals of R&B singers Luther Vandross (his first vocal work for records) and Jocelyn Brown. Other songs the brothers released on their label in 1983 include their Captain Rock series, “Cosmic Glide” and  “The Return of Captain Rock,” which was co-written with the rap duo, Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde. (The twins would later work with Mr. Hyde, who began recording as Lonnie Love, producing two songs for him on the Profile label, titled “Young Ladies” and “Dr. Jeckyll Is Dead.”

In 1984, the Aleems recorded the song “Release Yourself,” and with that, the two set up the Nia Records offices in residence of Earl Monroe’s partner, Dick Scott, former personal assistant to Motown Records’ Berry Gordy, and later manager of New Kids On The Block.

“Release Yourself” marked another turning point for the twins. After having watched and listened to the emergence of rap via their own children, they decided to use then upcoming hip hop DJ Marley Marl to do a special mix for the song. First meeting Marl through pioneer hip hop radio DJ Mr. Magic (who the brothers helped secure an on-the-air spot on New York radio station WBLS-FM), the Aleems recorded Marley Marl’s mix for “Release Yourself” on that single’s b-side. By 1985, Marl recorded the groundbreaking “Marley Marl Scratch” with MC Shan for the Aleems’ label. From there, the brothers found themselves at the forefront of recorded rap, with their Nia Records becoming a pioneer black-owned independent rap label.

Around this same period, the twins began working with female MC Sparky D, which resulted with them recording her “Sparky’s Turn (Roxanne You’re Through)” in reference to her legendary MC battles with Roxanne Shante. Shante recorded for another black owned independent label, located in Philadelphia, called Pop Art, also owned by brothers, named Lawrence and Dana Goodman. The Aleems and the Goodman brothers saw an opportunity to focus on the Roxanne battle craze, so they created a special label to record the phenomenon, called Spin Records, after which, The Battle was recorded and released.

At the same time, the Aleems were still recording as artists on the Nia label, releasing works under their name with singer Leroy Burgess (former lead vocalist for the R&B group Black Ivory), such as “Confusion” and others. They then decided to separate their own work from that label and sign with Atlantic Records (keeping the Nia label strictly for rap acts). They recorded for Atlantic with Burgess, the single “Love’s On Fire” and the albums Casually Formal and Shock.  Towards 1989, after releasing another one of Marley Marl’s work on Nia titled “Coke Is It” by the Supa’ Kids (featuring the Intelligent Hoodlum, Tragedy, recording as MC Jade), the brothers became divided as an act for Atlantic and as independent label owners. Also, staff problems at their own label caused them to dismantle Nia Records, and concentrate on production and engineering.

By the early 1990s they decided to build their own recording studio, as well as set up their own distribution services. Acquiring space on the fifth floor at 1600 Broadway in Manhattan, the Aleems built their Concrete Recording Studio, and B.I.D. (Black Independent Distribution) services. They also continued producing other artists, working with acts like Rick James, Kashif, Technotronic and New Kids On The Block. But later, once again, problems with their staff rendered disruption to the brothers’ operation, which forced them to disassemble their successful venture and move on to the next phase in their careers.

During the period when extensive attention was paid to England’s Royal Family, due to the marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, the Aleems decided to bring attention to the black royal family in Ethiopia, citing that royalty exists in people with an African lineage. They started a non-profit organization called the Reconstruction of Black Civilization, which ultimately brought over the son of the Emperor Haile Sellassie I of Ethiopia to the United States before his death.

By 1997 the Aleems began doing production work with the rap group Gravediggas, whom they met via their relationship with the Wu Tang Clan, who recorded some of their 36 Chambers album at the twins’ Concrete Studio. (The brothers also distributed the Wu Tang Clan’s “Protect Ya Neck” single in New York.) The Aleems were soon approached at this time by a CBS production employee, to contribute to a partially animated documentary on Jimi Hendrix. Realizing that they themselves had a wealth of film and audio archival material on Hendrix, from his early attempt to give the twins exposure when they performed as the Ghetto Fighters, the Aleems decided to devote their time as a labor of love, to assembling a project known as Jimi Hendrix Presents: Ghetto Fighters/Time Travelers. Consisting of rare unreleased studio recordings and film footage of Hendrix, as well as Band of Gypsy members Buddy Miles, Billy Cox, Juma Sultan and the twins, the Aleems have now come full circle as they continue to present the greatness of their art to music enthusiasts and the entire world.




Mickey and Sylvia 

Sylvia Robinson died yesterday. With the exception of a few people, the response to this on the social sites was like the sound of crickets chirping. So, I decided to pull this out and dust it off, to show her importance to the music industry.


(Excerpted from my book Rap Whoz Who, the first encyclopedia done on rap music, published 1996 by Schirmer/Simon and Schuster Macmillan, and nominated for the Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award.)


Sugar Hill Records was known as the first record label fully devoted to rap. Before its demise in 1985, Sugar Hill Records was responsible for signing major pioneer rap acts like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Sequence, the Funky Four Plus One, the Sugarhill Gang, the Crash Crew, the Treacherous Three, and Spoonie Gee.


The label was founded by Sylvia Vanderpool Robinson and her husband, Joe Robinson. Sylvia once recorded as Little Sylvia for Savoy Records in the early 1950s, and she was also part of the 1956 guitar/singing duo Mickey and Sylvia, responsible for million-selling hits like “Love Is Strange.” Sylvia also produced Ike and Tina Turner’s 1961 hit “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” the Moments’ (later recording as Ray, Goodman, and Brown) “Love on a Two-Way Street,” and Shirley and Company’s disco hit “Shame, Shame, Shame.” Sylvia returned as a single recording artist on her own Vibration label in 1973, with the hit “Pillow Talk,” which topped the R&B charts and reached number 3 on the pop charts.


Back in the 1960s Sylvia began doing business in the Bronx with the Blue Morocco Club on Boston Road. Towards the 1970s Sylvia and her husband Joe, formed several record labels, including All Platinum, Turbo, Stang, and Vibration. All Platinum Records had a total of thirty-five hit records by artists including Chuck Jackson, Linda Jones, and Candi Staton. The Robinsons also later bought the Chess Records catalog of master recordings by blues guitarist Muddy Waters and others.


By the late 1970s the All Platinum label was ailing when Sylvia noticed that her kids were listening to MC and DJ tapes from the Bronx that were circulating around this time. During this same period she also heard people MC’ing over disco records at a party for her sister in Harlem. With her oldest son, Joe Jr., Sylvia began to assemble a group that would provide the same type of entertainment she saw people enjoying around her. At this same time the Robinsons were given a production and distribution deal by Roulette Records’ Morris Levy. Sugar Hill Records was established in the Roulette Records offices at 1790 Broadway in Manhattan.


Sylvia first worked with the young men she had gathered, calling them the Sugarhill Gang. They recorded the landmark “Rapper’s Delight,” which contained rhymes that were written mostly by Grandmaster Caz, who went unaccredited. The record reportedly sold over two million copies in the United States alone. She next worked with three female MCs called Sequence, recording the single “Funk You Up.” Both of these singles put the label on the map as the premier full-fledged rap label.


After some business differences, Morris Levy asked to be bought out of the deal with the Robinsons for $2 million. The Robinsons moved Sugar Hill Records out of the Roulette Records offices, and into offices located in Englewood, New Jersey. At the new location Sylvia set up a studio house band to record her rap records, called Wood, Brass, and Steel. The musicians who made up the house band were guitarist Bernard Alexander, drummer Keith LeBlanc, bassist Doug Wimbish, percussionist Ed “Duke Bootee” Fletcher, guitarist Skip MacDonald, and keyboardists Gary Henry, Duane Mitchell, Reggie Griffen, and Clifton “Jiggs” Chase, who served as principal arranger on most of the records. There was also a horn section called Chops, and engineering all the records was Steve Jerome.


During the early 1980s Sugar Hill Records turned out a number of hits for its rap roster, however, it was still in serious financial trouble, primarily stemming from the company’s desire to distribute its own product. By 1983 Joe Robinson signed a distribution deal with MCA.


Towards 1984 one of Sugar Hill’s artists, Grandmaster Flash, saw a conflict of interest in his contract with the label, because Sylvia Robinson managed his group, the Furious Five, and produced their recordings. He sued the company for $5 million in royalties and the right to use his name and the name of his group, the Furious Five. Courts awarded him only the right to use his own name, after which the Furious Five was split down the middle, some members staying at Sugar Hill, others leaving the company with Grandmaster Flash.


By 1985 Sugar Hill Records’ financial situation continued to decline, with the added $3.5 million in loans and advances from MCA remaining outstanding. MCA bought the Chess catalog from the Robinsons for $3 million. Sugar Hill Records remained insolvent, and was forced into bankruptcy. In 1995 Rhino Records purchased the label’s back catalog and unreleased master recordings.




August 28th is the birthday of Wendell Scott, the only black driver in NASCAR during his career, which spanned the 1960s and early 1970s.  He was forced to retire in 1973 after getting injured in what’s traditionally known as “the Big One” in Talladega, Alabama that same year.  Scott won the NASCAR Grand National (now known as the Sprint Cup) series in Jacksonville, Florida on December 1, 1963.  He is the only black driver to win that to date. (No typical Victory Lane trophy queen finish for him however, with photographers and girls and such.)  He had 147 top ten finishes in 495 Grand National career starts.  Born in 1921 in Danville, Virginia, Scott (a master mechanic, like most NASCAR drivers in those years) started racing in 1947, after first driving a cab, and then hauling moonshine liquor, which is pretty much the genesis of stock car racing.  He died December 23, 1990.  Richard Pryor played Scott in a film about the driver and his career, titled Greased Lightning in 1977, co-starring Pam Grier, Beau Bridges, Cleavon Little and Richie Havens.


I can’t believe I gotta sit down here in this day and age, and write about something that has a contingent Jim Crow smell to me.  I mean it’s 2010, and I gotta ask why this man has yet to receive a nomination in the NASCAR Hall of Fame??  Come on!—give me a break! I mean, I’m looking at the nominees here for the 2011 class.  All these guys should be there of course.  Ned Jarrett, Fireball Roberts, Joe Weatherly and the others, should be there.  I was looking at the nominees in 2010 for that class, and I was like, OK, let me see if next year’s gonna be the year.  But realistically, can you REALLY overlook somebody with the historic value and credentials Scott has?  Can a person really be that shortsighted?  Look, I have all of Scott’s Grand National / Winston Cup stats on my computer.  After all, NASCAR (along with other motor sports) happens to be something I like.  It’s not my religion, but I like motor sports racing, very much.  I just think this silent noncommittal position by the sport on this matter is just plain dumb now. Give the man a damn nomination!  (Interestingly enough, Scott and his family have reportedly named Weatherly, Roberts, Jarrett, along with Tiny Lund, Richard Petty, and good friend Earl Brooks, as guys who tried to look out for Scott while all the racist shenanigans were going on during his career.)


Muslims.  We’re dealing with Muslims now, and Islam, right?  We tend to innovate and advance our discriminatory practices.  But it seems like these guys are still having problems with black folks advancing or holding their own in a motor sport.


Stupid.  Just, stupid.