One Random Single a Day #101: “King Kut” (1985) by Word of Mouth

Hooray – another old-school hip-hop track! As I mentioned before, I’m pretty into rap music in general, but I’m especially a sucker for old-school hip-hop tracks from the early days of the genre. I’ve done a few so far – “Fatal Attractions” by Kimski, “Games People Play” by Sweet G, and the legendary “Rapper’s Delight” by Sugarhill Gang. I haven’t found much information about the rap group that heads this record; judging by the few pictures I’ve seen, they probably consist of two emcees (one of whom is named KFC; I’ve regrettably been unable to find the name of the other), and beat-maker by the name of DJ Cheese. While I haven’t found much information on Word of Mouth, apparently DJ Cheese is a pretty big deal in the history of turntablism. Although he remained relatively underground throughout his career’s peak, his incorporation of scratching in his sets found him becoming the first winner of the DMC World DJ Championships in 1986. Moreover, his techniques are often noted as being important innovations to the progression of the then-new genre of hip-hop. Even though he remains relatively unsung (at least compared to contemporaries like Grandmaster Flash and Jam Master Jay), his efforts have nonetheless helped audiences perceive DJs as being musicians in all their own ways.

As such, there isn’t really much to say about the actual lyrics on this track. I mean, despite it not exactly containing the complexity one would expect from newer rap tracks, it’s not bad. There are even some pretty good lines, like “I’m an Einstein when it comes to rhyme / Moves like this, I’m a scientist” and “I got so many rhymes, I don’t know what to do / I might throw some away or give some to you”. For the most part, though, this follows the tradition of brag-rap that practically makes up the origins of the hip-hop scene as a whole. At its core, though, this seems to be a track that revolves around the efforts of DJ Cheese in particular. The chorus goes, “King Kut, you know you wanna slice / Scratch it so nice, you gotta hear it twice… DJ Cheese… Scratch up the beat, go off”. It seems that the royalty in question here is Cheese himself, with the two rappers acting as supporting agents to his work (though potentially on equal footing as him, nonetheless). It’s clear, though, that Cheese brings the real magic here with some truly raw beats, funky scratches, and a hook that samples “La Marseillaise”. The latter element is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard in old-school rap, but the more I listened to it, the more it seemed to work and the more I grooved along nonchalantly.

It’s hard for me to determine to what extent I truly enjoyed this song. As I mentioned before, these kinds of old-school rap relics stand out for me as historical signposts, less of a indicator of the music industry as a whole and more of an artifact of a very specific time, place, and movement. For example, noting that these rhymes aren’t the sharpest is silly, since professional songwriters and producers weren’t involved and the mere fact of such music existing should be treated as a miracle in and of itself. However, when the lyrics themselves remark on how sick and sleek their rhymes are, does that make such criticism valid? In any case, “King Kut” is more of a platform for the work of DJ Cheese anyway, and in this regard it certainly delivers. If anything, I appreciate this song exactly for just how raw and unfettered it sounds, warts and all. I’ll take a thousand more of these over any modern-sounding, soulless-but-well-produced hip-hop single any day.

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