Rammellzee, 1960-2010

Sad news for hip-hop last night, as word spread that the groundbreaking graffiti artist and MC Rammellzee had died of as-yet-unknown causes. Born in Far Rockaway, Queens, a fixture of the fertile downtown New York scene of early 1980s, the mysterious figure known as Rammellzee is probably most famous for appearing in three films: Henry Chalfant’s Style Wars, Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style (that’s him rapping in Wild Style in the clip above) and, playing the role of “man with money,” Jim Jarmusch’s Stranger Than Paradise. And for “Beat Bop,” a song he made with his Bronx cohort K-Rob that was produced by Jean-Michel Basquiat

Writing in the liner notes to the very excellent old-school rap compilation ego trip’s The Big Playback, ego trip’s Chairman Mao calls the song “the grand-daddy opus of hip-hop experimentalism.” (Since I’m plugging, a disclosure: I used to work at ego trip.) It’s long, as Mao described it, “ten minutes and ten seconds of sublimely funky abstraction…” But really, really worth a listen. Recorded in 1983, it still sounds like a future we haven’t caught up with yet.