“Genius Rap” ~ Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde

Posted on June 2, 2012


This blog was inspired by – and named after – “Genius Rap”, the timeless 1981 single by Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde; and a quasi-novelty record that proved incredibly pivotal to Hip Hop in the years following its release.

As with many old school rap classics, “Genius Rap” was constructed from a familiar funk-soul hit. Just as the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” and Funky Four Plus One’s “That’s The Joint” re-interpreted grooves from Chic (“Good Times”) and A Taste of Honey (“Rescue Me”) respectively, “Genius Rap” was built on the melody from “Genius Of Love”, a new-wave / funk jam by the Tom Tom Club; that became a cross-Atlantic smash in 1981. The rap update of “Genius Of Love” was conceived by Steve Plotnicki; a music exec that co-founded an indie label (Profile Records) with friend Cory Robbins in early ’81, and saw a rap version of “Genius Of Love” as a sure-fire hit.

Though Profile Records had only been in business a few months when “Genius Rap” dropped, the fledgling label was drowning in red ink by the fall of 1981, through a series of singles that tanked at retail. After burning through more than $30,000 in seed money, Cory Robbins and Steve Plotnicki were down to their last dime; and in late ’81, the partners threw a Hail Mary pass; licensing the rights to “Genius Of Love”, and calling on the only emcee they knew to record the update: Alonzo Brown. Brown, a Harlem-born rapper who performed under the alias Lonnie Love, and who’d cut one of Profile’s early, low-selling singles, was initially sought out to record a solo update of “Genius Of Love”; but instead suggested that Andre Harrell, a high school friend and frequent collaborator, be brought in as co-lead, to which Robbins and Plotnicki agreed. Harrell, a Bronx native with flavor for days, convinced Brown they should develop a fashionable aesthete and new identities; and the two became Dr. Jeckyll (Andre) and Mr. Hyde (Alonzo), two dapper dons that lived the diamond life. With both Harrell and Brown on board, Cory Robbins summoned disco Svengali Joe Tucci to complete the team, and commissioned Tucci to replay the “Genius Of Love” instrumental. Operating under the pseudonym Eric Matthew, Tucci replicated the rhythm tweaks of the Tom Tom Club original; and in late ’81, with the aid of Tucci, Robbins, Plotnicki, and a few others, Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde saved Profile Records from bankruptcy, and strutted into the Hip Hop history books.

“Genius Rap” is a splendid condensing of live performance energy onto tape, and an apt example of the inventiveness of old school Hip Hop. Eric Matthew, a.k.a. Joe Tucci, is a one-man music machine here; handling the drum programming, playing the bass, guitar, and synthesizer, and recording and mixing the song in his home studio. Eric Matthew’s instrumental is airy and crisp, and it maintains the seductive shimmy that made “Genius Of Love” a hit. When Matthew’s drums start to clap; and the synths from Tom Tom Club’s original start to flutter, you’re lifted out of your seat and compelled to dance. Besides Matthew’s irresistible groove, the charismatic performances of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde also drive this song. The duo’s chemistry, honed through years of performing side by side, shines like a North Star, as they trade the mic back and forth, and echo each other’s lines as they flow on. Vocally, Andre Harrell and Alonzo Brown also form a perfect yin and yang: Andre with his slick baritone; and Alonzo with his cavalier tenor, and with their well-rehearsed routines and outlandish boasts, Jeckyll and Hyde cement their place in rap history in only seven minutes. To their credit, Cory Robbins and Steve Plotnicki don’t just finance their historical artifact; they contribute to it. This song’s park jam feel is owed in part to the crowd noise that wafts in the background; noise that is provided by Robbins, Plotnicki, and an anonymous group of friends, who chant and bounce to the beat as Jeckyll and Hyde rhyme. And as Eric Matthew’s track fades to black, you’re all but dared to not press “rewind”, and relive this seven minutes of bliss all over again.

“Genius Rap” was created as a one-shot to help Profile Records stay afloat, but it proved far more impactful, both financially and historically. The 12-inch became an immediate street-level smash; selling 150,000 copies in the United States, and netting Profile co-partners Steve Plotnicki and Cory Robbins a six-figure windfall. The minimal expenses and large profit margins rap offered proved enticing to Plotnicki and Robbins, who made Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde their first official act, and sought out other rap artists to sign. In late 1982, barely a year after “Genius Rap” was released, Profile’s brand name piqued the interest of Russell Simmons, a Queens impresario that managed a trio named Run DMC, and visited Profile’s offices to play the group’s demo for Robbins. Robbins signed Simmons’ group; and in March of 1983, the future of both Profile Records and rap music began to take shape, when Run DMC’s debut single “Sucker MC’s” began to boom from stereos across the U.S., and the trio became standard bearers for rap as an artform. Many of the principals involved with this record went on to greater success; with Steve Plotnicki and Cory Robbins building Profile into an indie empire; Andre Harrell founding Uptown Entertainment, and becoming an urban music magnate; and Alonzo Brown morphing into a television and film producer. They’re all many years wiser, and millions of dollars richer, but the legends of Harrell, Brown, Plotnicki and Robbins started with “Genius Rap”, the classic that laid the foundation for some of Hip Hop’s greatest acts, as well as the ultimate Hip Hop blog.

Review by Syd Caesar

To listen to “Genius Rap”, click here.