This is a journey back into time, where disco reigned supreme. The clubs were the place to be, but for those who were under 21 and 18, they felt left out. In Lauryn Hill’s song “Superstar,” she fires, “Hip Hop started out in the park…” she was absolutely right. Rodney Stone who went by Lil’Rodney C. is one of the people responsible for creating this thing that we all call Hip Hop. As a member of the pioneering Funky Four Plus One More, which was renamed The Funky 4+1, he was able to say that he and the other members of his group were the first to do different things with the culture. Though the group was very popular and still holds the record for the longest running Hip Hop song, they never recorded a single album. And after a bidding dispute with their label, Rodney Stone who went by Lil’Rodney C. left the group. Flash forward 30 years and Stone is starting a fund to help pioneering Hip Hop legends like himself with everything from legal issues, to healthcare.
4 – 2 = Double Trouble and Wildstyle
While signed to Sugar Hill Records, and after leaving, Stone was developing a relationship with one of the members of The Sequence – the all-female group signed to Sugar Hill. Their lead Funky single, “Funk You Up” was a hit and was said to be written based off of cheers that Angie B did while cheering in high school. The group, from Columbia, South Carolina, was comprised of Angie B (Angie Brown), Cheryl the Pearl (Cheryl Cook), and Blondie (Gwendolyn Chisolm). Stone says that he was attracted to Angie B. and developed a romance through feeling connected with her. “I couldn’t see her suffer. I became her guardian angel.” The couple started dating, and Angie B. got pregnant. Stone admits that he was never in love with her. “Coming up the way that I did, we got married.” Angie B, became Angie Stone. After The Sequence broke up, Angie Stone would fashion herself as an R&B singer and is still a mainstream success today. Rodney Stone was 20 years old and says that Sylvia did not approve of the marriage. “Sylvia tried to label us as kids from the ghetto saying, ‘you shouldn’t mix with them’ but I have a beautiful daughter who is now 27 and a beautiful grandson,” says Stone. Of his relationship with Angie Stone he says, “We still talk when we need to.”
After leaving The Funky, Stone was depressed for a time. “To be in that car, that’s coming to fame and fortune and then have to get out – it is not a good feeling.” Eventually, Stone bounces back and forms The Original Double Trouble with KK Rockwell. “I started writing revenge rhymes. We decided that we would dress like gangsters. We had the guns, gangster hats, and suits. Hip Hop got negative after that. It was the image that we portrayed. We were the first duo to be signed to a major label (Capitol EMI). We changed our name to Deuce and our first single was called, “Think About It.” Deuce left Capitol EMI because, “They didn’t know what they were doing – they didn’t know how to market the record or promote it.” The record sold 11 thousand copies in its first month. The Funky’s first record sold 60 thousand within the first week.
The cult classic Wildstyle was what was supposed to be the documentary on The Funky. “We were offered an opportunity to do Wildstyle and that was Double Trouble’s debut. Wildstyle was an impromptu movie – there were ideas for scenes, but no script.” The film is said to be the most accurate portrayal of how Hip Hop started on the streets of the South Bronx.
Stone ended up going south to attend college, but had to drop out when his mother told him to come back home. Angie Stone was dating someone else – while the two were still legally married. They were divorced and Rodney Stone was depressed once more.
Enter Norman Cook – a drummer and DJ from Europe with a group called, Beats International. He took the Wildstyle stoop scene of KK Rockwell and Lil’Rodney C rapping together and paired it with a single of his own. It was a top 10 hit all over the world, according to Stone. They cut a publishing deal with Stone and Smith and wanted to shoot a video. The two flew to Europe, “It was like paradise,” Stone remembers. While there, Cook’s manager got them gigs performing throughout the country and they were each making 3 thousand pounds a performance. Often they would perform more than once a night. Stone planned to stay, but he and Smith only had eleven days on his passport. The two were deported while in the middle of hosting their own Hip Hop radio show in England for Choice FM – the first black-owned radio station in South London. “What ended up happening was that the record label that originally brought us there didn’t get us work permits.” The radio station would get them the work permits, but that process took a year. “We got deported in 1990 and we got the permit in August of 1991. I made it back to Europe, but KK doesn’t. I lived in Europe from 1991 – 94. “While I’m there, I’m teaching them about Hip Hop. They don’t know about the culture – all they know is the records. I came back to New York in 1994.”
I ended up in 1995 – 1996 not doing anything. And I knew this woman who worked for a youth program and they were having a Kwanza fest. She knew that I was into music, they wanted to teach the kids R Kelly’s “I believe I Can Fly,” they brought me in to oversee that. I ended up working for them for nine years,” says Stone. While working for the program, Stone was introduced to Safe Night – a drug and weapon free event. “I started producing Safe Night Talent and Fashion Showcases. I taught the fundamentals to young people who had a desire to gain exposure.”
Stone stopped working for the youth program when his new wife got cancer and needed sophisticated medical treatments.
“Back in 2006, I was at a Zulu Nation Anniversary. While I was working for the youth program, I had $5,000 in dental work done. Long story short, I was asked to do an interview with another program similar to the one that I worked for. I agreed, but when they took the picture I didn’t smile.” Stone had dentures – expensive ones. And when they were in his pockets, he reached for his keys and the dentures slipped out and were lost. One of the heads from that same organization that interviewed him, called and said, “I would like to help raise money to get you new dentures.” Stone was touched, but he agreed if only he could do the same for other Hip Hop pioneers.
In 2007, Stone created Groundbreakers Entertainment – an umbrella company that supports a fund that seeks to help other Hip Hop pioneers with medical, legal, and educational issues as they arise. “We have over 300 members and the fee is $25 a year,” says Stone.
As for the other pioneers involved: Spoonie Gee, Kool Kyle the Original Starchild, Reggie Reg from the Crash Crew, Kevie Kev, MC Master Rob, RB da Brolik, cut King, DJ Stevie Steve, and Dana Dane. “The overall mission is to support Hip Hop pioneers and their families.”
Hip Hop has changed since the days of the five elements all confined to the parks of South Bronx in 1973. “Whenever I am asked about the current state of Hip Hop, I say two things: I respect any artist that is working today. I don’t agree with all off the subject matter that young people talk about. It has gotten negative and degrading. My goal is to change the face of Hip Hop through my alternative youth program.”
The Funky 4+1 is negotiating a reunion, but that’s all that it is right now, according to Stone.
– James R. Sanders
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James R. Sanders regularly contributes to the Huffington Post and is the biweekly columnist for Black Star News’ Noir Style. He most recently completed his novel, “Born in Sin” and is a stylist and editor based in the New York area. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.