Blowfly: Hip-Hop’s Dirty, Weird Uncle
Chuck D and Ice-T back his importance, but did this foul-mouthed rapper really invent the genre?
According to the costumed, foul-mouthed parodist Blowfly, he “invented” rap music almost 50 years ago. He reminds viewers of this fact throughout Jonathan Furmanski’s documentary The Weird World Of Blowfly (in select theaters, and streaming on Amazon and iTunes), even dissing some early rappers (he refers to Kurtis Blow as “Kurtis Blow Job”) while receiving co-signs from a couple of legendary MCs. Ice-T calls Blowfly a “master” and Public Enemy’s Chuck D praises the filthy Miami soulster’s trangressive comedy as “futuristic,” even citing it as partial inspiration for “Fight The Power.”
Since the late 1960s, Blowfly has been creating filthy versions of popular hits — Otis Redding’s “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” became “Shittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay” — and that certainly had an impact on the evolution of rap, but it doesn’t add up to inventing a genre. Alongside the more serious versifying of the Last Poets, Watts Prophets, and of course, Gil Scott-Heron, Blowfly and other party-record comedians (Rudy Ray Moore, Redd Foxx) have mixed dirty jokes with folksy, nursery-rhyme cadences, sometimes over music, laying some of the groundwork for hip-hop.
The story Blowfly tells, however, is that he flat-out invented it. In 1965. With “Rap Dirty.” But “Rap Dirty” wasn’t released until 1980, and it’s clearly intended as a parody of the Sugarhill Gang’s 1979 song “Rapper’s Delight.” Though he’s claimed in interviews that he first recorded the song 15 years prior, no copies of this earlier pressing have been found. Furmanski’s film doesn’t question Blowfly’s self-mythologizing — Ice-T even supports the fib –and that might come off as charming if The Weird World Of Blowfly didn’t otherwise take such a leering, disconcerting, The Wrestler-like approach to the almost 70-year-oldperformer’s career.
We’re privy to Blowfly hobbling up nightclub steps, his bum leg twisted inward; we see him strip down, old man titties sagging, as he puts on his iconic sequined superhero costume. There’s a scene that goes on for way too long of Blowfly in bed, shirtless, eating a McDonald’s breakfast mashed-up and slathered with syrup. It seems like the intention here is to provide Blowfly with some kind of shabby nobility, but a total lack of nobility is what makes him so awesome.
He has been making “pussy” and “cock”-filled funk songs for years, and as the film hilariously illustrates, it’s not only when he’s onstage or in the recording booth. He sings to the secretary who’s talking to him about his Social Security checks and he busts out a dirty ditty on the bus when nobody’s even listening. He’s a weird fucking guy. And an American original. Plus, Blowfly can really sing, and during his initial run in the ’70s, he had a stellar crew of musicians playing behind him, making the entire conceit even more ridiculous (the albums were released on his own Weird World imprint because no respectable label would put this stuff out). Those stag-party songs sounded great. The dude could belt it out.
And in terms of conventional respectability, Blowfly also happens to be Southern soul icon Clarence Reid, a writer-producer and crucial player in building the legendary Miami disco label TK. Reid wrote and produced for Sam & Dave, KC and the Sunshine Band, and crafted two Betty Wright classics familiar to hip-hop heads: “Clean Up Woman” (sampled countless times, including on the Biggie remix to Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love”) and “Girls Can Do What Guys Do” (the sample source for Beyonce and Jay-Z’s “Upgrade U”). In 2003, to pay off some debts, Reid sold his publishing rights for a pathetically small amount, which in a sense, led to Blowfly’s resurrection, thanks to fans who wanted to help him out — namely, Jello Biafra and his Alternative Tentacles label (who is barely mentioned in the movie), and journalist turned manager and band member Tom Bowker.
Kurmanski’s command of Reid’s narrative, though, is so loose and in-the-moment that there’s no sense of history or any connecting-the-dots between his financial situation and his amped-up, mid-2000s return to touring and recording. Then again, Blowfly’s so-called comeback isn’t particularly exciting or redemptive. He plays to poorly attended shows, and Bowker is an overbearing goon who sports a telling “Fuck You Pay Me” t-shirt; and in stark contrast to Reid’s old-fashioned professionalism, Bowker judges how much effort to put into a performance by how many people show up. Towards the end of the film, Bowker teams Blowfly with Otto von Schirach, a Miami IDM/electro producer who’s played with Skinny Puppy, and the duo record a new song about fucking a mummy. It’s called “Mummy Fucker.”
“Mummy Fucker” just isn’t funny — it’s badly executed and obvious in a way that’s just crass rather than oddly charming, like Blowfly’s best work. The brilliance of Blowfly is that you often see his lyrics coming from a mile away (“Hole Man” sung to the tune of “Soul Man”), but you still end up laughing like a kindergartner. Other times, the absurd lyrical leap is the joke: “Rainy Night In Georgia” turns into “Spermy Night in Georgia,” and the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” becomes “Should I Fuck This Big Fat Hoe.”
Aside from “Rap Dirty” — wonky release chronology notwithstanding — and a few other songs here and there, Blowfly’s link to hip-hop isn’t as proto-rapper but as savvy interpolator (decades before Puffy Daddy). His story is fascinating because he predicts hip-hop, not because he created it. For example, Blowfly’s style began when he was a boy working on a farm in Georgia, changing the lyrics to popular songs with the intent of pissing off the white folks barking orders at him. It “backfired,” Reid jokes. They loved his lewd reaffixes.
That genesis — music made to piss off white people that is ultimately embraced by them — does sound like the origin of hip-hop, though, doesn’t it? Blowfly’s hip-hop importance mostly has to do with the way that he’s something of a, well, fly in the ointment of the genre’s political and spiritual origin story. He isn’t a poet rapping proto-conscious platitudes like Gil Scott-Heron; he’s a dirty old man. But that dirty old man’s worldview is just as important to the genre’s formation. And Blowfly, bum leg, squandered disco fortune, dirty lyrics and all, won’t let anybody forget that.
The Weird World Of Blowfly trailer:
Blowfly, “Shake Your Thang” (feat. Flea)