Music

Legendary LA Party Crew Uncle Jamm’s Army Is Reuniting This Weekend For One Night Only

The roots of West Coast hip-hop run through Uncle Jamm’s Army.

The legendary (and gigantic) DJ crew ran parties all throughout the Los Angeles area, booking —and packing — performance venues all over the city. Eventually, they became so popular that they were able to book the Los Angeles Sports Arena and fill that too.

The LA dance scene became the inspiration for iconic hip-hop films like Breakin’ and low-key gifted Michael Jackson with some of his best moves; it laid the foundation for the independent, grassroots recording industry that eventually drove groups like NWA to worldwide notoriety.

Uncle Jamm’s Army started out playing high school parties in the mid-‘70s and went on to become LA’s most popular party promoters well into the ‘80s. Founded in 1974 as the The Night Time Players by the late Rodger Clayton, Charles “Alvon” Woods, Renord Collins, and Arthur “Gid” Martin in Harbor City, the Army pioneered the style of electro, funk, and old-school hip-hop that laid the blueprint for rap and dance scenes that still resonates today. In fact, the Los Angeles City Council has even declared October 28th “Uncle Jamm’s Army Day” to acknowledge how the evolution of west coast hip-hop and rap music would not be what it is today if it weren’t for the influence of Uncle Jamm’s Army.

In LA Weekly, Tracy Jones called Uncle Jamm’s Army “the West Coast’s real-life answer to Netflix’s The Get Down,” which dramatized the earliest beginnings of the house party scene in New York City that eventually birthed the worldwide movement known as hip-hop. In the 1980s, the most prominent figures in New York rap — Run DMC, Whodini, The Real Roxanne — were being booked for their first West Coast concerts at none other than Uncle Jamm’s Army parties, giving LA its first real taste of live rap music just as the craze was beginning to sweep the nation.

That’s why Red Bull Music Academy called up Los Angeles area DJs Egyptian Lover, DJ Bobcat, and Arabian Prince, West Coast gangsta rap pioneer Ice-T and The Glove, and Cli-N-Tel and Alonzo, members of former rival crew World Class Wreckin’ Cru, to reunite Uncle Jamm’s Army for one night only at the Savoy Entertainment Center in the back lot of the former Skateland USA to commemorate the impact and influence of the legendary crew. The reunion show is a part of RBMA’s inaugural Red Bull Music Academy Festival, the descendant of Red Bull’s 30 Days In LA.

The festivities of “Uncle Jamm’s Army Day” also coincide with today’s premiere of Red Bull Music Academy’s new documentary episode of The Note titled “Uncle Jamm’s Army: Pioneers of the Modern Party,” which provides an in-depth look at the collective and its influence of music for the last thirty years.

I was given the incredible opportunity to talk with Egyptian Lover ahead of the reunion show; as you could imagine, he was filled with reminisces of the rise and dominance of Uncle Jamm’s Army, including the hilarious story of how Michael Jackson showed up incognito to hijack dance moves, a la Bring It On, the changes in the LA and worldwide dance scenes that took place over the last three decades, and the financial ups and downs of entrepreneurship in the music business.

By the time EL joined in 1982, the group had already graduated from its roots as a high school house party crew to Alpine Village in Torrance, Cal State Long Beach, Veteran’s Auditorium in Culver City, and the Hollywood Palladium. They even took over convention center floors in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Pasadena, as well as — as Lover puts it — any hotel with a ballroom; they’d rent it out and go party. The group eventually toured California, putting on dances in locations as far-flung (at least to them) as Oakland, San Francisco, San Bernardino, and Oxnard.

Of course, covering so much ground meant coming into contact with all types; even in the ’80s Los Angeles was a melting pot of diversity, with seemingly dozens of varying tastes to serve.

“LA was so big, so we had a mixture of all the different cultures; we had punk rock, we had the mods, we had hip-hop coming along, we had the freaks… guys in trench coats with just underwear on… we tried to cater to everybody,” Lover says. However, what made Uncle Jamm’s Army so successful was that they always stuck to their roots. “We would try to play one or two punk rock songs or, like, ‘Hey Mickey, You’re So Fine’ (by Toni Basil) or ‘Flamethrower’ by J. Geils Band or something like that, but mostly it was the funk stuff.”

What kind of funk stuff? Well, if your parents had it on 12” vinyl, and it even remotely resembled funk, Uncle Jamm and the gang played it. “They were playing music like Rick James, One Way, Bar-Kays, Confunkshun, Parliament Funkadelic, Prince, The Time, Vanity, and then when rap came out they were playing Run DMC, Whodini, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and then when I came along, I started playing more electronic stuff like “Planet Rock” and all the uptempo stuff.”

It was that expansive selection that allowed the collective to break out of just doing LA parties and made them so influential in the burgeoning West Coast rap scene that eventually spawned Dr. Dre’s funky, electronic sound. “LA didn’t start with gangsta rap, in ’89/’88’, it started in the early ‘80s with Uncle Jamm’s Army,” EL maintains, referencing the records that the Army released in the early part of the decade that included “Dial-A-Freak” and “Yes, Yes, Yes” — records that Egyptian Lover insists directly inspired Dr. Dre’s earliest productions as part of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru.

As far as the reunion show is concerned, Lover tells me he’s planning on bringing the same records that he rocked back in the day. He says that the modern DJ scene is far removed from the show’s of his day, but he believes vinyl is still the best way to go. “Mine are still around at 35 years old, and they’re still playing exactly the same. They said vinyl was going to die a hundred times, and vinyl has never died. I’m sure DJs will be playing vinyl 100 years from now.” As far as the new guys, his only advice is, “Rock the crowd.” Entertainment is the name of the game; just pushing buttons won’t lend any longevity. “Showmen are going to be around for long time.”

There is no better proof of that concept than the continued reverence many in Los Angeles still hold for those old Uncle Jamm parties. Uncle Jamm’s Army shows are still spoken of with a sense of nostalgia by older heads today with the sort of “you-had-to-be-there” wonderment that exemplifies truly transformative experiences. ‘80s babies like myself grew up with a nearly mythical view of the iconic collective, along with a wistful longing that we’d just been born a decade sooner. Of course, everything old is new again, and real quality always outlasts; just like Egyptian Lover’s records, the exuberance and excitement of dancing all night at an Uncle Jamm function was still alive in LA, just waiting for someone to take it off the shelf and set it on the plate.

Uncle Jamm’s Army’s Reunion Show presented by the Red Bull Music Academy will take place Saturday, October 28 at 8:00 p.m., preceded by a public talk from the one-and-only Ice-T. Ice-T will speak about his role as one of the first and most dominant Los Angeles MCs of the era.

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