BILLY BILL - HARLEM HIP HOP POET
By JayQuan 6/30/21
Being a person who had the labels of records etched into my photographic memory, I always remembered various rap records credited to W. Waring: Sweet G’s Games People Play, various recordings by the Fat Boys, Run DMC, Kurtis Blow and a few releases on the Profile label. Before rap was played on mainstream radio, one of my tactics for deciding if I would buy a record was looking at the names on the labels. Whether it was the engineers, where it was mastered, who produced it, or the writers credits in parenthesis right below the title of the song; I knew I wanted to buy certain records based on those names. It wouldn’t be until decades later in the internet age that I would discover that W.Waring was actually Billy Bill, who recorded Old School with Kool Kyle-one of the many records on the Profile label, which was one of my favorite labels back in the days.
William “Billy Bill” Waring was born and raised in Harlem on the classic Soul sounds of James Brown,Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions,Blue Magic and Motown. Billy’s first taste of Hip Hop was at Kool Herc parties, where he was a B Boy along with his childhood friends Kurtis Walker (who hadn’t been Christened Kurtis Blow yet) and Danny Harris. Danny ended up playing on several Kurtis blow productions, and played on Billy Bill’s The Old School. Later he would witness D.J. Hollywood, whom he described as having a flock of girls on his side and airtight routines complete with call and response tactics. When I asked Bill his position when Kurtis Blow was running with Russell Simmons prior to Christmas Rappin’s release, he replied that he was rhymin’ at spots like Dante’s on 160th & Broadway & The Renny Bar. Right after The Breaks was released Bill wrote two songs with his best friend Kurtis in mind: Hard Times and Throughout Your Years. When Kurtis presented the songs, (which both served as a departure from the party/braggadocio songs committed to wax up until that point) to his producers J.B. Moore & Robert Ford they requested a meeting with Billy. To protect his interests he studied The Business Of Music, which was authored by his future lawyer William Krasilovsky.
“Everybody who was anybody partied at the Disco Fever back in the day” says Bill as he tells me how he met Kool Kyle. Kyle had a couple records that were pretty big up and down the coast, we met at the Fever and became tight. We bounced ideas off of each other all the time. I was still writing for Kurtis, and from 83-85 no one could touch me. I used to Emcee back in the late 70’s and I decided to try it again with Kyle- so we did the Old School/Trouble 12”. We only did that one song because I was disenchanted with the music business and I just stopped. It was too hard to get paid-always chasin’ money. When I asked Bill how he felt as a cat who witnessed Hip Hop before rap records he replied “I felt that some people from across the river got credit for something that they didn’t create, and they could have done a better job of giving the creators their due – and many of the rhymes were stolen. But I give them credit for putting it on record first – and Kurtis was right on their heels. I don’t say any of that to be derogatory, but no one knew them. I didn’t particularly like the record at first, but it grew on me. They kicked in the door, and I give Sylvia (Robinson) credit for that. Throughout Our Years and Hard Times were the first socially conscious rap records-even before the Message, and I don’t get credit for that. When Sylvia heard those songs for the first time in the Fever she offered me a $50,000 advance right there in the club to be the exclusive writer for Sugar Hill Records. My friendship with Kurt prevented me from doing it, and in the end I think that I made more with Kurt anyway”.
1980 Throughout Your Years/Hard Times Kurtis Blow
1981 Starlife Kurtis Blow
1983 Games People Play Sweet G
1983 Hard Times RunDMC
1983You Gotta Believe Lovebug Starski
1984 Fast Life Jeckyll & Hyde
1984 8 Million Stories/Basketball Kurtis Blow
1984 Fat Boys Disco 3
1984 B Boy Breakers Starchild/Disco Bee
1985 Trouble/Old School Kool Kyle & Billy Bill
When asked about the ongoing discussions within Hip Hop about the stylistic differences between the boroughs Bill states that you have to give the Bronx credit because they started it, but Manhattan refined it. “As a B Boy I went where the music was good. It was always between Manhattan & the Bronx in the beginning. Then the other boroughs got into it, and made it bigger than what it was as far as on records. With the B Boy Records and beats, I witnessed Kool Herc first. But on the mic with the call & response and rhymes it was Hollywood, Cheeba and Starski - cats like that”.
Concerning Kurtis Blow’s signature sound Bill credits Larry Smith, Danny Harris and Davy DMX. “Dave was Kurtis Blow's D.J. when The Breaks and Christmas Rappin’ was out. He bought a bass and learned how to play, and then he just started to expand. That’s him playin’ bass on If I Ruled The World by Kurtis Blow. Davy D did stuff on many of Kurt's productions. "On the Fat Boys song by the Disco 3, I didn't do any writing. I just created the melody and Larry Smith played it out. On Sweet G's Games People Play, I just wrote the rhymes - he wrote all the harmonizing parts. I got paid on some songs and then on some I didn't. Sometimes management will change your words just to get writers credit. Like on Basketball it's supposed to say "me & Billy Bill go one on one 'cus playin' the game is a lotta fun". They took my name out and put homeboy". Because Bill educated himself as far as publishing on the front end , he receives royalties when Run DMC covers Hard Times, or Lil Bow Wow remakes basketball. "Don't be surprised if you hear us one more time. Our childhood friend Danny Harris was a master musician, and he gave Kurtis a track before he passed. Kurtis wasn't gonna use it at the time, but now that he is gone we are gonna put something together. It's an incredible track.
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