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Hip hop lures NY hopefuls

Written by: Staff

NEW YORK, Mar 26 (Reuters) Mighty Mike C, a veteran rapper at the age of 42, recalls the days when he used to tap electricity from street lights to set up the music for street parties in Harlem back in the early days of hip hop.

Now he's got a day job working for the city and he takes tourists on a ''Hip Hop Pioneers Tour'' that passes by the landmarks of a genre now so mainstream it's getting a place in the Smithsonian's Museum of American History.

''All you needed was a street pole and a table with some turntables on it,'' Mike C said as he showed tourists from England, Japan and Germany the Graffiti Hall of Fame, a wall of colourful murals at a Harlem high school.

''If you look at the early rap records, it's about partying,'' he said, describing how he got his start in the music business in an era of family gatherings in the park and artists who earned peanuts compared with the stars of today.

Mike C, whose real name is Michael Kevin Clee, was a member of the Fearless Four, the first hip hop group signed to a major record label. Their biggest hit was ''Rockin' It'' in 1981.

He still likes to take the microphone yesterday night in the Bronx, but his brand of rap, known as Old School, has given way to more sophisticated beats and rhymes and the business of hip hop has become a billion-dollar industry with clothing lines, books and movies in addition to music.

Stars like Jay-Z, Eminem and Snoop Dogg are household names and hip hop is so much a part of the landscape that that New York University offers a class on it and last month the Smithsonian launched a search for hip hop artefacts to create a planned exhibit.

As the potential rewards have grown, so have the ranks of those with ambitions to make their fortune in hip hop. But for many, the route to success is a hard grind.

IT AIN'T EASY Tawayne Anderson, a 27-year-old father of two who goes by the name L.A, has made seven rap CDs in the past year and has just completed a ,000 video for a song called ''Ain't Easy'' about trying to succeed as a rap star.

''I'm not focused on bling, more on my future 'cause practice makes perfect,'' he raps in the video, which shows him in a luxury white car, wearing gold jewellery, or bling, and with the kind of entourage associated with rap stars like 50 Cent.

''I need a big deal 'cause I'm damn well worth it,'' L A raps.

''Who else you know that deserve it? Y'all don't know how hard I work ... I want my face on posters, vans and shirts.'' L A, who describes himself as the ''class clown'' in high school, met his future wife at 17, shortly before his mother died. ''My brother was incarcerated so I had to become a man then,'' he said.

He has held regular jobs include working at a group foster home for teens, but he has been rapping since he was a teenager.

A year ago he found a backer in family friend Eugene Henderson, a retired public health worker and musician who had dreamed all his life of going into the music business.


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