Newcleus had been bouncing around the early hip-hop/breakdancing scene since 1977 when they were part of a DJ crew calling itself Jam On Productions, but it wasn’t until 1983 and a chance encounter with a sped-up tape machine that they stumbled upon a hit.
While many members came and went, the, uh, center of Newcleus (sorry) was Ben “Cozmo D” Cenac, who had some extra time to fill on a mixtape. Together with some family members, he recorded a favorite rap from their block parties, only this time with some of the vocals sped up, a la the Chipmunks. “Jam On’s Revenge” was born, blazing up cardboard breakin’ squares all over New York. Pop radio wasn’t having it, however. That would change with the release of the follow up, “Jam On It”.
Hard to believe now, but yes, Virginia, there was a time when Top 40 radio was scared shitless of rap. Mainstream radio programmers weren’t coming anywhere near this emerging musical force out of fear of offending listeners and advertisers. Besides, there was no side money from independent promoters coming in to justify adding rap singles to a Top 40 format. Why add Grandmaster Flash's “The Message” or “Basketball” by Kurtis Blow when you were getting hookers and another kind of blow from labels pushing Journey’s latest piece of crap? But who could hate a song about Superman coming to the block to get served by Cozmo D and his crew of funky sounding aliens? Despite the near-total embargo of rap on Top 40 radio in 1983, “Jam On It” broke thru, garnering significant sales and airplay, but not enough to crack the Top 50 of the Billboard Hot 100.
This song should have been at least a Top Ten pop hit – it was everywhere in my high school, and I was stuck in bumfuck Elyria, Ohio, so I can only imagine how popular it was elsewhere. But alas, Newcleus were destined to release a few fallow follow-ups, another full-length LP, and then get pushed aside by more aggressively commercial rap stars such as Run DMC, Kool Moe Dee and LL Cool J, who were just waiting in the wings for unprecedented mainstream acceptance.
But do we still get to say “Wikki, wikki, wikki, wikki?” Hell, yeah.
Download “Jam On It”
by Newcleus.”Jam On It” peaked at #56 on the Billboard Hot 100.Buy Newcleus' "Jam On This" at Amazon.