Too Much Subterranean Monkey Gun Howl Blues – Dylan & Rap.

Too Much Subterranean Monkey Gun Howl Blues

Two early rappers?
Photo is Copyright © Ken Regan/Camera 5


Kurtis Blow said of Bob Dylan’s 1986 cameo on his ‘Kingdom Blow’ album: “He raps, he really raps!”

In Chronicles, Volume 1, Dylan admits it was Kurtis Blow who turned him on to rap music, and that he became a fan of Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy, Ice T and N.W.A.

These guys weren’t standing around bullshitting, they were beating drums, tearing it up, hurling horses over cliffs. They were all poets and knew what was going on

Dylan did a particularly cool version of LL Cool J’s classic track, ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’ on his Theme Time Radio Hour.

LL Cool J: “That blows me away… What he needs to do is call me and let’s do it together. I encourage everyone to get out there and buy Bob Dylan’s records“.

On one of his Radio Theme Time Hour shows, Bob Dylan expressed his respect for the Beastie Boys:

“When Mike D., MCA, and AD-Rock released “Cookie Puss” – a song about their favorite Carvel ice cream cake in 19 and 83 – everyone thought the Beastie Boys were just a flash-in-the-pan. But New Yorkers are much tougher than that, and they made it through all sorts of changes in music. Here’s one of their early ones, from 19 and 86, a shout out to one of the five boroughs, “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn”, The Beastie Boys . . . .”

Dylan has been referenced directly on several Beastie Boys tracks: “3-Minute Rule,” “Finger Lickin’ Good,” “Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win” and his 1965 studio recording of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” was sampled on the track “Finger Lickin’ Good,” from the album Check Your Head.

Mike D said: “Oh, first off, he’s one of the first b-boys, if not the first. What more to say?”

In the June 1992 issue of Boston Rock, Beastie Boy Michael “Mike D” Diamond talked about the actual financial cost of sampling Dylan: “Seven hundred bucks, but he asked for two thousand dollars. I thought it was kind of fly that he asked for $2000.00, and I bartered Bob Dylan down. That’s my proudest sampling deal.

Ice-T: “When I first got my record deal, Seymour Stein (head of Sire Records who signed Ramones, Madonna and Ministry), he told me I sounded like Bob Dylan. He compared me to Bob Dylan because of my storytelling. And I knew who Bob Dylan was, so I took it as a compliment. And I love that song – ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. It’s just a rap, man. You know what else about Bob Dylan is that he said something really nice about me in his book Chronicles. It’s definitely something you take to heart and appreciate.”

Wyclef Jean: “He is one of the original Rappers.”

‘Gone Till November’ is an original song that I wrote, but I mention Bob Dylan’s name in the song. I said, ‘I had none, so I had to do some/ So I’m knockin’ on heaven’s door like Bob Dylan.’

And I was like, ‘Yo, we should get Bob Dylan in the video!’

And it was like, ‘You ain’t getting no Bob Dylan! Bob Dylan never shows up in videos, man! Bob Dylan doesn’t do that kind of stuff!’

But I was like, ‘Yo, we can get him, man!’

And we got Bob Dylan.

I think that what Bob Dylan brought to the game is lyrical continuity in the music, and [the idea that] it’s not all about the commercialism. It’s about standing up for something and speaking out for the rights of the people.'”

Dan Auerbach: (The Black Keys guitarist on seeing Hip Hop artist Raekwon work) “He was sort of what I imagined watching Bob Dylan work in his prime would be like. Raekwon came in, heard the music, got inspired and just sat down and started writing. He wrote like 20 verses, just like that, in 45 minutes. And everything that he says is so visual, such a story. His rhyme schemes are just insane.”

Somalia rapper K’naan: “Nina Simone and Bob Dylan – I think they have changed me in some way.  There’s no scientifically viable evidence for this, but I think they’ve made me more ambitious about humanity.”

Barack Obama, President of the United States of America.

President Obama: “My rap palate has greatly improved. Jay-Z used to be sort of what predominated, but now I’ve got a little Nas and Lil Wayne and some other stuff, but I would not claim to be an expert.

I am probably still more heavily weighted toward the music of my childhood than I am the new stuff. A lot of Stevie Wonder, a lot of Bob Dylan, a lot of Rolling Stones, a lot of R&B, a lot of Miles Davis and John Coltrane.”

“Here’s what I love about Dylan…he wouldn’t come to the rehearsal…. He didn’t want to take a picture with me; usually all the talent is dying to take a picture with me and Michelle before the show, but he didn’t show up to that. He came in and played ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’.’ A beautiful rendition.

“The guy…finishes the song, steps off the stage — I’m sitting right in the front row — comes up, shakes my hand, sort of tips his head, gives me just a little grin, and then leaves. And that was it — then he left. That was our only interaction with him. And I thought: That’s how you want Bob Dylan, right? You don’t want him to be all cheesin’ and grinnin’ with you. You want him to be a little sceptical about the whole enterprise.”

TIME magazine writer Josh Tyrangiel said: “Lil Wayne claims his rhymes are stream of consciousness, but even if they aren’t, they sound as though they’re hitting the air for the first time, unfolding with an electricity that is Dylanesque.”

Jay-Z:  “There’s great writing in rap as well. You never hear rappers being compared (to each other) for, like, the greatest rap writers of all time. You hear Bob Dylan. Some of the things that Biggie wrote… Rakim, I mean, listen to some of the things he wrote, if you take those lyrics and you pull them away from the music and put ‘em up on the wall somewhere and someone had to look at them, they would say, ‘This is genius! This is genius work!’ I want people to take that away.”

Rapper Pharrell on Twitter said: Kendrick Lamar is this era’s Bob Dylan. Masterful story telling. Listen to it, it will elevate you.

Spek from Seattle Hip Hop group Spekulations sampled ‘Ballad Of A Thin Man’ for their 2012 release ‘Something Is Happening Here’.

Spek: “Dylan wasn’t the obvious choice to sample for a rap record, but his song, and that performance in particular, has always somehow seemed more applicable to our generation than it was to his own. The fact of the matter is, the folks who bought that original record back in ’65…those are the same people responsible for the world we live in today. And I think bringing back the song in today’s context is an effective reminder of just how quickly it can all fall apart.”

Pablo Dylan is Bob Dylan’s Grandson. He is also a Rapper. He told GQ magazine:

“I think my grandfather was an inspirational person in his generation and I think people today look up to Jay-Z today. Jay-Z gets the same status that my grandfather did. Jay-Z has definitely impacted culture in a very significant way. He’s lasted throughout the times. And there’s not a lot of rappers who can do that and stay relevant and be that number one guy. I really think he’s who my grandfather was.

My grandfather listens to everything. I mean, if you walk through his house right now…I don’t necessarily know what he’s listening to right now, but I’ve definitely walked through his house and seen Dr. Dre CDs and Eminem CDs. I think he’s very open-minded, and he tries to understand different things.

He’s always supported me 100 per cent. He respect what I do and I obviously respect what he does. I play him all my songs after I finish them. I think he likes them.

 I don’t tell people because I really want to be my own person. I mean, I love my grandpa, I’ll love him till the day I die, but we’re completely different people so I don’t really tell anybody that at all. I really want to stand on my own. Like if someone ask me why I do music, I’ll explain to them what I do, but I definitely never say, ‘Bob Dylan’s my grandfather’.”

Bob Dylan’s Grandson, Pablo.

I’ve read many articles that try to give Dylan credit for having written the first Rap song – usually citing ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’.

Now, I love Bob Dylan’s work and I love this song – the lyrics are ace and flow really, really well, and they are a classic example of Dylan’s skill in meshing forms, taking the ‘Talking Blues’ form and giving it a Rock n Roll attitude – but does that make it the first Rap song?

It was popular and influential, but it wasn’t created in a vacuum.

I think Chuck Berry’s 1957 song ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ was a clear and direct influence on Dylan’s song – the staccato lyrics and delivery are very similar, even the rock n roll shuffle. If he was to be awarded the ‘First Ever Rap Song’ award, he would have to share it with Mr Berry, which I don’t think he’d have any problem doing.

CHUCK BERRY & BOB DYLAN – “This is a man who has been through it all. The world treated him so nasty. But in the end, it was the world that got beat.” – Bob Dylan, Rolling Stone, May 14, 2009.

Rap can be traced back a long, long way, depending on your definition.  Francis James Child collected over three hundred British topical ballads – some of which date back to the 16th Century. These were often rhyming, spoken stories with minimal musical accompaniment, which dealt with the issues of their day, as well as universal themes of love, death and morality. There are the US recordings of the 1920s and The Memphis Jug Band, Woody Guthrie and ‘Talking Blues’ in general. If you want to look back even further, there are the Griots of West Africa, who told stories rhythmically over basic drum beats and very sparse instrumentation.

Intelligent, insightful, culturally relevant and well-crafted lyrics have been around a long time.

Allen Ginsberg was riffing/rapping his beat masterpiece ‘Howl’ in the mid-1950s, which has a syntax and flow that would easily translate into the current or past Rap form.


Excerpt from poem HOWL by Allen Ginsberg

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by

madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn

looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly

connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat

up smoking in the supernatural darkness of

cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities

contemplating jazz,

who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and

saw Mohammedan angels staggering on tenement roofs illuminated…

Copyright © Allen Ginsberg

America beat poet Allen Ginsberg reads the poems that brought Italian police obscenity charges against him, during a program of Giancarlo Menotti’s festival of the two worlds at Spoleto, in central Italy on July 8, 1967. Police said that Ginsberg had replied that the poems were “manifestations of intimate thoughts.” (AP Photo)

For me, I would say that Gil Scott Heron (‘The Black Bob Dylan’), The Last Poets, Afrika Bambaataa and The Sugarhill Gang really had the genre on vinyl first, although DJ Kool Herc was MC-ing and rapping over James Brown and Millie Jackson was doing her thing pretty early too.

Gil Scott Heron, Blues Alley, Washington DC, 12th December 2009.
Photos is © James Finch. Used with Permission. All rights reserved. Please contact the owner for use.

The subject matter, rhythms and delivery of many of Gil Scott Heron’s recorded works are, in all but name, Rap. His LP, ‘Small Talk at 125th and Lenox’, from 1970, with its free-flowing, spoken-word poetry rapped over simple beats and instrumentation, is separated only by commas between genres – Blues, Jazz, Rap. The sound is all three.

In the late 1960s, Gil Scott Heron saw a group called ‘The Last Poets’.

In 1969, there was a small Harlem writers’ workshop known as East Wind. Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, Umar Bin Hassan, and Abiodun Oyewole (along with percussionist Nilaja Obabi) made a record called ‘The Last Poets’ (taken from a poem by South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, who believed he was in the last era of poetry before guns would take over).

That original record was way ahead of its time – lyrically, stylistically and politically – dealing explicitly with themes that had rarely been heard in music – “White Man’s Got A God Complex” and “Niggas Are Scared Of Revolution” for example.

President Nixon was such a fan, he put them on his Counter-Intelligence Programming lists.

As a musician and music-lover,  I like that Woody Guthrie and Lead Belly can be seen directly in the work of Allen Ginsberg, Chuck Berry, Nina Simone and Bob Dylan, who made socially-conscious poetry commercially viable for artists like The Last Poets and Gil Scott Heron to record, who in turn inspired the early and current Rap and Hip Hop artists.

I like the lines, links and low-lit rooms in the Tower Of Song.

It is music and words that connect these socially, racially and spiritually diverse artists. Guthrie rose above his father’s racism, while Lead Belly escaped the slavery he was born into; Berry (the ‘Black Hillbilly’) mixed colours and rhymes on the radio while Ginsberg was a proud gay Buddhist who was friends with the straight, poetic, god-conscious magpie Dylan, who influenced the Islamic, revolutionary Last Poets and Jazz “bluesologist”, Gil Scott Heron.

I can listen to songs by all these people, right next to more current artists like The Roots and lyricist Black Thought, and hear different timbres of the same human voice. They all write about freedom, change, equality, respect and, crucially, they share a love of language.

As to who wrote the first Rap song, well I agree with the following –

Chuck D: “You can go into Ginsberg and the Beat poets and Dylan, but Gil Scott-Heron is the manifestation of the modern word. He and the Last Poets set the stage for everyone else.”


It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Rapping)


Johnny’s in the basement

Mixing up the medicine

I’m on the pavement

Thinking about the government

The man in the trench coat

Badge out, laid off

Says he’s got a bad cough

Wants to get it paid off

Look out kid

It’s somethin’ you did

God knows when

But you’re doin’ it again

You better duck down the alley way

Lookin’ for a new friend

The man in the coon-skin cap

By the big pen

Wants eleven dollar bills

You only got ten

Maggie comes fleet foot

Face full of black soot

Talkin’ that the heat put

Plants in the bed but

The phone’s tapped anyway

Maggie says that many say

They must bust in early May

Orders from the D.A.

Look out kid

Don’t matter what you did

Walk on your tiptoes

Don’t try “No-Doz”

Better stay away from those

That carry around a fire hose

Keep a clean nose

Watch the plain clothes

You don’t need a weatherman

To know which way the wind blows

Get sick, get well

Hang around a ink well

Ring bell, hard to tell

If anything is goin’ to sell

Try hard, get barred

Get back, write braille

Get jailed, jump bail

Join the army, if you fail

Look out kid

You’re gonna get hit

But users, cheaters

Six-time losers

Hang around the theaters

Girl by the whirlpool

Lookin’ for a new fool

Don’t follow leaders

Watch the parkin’ meters

Ah get born, keep warm

Short pants, romance, learn to dance

Get dressed, get blessed

Try to be a success

Please her, please him, buy gifts

Don’t steal, don’t lift

Twenty years of schoolin’

And they put you on the day shift

Look out kid

They keep it all hid

Better jump down a manhole

Light yourself a candle

Don’t wear sandals

Try to avoid the scandals

Don’t wanna be a bum

You better chew gum

The pump don’t work

’Cause the vandals took the handles

Copyright © 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1993 by Special Rider Music

Lyrics to TOO MUCH MONKEY BUSINESS by Chuck Berry


Runnin’ to-and-fro – hard workin’ at the mill.

Never failed in the mail yet, come a rotten Bill!

Too much monkey business. Too much monkey business.

Too much monkey business for me to be involved in!

Salesman talkin’ to me – tryin’ to run me up a creek.

Says you can buy it, go on try it – you can pay me next week,


Too much monkey business. Too much monkey business.

Too much monkey business for me to be involved in!

Blonde haired, good lookin’ – tryin’ to get me hooked.

Want me to marry – settle down – get a home – write a book!

Too much monkey business. Too much monkey business.

Too much monkey business for me to be involved in!

Same thing every day – gettin’ up, goin’ to school.

No need for me complainin’ – my objection’s overruled, ahh!

Too much monkey business. Too much monkey business.

Too much monkey business for me to be involved in!

Pay phone – something wrong – dime gone – will mail

Ought to sue the operator for telling me a tale – ahh!

Too much monkey business. Too much monkey business.

Too much monkey business for me to be involved in!

Been to Yokohama – been fightin’ in the war.

Army bunk – Army chow – Army clothes – Army car, aah!

Too much monkey business. Too much monkey business.

Too much monkey business for me to be involved in!

Workin’ in the fillin’ station – too many tasks.

Wipe the windows – check the tires – check the oil – dollar


Too much monkey business. Too much monkey business.

Don’t want your botheration, get away, leave me!

Copyright © 1957 Chuck Berry

Lyrics to GUN by Gil Scott Heron

Brother Man nowadays living in the ghetto

Where the danger’s sure enough real

Well when he’s out late at night

And if he’s got his head on right

Well, I lay you 9 to 5 he’s walking with steel.

Brother Man says he’s ‘fraid of gangsters

Messing with people just for fun

He don’t want to be next

He got a family to protect

So just last week he bought himself a gun.

Everybody got a pistol, everybody got a 45

And the philosophy seem to be

At least as near as I can see

When other folks give up theirs, I’ll give up mine.

This is a violent civilization

If civilization’s where I am

Every channel that I stop on

Got a different kind of cop on

Killing them by the million for Uncle Sam

Saturday night just ain’t that special

Yeah, I got the constitution on the run

‘Cause even though we’ve got the right

To defend our home, to defend our life

Got to understand to get it in hand about the guns


Saturday night just ain’t that special

Freedom to be afraid is all you want

Yes if you don’t want to be next

You’ve got a family to protect

9 out of 10, you’ve got a friend, you’ve got a gun.


Everybody got a pistol, this mostly be the N-R-A

Yeah ’cause when it’s time to shine up

You know damn well they’re gonna line up


And the philosophy seem to be

At least as near as I can see

When other folks give up theirs, I’ll give up mine.

Copyright © 1981 Gil Scott Heron/Arista Records.

A Few Notes:

Woody Guthrie’s father, Charles, was present at the lynching of Laura and Lawrence Nelson in Okemah, Oklahoma, on May 25, 1911. His level of involvement seems to vary, depending on the source. Woody wrote 3 songs about it. He also said that his father was a member of the Ku Klux Klan – but that is a tricky statement to verify!

Huddie William Ledbetter (Lead Belly) was born on the Jeter Plantation near Mooringsport, Louisiana in, either, 1888 or 1889.

Chuck Berry was clever enough to play Country to black audiences and R&B to white audiences – often at the same gig. In certain segregated venues, there would literally be a fence or barrier between the black and white members of the same audience.

As one of five black kids at The Fieldston School, a white administrator asked a young Gil Scott Heron, “How would you feel if you see one of your classmates go by in a limousine while you’re walking up the hill from the subway?”

Gil Scott Heron replied, “Same way as you. Y’all can’t afford no limousine. How do you feel?”

‘The Last Poets’ founder Jalal Mansur Nuriddin was a former US Paratrooper who chose jail rather than engaging in the Vietnam war. While in prison, he converted to Islam and learned to ‘Spiel’ – an early form of Rap.

Thanks to:

Harold Lepidus for permission to use quotes from his article on Dylan & The Beastie Boys.

The New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Time, NBC, GQ, CNN, Twitter, Wikipedia and James Finch, for sending me tapes and CDs of so many cool artists – many of whom I could not now live without.


One response to “Too Much Subterranean Monkey Gun Howl Blues – Dylan & Rap.

  1. Pingback: Too Much Subterranean Monkey Gun Howl Blues – Dylan and Rap·

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