|The Rap in Blondie's "Rapture"
A year after the Sugar hill Gang released "Rapper's Delight' in 1979, Blondie recorded "Rapture,"
the first major hip-hop hit to use original music rather than sampling other artists' beats.
Released on Blonde's "Auto american" album in late 1980, the single, co-written by Debbie Harry
and Chris Stein, reached No 1 in early 1981 on Billboard's pop and dance charts.
Recently, Blonde's Debbie Harry, Chris Stein, Clem Burke and Frank Infant, along with saxophonist Tom
Scott and producer Mike Chapman, talked about the song's evolution.
In the late 1970's, art, music and fashion design came together in New York as an underground movement.
Downtown, everyone hung out together and was inspired by each other's work. It was a natural
combination of creative elements.
At the time, Chris and I lived together on 17th Street. We were friends with artists like Jean Michael
Basque at and "Fabe 5 Freddie" Bathwater. Freddy was a graffiti artist, DJ and filmmaker who knew PC's
in the Bronx and Brooklyn. They were spinning records at events and developing a new form of music
One night in 1975, Freddy took Chris and me and some others up to a Police Athletic League event in
the Bronx. Chris and I had heard about the rap scene up there, but we hadn't seen anything up close.
We wanted to experience it live.
Rap was an anomaly then. It hadn't become mainstream. In the Bronx, we went to this hall with a stage, a table, two turntables and a mixer. PC's were rhyming
lyrics to the beats of spinning records. People were waiting in line to take the mic and do the same. It was competitive and improvised. In the months that followed,
we went to a few more of these, including one with Nile Rogers of Chic. One night at our apartment in late '79, Debbie and I were watching professional wrestling on
TV. I turned to her and said, "We should do a rap song and call it 'Rapture." It was an obvious work play on rap. I began fooling around on my Stratocaster guitar
and multi track recorder. I came up with a bass line doubled with the guitar that inspired by Bernard Edwards's bass line for Chic's "Good Times."
Sometimes, when you watch TV, you're in a stupor but your brain is doing something else. I thought what Chris had come up with that night was a good idea. We
always bounced stuff off each other. That was our process. Chris too what we had seen up in the Bronx and Chic's music and a lot of other stuff and came up with
After I had the music, we turned to the lyrics. Debbie wrote three verses and I came up with the chorus.
The words I had for the verses were snippets of what we had seen in the Bronx: "Toe to toe/ Dancing very close/ Body breathing/ Almost comatose/ Wall to wall/
People hypnotized/ And they're stepping lightly/ Hang each night in Rapture." Up in the Bronx, we had jammed into this room with a writhing mass of humanity,
dancing and pressing against each other. My verses were just trying to capture that mood:
"Back to back/ Sacroliliac/ Spineless movement/ And a wild attack/ Finger popping/ Sightless soltitude/ Finger popping/ Twenty-four hour shopping in Rapture."
When we started recording "Rapture" at United Western Recorders in L.A., Debbie sang me the verses and chorus. It was beautiful, and I knew we had a monster
hit. I grabbed my guitar and played riffs that Nile would have played. Clem Burke gave us a disco beat. Jimmy Destri, the keyboardist, filled in the holes. Debbie
sang along and Nigel Harrison played bass.
My beat was influenced by David Bowie's "Station to Station" album and a dance groove that Chic's Tony Thompson might have put on there. I also came up with
the hand clapping we did on the second and fourth beats. At some point, Jimmy discovered a set of tubular concert bells covered in the back of the studio. By
adding the bells to "Rapture," Jimmy gave the song a haunting ethereal feel.
When I arrived in the studio to overdub my sax parts, Mike played the basic instrumental track and told me where he wanted the saxes to happen. I layered two tenor
sax lines played in unison and recorded the third saxophone part a fourth down to create a harmony line.
I came in later and overdubbed my rock guitar solo toward the end of the song. Mike had a B.C. Rich six-string Mockingbird that he wanted me to play. We were
looking for a fluid tone that sounded more metallic than woody.
After two or three days, we had a completed instrumental track that lasted 61/2 minutes with Debbie singing the verses and chorus. But her vocal covered only the
song's first third. When I asked her what she envisioned for the remaining two-thirds, she said, "A rap," I had no idea what she was talking about. Rap was new
then. Debbie played me a few references. I said, "Great. It's crunch time. Get out there and rap." She said, "Well, we have to write it first." i was jolted. I thought
Debbie already had the lyrics down. We took a break and Debbie and Chris went off to the end of the console in the control room with a pen and pad.
There weren't any rules to writing a rap at that point. On the opening, I wanted to capture the feeling we experienced in the Bronx. "Fab 5 Freddy told me
everybody's fly/ DJ's spinning' I said, 'My my'/ Flash is fast, Flash is cool/ Francois sais pas, Flashe' ne deux." We worked in Freddy, Flash was Grandmaster Flash
who we had met in the Bronx, and Francois was just a stand-in name for a French rap group that didn't quite get it. Chris wrote the rest of the rap.
The reference to the Man from Mars was my affinity for B-movies and sci-fi comic-book imagery. "Go out to the parking lot/ And get in your car and drive real far/
And you drive all night then see a light/ And it comes right down and lands on the ground/ And out comes the Man from Mars."
Ten minutes later, Chris and Debbie were done. Debbie said she was ready to record. I couldn't believe it. She went into the studio, put on the headphones. I hit
play so she could hear the music. She stood there with the sheet of paper and rapped. I recorded her twice. On the first one, she got most of it right. The second
one was perfect. I was completely blown away. I never worked with an artist like Debbie and haven't since. She was so blasé about it and never seemed to give the
lyrics or the vocal a second thought. The final touch was the atmosphere I added to the track in the mix. That was done with reverb using my two EMT 250s. It
added a hard top to her voice and Frank's guitar.
I wasn't trying to be black for a Bronx rapper. It was an homage to what I saw and to a form that was exciting to us. We treated it with respect and handled it our own
way. Looking back, we probably should have worked on it a bit more. It's a little sing-songy and childlike. But the song has evolved in performance. I feel it
differently now and try to be a little more ad-libby.
Listen to Blondie putting rap music on the world stage with their breakthrough hit song "Rapture"