Jimmy Spicer, a hip-hop pioneer with a flare for storytelling and the endurance to rap over one side of a 12-inch record, died last Friday of lung and brain cancer in a Brooklyn hospital at the age of 61. His 14-minute debut single, “The Adventures of Super Rhyme (Rap),” came out in 1980 and featured Spicer’s rhymes about Superman, Dracula, Aladdin, and anything else that came to mind. It would prove to be an influential early hip-hop landmark. His next singles, “The Bubble Bunch” and “Money (Dollar Bill Y’all),” established him as a rap pioneer and have been sampled by Wu-Tang Clan, Busta Rhymes, Kanye West, and many others. Rick Rubin produced his fourth single, “This Is It.”
For the Beastie Boys’ Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz, though, the phrase “This is it” applied to Spicer himself. “He was really important, and those songs were important to me,” Horovitz says. The Beastie Boy has long credited Spicer as the reason he wanted to become a rapper. Horovitz reflected on Spicer’s impact on him and the group. “Music in general and rap music specifically doesn’t look back very often,” Horovitz says. “It’s nice to look back.”
Me and my older brother loved Jimmy Spicer. “The Adventures of Super Rhymes” was my first favorite rap song. I don’t think it was the first rap song I ever heard, but it was the first one I bought in a store. And I don’t even know why I bought it. It’s not like the song was being played on the radio. I just know that I got it and I played it over and over and memorized the lyrics. It was the first rap song I studied all the lyrics for. I would just rap that song all the time.
I was probably 12 or 13, and rap was so new to me. I was into punk and New Wave and songs that were two-and-a-half–minutes long, and now I’ve got this thing that’s two sides of someone rapping 20 minutes. It was pretty amazing.
His voice was baritone. I didn’t really understand what that was, but I thought that was really cool. I remember thinking, “One day, I’ll have a cool, baritone voice like Jimmy Spicer.” It made me want to rap. It was an aspirational thing.
But he was also rapping about Superman and he was telling stories in the song, and it just hit me as a kid. If it was playing right now, I could probably rap along with the whole song, however long the first side is, 12 minutes. There’s all these stories in there, and they’re all weird. He said “Lois Lane” at one point in his Superman story, but he says it, “Lois Line,” and I thought it was just so weird. Rap music was just so new and weird to me.
“It’s the new thing, makes you wanna sing/While us MCs rap, doing our thing/It’s not singing, a-like it used to be … ” What does he say? He just sounded so cool.
When the Beastie Boys first started trying rap, I used to just do the first 16 bars of that song. Yauch would do Spoonie Gee, and I would cover that song. When I started rapping, I thought I would be like a Jimmy Spicer or Melle Mel–type rapper. And you live and you grow, and you can’t force things. You can try, but ultimately you just want to be your own person and have your own identity. So the Jimmy Spicer, baritone lane wasn’t for me.
He came out in an era when you had nothing to go on about an artist. You only just had the songs. I didn’t know what he looked like. I didn’t know where he was from. I didn’t know anything about him other than he sounded cool. You had to make up your own identity for the people you’re hearing. The only thing I knew about Jimmy Spicer was just the few singles that I have of his: “Super Rhymes,” “Bubble Bunch,” and “Dollar Bill.” “Dollar Bill” was like the shit when it came out. I got the reggae version of that, too, which is pretty great.
I didn’t know him at all. I might have met him once, I don’t know. I know he used to hang out with Russell Simmons in the late Eighties; I don’t know what he was doing with him. But what I did know as a kid, getting into rap music, and then soon after starting to rap myself, was that he was definitely the influence for me. I guess I could have sought him out, but a lot of times it’s best to just leave it alone. If you love something, just leave it alone.
I saw the news about his death on the internet, and I was sad. It’s sad. Shit, I’m 52, so you start hearing about people dying. I’m at the age where it’s happening. I didn’t know him, but it’s sad. It’s different from when Joe Strummer died, but Jimmy Spicer was such a huge part of who I was and who I became. It’s just sad. It’s very sad.
If you look at a championship basketball team, he’s not like Jordan. And I don’t know if he’s Scottie Pippen. But he’s on that Bulls team that just dominated. He was of the first era of rap music. If it weren’t for Jimmy Spicer, things would be different. He is a piece of the puzzle that made rap what it is now. So without that piece, it’s just different. He just had his own identity, and that was cool. I just thought he sounded fucking cool.