The Legend of The Blind MC


bmcReprinted from bhorowitz.com.

Ben Horowitz is the co-founder of the Silicon Valley venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz and writes a blog of advice on how to build and run a business. It is one of the most popular blogs on the web with 10 million followers. Horowitz begins every blog with a Hip Hop lyric, a practice that has drawn some puzzled responses. He recently wrote this blog to explain why Hip Hop plays an important role in his thinking. Ben Horowitz is the author of “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” which is currently number one in three categories of Amazon business best-sellers. Follow him at @benhorowitz.

People say I’m crippled, but that’s a lie
they’re just mad ‘cause I’m so fly
being handicapped is a state of mind
I’m not disabled I’m just blind
—The Blind MC

People often ask me why I feature Hip Hop so much in my blog posts. In the past, I have given short and incomplete answers, but here is the full story. It probably belongs in The Hard Thing About Hard Things, but I did not know how to tell it without Rap Genius.

In 1986, I was 20 years old and attending Columbia University in the City of New York. I received a phone call from my mother on the shared dorm room phone:

Elissa Horowitz: “Ben, I don’t know how to tell you this, so I am just going to say it. Seth has been shot.”

Me: “What? How? Is he alive? How could that happen?”

Elissa: “He’s been shot in the face. He’s alive, but the doctors say he will never see again.”

I dropped the phone. Seth Clark and his family—Joel, Adam, Dana, Joel, and Penny—were my family too. We lived two houses away from each other. We ate dinner with each other almost every night. We saw each other every day. I went on their family vacations. He was my brother and he was 13 and he was blind for life.

I tried to imagine what he was feeling and I couldn’t. Seth was smart and athletic. He stood over 6 feet tall at 13 and every high school football coach in the area wanted him on their team, but there would be no football. The more that I thought about it, it seemed like there would be no anything. What could a blind person do? Who would his friends be? Where would all his dreams go?

When I would call home, things sounded worse and worse. “He has pellets from the shotgun blast in his brain. He is having seizures. He is totally depressed. He hasn’t spoken a word to anyone in 3 months.” I felt completely helpless. We were losing Seth. I felt like a part of me was slowly dying.

Meanwhile, I was in New York City in 1986 and there was an explosion of a new kind of music called Hip Hop. It was unlike any other kind of music because the rappers were celebrating having nothing while aspiring to have everything. The songs were about growing up in the housing projects, surviving in the streets, and how great it was and how great they would become. At the time, Rock n’ Roll was about rejecting the world, but Hip Hop was about embracing it with all of its flaws. In an era of super groups and over production, rap groups didn’t even need instruments. It was mind blowing and I was captivated.

For people in New York, the music came primarily from two radio stations: WBLS and 98.7 KISS. The important DJs were Cool DJ Red Alert and Chuck Chillout who not only played the songs, but also significantly enhanced them through amazing scratching and sampling. As I listened to Red Alert one evening, I thought, “This is so inspiring that nobody could listen and be depressed.” I immediately grabbed a cassette tape and inserted it into my boom box. I recorded that show and every Red Alert show from that point forward. I would then mail the cassette tapes to Seth every week.

After a few months of mailing the tapes, I called home and got a different response. “All Seth wants to do is listen to Cool DJ Red Alert. Can you send more tapes?” Then the next call: “Ben, Seth isn’t talking, but he wants to talk to you about Chuck Chillout and how he remixed something from this guy LL Cool J called, ‘Rock the Bells’.” Seth was coming back. Hip Hop was bringing him back.

“Don’t need no help dictionary or thesaurus
my dog Dino, he’s a brontosaurus”
-The Blind MC

As summer approached, I became overwhelmed with the thought that I had to continue what I started. There would be no summer internships with computer companies or summer classes. This would be the summer of Hip Hop and Seth. Maybe we could do more than listen to the music. Maybe we could get into the game. As soon as I returned home, I started writing rhymes.

The first song that I wrote was based on an obsession with the Flintstones and was naturally called “Bedrock”. I showed it to my friend David Stern who said that his friend Keith McArthur was a musician and could help put some beats together. I then called Seth and told him that we were forming a rap group and needed him. He was excited.

“The Blind Def Crew you know we’re fly
3 of us, but we got 4 eyes”
-The Blind Def Crew

Keith was amazing and figured out how to make my rhymes into songs. We all came up with proper rap names. Seth was The Blind MC, I was Tic Toc and Keith was The Phantom. Heavily influenced by Russell Simmons’ Def Jam records, we decided to call the group Blind and Def.

We were hanging out, listening to Red Alert and writing songs. It was heaven. One thing that I noticed at the time was that everyone other than Keith and me were extremely sensitive about the shooting and the resulting blindness. It was almost as though they were tiptoeing around Seth as so not to offend him. Meanwhile, Keith and I were relentlessly cracking jokes about how he couldn’t see and how funny that was. Within the context of the blindness, it was like there were two possible views of life: Either life was horrible and tragic or life was extremely brutal, but you had to embrace it—you had to be in the game. We chose the Hip Hop way; we chose the latter.

Perhaps because of that, we thought a great way to open the mixtape was with an amazingly racist sample from the Disney movie, Dumbo, from the black crows scene followed by The Phantom and me screaming at The Blind MC: “That’s the wrong record blind man, can’t you hear?”

Eventually, we recorded 4 songs on Keith’s 4-track recorder and were extremely pleased with the result. We were so excited that we decided to take a road trip to LA to try to record on my brother Jonathan’s 8-track recorder for higher quality and maybe get signed to a big time record contract.

The road trip didn’t go quite as planned, including the car overheating on the Grapevine and us getting stranded on the side of the highway, but we did record on 8 tracks. More importantly, through Hip Hop, Seth found his new self. Today he is a PhD student of history at UC Davis and has a beautiful family with his wife Chris.

I have posted the original mixtape to Rap Genius and annotated it here. It’s not a lost classic and it probably makes sense that we didn’t get signed, but if you listen close enough, you can hear the resurrection of The Blind MC.

That’s why I love hip-hop. So when people complain about the rap lyrics in my blog being hokey or gimmicky, I just defer to Nas:

“This our thing, you know what I’m saying
This came from the gut, from the blood
From the soul, right here, man
This is our thing, man
You know? So I say what I say”

THE MIXTAPE

Bedrock
Blind and Def
The Phantom
The Legend of MC H20

*

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  • liz

    That’s an awesome story. Any music, art or literature reflects the character of its creator(s). Because of your exceptional character and intentions, you created something exceptional even out of hip hop.

  • Mike

    Getting old.

  • UCSPanther

    To be fair, not all hip hop is about juvenile boasting about superficial and destructive things. Some hip hop artists do have songs that are positive, or warnings about where a degenerate lifestyle can lead (IE Body Count’s The Winner Loses).

  • Wolfthatknowsall

    Great. Hip-Hop helped one person deal with his problems (and his story was inspiring).

    The question of the the destructive effect of Hip-hop and rap on inner city youth still remains, along with its patently-obvious lack of musicality.

    I had hoped we were done with this subject …

    • Quintricious

      It helped me to. Glad to see someone is down with it.

  • WTH

    Another street thug wannabe named Horowitz? Idolize the ghetto culture, degrading of women, killing cops, etc., all you want, “hip hop” is something out of a 3rd world hellhole.

  • seewithyourowneyes

    Did someone at Frontpage Mag recently acquire a son-in-law in the music industry? Why all the praise for hip-hop all of the sudden?
    I read FPM because it stands up for truth and opposes the whitewash of Islam’s violent misogyny. Now I have to read articles whitewashing hip-hop’s violent misogyny on FPM? Very disappointing.
    Those on the Right should expose the lie of the Left’s supposed “big tent.” The truth is that the Left consigns women to the back of the bus, while flattering Muslims and black “bitch-slapping” male egos. There are far more female voters than minority voters. Why not reach out to them, exposing the Left’s multicultural war on women?
    Also, there is no need to court hip-hop votes with these dishonestly flattering articles. You’ll never win the vote of the hip-hop fans. And the hip-hop millionaires, willing to pump poison into their own communities if it will make a buck, are surely whorish enough to vote for whoever gives them tax breaks. No need to compromise FPM’s integrity with these PR puff pieces.

  • DaCoachK

    Hip hop is a drive-by culture worthy of little more than scorn. All these stories on it are a waste of time. These people will never embrace the conservative movement or its principles. I laugh whenever I hear someone refer to a rapper as an “artist.” It takes little talent to steal someone’s hook and throw elementary (and bad) poetry over the top of it. Yes, there are masses who love it, but they have been reared on this noise and don’t know real music (except for the stolen hooks that drive the stuff). Much ado about a whole lot of nothing.

  • Will

    Hey, FrontPage Mag. The, “we’ll infuse hip-hop into conservative politics” strategy is a losing horse. David Horowitz, please don’t go in this direction. Even if you succeed you fail because hip-hop is low art. You can’t win the culture war by bringing the culture even lower. All of the bad in hip-hop (no melodies, crassness, primal thumping) outweighs any of the good that it may have. I say this as someone who used to listen to hip-hop. It doesn’t make people better, it makes them worse. You are degrading the FrontPage brand and Right thought by embracing low culture.

    • Moshe Goldman

      Hip hop is the only music I can listen to and actually start getting angry. I soon find myself, inexplicably, wanting to “jack up a crackah.”

      • Bingeman

        Same here…isn’t it absolutely the most aggravating sound you can imagine? Plus,every “song” sounds virtually the same…that identical annoying beat over and over….yuck!

    • bob smith

      Precisely!

      It is the exact same logic used by the ‘progressive’ rhinos who claim that legalizing law breakers is in the best interests of the country and therefore we should embrace it.

      BS!

  • 1keith1

    I think hip-hop is just mindless, unmusical crap, and this article does not change that.

  • Quintricious

    Give it a chance. Dont be hatin.

    • Wolfthatknowsall

      At this point, I’m not sure whether you are simply trying to be sarcastic, or are a troll. If you’re being sarcastic, well-done. If you’re a troll? Well …

  • Mark Koenig

    Why is FrontpageMag seemingly hell-bent on promoting the “virtues” of hip-hop? I agree with Wolfthatknowsall that exceptions to the rule do not invalidate the overwhelmingly culturally destructive nature of most of what is called hip-hop music. You want an example of an uplifting, positive, hip, musical celebration of life? Take a look at Pharrell Williams’ “24 Hours of Happy.” It puts 99% of what is called hip-hop to shame.

    I can acknowledge that Ben Horowitz and his friends clearly took something positive out of Ben’s appreciation of hip-hop, however myopic and misguided that appreciation may have been. However – let’s not take the leap into absurdity of implying that this musical genre (if that’s what it can be properly called) is in general a positive cultural influence when taken as a whole. That’s an insult to the intelligence of the overwhelming majority of FrontPage readers.

  • Race_Dissident

    Don’t dignify this mindless toxic sludge by calling it “hip-hop.” That gives it a respect it has not earned. Call it rap because, after all, you can’t spell crap without it.

  • Sharps Rifle

    Fourth, but who’s counting?

    • NAHALKIDES

      Must be a contagious disease, or contaminated water at the FPM editorial offices.

  • Marsha

    Hip hop Republicans?

    • Well Done

      So, in the ‘hood, they’re both ready and will be needing, let me see… five partners each? And later… basketball!

    • Seek

      They look like the kinds of people who will take your wallet and then your life.

  • wileyvet

    It would be interesting to know if there is a correlation, albeit one hard to quantify, between the rise of rap music/hip hop and the deterioration of black inner cities, combined with the upsurge of black mob violence and criminal activity throughout America. It is a sad commentary that this music is the culmination of over a century of truly great black artists and musical forms, such as blues, jazz, R&B, soul, Funk and the Motown sound and has now come to define what it is to be black in America.

    • laura r

      th ereally violent agressive negative message rap does contribute to degeneracy.

  • The Facts

    Keep trying, David. You’re just going to pull a muscle.

  • Murray

    If you don’t like it, don’t listen to it. Criticize it all you like if it makes you feel good to do so. That’s free speech. But don’t denigrate those who think it’s a cool art form. Let the free market decide whether hip hop flourishes or not.

  • Tim N

    Why are we having all these articles on hip-hop so suddenly??
    Is this some sort of conservative ‘outreach’?
    Because the hip-hop crowd is such a natural constituency for shared values.

  • bribri

    All this hip-hop propaganda on FrontPage, so disappointing. As a proud American Conservative, I care deeply about Individuality and Freedom, unlike commies and fascists. I don’t want to read about lower-class, coloured, free individuals enjoying their mates and making lower-class music! I’m not even sure they own guns, it’s pathetic, where’s our great nation going?

    • Well Done

      get bent

  • Well Done

    I guess he just has to drive REALLY slow.

    • Tim N

      Okay that was good.

  • rusyn

    I suspect that most of little ben’s success comes from who is father is. this is the biggest bunch of crap I have read in a long time and david,you should be ashamed to sully your reputation with this garbage

  • alericKong

    Breaking news this clown show is about 30 years old and as authentic to city life as WWF is to fist fights.

    When I was a college freshman I listened to Shostakovich and Rodrigo.

  • Ralph

    FPM, read the comments on these idiot hip hop articles and learn.

  • Fudge

    That’s it. I’m deleting this site from my favorites. Your incessant, pathetic attempts to shill for (C)rap as some kind of socially redeeming “art” is disgusting.

  • VLParker

    For heaven’s sake, give it a rest already. This brain dead strategy is a loser. FPM has lost its marbles.

  • laura r

    ben, i found some of tupacs pieces inspiring, comforting on a spiritual level, musically amazing. luckily for me i accidently heard the best ones first. (like 20yrs later). i think biggy small was a genious. “requeim” sounded like me as a teen in brooklyn, i played it over & over) like i did bob dylans “like a rolling stone”). nars was superb when he wasnt selling out. the”flatush project” & some of the jamacian hop hop artists are socially relevent & musically talented. hiphop can go either way. what ever has a front has a back. the bigger the front the bigger the back. thats why rap can be from the spiritual to the degenerate. i never identified w/the hippies, this speaks to me. most readers of FP wont like black music in general. still not sure what their MO is in presenting these articals.

    • VLParker

      Most readers of FP won’t like black music in general? Wrong. I like the Blues, Jazz, Motown and Disco. It has nothing to do with race. It has to do with a culture of trash.
      Rap isn’t music. It has no melody, it has no harmony. It is just noise. Anyone can do it, although I can’t for the life of me figure out why anyone would want to.

      • Bingeman

        I love all that same music as well,especially the Motown sound.
        Forty years plus and people still enjoy it and even younger folks find it fun.It’s easy on the ears and you can actually sing along with it.
        Does anyone seriously think that forty years from now,rap/hiphop will produce the same nostalgic feelings? It will be nothing but a permanent stain on the music industry.

  • DontMessWithAmerica

    I couldn’t believe what I was reading and my first reaction was to utter, “Oy!”

    Our lives are filled with mystery, tragedy and farce. Flight MH370 will probably remain a mystery forever and a tragedy as well. To me, rap and drug addictions will also remain a mystery. But the article did provide a clue. With bits of shrapnel in the cranium anything is possible and if the brain is weakened from drugs or congenitally from birth, rhyming excrement may be therapeutic or at least interpreted as such by another individual (the author of the piece) whose history and problems we don’t know.

    The adoption of rap is akin to the adoption of a lunatic religion. It requires a
    slightly unbalanced mind, or a weak one at best, but to sane people, the process remains a mystery.

    The tragedy is the fact that Negro slaves, while living under the worst conditions, gave America its musical distinction by fusing Anglo-Saxon folk songs and hymns with African rhythms thereby creating gospel, blues, jazz, and even swing. American streets and homes were filled with music. People whistled while they worked, sang uplifting melodies while driving and wore smiles on their faces and in their breasts. Today, the descendants of the slaves have privileges beyond the dreams of their forbears and strictly denied to the whites. And what have they come up with? Rap, naive, ignorant, antagonistic rhymes shouted in incomprehensible dialects.

    People no longer sing, hum, or whistle because the melodies are gone.

    If this alone cannot alone be blamed on the degraded quality of our lives and general condition, including the economy, it certainly holds up a mirror to it and explains a good part of it.

    The farcical aspect here is the fact that Front Page Magazine printed this.

  • Yasha7

    Please. Give. This. Subject. a. Rest.