Jimmy Spicer, Influential Early Rapper, Is Dead at 61


Jimmy Spicer, who in the protean era of recorded hip-hop released a handful of songs that would become part of the genre’s bedrock, died on Friday in a Brooklyn hospital. He was 61.

His daughter Leticia Ricks said the cause was lung and brain cancer. Mr. Spicer disclosed his cancer diagnosis in the summer of 2018 and began a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for his treatments.

His rap career was brief, and the songs he released were sparse, but they featured phrases and tropes that would enter hip-hop’s core catalog.

His debut single, “Adventures of Super Rhyme (Rap),” released in 1980, was part of the first wave of hip-hop singles that arrived in the wake of Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” and is widely regarded as the first true storytelling rap.

Running for more than 15 minutes, “Adventures” is wild and woolly — a mélange of boastful narrative, pinpoint flow, oddball quirks and character acting. At one point Mr. Spicer raps in Dracula’s voice; later, as Aladdin, he invests in an oil well, then abandons the desert for the disco.

Most crucially, Mr. Spicer was an impressive boaster, crafting an otherworldly origin story for his talents:

From the day I came out my mother’s womb

I found myself in the operating room

Then the doctor spanked me on my behind

I didn’t cry, the kid started to rhyme.

My mother said, “Son, that’s the way it should be

Your name is Super Rhymes, you’ll be an MC.”

So then my father put me on a meteorite

Sent me to Earth to rock the mic.

In a 2016 interview with the blog Hip Hop 101A, Mr. Spicer described walking in his Brooklyn neighborhood at the height of that song’s popularity. “Adventures,” he said, “was coming from everywhere. It was coming out of every car, every window and every box on the street.”

Mr. Spicer caught the attention of the budding hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, who signed him as one of the first clients of his Rush Productions management company. Mr. Simmons was also a co-producer (with Larry Smith) on the next two Spicer songs: “The Bubble Bunch,” a lighthearted story about a zaftig dancing family, released in 1982; and “Money (Dollar Bill Y’all),” an electro-rap song about everything money puts just out of reach, released in 1983. (The B-side was mixed by Jellybean Benitez, one of his earliest credits.)

But Mr. Spicer’s career didn’t take off. He released another single in 1985, “This Is It,” produced by Rick Rubin, and then a handful of others in the late 1980s, but none had the impact of his early material. He found work behind the scenes at Rush and later opened a recording studio in Plainfield, N.J.

James Bromley Spicer was born on May 12, 1958, in Brooklyn to James Clarence and Janie Edna Spicer. His mother was an executive secretary and pianist, his father a pharmacist and photographer.

“I’ve been in the rap game from the beginning — as far back as you could say the beginning, I was there,” Mr. Spicer said in a 2011 interview posted on YouTube in which he insisted that he had coined the phrase hip-hop. (Lovebug Starski, who died last year, is generally credited with having come up with the term.)

Mr. Spicer began rapping as a teenager in the 1970s as hip-hop was developing in parks and recreation centers around New York City. He originally performed under the name M.C. Mop and was part of a crew called Star Lite Disco.

In its early days, hip-hop was primarily a Bronx concern, but Mr. Spicer made his name in Brooklyn block parties.

In addition to his daughter Leticia, he is survived by his wife, Layla; three other daughters, Angelina, Janel and Princess; a son, James Jr.; and five grandchildren.

For many hip-hop artists who came into prominence in the late 1980s and the ’90s, Mr. Spicer’s songs were foundational. His music was sampled or interpolated by the Wu-Tang Clan, 2Pac, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes and many others.

LL Cool J, in his 1997 memoir, “I Make My Own Rules,” noted how “Adventures” set him on the path to a hip-hop career. After hearing a fellow student at his middle school rapping the song, he was gobsmacked, he said.

“I followed him down the hall in a trance,” he wrote. “I said to myself, ‘You know what? I like that.’ And as this kid walked out the school doors onto the street singing that tune, my interest in school walked right out with him.”

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