Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Nile Style: The Resurgence of the Egyptian Lover's Empire

IFM, Apr 22, 2009

If you take Greg Broussard at his word, the 45-year-old was responsible for the creation of the electro scene in California and everything that came after it, from electro-hop to g-funk. It's even possible that he's right.

Egyptian Lover, as Broussard is more commonly known, was a pioneer in electronic music in the '80s, releasing music until the early '90s. He fell off the radar for nearly a decade, but after a 2005 European show was enthusiastically received, he began releasing music again and has been touring ever since. Over the years, the Egyptian Lover's audiences have broadened as European electro-heads have begun to embrace his retro stylings and bombastic dance moves and his popularity continues to grow every year.

Broussard, who grew up in South Central Los Angeles, started making music while in high school in the San Fernando Valley in the late '70s and early '80s. Like other California artists in the early '80s--including Too Short and Dr. Dre--he began with homemade mix tapes. Using his headphones as a microphone, he would record his own raps over instrumentals that he edited together with a pause-button cassette deck. He traces his later DJing skills to these pause-button tapes he made as a teenager, and this mix tape style of combining existing songs by other artists with his own original work can still be heard in his DJ sets.

In 1981, Broussard's world was rocked by Kraftwerk's "Numbers" on the Computer World album. "When I first heard that album, I lost my mind and said to myself 'I need to make a rap over that crazy electronic beat,' but Soul Sonic Force beat me to it," says Broussard during a interview by phone from Los Angeles. "But it only inspired me more to create a style similar to this."

It was around this time that he joined up with Uncle Jamm's Army, a Los Angeles-based hip hop crew that included Ice-T and DJ Battlecat. They released "Dial-a-Freak" and "Yes, Yes, Yes," Broussard's first songs to get radio airplay. "When the other dance promotion groups heard our song on the radio, they made songs as well," Broussard says. "Wreckin' Kru, L.A. Dream Team and any and everyone who thought they could be like Uncle Jamm. That's when I knew that I had started something on the west coast." In his MySpace profile he wrote "Just think if I never put the west coast on the map, where would you be now?...I started the west coast rap and electro-funk style."

"Egypt, Egypt," released in 1984, was ground-breaking and futuristic--a fact that is sometimes lost on listeners hearing it for the first time in today's world. "Egypt, Egypt" was the Egyptian Lover's top-selling release and continues to sell to this day, despite his claim that it took him only 30 minutes to make. It features his signature 808 sounds, vocoder lyrics, Egyptian imagery and the children's melody "The Streets of Cairo" (also known as the "there's a place in France where the naked ladies dance" song). "I think every DJ in the world has this record; it's a must-have for all DJs, dancers and producers," Broussard says, with typical braggadocio. "The sound quality on this record is by far way before it's time and it was the very first bass recorded--the breakdown--on vinyl," Broussard says.

Imagine if the odd couple Prince and Kraftwerk were to have a lovechild born with an 808 in his chubby fingers, and you'd have the Egyptian Lover. The influence of both artists can clearly be heard in his music, and he effusively gives them credit: "I created [my sound] by combining the top artists I ever heard. Prince and Kraftwerk!"

From the beginning, he knew that he had stumbled onto a winning formula, and one that others would try to emulate. "My sound [was] being copied just as I had copied Prince and Kraftwerk," he says. As a result, Egyptian Lover has been referred to as the "Godfather of Electro" and is considered a pioneer in the electro-funk genre. "I've heard many songs with my influence and it always makes me happy," he says. "Even today I still hear it. I guess it will always be called the west coast sound, but to me it was my sound."
On the Egyptian Lover's first full-length release, On the Nile, in 1984, the song "I Cry (Night After Night)" sounds more like a Prince B-side than its actual role as the follow-up track to "Egypt, Egypt." The song includes mournful wailing guitar solos and hyper-sexualized, melancholy moans. His voice catches on the confessional lyrics, as if it is just as uncomfortable for him to sing them as it is for us to listen and realize that even the Egyptian Lover gets lonely.

Broussard came up with the name Egyptian Lover based on two people he admired, King Tut and silent film star Rudolph Valentino--an interesting choice for a youngster growing up in South Central. "I wanted to be both," he said, "so Egyptian from King Tut, a boy king that ran his own empire, and lover from Rudolph Valentino, a man that loved women and wasn't ashamed to let everyone know." If the gangster rappers that came out of Los Angeles soon after him were concerned primarily with slangin' rocks and bangin' hos, the Egyptian Lover was more interested in the finer points of seduction and perfecting his sultry gaze.

As a character, the Egyptian Lover is a paradox. He's the ultimate braggart, constantly boasting of his incredible musical skills and implied sexual prowess. He insists this is not just an affectation for the stage and studio, but rather, a reflection of his real self. "That is who I am, inside and out. I am one and the same. Yes, I am a bit cocky, ain't I?" he adds with a laugh.

But songs like 1984's "I Cry (Night After Night)" display vulnerability not seen in his prior work with Uncle Jamm's Army. Despite his constant and formidable shows of bravado, his game is far smoother than that of many of his peers, whose boasts of their sexual conquest are so incessant as to become tedious. The Egyptian Lover, by contrast, makes do without profanity and takes a lower-key approach, declaring himself "so suave, so cool, so debonair" in "The Lover" on 1986's One Track Mind. And although most of his songs are about girls, they usually consist of him lecturing the listener (and presumably the women of the world) about how incredible he is, and boasting of what he will do, or show them--often, turntable tricks--if they just succumb to his charms. We never get a sense of whether these attempts are successful, but we suspect they might not be when, in "Freak-a-Holic" he admits, "I'm kind of desperate so let's get it on."

The Egyptian Lover's charm lies in this very vulnerability and honesty. His songs are sexual but not obscene. At a time when N.W.A. rapped about bitches, cocaine and sodomy with 14-year-olds, Too Short posted obscene sexual details of his conquests by name and Kool Moe Dee crooned about his sexually transmitted diseases, the Egyptian Lover was calling girls "cute." Other artists from the scene like Ice-T and Dr. Dre had all but abandoned electro and had gone gangster rap, but Broussard distanced himself from the violence that appeared in more and more in black music from Los Angeles. His lyrics never mention violence, don't denigrate women (although the song "DSL's" is a questionable exception) and never stray from his one mission--to love women, all of them.

Between 1984 and 1994, the Egyptian Lover released five albums, including one of his greatest hits. After his 1994 album Pyramix--which included a bid at appealing to the rave culture in the form of the uncharacteristic song "Get High (Get X'd, Get Drunk, Get Sexed)"--he disappeared from the music scene for a decade. Broussard is vague about what he did during this time, although he claims to never have had to seek employment outside of his music career. He was growing disillusioned with '90s music, and one can imagine that the rising popularity of gangster rap--whose tone was diametrically opposed to the the upbeat dance songs he had been creating--may have soured him on the Los Angeles scene. He wanted to spend more time with friends and family and during his hiatus got married. "I was sick of hearing the new stuff on the radio and did not want to become part of that era. I chilled and had fun with all my money and spent time just doing what I wanted to do. Every single day was a stress free day."

In recent years the rising popularity of electro music has blown up the Egyptian Lover's career. After playing his first European shows and receiving an overwhelming reception, the Egyptian Lover returned to the scene in in 2005, releasing the "Dance /I Pyramix" 12". "Playing in Europe inspired me to make records again," Broussard says. "The European people loved the music so much I just had to make more jams for them to dance to."

Despite the decade-long hiatus, his new music is just as compelling, keeping the classic feel of his old songs, but with a new level of complexity that may be the result of technology invented since his first albums. In an interview in 2006, he said "My new album was done with Fruity Loops. It's easy to use and I finish a beat in 30 seconds. Jamie [Jupiter] said 'Come on you need at least 3 minutes.' Give me a laptop right now and I'll show you how to make a beat in 30 seconds."

Nevertheless, Egyptian Lover has stayed true to his original love, the 808. Over the course of a career that has spanned more than a quarter of a century, he has experimented with different vocal styles--on the One Track Mind album he dabbles with full-blown rapping--but his music never fails to include the distinctive sound of the 808. "Since I heard the 808 sound I fell in love with it," he said. "This is my sound. The 808, a keyboard, a chant rap and some breathing." In pictures he can be seen lovingly cradling a Roland TR-808.
"I've tried different drum machines but I always go back to my true love--the 808!"

His popularity in Europe has created a fundamental shift in his audience. Whereas initially his music was embraced by a black, American audience, as his music gained greater acceptance it has become increasingly popular with white listeners. Now his shows' audiences are almost entirely white. The Egyptian Lover sees this as proof that his music is universal. "I don't mind it at all. I had all kinds of audiences, even back in the day. It was played in house clubs, techno clubs, hip hop clubs, freestyle clubs, everything. Everyone was listening to my music. My old fans are still with me. My black fans just call it old school but the Europeans call it electro. It's the same music."

His current audiences, many of whom are introduced to his music at festivals catering to the under-30 crowd, are often unfamiliar with the history of his work and the significance that it holds. Yet far from being a liability, Broussard's age only boosts his credibility to his younger fans. It seems likely that despite the sincere enthusiasm for his performance, there is some level of irony in the appreciation of his act with Jamie Jupiter. After all, they're two heavyset men in their mid-forties wearing leather pants, air-humping and doing synchronized King Tut dances. But there is no denying the energy of his performances and the fact that the audiences eat it up wholeheartedly, a new generation of Egyptian Lover fans.

Broussard is currently writing a book about his life and music and hopes that it will one day be made into a movie. If his comment in an interview more than 20 years ago could be considered a prediction for the future, the Egyptian Lover will not be disappearing from the scene anytime soon. "If they like what I release and things don't change much...when I'm fifty years old, I'll put out 'dirty old man' raps. If they like it...they'll buy it!"