“Kangol don’t know if she want me or my money” – U.T.F.O.
In 1987, I gave a blank Memorex cassette tape to a high school basketball teammate and asked if he would make me a copy of that album he was listening to and bragging about at the time. He agreed, and brought me back a copy a few days later. The album was the third album by a Brooklyn quartet I had never heard of before called U.T.F.O., and the album’s name was “Lethal.”
The group was made up of “Kangol Kid” (Shiller Shaun Fequiere), “Educated Rapper” (Jeffrey Campbell), “Doctor Ice” (Fred Reeves), and “Mix Master Ice” (Maurice Bailey). The group’s name which stands for UnTouchable Force Organization had originally begun as U.F.O. until they were informed that there was already an English rock band with that name. They added the “T” (much to Kangol’s dismay who was quoted once saying “‘un’ is not a word”).
Before he was part of the group U.T.F.O., Kangol and Doc Ice were just “Shaun and Freddy” and then as a dance duo known as “The Keystone Dancers.” As The Keystone Dancers, they won first place in a dance competition at the Spring of 1983 Radio City Music Hall talent contest when he and Freddy were only 16 and 17 years of age, respectively. They were invited onto numerous morning shows to demonstrate that ability as you’ll see from this video.
It sure is painfully awkward watching these middle-aged white men who obviously know very little about dancing and have very little in common with two teenagers from Brooklyn try to be engaging and funny with Shaun and Freddy. But the dancing even some almost 40 years later is still very impressive.
After catching the eye of hip-hop and R&B group Full Force member Brian “B-Fine” George at a local dance competition, they were invited to be backup dancers for Full Force. In actuality, George was only at the competition to rough up Shaun (unbeknownst to Shaun at the time) for apparently flirting with his girlfriend, but instead was so impressed by their dance routine, he invited the duo to be backup dancers instead. That stint then led to the duo in becoming backup dancers behind the rap group Whodini, who had released their debut album in 1982 and were making waves on the rap scene by this time. Whodini also contained Doc Ice’s older brother Jalil Hutchins.
Soon after, Kangol Kid and Doctor Ice formed the group U.T.F.O. after recruiting Bailey (Educated) and Campbell (Mix Master), and proceeded to record their first album on Select Records. Their debut album was produced by the group Full Force and their first single was a smooth, uptempo jam called “Hanging Out.” But it was the B-side that caught the ear of a then-local (now world-famous) DJ named Kool DJ Red Alert. That particular B-side song was the rap classic “Roxanne, Roxanne.”
As I’ve said before in earlier posts, my earliest memories of listening to rap music was really during my 15-16 year old sophomore year in high school in 1986-87. That was when my earlier mentioned teammate had me listening on his headphones in our school library to a song called “Girls Ain’t Nothin’ But Trouble” by a little-known duo called DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. I was hooked, and that song led me to Run-DMC’s “Raising Hell” album (and earlier albums), and the Beastie Boys and Salt-N-Pepa, and BDP, and then LL Cool J’s “Bigger and Deffer” and Kool Moe Dee’s “How Ya Like Me Now?” album and then ultimately to the quartet known as U.T.F.O.
“Kangol Kid” passed away in December of complications from colon cancer (PSA: get screened). He was 55 and hip-hop’s first endorsed artist. Before Run-DMC blew sales of Adidas through the roof, Kangol Kid was helping to prop up Kangol hat sales in every city where he performed. One of his hats is enshrined in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. He had 35+ year relationship with the company at the time of his death.
Kangol produced and managed the group Whistle. After the breakup of U.T.F.O., Kangol continued producing and songwriting, ran his own company, and was an advocate for the American Cancer Society in later years. A true pioneer and legend in the genre, and just one of the greats to do it all back in the day.
“So I’m bein’ picky, cause I ain’t sure. And I’m livin’ a life you might call insecure.”
U.T.F.O. released five albums, four of which were in the 80’s, so I narrowed my favorite U.T.F.O. songs from those four albums… U.T.F.O.(1985), Skeezer Pleezer (1986), Lethal (1987) and “Doin’ It” (1989). By the time 1991’s “Bag It and Bone It” album came out, Doc Ice was officially out, and I had little to no interest in that particular U.T.F.O. album. So, in honor of Kangol Kid, here is…
Sincerely the 80’s Top 10 U.T.F.O. Songs from the 80’s:
#10 “Leader of the Pack” – The Shangri-Las version, this is not. It’s just a solid shoutout off of their debut album from the three distinct MC’s to the man in the back, the man in black – Mix Master Ice, aka “The Leader of the Pack”
#9 “Master of the Mix” – This is another shoutout record to Mix Master Ice and comes from the “Doin’ It” album. The song samples from The Doobie Brothers’ intro to “Long Train Runnin’,” and I love the dope bass in this song that features Mix Master Ice doing more outstanding work again on the tables. I appreciated the few Public Enemy samples as well.
#8 “Get Down” – One of my personal favorites from the “Lethal” album. The song samples from one of my favorites – Kool & The Gang, and their song “Jungle Boogie.” Was this a date night song? Depends upon what kind of “date” you were on I suppose, but not in my world.
#7 “Split Personality” – Doc Ice is at his finest on this lone track from the “Skeezer Pleezer” album in 1986. Unfortunate album cover aside, this album is almost solely Kangol, Ice, and Mix Master as the Educated Rapper was receiving help for a drug problem during this time, and probably the main reason (well that and the unfortunate album cover) why I never dug into this album much. But on this particular track Doc Ice absolutely slays the first verse.
#6 “Wanna Rock” From the “Doin’ It” album, this song sampled 1973’s “Love Is the Message” by MFSB and is the only song here that doesn’t feature Doc Ice as Kangol and Educated Rapper take their turns on the mic while Doc Ice had left to pursue a solo career (1989’s “The Mic Stalker”). Mix Master working the tables at the end of the song sampling from Rob Base and DJ Eazy Rock’s “It Takes Two” is a highlight for me on this song.
#5 “Beats and Rhymes” – “Fly girls feel the groove. Homeboys bust a move.” Just remember it’s not beans and rice. With Full Force providing a catchy hook, the three MC’s take turns completing each other’s lines in the first verse followed by verses that each perform individually on this danceable track from their debut album.
#4 “Fairytale Lover” – If you’re a fan of the slow rap jams (think LL’s “I Need Love”), then you might enjoy this one. Also from their debut album, I’ll go ahead and issue a “corny lyrics warning” right here, but pay attention to the lyrics anyway because DJ Run sure did, and it was these lyrics that inspired Run DMC’s “Peter Piper.”
#3 “Roxanne, Roxanne” So go ahead and beef with me if you think this should be #1. I acknowledge that this is UTFO’s most famous song which led to the “The Roxanne Wars” for years to come after this song was released. Rolling Stone listed it as one of the greatest 100 rap songs of all-time (#84). Maybe it’s because I really didn’t hear this song first. I mean, I don’t know or can’t recollect for sure if I heard this song before their “Lethal” album or not, but I do concede the importance of the song in rap lore.
#2 “Hanging Out” – I don’t mean to offend you, but that’s just the way I am (I guess). I’m not going to argue with Kool DJ Red Alert at all, but I’m here to say this A-side still sits ahead (for me anyway) of the B-side’s “Roxanne, Roxanne.” Rap blasphemy I know, but I just love the beat and rhythm to this song. You get a verse featuring candy bars and another verse of indecipherable slang lyrics made popular in the early 80’s by funk musician Frankie Smith and later on in the early 90’s by Snoop Dogg. Without a doubt it’s all about hanging out. Five out of the 10 songs are from their debut album, but not my favorite…
And my #1 UTFO song that will always hold a special place in my heart – probably from all of the times I played it over and over in my Sony Walkman (many times on a big yellow school bus heading to or from a basketball game) – it’s the highlight of the “Lethal” album – “Ya Cold Wanna Be With Me”…
R.I.P. Kangol Kid (and Educated Rapper for that matter who passed away from cancer in 2017).
Take care of yourself, and thanks for reading.