100 Greatest songs of the 80’s #99 – Gary Byrd & The GB Experience – The Crown

Released : 1983

An oddity even before it appeared in the UK, The Crown was released on Stevie Wonder’s short lived US imprint Wondirection but promptly disappeared when it did. Byrd was a DJ in Britain with a gospel-inspired show, but this departure into rap offered a very different vision to the urban dystopia of The Message, released the year previously.

Whilst Grandmaster Flash & other early rap crews were still relying on the primitive electro of Afrika Bambaaata as a template, The Crown used a choppy funk guitar for a bus, Byrd rhyming with a smooth eloquence about black history and heritage with lines that with hindsight are innocently naive: “Now in fourteen hundred and ninety-two Columbus sailed to ocean – true/But years before in Alkebu a ship set sail with a chocolate crew”

This lesson in pride and empowerment stretched to over ten minutes of the twelve inch version, one on which Wonder himself guested, but it’s testimony to Byrd’s ambitious and singular vision that even a contribution from a guesting genius feels like little more than a charming cameo.

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