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Arts + CultureMusicFreaky pharaoh of electro Egyptian Lover heats up the...

Freaky pharaoh of electro Egyptian Lover heats up the Meltdown

Legendary DJ and beat-maker on the early '80s LA rap scene, breaking the 808, and coming to Mosswood Park.

Mummies, lock up your daughters. Egyptian Lover is coming to town. 

For over four decades, the freaky pharaoh of electro has driven audiences to dip their hips, bounce their booties, and whip their “long, long hair” into a frenzy with little more than his deck.

After breaking through with LA’s funk/hip-hop collective crew Uncle Jamm’s Army alongside future stars Ice-T and DJ Pooh, he released a steamy series of 12” singles—”Egypt, Egypt,” “The Lover,” and “Freak-A-Holic”—that helped popularize both electro and West Coast hip-hop. (His cover of Sexual Harassment’s “I Need a Freak” is so good that it’s illicit.)

While he’s canonized for being an early adopter of the 808 drum machine, releasing some of the earliest rap LPs (starting with 1984’s On the Nile), and opening the first Black-owned and first electro record label (Egyptian Empire), he’s most proud of his uncanny ability to bring the heat with his beats.

“I just go out there and do my hits with the 808, and it’s always a big hit,” says Egyptian Lover a.k.a. Gregory James Broussard. “Kids today love the beat like they did back in the day. You put the beat on, and they party to it no matter what.”

Egyptian Lover is no stranger to the Bay Area after having toured and made plenty of radio appearances on KMEL with Run-D.M.C., Jam Master Jay, and Houdini in his Uncle Jamm’s Army days and later as a solo artist when “Egypt, Egypt” blew up. He’s always excited to return—this time to play alongside The B-52s, the Mummies, and Big Freedia at Oakland’s Mosswood Meltdown (Sat/6-Sun/7).

“I love playing in that area,” he says. “People there have been fans since the ‘80s. So every time I do a show up there, young kids and older guys and girls come—and it’s like, ‘Wow.’”

I got my audience with the rap/electro royal to chat about becoming the Prince of Egypt, his iconic singles, and the 808 ways he keeps his fans bumping on the dance floor. 

48 HILLS How did you develop your Egyptian Lover persona?

EGYPTIAN LOVER I grew up in the hood in South Central, California, and I wanted to escape. Back then, you had to put your mind somewhere else to not get caught up in trouble. So I just took my mind and put it way out there to if I was an Egyptian king or prince. I’m going to act like royalty to get that kind of respect instead of going out and doing what my friends were doing. I just had that nickname, Egyptian Lover, from the very beginning. So when I started DJing and making records, I kept the same name and did it like that.

48 HILLS You have so many great bops like “Egypt, Egypt,” “Freakaholic,” and “I Cry (Night After Night).” How did “I Cry (Night After Night)” come together?

EGYPTIAN LOVER I was listening to a lot of Prince, but I grew up listening to Dean Martin, and he had a song called “The Middle of the Night Is My Cryin’ Time,” where he says: “The middle of the night is when I cry/The middle of the day is when I lie.” I was like, “Wow, Dean Martin is such a player, a lover. If he can say he can cry, I could write a song saying, ‘I can cry.’” So I wrote it, listening to his song, but did it with a different beat. And then the guitar came from the Prince vibe. All that together was “I Cry (Night After Night).”

48 HILLS There have been many docs and movies like Straight Outta Compton about LA’s early rap days. What do people still get wrong about that era?

EGYPTIAN LOVER The first thing they get wrong is they think it started in ‘88 or ‘89—when it started in the early ‘80s. Several dance promotion groups came out and Uncle Jamm’s Army was the most popular. I was with them and they partnered with other groups like World Class Wreckin’ Cru. Then they had a dream team doing parties, and most of the groups doing them didn’t make records. I joined Uncle Jamm’s Army and showed off my DJ skills—cueing the record out loud (now called scratching) and making words happen. 

And then we started doing parties for 500, then 800, then 1500, then 2500, and then 22,500 people at Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. We had Run-DMC, Whodini, Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, and Kurtis Blow open up for us as DJs. It was the top of everything in LA in ‘82, ‘83. 

One day at the Sports Arena, I brought my 808. Nobody knew what it was and everybody was screaming. I knew I made a beat that could make 10,000 party people party. Even the gangsters were dancing. It’s like, “OK, I can go in the studio and make a record with this beat and this drum machine sound.” That’s when it all started.

48 HILLS Could you imagine at the time that crew members Ice-T and Dr. Dre would blow up the way they have?

EGYPTIAN LOVER Nobody ever thought that. Ice-T was always coming to the parties begging to rap on the microphone. He probably was the only rapper that we let rap. With his style, energy, and hustle he got a record deal. Then he started acting and it was like, “Man, that’s you. You’re a natural actor.” And to see him on TV for 24 years now, it’s amazing. I’m proud of him. 

Dr. Dre was always a great producer and knew how to pick records. He’s a great DJ to play for people, know what songs to produce, and make people party when they hear these songs. He has an ear that’s out of this world and proves it. He’s still doing it—and it’s amazing.

48 HILLS You founded the first electro label, are the first Black label owner, and blew up the 808. What pride do you take in all of that?

EGYPTIAN LOVER Being at the right place at the right time. People would have found out about this stuff eventually. But I wanted to be the first one to do it. So when I had a chance to do it, I did it. I wanted to make people say, “Wow,” and give them a part of what I didn’t know would be history. I would be a part of this new idea, sound, and style. 

When we were doing the parties, “Planet Rock” was the number-one song for three years. So when I did “Egypt, Egypt,” I had “Planet Rock,” Prince, and Kraftwerk vibes all in me. 

When I was in the studio and told the engineer I wanted to make it sound like this, he said, “We can make it sound better than that.” And he started killing the drums one by one and little by little—and it sounded better and better. I’m like, “Wow, these drums sound great.” I did the whole drum machine, keyboards, vocoder, and everything. Eight hours later, the song was done.

48 HILLS I love your recent ‘80s LP series, especially your cover of Wham!’s “Everything She Wants.” Tell me about the music you’re making today. 

EGYPTIAN LOVER I’m still doing new records. In 2015, I did 1984 using the same studios and equipment I used in 1984 to recreate that same sound, and we had so much fun that I did 1985 three years later. Then, in 2021, I did 1986, and I have 1987 coming out later this year or by Valentine’s Day at the latest.

It’s just fun doing the same old-school-type songs. So I made my genre Egyptian Lover music. And the kids love it and the fans love it. I love getting the kids interested in new stuff when it’s just old stuff. 

48 HILLS What is the secret to keeping an audience hyped and engaged when performing at a festival like Mosswood Meltdown?

EGYPTIAN LOVER When I go out there, I don’t just DJ. I do the evolution of Egyptian Lover. So I start the show doing my DJ tricks, playing records backward and mixing one in forward, and it’s like, “Wow, this guy’s not just a DJ; he’s a great DJ.” Then I go into the drum machine and get the party elevated. Then I start playing my songs, doing my old dance moves, just performing with them, and then doing tricks with the microphone, the records, and the 808 drum machine. It’s an entertaining show. 

I’m doing all this stuff now on the line: “What is a DJ if you can’t scratch?” and point to the turntables. I say, “What is the mic if you can’t rap?” and point to the mic. I say, “What is a beat without a live clap?” and point to the drum machine. I say, “Well, I could do it all, baby, just like that.” And then they go off on it.

Mosswood Meltdown Sat/6-Sun/7, 12 pm, Mosswood Park, Oakland. Tickets and more info here.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter
Joshua Rotter is a contributing writer for 48 Hills. He’s also written for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, SF Weekly, SF Examiner, SF Chronicle, and CNET.

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