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The email address Egyptian Lover lists on his Facebook profile, like Egyptian Lover himself, is a cipher and a time capsule, and not just because it exists on the ancient servers of former dial-up titans AOL. His handle is egyptianlover661, where 661 is a reference to DMSR-661, the catalog number for the first record a young Greg Broussard ever put out on his own Egyptian Empire label back in 1984. "DMSR" was a reference to his idol Prince’s 1999 "D.M.S.R." (Dirty Music Sex Romance). The record was called "Egypt, Egypt," and it became a hit and a West Coast hip hop/electro staple. In making it, Egyptian Lover drew on both Prince (May He Rest in Peace and Reign in Purple) and Kraftwerk. He combined the melody from Kraftwerk’s "Trans Europe Express" that Afrika Bambaataa had sampled on "Planet Rock," flipping it and inserting it into his own electrofunk framework, with the addition of some heavy breathing à la The Purple One.
"Egypt, Egypt" along with 21 other tracks have now been compiled, smartly sequenced, and packaged into 1983-1988, a 4-LP Stones Throw anthology that charts the Lover’s reign over West Coast hip hop during that same time. The anthology itself contains the majority of Egyptian Lover’s On the Nile album (including "Egypt, Egypt") with a couple of fresh re-edits from Stones Throw’s Peanut Butter Wolf ("Yes, Yes, Yes" and "My Beat Goes Boom"), 12" singles, never-released material, and others—all taken from the original master tapes. The anthology is mostly chronological, and the accompanying booklet contains a track-by-track breakdown as recounted by the Lover himself. (Full disclosure: Pitchfork contributor Jeff Weiss wrote the liner notes.) There aren’t any big sonic shifts or tracks that speak to particular "phases" the Egyptian Lover went through, mainly because for the years between ’83-’88 and for the entire 30 years he’s been in the game, he’s primarily only had one phase and overarching sound: old-school electrofunk—that ’80s 808-driven, Parliament– and Kraftwerk-inspired, breakbeats-referencing, futuristic-yet-analog pastiche that laid the foundation for everything from g-funk to techno to Miami bass that followed.
Egyptian Lover has remained similarly faithful over the years to his persona as a freak-a-holic pharaoh blasted forth from that bend in the space-time continuum known as his mind. His origin myth begins in high school, by which time he was already making and selling his own pause-button mixtapes to other students under his Egyptian Lover moniker. Broussard says he got his name in part from Rudolph Valentino, the famous white actor who played an "Arab sheik" in The Sheik, during that vibrant era of racist 1920s black and white films. The young Greg Broussard was drawn to Valentino’s savoir faire. Additionally, growing up in South Central Los Angeles in the ’70s and ’80s, he was drawn to King Tut, who represented to him a kind of mystique, power, and escape. Hence "Egyptian Lover" was born.
Not long after graduating high school, the young Lover was invited to join the ranks of Uncle Jamm’s Army, the top LA dance party crew at the time. KDAY Radio bumped them constantly, and at their peak, they filled up 10,000-capacity sports arenas. The Egyptian Lover became Uncle Jamm’s star DJ, spinning, scratching, and wreaking freaky havoc on dancefloors across LA, alongside Unknown DJ, Cli-N-Tel, Chris "The Glove" Taylor, and Ice-T, among others. The latter two, along with Egyptian Lover, can be seen working their magic at the infamous Radio Club (later Radiotron) in the landmark West Coast hip hop documentary Breakin’ N’ Enterin’. Not accidentally, Lover had also been hired to score the film, and two of those tracks are featured on the anthology: "Egyptian Lover Theme" and "Spray It Super AJ."
These LA mobile dance party crews, including World Class Wreckin’ Cru and LA Dream Team, were where a number of prominent West Coast DJs, producers, and MCs got their start. World Class Wreckin’ Cru, which included a young Dr. Dre, along with fellow future NWA member Yella, followed swiftly in Uncle Jamm’s steps in producing electro hits like "Surgery" and "Juice"—but only after Uncle Jamm’s had already changed the game a year earlier by being the first LA crew to press to vinyl, producing hits like "Dial-A-Freak" and "Yes, Yes, Yes," which now find their place on 1983-1988.
Since then, Egyptian Lover’s sound hasn’t changed a whole lot, but in the 30-some years he’s been in the game, he’s been able to manipulate a lot of different sounds out of the machines he uses. Often, this has meant his beloved 808 in various combinations with turntables, a mic, vocoder, and SH-101 bass synth (among others). Clocking in at just under 2 minutes, "What is a DJ if He Can’t Scratch" is a quick flex on all the DJs who can’t scratch, MCs who can’t rap, and beats made without live claps. A more minimalistic and rhythm-focused cut from his debut album On the Nile, the track shows off EL’s scratching techniques, including his ability to play a record backwards entirely on-beat. By contrast, "I Cry (Night After Night)" from the same album, is the most melodic and Prince-ly pop song of the lot and even incorporates electric guitar. Egyptian Lover whimpers, recounting his nightly walks staring up at the stars, looking himself in the mirror, and bemoaning an unrequited love interest. Over ’80s drum smacks, he programs high, breathy, Prince-inspired call-and-response vocals and twinkly bells that ornament his raps, which are equal parts horny and humorous.
Lover also wasn’t afraid to stretch hip-hop into more experimental territory. The track "Electric Encounter," which was never actually completed until the making of this anthology, is basically a conceptual electronic number set to a hard funk beat. "Gears (gears), belts (belts)," recites a chipmunk voice, running through a long list of "computer" parts. "Plugs (plugs), switches (switches), nuts (nuts), and bolts (and bolts)." Over the course of the song, this computer’s desire for an electric encounter burns through its inner circuitry, and a heavily distorted hardware meltdown ensues, resulting in a gloopy puddle of busted wires and melted transistors.
This tendency to blur the lines between human and machine, reality and fantasy, and present and future is a hallmark of Egyptian Lover’s particular imagination—as well as of electro more broadly. "Kinky Nation," originally released on One Track Mind (1986), lays out Lover’s vision of his kingdom come. It’s a sexual paradise guarded by a robot with a talk box for a voice, who greets visitors at the gates with a mechanized, "Wel-come-to-the-kin-ky-na-tion." Like many of Broussard’s songs, "Kinky Nation" also leans on old popular cultural depictions of Ancient Egypt–which have often relied on exotification, or even cartoonification, and which even today affect popular (mis)understandings of modern Egypt and Egyptians. On "My House (On the Nile)," as on "Kinky Nation," EL describes his sex pad on the Nile, complete with camels out back and Egyptian women for whom "there’s no substitute." To be sure, Egyptian Lover injects a lot of humor into his music, but sometimes, as in the box set’s recent infomercial or in his songs about bellydancers, the way the exoticism plays out can feel questionable or off-color.
That said, Egyptian Lover’s imagination is still colorful in other ways. On that same "My House (On the Nile)" record, he talks about getting freaky on his 50-foot waterbed flanked by solid gold speakers, from which blast the very song he’s singing. "Dial-A-Freak," an early track from his Uncle Jamm’s days, is all about phone sex, an exercise in pornographic imagination if there ever was one. And on 1983-1988’s final track, "I Need A Freak," a remake of (unfortunately named) electro group Sexual Harassment’s single of the same name that Egyptian Lover then put on his 1994 Back From The Tomb album, and which now features additional synth work by Dam Funk, he raps, "In these times of hate and pain, we need a remedy to take us from the rain…I need a freak!" In the liner notes, Egyptian Lover mentions that when he first heard the song back in the day, he thought it sounded like Prince. So it seems only right that this is the note this anthology should end on.