All it took was one sweaty afternoon in the early '80s, and Forrest Webb was hooked.
Webb, just a tween at the time, was killing the summer hours in the basement of his grandparents' ranch-style house in Akron when he stumbled across a heap of shrink-wrapped records. It was dead stock from his grandfather's old record store, Calhoun's, a small Rubber City storefront that peddled all things soul and funk.
Webb sifted through the albums, retrieving the first one that caught his eye: the Emotions' So I Can Love You, the 1970 debut from this female trio. He laid the slick black disc on his grandfather's turntable and listened with total surprise as the song "I Like It" began to play. "It was the bass line from the 3rd Bass song 'The Gas Face,'" Webb says. "That's when I realized how important records were to me. That's when I really started collecting and beat-digging."
Over the next 20-plus years, Webb -- better known as DJ Forrest Getemgump -- amass ed a record collection now 10,000 strong. He also dedicated himself to the B-boy way of life, cutting up a truckload of break beats, rubbing elbows with folks like Bootsy Collins and Kurtis Blow, and touring the world as a premier breakdancer.
But Webb never forgot his roots. As hip-hop traded in B-boys and breaks for blunts, bling, and bitches, Webb moved in an entirely different direction.
In the past few years, Webb -- who resides in Manhattan -- has spent more and more time in Akron, checking in with his breakdancing crew, the Illstyle Rockers, and combing record stores for forsaken local soul albums. His grandparents' basement is no longer filled with dead stock, but a modest chunk of his own collection. And in January, he put his dusty grooves to work at the Lime Spider. Every Thursday night is Smoking Soul, where he and fellow vinylphiles spin classics and hyper-obscure jams.
On one Thursday evening, a chunk of Webb's set is made up almost entirely of local soul. He spins acts that were on the Akron record label Heat (alongside the Cleveland group S.O.U.L.) and later jumped into a track by Akron's Soul Tornadoes. He then pulls out an extremely rare album by a Cleveland group, but is hesitant to share the name. "There were only 500 of these pressed," he says. "If I tell you the name, then everyone will be out buying it, and it's kind of my thing."
His secretiveness isn't about keeping the music from the public's reach, but about maintaining his signature sound. It's the trademark of any B-boy to do so -- a lesson he learned long ago.
He was just 10 years old, an Akron transplant living in New York, when the city was giving birth to hip-hop. Webb quickly made a name for himself as a fearless breakdancer, performing dizzying combinations of head spins, back flips, and frozen poses wherever the DJs were spinning the latest Sugarhill records. "He was just the best," says Dre Borders, a member of the break crew Illstyle Rockers. "He was head-spinning in my friend's basement, and he didn't stop. He just kept going. And he was a cool-looking cat, too."
After seeing DJ Swell cut up breaks at a house party in 1986, Webb ran out and bought his first set of Technics turntables. He became an obsessive crate-digger, hunting down multiple copies of rare soul and funk records that he'd manipulate into extended uptempo break beats. "Buying records was my life," Webb says. "It was always about finding the record that no one had -- finding the freshest stuff."
But it was breakdancing, not DJing, that made him a household name in the hip-hop world. He was enlisted to dance with the Rocksteady Crew -- one of the oldest and best-known break crews -- and toured the world. He appeared in Rakim and Bootsy Collins videos, and made Adidas commercials with Grandmaster Flash.
By 1996, however, B-boys like Webb were becoming an endangered species, replaced by jewel-encrusted men with pimp cups and drum machines. But that didn't deter Webb from founding the Illstyle Rockers. They discovered a new, paler-faced audience of kids who showed love for their old-school stylings. They continue to perform everywhere from Australia to Poland, opening for acts like Beck and Kid Rock. "A lot of people, like the older cats, thought [breaking] was just a fad," Borders says. "In the last 15 years, the black kids are really the minorities. It's very bizarre."
As Webb continues to travel the world, often to teach clinics on breaking and spinning, he's made sharing his love for soul paramount. "In terms of the hip-hop history, the samples all came from soul music," he says. "The art of beat-digging, the dancing -- all came out of the soul music."
Lime Spider's Smoking Soul is a tribute to the soul and funk classics that laid the foundation for hip-hop. Here, you can hear everything from Stax hits to local soul cuts that haven't seen the light of day in over 30 years. "We're just spinning a lot of stuff that inspired hip-hop," says Jared Boxx, an N.Y.C. DJ who has performed at Smoking Soul. "People have always spun classic soul and funk alongside hip-hop, but we're just digging deeper, spinning stuff that's rarer and rarer."
Though Webb collects everything from Dutch funk to marching-band music, his collection of local soul is what makes his set so rare. You won't hear many other DJs spinning Tommy Johnson and Elegance, Brute Force, "Come On Cavs" -- the Cavaliers' theme song from the '70s -- or that one group whose name Webb refuses to reveal.
And even if they are -- they're not doing it with the same native pride as Webb.
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