We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Fledgling go-go rapper Craig Rosen of D.C.’s Static Disruptors will never forget what go-go godfather Chuck Brown said when Rosen asked him to produce his first record. “I had a cassette of ‘D.C. Groove’ and offered it to [Brown]. He told me, ‘If I take that tape and put it in my pocket, the females are gonna see it and think it’s my music and take it from me.'”
Rosen, 51, who lives in Los Angeles, claims to be the first white, male hip-hop recording artist on the East Coast. Static Disruptors’ 1982 song “D.C. Groove” preceded The Beastie Boys’ entrée into hip-hop, Cooky Puss, by a year, and Deborah Harry made history in 1981 with her rap on the Blondie song “Rapture.” Unfortunately he can’t lay claim to being the first recorded white male rapper nationwide—-that title belongs to Lee “DJ Flash” Johnson of L.A., whose Rappers Rapp Group released its “Rappers Rapp Theme” in November 1981.
Rosen grew up in Bethesda, Md., and his first on-stage experience was with hardcore band The Enzymes, which included Chris Haskett of Rollins Band fame and Dave Byers, the late guitarist who went on to play with Static Disruptors and Human Rights, the solo project from Bad Brains frontman H.R. Rosen’s tenure with The Enzymes was brief but transformative. After playing two songs with his lyrics at Hard Art Gallery and Madam’s Organ, “that gave me the bug,” he says.
Rosen attended college in Appleton, Wis., at Lawrence University, but it was music, not academics, that consumed him. He discovered funk and formed Static Disruptors to play it. He derived the band name from his bland college. “Lawrence was pretty static and I felt the need to disrupt it,” he writes via email.
Static Disruptors quit Lawrence in 1980 to play funk professionally. Arriving in D.C. via train, Rosen spotted some graffiti in a Union Station bathroom stall that said “Ain’t no funk like Trouble Funk.” “I thought it was strong and had to know what Trouble Funk was,” he writes. The band’s sax player learned that Trouble Funk played every Wednesday in Northwest D.C. “We went and were changed by it. I heard ‘D.C. Groove’ in my head on the Metro and wrote the song upon returning home that evening.”
Having decided to play go-go, Static Disruptors first had to learn how. Here, Rosen encountered a bit of serendipity. Walking home from the Metro, he encountered some members of Mass Extinction putting up a Globe poster for a show. “I told them I had a band and wanted to play go-go,” he writes. The band’s members seemed intrigued, and volunteered to teach the band how to play in the pocket. “Three band members came over and sat behind our drums and also showed the guitar players how to lock it in the socket,” Rosen writes.
Static Disruptors’ next step was recording D.C. Groove. Rosen sold his 3,000-book Marvel comic collection to pay for the record. A college friend provided part of her inheritance from her mother to help finish it. The single’s slipcover features Rosen holding a boombox and looking very badass.
Static Disruptors—which was the first go-go band to play the 9:30 Club and the first to play with a rock band, at Sidwell Friends School in 1981—may have gone go-go, but Rosen did at one point dabble in hardcore. “We had a few punk-influenced songs in our early D.C. sets,” he says. “We even had a song where we segued from go-go to hardcore, imploring everyone to ‘Slam!'” But the hardcore kids weren’t buying: “The D.C. hardcore scene wasn’t very inclusive. We didn’t fit in.”
Static Disruptors ceased being an all-white band with the inclusion of Joyce Houston, who played trumpet. Then Static D. began looking for a bassist with a funkier style. Says Rosen, “We auditioned bassists from the go-go circuit. They were taken aback by playing the 9:30 Club and D.C. Space for barely any money,” he says. The professional players didn’t appreciate rehearsing for free, either. So the band’s guitarist, Kenny Dread, switched to bass and Byers joined to play guitar.
Static Disruptors were playing D.C. Space because they were too go-go for the hardcore crowd and too punk for the go-go scene. “We only played a couple shows with go-go bands,” says Rosen. “Our influences were very different from theirs.” Isolated, the band fell into infighting. “The new players didn’t have the same allegiance to the band. The vibe changed. Power struggles surfaced,” says Rosen. Soon afterward, he left the group.
So ended Static Disruptors after releasing only one 7-inch. Rosen carried on solo, auditioning for Trouble Funk and Reo Edwards before signing with Studio Records. Rosen says he was recording his go-go arrangement of The Rolling Stones‘ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with E.U.’s cowbell/rototom player, Rare Essence’s conga player, and Dread, when the label’s owner decided to stop funding the project.
Rosen’s go-go career effectively over, he left D.C. in 1987 to attend film school at Columbia University. But he kept a toe in musical waters. He worked on an AIDS awareness public service announcement with Doug E. Fresh and helped produce Prophecy Band‘s “Going to a Go-Go,” also for AIDS awareness.
Static Disruptors reunited in 2003 at, of all places, a reunion weekend at Lawrence University. Ten years later they reappeared again, at the 9:30 Club’s recent D.C. Funk-Punk Throwdown Jam. Unfortunately, it was likely Static Disruptors’ last waltz. Rosen says while he’d still like to record some of the band’s songs, he has no plans to perform with them again.
Asked about his place in rap history, Rosen says, “It feels pretty cool even though very few people know. When I started rapping, there was this notion that white rappers weren’t serious. Ultimately rap became huge and I was on it early. I wasn’t a great rapper but I wrote some good rhymes and was serious about it. Had we managed to get signed and kept on playing, I’m sure I would’ve written a lot of cool rap songs.”