JIMI HENDRIX TO WU TANG CLAN TO JIMI HENDRIX: THE ALEEMS COME FULL CIRCLE
(The Aleems, with Hendrix and friend Faye Pridgeon)
Since the 1960s, when they worked and recorded with their friend, the great Jimi Hendrix, all the way through to the 1990s, the legendary twin brothers Albert and Arthur Allen, known as the Aleems (a.k.a.,, the Ghetto Fighters, Prana People, Us and Fantastic Aleems) have been responsible for providing the best of rock, blues, R&B, dance and rap with their musicianship, performance and production artistry. Their place in music history is well established as premier independent record label pioneers, and their status as collaborators with, and recognizers of major music talents, has propelled them to Hall of Fame attention and recognition in the world of black music in particular, and popular music as a whole.
Tunde Ra and Taharqa Aleem (keyboards and guitar specialists respectively, as well as vocalists), began their careers in the 1960s, working, traveling and socializing with the greats of rhythm & blues, such as Big Maybelle, Bobby Womack, Sam Cook, Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, Clarence “Blowfly” Reid and others. They learned the inner workings of the music industry through their association with Harlem legend Fat Jack Taylor, owner of the Ro-Jack Records independent label, and co-owner of the famous Harlem World club, of which the Aleems would also establish co-ownership status with Taylor. (Harlem World would later be known for the large number of pioneer rap acts that performed there.)
During this period the Aleems met Jimi Hendrix by way of a couple of girlfriends, and shortly after, they soon shared living space together in a house in Manhattan’s Park West Village for a period of two years. They also later began working with Hendrix as singers and musicians, calling themselves the Ghetto Fighters. They put on a free concert in Harlem on 134th Street in 1969 with Hendrix, and recorded three albums with him, Cry of Love, Rainbow Bridge and War Heroes, in addition to working on their own projects. Hendrix had planned to give the Ghetto Fighters wider exposure through special projects he was developing to present to the world. After Jimi Hendrix’s death in September of 1970, the deeply hurt and saddened twins decided to put the entire Jimi Hendrix experience on the side as a pleasant memory, and move on with their own careers, changing their name to Aleem from Allen in the process.
By the 1970s, the Aleems hooked up with the New York Knicks’ basketball Hall of Famer Earl “The Pearl” Monroe. A music enthusiast, Monroe later established music business concerns which included the labels Pretty Pearl and In Your Face Records. Around 1977, the brothers recorded two songs for Monroe’s production company, one under the group name Us which resulted in the song “The Ostrich” for Spring Records, the other, as the Prana People, recording the single “Is Your Life A Party?”
Into the early 1980s, the Aleems established their own independent label, called Nia Records. This time recording as the Fantastic Aleems, they recorded the song “Hooked On Your Love” on that label. The work featured the background vocals of R&B singers Luther Vandross (his first vocal work for records) and Jocelyn Brown. Other songs the brothers released on their label in 1983 include their Captain Rock series, “Cosmic Glide” and “The Return of Captain Rock,” which was co-written with the rap duo, Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde. (The twins would later work with Mr. Hyde, who began recording as Lonnie Love, producing two songs for him on the Profile label, titled “Young Ladies” and “Dr. Jeckyll Is Dead.”
In 1984, the Aleems recorded the song “Release Yourself,” and with that, the two set up the Nia Records offices in residence of Earl Monroe’s partner, Dick Scott, former personal assistant to Motown Records’ Berry Gordy, and later manager of New Kids On The Block.
“Release Yourself” marked another turning point for the twins. After having watched and listened to the emergence of rap via their own children, they decided to use then upcoming hip hop DJ Marley Marl to do a special mix for the song. First meeting Marl through pioneer hip hop radio DJ Mr. Magic (who the brothers helped secure an on-the-air spot on New York radio station WBLS-FM), the Aleems recorded Marley Marl’s mix for “Release Yourself” on that single’s b-side. By 1985, Marl recorded the groundbreaking “Marley Marl Scratch” with MC Shan for the Aleems’ label. From there, the brothers found themselves at the forefront of recorded rap, with their Nia Records becoming a pioneer black-owned independent rap label.
Around this same period, the twins began working with female MC Sparky D, which resulted with them recording her “Sparky’s Turn (Roxanne You’re Through)” in reference to her legendary MC battles with Roxanne Shante. Shante recorded for another black owned independent label, located in Philadelphia, called Pop Art, also owned by brothers, named Lawrence and Dana Goodman. The Aleems and the Goodman brothers saw an opportunity to focus on the Roxanne battle craze, so they created a special label to record the phenomenon, called Spin Records, after which, The Battle was recorded and released.
At the same time, the Aleems were still recording as artists on the Nia label, releasing works under their name with singer Leroy Burgess (former lead vocalist for the R&B group Black Ivory), such as “Confusion” and others. They then decided to separate their own work from that label and sign with Atlantic Records (keeping the Nia label strictly for rap acts). They recorded for Atlantic with Burgess, the single “Love’s On Fire” and the albums Casually Formal and Shock. Towards 1989, after releasing another one of Marley Marl’s work on Nia titled “Coke Is It” by the Supa’ Kids (featuring the Intelligent Hoodlum, Tragedy, recording as MC Jade), the brothers became divided as an act for Atlantic and as independent label owners. Also, staff problems at their own label caused them to dismantle Nia Records, and concentrate on production and engineering.
By the early 1990s they decided to build their own recording studio, as well as set up their own distribution services. Acquiring space on the fifth floor at 1600 Broadway in Manhattan, the Aleems built their Concrete Recording Studio, and B.I.D. (Black Independent Distribution) services. They also continued producing other artists, working with acts like Rick James, Kashif, Technotronic and New Kids On The Block. But later, once again, problems with their staff rendered disruption to the brothers’ operation, which forced them to disassemble their successful venture and move on to the next phase in their careers.
During the period when extensive attention was paid to England’s Royal Family, due to the marriage of Princess Diana and Prince Charles, the Aleems decided to bring attention to the black royal family in Ethiopia, citing that royalty exists in people with an African lineage. They started a non-profit organization called the Reconstruction of Black Civilization, which ultimately brought over the son of the Emperor Haile Sellassie I of Ethiopia to the United States before his death.
By 1997 the Aleems began doing production work with the rap group Gravediggas, whom they met via their relationship with the Wu Tang Clan, who recorded some of their 36 Chambers album at the twins’ Concrete Studio. (The brothers also distributed the Wu Tang Clan’s “Protect Ya Neck” single in New York.) The Aleems were soon approached at this time by a CBS production employee, to contribute to a partially animated documentary on Jimi Hendrix. Realizing that they themselves had a wealth of film and audio archival material on Hendrix, from his early attempt to give the twins exposure when they performed as the Ghetto Fighters, the Aleems decided to devote their time as a labor of love, to assembling a project known as Jimi Hendrix Presents: Ghetto Fighters/Time Travelers. Consisting of rare unreleased studio recordings and film footage of Hendrix, as well as Band of Gypsy members Buddy Miles, Billy Cox, Juma Sultan and the twins, the Aleems have now come full circle as they continue to present the greatness of their art to music enthusiasts and the entire world.