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Something To That Effect

Spy Like What

By Dave Tompkins at 11:43pm ET

ABOVE: This is Spyder D. (Not photographed: His partially healed anterior cruciate ligament.)

In 1981, Duane “Spyder D” Hughes blew up his knee after landing funny on a basketball* court in Ypsilanti, Michigan. This freak wrench ended his college reel yet freed him up to hang out with the Frost Band and make “Big Apple Rappin’“—ACL be damned.

As a kid growing up in Queens, Spyder was once sent to the store to buy a trumpet, but instead returned with a boom box and a copy of the Ohio Players’ Skin Tight.

His mother was thrilled.

He learned to make beats in Vaughan Mason’s basement by tricking the lights on the Roland 808 drum machine. “If the lights look stupid, chances are the beat is stupid,” he once told me. “And I mean, stupid bad.”

So into the little blue people yonder he went.

Recorded in 1982, “Smerphies Dance” was an electro menace that landed Spyder a gig at Bond’s International in Times Square—wearing a Spiderman suit.

“DO NOT wear that Spiderman suit!” advised Russell Simmons beforehand, trying to decide whether he should manage his old high school friend from Queens.

“But I had the original Peter Parker joint from Ruby’s Costume Shop!”

So Spyder took the stage and a stance, fisted his armpits and shot the crowd with his elbows.

“I was like ‘Yeah, I got on a Spiderman costume, WHAT!’”

The crowd went smurfshit and Russell became his manager that night.

Yet Spyder’s label, Telestar Cassettes, threatened to KGB him with a voiceprint phonoscopy if he recorded elsewhere. (“They claimed they had speech analyzers!”) So when West End asked Spyder to rap over an Italian soundtrack Sesso Matto (“Sex Is Funny”), he cloaked his beanpole baritone in a vocoder—speech analyzer by birth, secret masking agent by necessity. He spliced and looped some red-handed congas from 2″ recording tape (no digital sampling), called the song “B Beat Classic” and credited the alias of his tour bus driver, Butch.

“What I learned from Vaughn Mason was you gotta shoot it like a movie. And it’s good to not know what the hell you’re doing.”

But not knowing who the hell you are? Priceless. Spyder remembers the session for “B Beat Classic,” up all night losing his mind in the studio, mummified in sex-is-funny tape, scrunching his nose into a sustained “yeeeahh” that spooled around the building. This guy with spaghetti knees, unraveling, listening to a machine run off with his larynx.

“I made it for the cats droppin’ acid in Europe.”

*I wish I’d made a dope record after blowing my knee out during basketball practice. But the Dilaudid they gave me after surgery… Weeeeeeeeeeeee!

Bonus: Spyder got his name from his spin moves on the basketball court.

(Mostly/originally appeared in Wax Poetics a few years ago.)

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