Heds and Dreds: The Flatbush Flavors of Special Ed

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Words by Jesse Serwer

When Odd Future burst onto the scene last year, journalists and bloggers seemed amazed that kids not yet old enough to get into a club could make sophisticated rap records that were actually impressive to people significantly older than them. Back when Special Ed first emerged, in the late ’80s, teenage rap prodigies were the norm, not the exception. Still, the 16-year-old MC was definitely the “youngest in charge,” as he positioned himself with the title of his debut LP. Backed by beats from UTFO/Chubb Rock producer Hitman Howie Tee, Flatbush, Brooklyn native Special Ed made an instant splash with 1989’s Youngest in Charge, and its classic singles “I Got It Made” and the Desmond Dekker-sampling “I’m the Magnificent.”

Far lesser known was “Heds and Dreds,” a straight-up dancehall tune featuring the Jamaican-American MC chatting convincingly on a bare-bones riddim. When I was searching for a name to fit a column that would spotlight the connections between hip-hop and Caribbean music, that song found its way into my headspace, even though I hadn’t heard it in years. After spotlighting the reggae flavors of Smif N Wessun, A Tribe Called Quest and even DJ Quik, it’s time to give the “Heds and Dreads” treatment to the guy who inspired this column.

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