Mickey Hart Explored the Grateful Dead’s Hip-Hop Side In 1974

A strange story of possible musical influences

Mickey Hart, 1969
Mickey Hart in 1969.
Malcolm Lubliner/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In 1981, The Clash embraced their love of hip-hop and had Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five open several concerts for them in New York City. It’s a move that reflects well on The Clash — and less so on their fans, many of whom were less-than-thrilled to see one of hip-hop’s formative groups, and were vocal in their disapproval. But said punk band wasn’t the only beloved group rooted in rock music who sought to turn their fans on to a very different genre.

In a new article for Far Out, Tyler Golsen makes a convincing argument that Mickey Hart — yes, the drummer of the Grateful Dead — drew inspiration from the rap scene while recording music all the way back in 1974. Golsen points to a recording of “Fire on the Mountain” from that year in which “Hart himself took lead vocal duties, opting to rap the verses instead of sing them to a melody.”

Golsen tracks how Hart’s rapped verse has come up again and again over the years, both in his solo projects and with his work in the Grateful Dead and Dead and Company. This has come up as recently as earlier this month, with Hart reprising his work at a Dead and Company show in Boulder, Colorado in July 2023.

If we’re going to explore a potential connection between the Grateful Dead and the earliest days of hip-hop, it’s worth pointing out that a reference to the former does show up on The Last Poets’ 1971 song “This Is Madness” — and The Last Poets did play a significant role in the development of hip-hop. That said, it’s not a terribly flattering reference, with the group making lyrical allusions to “psychedelic nightmares” and “the sanctimonious sounds of the white rock group The Grateful Dead.”

Did Hart have this in mind when he entered the studio in 1974? It might be one of rock music’s eternal mysteries.

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