by Nicholas P, published on July 4, 2018
It’s bigger than Hip. Hop. (Part I, 1978-1991 or so). ????
Hello ALL!!! Happy Fourth of July!!! Wow, it is another scorcher in guess where, lol, even the birds are finding a cool spot. In honor of the 4th, I’d like to share a little about a Great American Art-Form and it’s impact on me and the world.
My experiences, while not always understood at the time, have really put me in a position to be a Bridge for a lot of people on many levels in many ways, and I wear that proudly, as I feel it’s what this country’s all about. The world really, we are ALL one.
I’ve spoken for my love of music many times, and the more I remember about sound frequency and vibration, the more vital I realize that connection is. I came into this world singing, lol, and there’s pictures of me at 3 years old wearing a Doors shirt, lol (Past life thing, I was here in the 60’s, and served in Vietnam, but another story for another day, lol). I can listen to a live track, close my eyes, open my Heart, and I know exactly how it felt at that show, how it feels, as I AM there. Has always been like that. Pretty cool gifts we all have.
In today’s “full circle” moment, lol, my first live concert was Kiss in the late 70’s as a toddler (hmmm, that doesn’t smell like mommies cigarettes, haha) ….and the plan is to make that my 5 year old nephew’s first show when they come around again.
Music helped me find my way growing up, was an early outlet for creativity, was a hiding place when things got rough, helped me overcome some challenging experiences, helped discover the joys of drumming, and eventually became my life/CB guiding force.
I listen to and Love it ALL. From the world changing music of the 60’s, and 70’s (Motown Included), 50’s music, my haven’t spoken yet about but huge impact of Metal (and Metalheads by extension) on my early years growing up in a place where nobody looked like me. A place where initially some of people let their fears go at me and my fam directly.
(All Love, glad I could help change your perception by running all over that town with friends in every group imaginable as I grew up, lol).
No judgment, as the Metal connection is just awesome (Kiss, lol) and prob why my big bro is such a metalhead to this day. (On another note, someone near and dear to me is at this very moment out in LA works closely w a Huge band in the genre, Creating quite the Life for herself. I AM So Proud!! )
Through the experience of being moved out of Queens as a kid to the LI burbs, there was one thing that kept me connected to what was going on outside my lil LI bubble, and connected to where I came from. It eventually became part of the soundtrack to my youth as it made it’s way out there, and played a role in many Life decisions and experiences along the way. It’s something that looking back was a relationship made in both of our infancy. Me n Hip Hop.
It’s so American that an art form born in the struggles and tough times/deep programming of 70’s NYC, dismissed as a fad early on, has become a Global force of Unity, a Voice for the Voiceless, and for many, the Realest Primary Source Newscast one can ever receive. A true Representation and Expression of the People, in the tradition of American Folk, Country, and Blues.
It started with “Jams” in the park, where people would gather and party, led by a DJ spinning records and Master of Ceremony (MC) hyping up the crowd. The South Bx (DJ Cool Herc specifically) is credited as the originators of the style of extending, mixing and replaying the breaks of some great records, thus birthing the art form, and very quickly the ball started rolling. Like a volcano of energy, it filtered through the hearts of a city and began to spread out.
Jams were happening everywhere. Along with the DJ/MC, the art of Breakdancing and Graffiti formed what became known as hip hop/bboy culture. Movies like “Wild Style” and “Beat Street” highlighted this growing phenomenon.
Over time the MC’s began to speak over the records, and while “Rappers Delight” is credited as the first rap single, there were MC’s everywhere.
Rhyming words, using metaphors and similes to paint audio pictures and explain why they’re the best. In a place where extra cash for musical instruments and formal lessons were hard to come by, folks just used what was available to them (a turntable, rhythm, mic, Heart, Poetry, and a Voice) and began creating and building a new musical art-form that continues to evolve, along with ALL today and onward.
Some of my earliest memories are going to Jams in Hollis in the late 70’s early 80’s. Even then I felt this spirit of community that I got when hanging with family, and that experience forged a lifelong bond with hip hop. I remember the speakers being way bigger than I was, and a lot of people dancinf and having a great time.
Unfortunately, that bond was one of distance, as Mom and Dad weren’t too into their 5 year old hanging out on a project rooftop, lol, which happened around the same time they saved and bought a house in the burbs of LI. It may as well been another country, and far away from Hollis as California to me, lol.
I saw my family occasionally, but even then some of our relationships changed somewhat. (A byproduct of the programming is sometimes folks who make it out of the inner city can be looked down on by those they moved away from, including fam. Of course some were excited to come out and visit, but some could’t let the surface go, and I Love them for it, all part of the journey to NOW). What truly kept me connected was the music.
Even though I was in new quiet, tree lined surroundings, when Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5 dropped “the Message”, I knew exactly what they were talking about, as it’s what I’d see when hanging with my family, and hear them talk about. That song could come out today. Instead of a party dance track, this was the musings and frustrations of a dude speaking about the harsh place he lived, which spoke to many across the city. It shined a light on what was happening every day, and it meant a bit more than what the “6:00 Blues” tried to show me, lol.
A few years later, three dudes who went to school w my cousin in Hollis, a DJ and 2 MC’s, took the culture and world by storm. While the original hip hop artists tended to dress a certain way, like rock stars (a lot of younger rappers are taking it back to this these days), these dudes were different. They looked, dressed, and talked like everyone in the neighborhood, and sounded like my cousins in Queens.
“You should’ve gone to school, you could’ve learned a trade
But you laid in bed where the bums have laid
Now all the time you’re crying that you’re underpaid
It’s like that (what?) and that’s the way it is
One thing I know is that life is short
So listen up homeboy, give this a thought
The next time someone’s teaching why don’t you get taught?
It’s like that (what?) and that’s the way it is” -Run DMC
I still was too small to travel around by myself, as out there I didn’t have the freedom to walk outside to a corner store, and the few times I did walk w my Mom some in the neighborhood made it very clear that we weren’t welcome.
All good, All Love people fear what they don’t understand, and I have to say, the neighbors on My Block were nothing but welcoming, and the teenagers (yes, Metalheads, Potheads, Hippies, Kiss fans, lol) on the block protected my brother and me many times. By the time I was a wild teenager, I explored every part of that town, hanging out with every group you can name…and the kids of some of those same adults that had words for us in ‘77, lol. Bridge Thing, .
What a realization at a young age that yes, some people can be really mean, even if they don’t know you, but a whole lot of white people hated racism, and were willing to fight to back that up. If that ain’t hip hop, I don’t know what is, lol.
So until I was old enough to check out the town myself, it was me, my bro and my radio. I remember taping Chuck Chillout and DJ Red Alert from my room, loving the different styles of all the great MC’s at the time as Hip Hop began to spread across the country. LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, Eric B and Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, BDP vs Marley Marl and the Juice Crew (Queensbridge!), Slick Rick, Roxanne Shante, Biz Markee, EPMD, 3rd Bass, Kool Moe Dee, Kurtis Blow, the Fat Boys, MC Shan.
There were so many, know I’m forgetting some, but the Thanks and Appreciation I have cannot be measured. I definitely liked the party tunes, the infectious beats, and the braggadocio inherent in the best MC’s, but I was having an experience quite differently at the time. Wayshower in a lot of ways, even then, lol. I always felt that things weren’t always what they seemed, even out there, but couldn’t put it into words.
I mean I’d watch the news, and see nothing but crime reports about people and neighborhoods that looked familiar, and knew that yes, while things do happen in tough places, the picture’s a bit bigger. Wasn’t my experience visiting Queensbridge, or Hollis, to me it was going to hang w family and neighbors. It didn’t tell the whole picture.
I do understand why my parents made the decisions they did, and understood it more and more once I started understanding the purpose and depth of the programming on poor neighborhoods, and began my career(s) serving my NYC fam.
I LOVE my small town with all my Heart, from the amazing crew of brothers and sisters I had as we grew up, our wild ‘Dazed and Confused’ experiences, the Block Parties, Park Hangouts, and cookouts. The neighbors that now help look out for my parents in these times. Thank You!
At the time though, before I could experience it on my own, there were moments where I had no idea who I was or why I couldn’t be around more people who looked like me.
“Too Black for the White Kids and too White for the Blacks. From Honor Roll to Crackin Locks up off them bicycle racks.
I’m indecisive, I’m scatterbrained, and I’m frightened, it’s evident
And them eyes, where he hiding all them icicles at?” – Earl Sweatshirt,
One day my brother hands me two albums from this South Bronx
group, BDP, led by an MC who recently took on some MC’s from where my family lived in a legendary battle.
Although I was and AM Queens through and through, I couldn’t help loving “The South Bronx”, and “The Bridge is Over”. Anyway, he plays me a track that was different. It was calling out the Illusion for what it was, asking to Stop the Violence in Hip Hop (timeless), resonated with how I was beginning to things, and it was like more than a song: it was like listening to a teacher.
Now of course he rhymed about the party, battled other MC’s, street tales, and that he’s Number One, hip hop in other words. But some of his songs made me think, research things, and he just had some amazing beats behind the powerful lyrics.
KRS-One was one of the biggest influences in one of the first big decisions I had to make. From “sleeping out Prospect Park. eating one meal every 48 hours”, to meeting his mentor and DJ who worked in the Field at a Shelter he was staying at….to becoming an early voice of Awakening, Global Hip Hop Ambassador, and now speaking at Harvard, lol. Amazing.
There’s no way I choose to come of age at a school in the South Bronx, which was such an important in my STO journey (and perhaps Part 2, lol) without him. Thanks Brother. We need you now more than ever.
It also led me to be a fan of ‘Conscious Lyricism’, music and rhymes with a message, and MC’s who kicked things that made you think. There are so many out there, but for me in the early days it was KRS, Rakim, and of course Public Enemy.
Eventually some kids my age, from guess where, lol, moved next door. We connected instantly, and through them, I eventually met my group of friends, which was the whole town basically. It was weird, from M-F I’d be bused to this parochial school (bro had a bad experience at the local school, so my parents worked their asses off and sacrificed so we could go to private school) that was so segregated, I was w the total metalheads/outcast/freaks/
Just taught me I could hang w anyone. Besides, skaters dug punk and thrash, but hip hop too, lol. Anytime I hear Special Ed (what field do I work in again? just hit me, lol) I think back to skate sessions (I skated until I busted my ass, after that I’d just hang out and bring the beers, weed and music, was safer, lol) and just good times being me, lol.
It’s why I can hear a group that’s making music for their generation, and vibe with it, even if I have my preferences. Music is Universal like that.
The mid to Late 80’ really was a Golden Ages, not only in hip hop, but in my Life. As I got older and began going to house parties, (maybe throwing a few legendary house parties when the parents were away, lol), hip hop was always in the background, along with the other music I listened to at the time, always a mix, a musical melting pot if you will. 😉
Along with the MC’s and groups mentioned were A Tribe Called Quest (Queens!), De La Soul(LI!) , Leaders of the New School, and Jungle Brothers (aka the Native Tongues). It’s interesting, a lot of those early groups and MC’s created entire sub-genres, and influenced many of the artists that followed.
In the late 80’s there was also rise in West Coast Hip Hop, talking about things that were going on where they were from. As far away from the burbs as ever, MC’s like Schoolly D and ICE-T began talking about what they saw. It introduced the world to Gang Culture, and beneath what appeared to be glorifying to many, was simply kids talking about their surroundings, and the choices it can lead one to make. To survive.
One group in particular from Compton California (Birthplace of a certain Recent Pulitzer Prize Winner, along with many talented and gifted people), NWA shocked everyone with their street tales, experiences with Police (they highlighted the Police Scandal in LA long before it came out), amazing production, and overall attitude. I was and am the furthest thing from a Gangster, but it didn’t mean what they were highlighting, beneath the surface, didn’t resonate. I was raised to question and examine everything, and never judge the surface.
I’m not exactly an advocate for violence, but do feel it’s important to understand things if we’re going to change them. Keep in mind this was before what I feel was a deliberate decision by music execs to focus solely on one Genre of Hip Hop, as at that time NWA and Gangster Rap were one lane of an amazingly expanding highway of hip hop (what teen doesn’t like rebel music too, and music with curses, lol but it was and is so much bigger than that).
(One note about Gangs, and Gang Culture…..but this really needs its own story…. having worked with adults coming from the system where a lot of them originated, had relatives in them, taught students and served families who were in them? With the exception of one in particular that doesn’t need to be named, there is something else beneath the surface.
Yes, they engage in some lack and fear based choices that lead them to one of two places as designed…..there is also an element of Love, family, respect, and protection from surroundings. Take away the lack, and you’re looking at some of the freest and strongest community leaders ever with the right guidance, and I’ve notice more and more older rappers providing it. It gives me hope).
When it came time to choose a college, I remember my parents giving their thoughts, but ultimately allowing me to make that decision. I was accepted to schools in DC, Boston, Upstate NY, and remember loving all those visits. However, there was one that I applied to late, based on the visit I had, up in the Bronx.
Surprised a lot of folks with the decision to make that my home for the next 4 years, but I fell in Love the minute I crossed the Throgs
Neck Bridge for the first time on that visit. I knew in my Heart it was where I wanted and needed to be.
Keep in mind that on the “surface” I was in a lot of ways a suburban white kid who happened to brown skin, lol, jk. What I mean is that while I stayed connected through music, it was somewhat of a sheltered existence in some ways in that I was far removed from the neighborhoods in the city. Don’t get it twisted, as my students used to say, lol, in other ways it wasn’t at all, as many of the same traps that kids get into that one finds in the city are out in the burbs as well.
However, on a deeper level, it was only right to come of age in the birthplace of Hip Hop, as I’d been with Her from the beginning and we had that bond from the Jams. And while I didn’t know it at the time, Hip Hop was about to enter another Golden Age, the 90’s, and I was in one of it’s epicenters….and just as the early days led me to the BX, the BX then led me to strive to serve NYC, with all the lessons it taught me……..what a ride. ????