No matter how much energy and thought I put into it I could never properly pay tribute to the borough that birthed, bred and began this thing we now know as hip-hop. So instead of insulting anyone or leaving anyone feeling’ left out, I decided to just share with you a few of people, places and things that influenced me from da BX. Again I am not trying to pass this off as the official history of hip hop or da Bronx, rather just sharing kind of my random personal memories and inspirations of the Bronx.
This is dedicated to a good friend of mine, Dave Goodson, who reps the Bx. everyday, all day to the fullest. You can’t talk about any other section of the globe without him dropping science about the Bx and it contributions, so for you dawg, this one’s for you.
Now way back in the days when hip-hop began
With COCA LaRock, Kool Herc, and then Bam
B-boys ran to the latest jam
But when it got shot up they went home and said “Damn
There’s got to be a better way, to hear our music every day
B-boys gettin blown away, but comin’ outside anyway”
They tried again outside in Cedar Park
Power from a street light made the place dark
But yo, they didn’t care, they turned it out
I know a few understand what I’m talkin about
Remember Bronx River rollin thick
With Kool DJ Red Alert and Chuck Chillout on the mix
When Afrika Islam was rockin the jams
And on the other side of town was a kid named Flash
Patterson and Millbrook projects
Casanova all over, ya couldn’t stop it
The Nine Lives Crew, the Cypress Boys
The real Rock Steady takin out these toys — (BDP- South Bronx)
When I was a student in Mount Vernon High School, and lived on the borderline of the Bronx, I remember trooping’ down to Bronx River to the Zulu Rallies; remember first seeing the Rocksteady Crew do their thing in person. I remember not quite being old enough yet, but still sneaking’ into places like The Legendary Disco Fever, The T-Connection, The Skating Palace on Soundview, The Stardust Ballroom, and The Savoy Manor to hear emcees like the Cold Crush Brothers, Crash Crew, Furious 5, Fearless 4, Funky 4 and many more tear up microphones. The few places I couldn’t actually get in somehow I always managed to get a cassette of the show, which was worth more than gold on the streets back then. Especially the clearer it was.
I remember meeting Melle Mel on the #2 train, telling him I was going to make a record one day and do a show with him. He asked me to kick a rhyme and told me it was fly, I’m sure he was humoring me but every rhyme I said for the next three weeks ended with ‘˜and I know its fly ‘˜cause Melle Mel said so.’ I can’t forget seeing Grandmaster Caz and CC4 rock the mic at the Hoe Avenue Boy’s Clubs on 174th Street. At that point I knew, I wanting to pick up a microphone and be an emcee like them from that point on.
Can’t wont don’t stop, rocking to the rhythm
Cause I get down when Flash is on the beatbox
I remember the first time I saw Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 4 (Rahiem was a member of Funky 4 then, sometime after that it became the Furious 5), perform, Flash Is On The Beatbox. I had never seen anything like that before. That changed the way I looked at this art form forever. Furious wore long black trench coats and were just killing the mic.
While The Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight was the first commercial rap record, Flash and the Furious Five were the first commercial selling group that were respected. Unlike Sugarhill Gang who were looked at as sell outs larger for Big Bad Hank who was Caz and the Cold Crush’s manager making’ a lot of money fronting with Grandmaster Caz lyrics. Even spelling out Casanova Lover which I believe was one of Caz earlier emcee names. Caz told me he really didn’t stress it in the beginning “because that was his man and he just knew once he was on he put the CC4 down.” But not only didn’t he put his boys down he never paid Caz a dime for the rhyme. He never shared the wealth from all the money he made from one of the biggest selling records in rap.
But back to GMF and the Furious Five they repped the streets and Melle Mel was one of the first to really paint grim reality rhymes on record about hardcore live on the street on joints like The Message.
Up in the Bronx, where the people are fresh
There was one DJ who could past the test (AJ Scratch ‘” Kurtis Blow)
I first got into hip-hop as a DJ, so I have to give props to the three DJs that were a major influence in my life. The first was Kool Herc, the Godfather of Hip Hop, who is credited as being the first hip-hop DJ. 1520 Sedgwick Ave, (where Herc lived) is where hip-hop was started. The ‘first’ place where hip hop lived, before it moved on up to commercial stations all over the nation.
Herc influenced many headz who went on to have careers in the music biz. Among them were three young kids named Chivon, Darren and Joaquin Dean. The Deans lived in the same building and the non stop music coming out of Herc’s booming systems became the soundtrack of their youth. Then went to discover and put out a young rowdy kid from Yonkers and then build the one of the tightest music dynasties and cliques known as Ruff Ryders and Ruff Ryders Records.
Secondly, Afrika Bambaataa, known as the master of records, who in an effort of trying to end gang violence, united many gang members and created The Universal Zulu Nation. Zulu Nation handled beef differently, emcees would battle on the mic, DJs on the turntables, graffiti artists went over each other’s tags
and breakers uprocked. Zulu went on to settle many beefs through the years and promoted unity by educating young people.
— and of the other side of town was a kid name Flash — (South Bronx ‘” BDP)
And last but certainly not least was the Grandmaster of them all; Grandmaster Flash was one of the nicest DJs to ever bless the one and twos. He took what Herc and Bam was doing to the next level. He is by far one of the most known and respected DJ of the old school and like many other turntable technicians he was a by product of Da Boogie Down.
On the music tip Afrika Bambaataa and The Soul Sonic Force (first hip-hop artist on Tommy Boy Records) recorded Planet Rock, which has been heavily sampled and gave birth to what later became known as bass music in Miami and in throughout the south. Being the home of hip-hop it shouldn’t be a surprise that many DJs from Da Bronx paved the way for many DJs to get paid like or even more than the artists whose records they break. Bronx DJs demanded and help bring back respect back to the title DJ.
Kid Capri has single-handedly, made it easier for a lot of DJs to eat. He was one of first three DJs I know of that were making mixtapes. He made mixtapes a marketing and promotional tool utilized by many record companies and artists, to this day. Personally speaking at one point when the label wasn’t handling their biz the way they should Kid Capri mixtapes was the only real promotion we had to get our music to the street. Many known artists from back then also owe their success to Kid Capri and need to cut him a check. He became a big tour and party DJ, but is probably most recognized as the DJ on Def Comedy Jam.
Also, who can deny Red Alert’s effect and influence in hip-hop? How many other DJs can claim his 30+ year reign on radio. He personally broke many records in his day, including mine and still actively spins at major events around the country. I remember when he was inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame; it was a first in hip-hop. He was inducted with 25 other radio DJs that included big names like Wolfman Jack. He now resides in Atlanta and does weekly gigs reminding everyone what they used to love about hip-hop and teaching the new cats how it should be done!
Love him or hate him, Funkmaster Flex from the NE section of Da Bronx, dictated what NYC’s listened to for awhile with his long running’ show on HOT 97 and his Sunday nights at The Tunnel (which is now closed, one fight too many or something like that). Many feel Funkmaster Flex was the bridge that you have to cross to get a successful record in NY, maybe even the whole tri-state area; you had to go through him. Flex also has a marketing company, record label and record pool, a column in The Source, spins on MTV and has a television show on Spike TV. He has truly changed the game for DJs. Because of DJs like him and Kid Capri, DJs get paid as much and sometimes more than the artists who records they blow up on radio and clubs.
I can’t forget seeing DJs like Grandmixer D.S.T., (now known as DXT), best known for his scratching on Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit.’ Seeing that video made me and many others realize how the turntable could be used almost like an instrument in making music. If you are ever at a music conference or event where this brother is speaking, sit down, open your ears and your mind, take notes and listen closely, ’cause this brother be droppin’ science for real.
Up in the Bronx where the people are fresh
There was one DJ who had to pass the test
And now he’s down by law and he’s ready to play
That’s right y’all his name is AJ
Never gets nervous when he cuts the beat
Top notch service in the clutch on the street
A complete elite treat that can’t be beat
Because AJ never knew the agony of defeat (AJ Scratch ‘” Kurtis Blow)
Kool DJ AJ (who Kurtis Blow’s record AJ Scratch, was made about) can often be found on my answering machine from time to time. Ladies use to sing the record to me all the time and even though I knew who DJ AJ was that song became my theme song for a long time. AJ I wanna see you — You know how DJs cut up any song that has their name in it. Well it was like that for me and it still is for the most part. To this day many headz still sing the chorus of that song when they see me.
I can’t even talk about BX DJs without mentioning cats like Jazzy Jay and Africa Islam held it down at parties and in the parks.
Boogie-Down Productions, Will always get paid
We’ll take your wackest song and make it better
Remember to let us in to your skin,
cause then will begin, to master rhymin’ rhymin’ rhymin’,
Criminal Minded, you’ve been blinded — ” (Criminal Minded- Boogie Down Prods)
Criminal Minded wasn’t the first on the East Coast to introduce gangsta themes that would be Schoolly D from Philly in “P.S.K.,” but this legendary album is a MUST for any true Hip-Hop fan. BDP’s first album, the only one to include the late DJ Scott La Rock, introduced the world to, probably, the dopest emcees to ever bless the M.I.C. and to contradicted himself with every other release. In Haters always bring up the fact that in Elementary he spit, “I don’t battle with rhymes, I battle with guns — and then later brought hip-hop together with the release of Self Destruction. Kris even with the contradictions, (I don’t think any out there can’t claim they don’t have any) he was still your favorite emcee’s favorite emcee, without a doubt.
KRS-ONE has single handily carried hip-hop on his back several times, bringing us some of the most inspirational words ever spoken and lyrically wrecking’ the domes of any emcee that’s dare to disagree or challenge him. Lyrically and well physically in the case of PM Dawn. Even today when he performs he turns the hardest artist into a fan. Nuff Said! Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone!
I had the pleasure of meeting DJ Scott La Rock (RIP), 6 months or so before he died. My group JVC FORCE had just signed to the notorious rap label B Boy Records located in da South Bronx, da south, south Bronx. Can’t tell you we were boys but he was one of the coolest cats I had ever met. He died looking out for one of his boys who had beef. To be honest I learned much more about him after his death that I knew when he was alive, but missed him like he was one of my boys from back in da days still the same.
He was that kind of cat. He had KRS listening to his lyrics over and over in his walkman. Kris’s command of the English language was not by mistake, Scott use to work Kris hard, and KRS went on to be one of the most influential emcees in the game, taking on the Juice Crew, damn near ending MC Shan’s career, battling Melle Mel, creating the Self Destruction movement, H.E.A.L. (Human Education Against Lies) and Edutainment (educating kids thru entertainment). KRS carved his place in hip hop history and has created some of its most memorable moments in it.
Can’t forget when Compton’s rep was growing as one of the most notorious cities on the planet, Tim Dog, reppin’ the BX made ‘F#@k Compton.’ Bold move, didn’t translate into big sales but you had to give him credit for going after the Niggaz With Attitudes and what was being sold as one of the roughest cities in the world at the time.
Nice and Smooth ‘the hip-hop junkies brought that party vibe with their countless classic joints that still rock the party today and are heavily sampled by new artists. Sometimes they rhymed fast, sometimes they rhymed slow, but no what speed they spit at, their records rocked dance floors and clubs all over America and the world for that matter and still do to this day.
I ran into Greg Nice recently on 125th Street in Harlem and when we was talking Nice and Smooth being heavily sampled and he just smiled looked at me and said, “Yo A, I living lovely as long as these new jacks keep sampling my shit, dem check keep rolling in.” a lesson for all you new artists and new hip hop fans out there, just because you don’t see someone on the videos shows and hear them on the radio don’t mean they fell off or are starving.
It’s hard to talk of the Bronx today without mentioning Fat Joe, he is the Bx. The former graffiti artist held it down lyrically for years and ran with D.I.T.C (Diggin In The Crates -Showbiz, AG, Diamond D, Lord Finesse, Big L (RIP) and O.C.). Joey Crack and his band of Latino lyricists, which include Big Pun (RIP) the first solo Puerto Rican rapper to go platinum, and The Terror Squad, (Triple Seis, Prospect, Armageaddon and Cuban Linx) and former TS member Remy Martin, keeps the Bronx a place not to be slept on. Fat Joe went from underground emcee to record company owner – bringing the world and the next generation of BX rhymespitters. Now residing I think in Miami he is making more than he ever has before, rollin with da dirty south!
Like I stated in the beginning this chapter, this doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of the Bronx’s contributions or its importance in hip-hop. These are just a few of my random memories and inspirations. Hope you enjoyed the ride so far. To be continued —