To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic

By William Jelani Cobb | Go to book overview

Microphone Check
An Intro

NEW YORK, CIRCA 1986

That was us: the sweat-baptized, blue-light basement apostles of the breakbeat. We, the b-boy delegates of our five-borough universe, eyes hidden beneath baseball caps pulled low, uniformed in ?Guess, Kangol, and Adidas Olympic Team training gear. Our ranks cued waaay back to the subway lines that had delivered us to this place: Union Square, the nightspot deriving its name from the section of Manhattan where it was located. If you came from around our way, South Queens, specifically, then you gathered your tribe at 163rd Street and Hillside Ave and took the E to Lexington. Then you caught the downtown #6 to 14th Street, which delivered you to the far end of the Square.

At the front you encountered Muscle D, a brother swollen to a rippled abstraction, barely contained by his nylon tees and capable of literally moving the crowd. Down below was a consecrated dance-floor, the theater for our repertoire of movements: the Wop, the Rambo, the Fila, the Biz, the Prep. The true disciple could tell you that Rakim was there, the headlining act on the opening night at Union Square. That disciple would know that Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince were to be the second act. Or that Biz-Markie rolled up in that spot on the reg, self-advertising with the boldfaced B-I-Z emblazoned on his cap—as if he was worried you would mistake him for Kool Moe Dee. You would remember the smell of it, if you had ever been there, the blunt-heavy air mixed with sweat, leather, Polo cologne, and some other indefinable element—a calibrated cool, perhaps—that we were so filled with that it must have seeped from our pores into the atmosphere also.

This is my romantic memory of the distant past. But the charitable will indulge my personal mythologizing for a moment.

-1-

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