Hangin' with Mr Hip Hop; Estravel Hip Hop Culture Is Everywhere, but a Fascinating Tour with Its Pioneers Gives an Insight into Its History

Article excerpt


IN 1973 there was a party at a house in the South Bronx in honour of a man called Keith Cowboy, who was off to join the army. Playing some James Brown and a little Roy Ayers, Kool DJ Herc aped a sergeant-major shouting "left, right, left, right" in the traditional bark of "Hia, ha, hia, ha". He chanted it through a microphone to a drum beat and the party went wild and joined in.

"Hia, ha, hia, ha" soon sounded like "hip, hop, hip, hop". And so a $30 billion industry was born.

Grandmaster Caz, an original BBoy (Bronx Boy) first known as Cazenove Fly, who went on to become part of the legendary Cold Crush Brothers, attended the party aged 13. Today the influence of hip hop is everywhere but Caz, along with other pioneers including DJ Red Alert and Herc himself, is not a millionaire star.

These founding fathers never saw their skills as a business opportunity.

They still make music but also host tours to "teach people how it all started".

As a white middleclass boy trying to be hip I had a pair of Technnics 1200s and stacks of hip hop records and thought I knew what it was all about. How wrong I was.

"Hip hop ain't rap," says Caz.

"It's a table with four legs." These legs are B-Boying (breakdancing), graffiti, DJ-ing ("the art of turntable manipulation") and MC-ing (master of ceremonies or "rapper"). As we drive through Harlem Caz explains how Herc's parties grew and more people tried to talk to the rhythms of the music. Caz emerged as one of the most gifted, alongside Doug E Fresh, Kool Moe Dee and Spoonie G.

When the parties outgrew the houses, Caz was one of the first to realise that you could steal electricity from street lamps and set up a sound system in the street.

"As young black kids, we couldn't go to disco clubs in Manhattan so we had to make our own party.

"One night I had 1,000 people here," he says as we stand in a Bronx park.

"The place was jumping. Then it went dark and the music stopped. Everyone rushed the stage. We pulled out guns because they'd have stolen everything."It was the 1977 blackout.

"That night helped hip hop grow because the B-Boys who couldn't afford turntables went looting.

When the lights came back on there were parties on every block."

There was no such thing as a hip hop record. Young B-Boys would listen out for funky beats in their parents' records, from Sly and the Family Stone to Barry Manilow.

They would play these repeatedly on rudimentary turntables and MCs would talk over the top.

"When records broke down to funky beats we danced," says Caz.

"That's why it's called breakdancing." It was born out of disco moves taken to an acrobatic level.

Scratching started when Grand Wizard Theodore's mother kept asking him to turn his music down. To hear her complaints he stopped the record with his hands.

As he did, it made the now familiar scratch sound; he made a beat out of it and scratching was born.

In 1982, white documentary maker Charlie Ahearn made the seminal hip hop film Wild Style, in which Caz, Rock Steady Crew, Grand Wizard Theodore and Grandmaster Flash all feature. …


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