It’s a classic Bronx park jam. A few hundred people occupy a playground in Crotona Park, just south of the Cross-Bronx Expressway. The DJs and MCs stand with their backs to the chain-link fence, the sound system set up on folding tables. A small area in front of the performers has been roped off to keep troublemakers and the overcurious at a distance. A few rows of people crowd in to admire the skills of the DJs and MCs, cheering and nodding their heads to the beat. Behind them are the dancers, mostly grooving in place singly or in couples. Further back a circle has formed around a six-by-six foot square of linoleum duct-taped to the blacktop. This is the b-boy cipher, and a group of young men, most of them sporting Adidas, take turns showing off their moves as the tunes boom from the speakers seventy-five feet away.
The crowd is mostly black and Latino young adults, but there are also whites and Asians, babes in arms, and older folk leaning on canes or sitting on benches. It’s a peaceful event; a few cops mill around on the periphery, though that’s about all they do. It’s a warm summer evening, and most people wear jeans and T-shirts or halter-tops. But some are dressed to impress, peacocking in their polyester outfits, gold chains, and perfectly blown-out Afros.
Back at the DJ table, Grandmaster Caz is stirring up the crowd. He’s an expert with the vinyl—as we know, he started out as part of a DJ duo with Disco Wiz— but he quickly became better known as an MC. He doesn’t let anyone forget his roots, though, and he spins and raps simultaneously. The people standing in front of the DJ area stare in amazement or rap along with him. Other DIs come and go as well, supplying a steady stream of hot funk. Everyone has a good time, even though the power source gives out a few times. The music occasionally falls silent, but no one gets too worked up—the tunes keep coming back.
This was the scene at a park jam I attended in July 2010. Everything I noted could have taken place more than thirty years earlier, and although this wasn’t