May 21 1999
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Ya gotta love us Black folks. We're the only group I know that runs around proudly calling ourselves 'Niggaz', 'Bitches' and'Hos'. While we're doing this, the mainstream media is slowly erasing us out the history books. Did you notice there were no Black folks in the made for TV movie Noah and his Ark? Didn't KRS in his song 'Why Is That? break down the whole history about Noah and his African genealogy. Not only was Noah not depicted as his true African origin but also we were pretty much absent from the entire movie. How can this be when the cradle of civilization was in Africa and the story of Noah is found in the first book of the Bible-Genesis? Mmmmmm
Then you flip the pages and go peep out the new motion picture adventure 'The Mummy'. Again, no Black folks. Why Is That? I saw the whole King Tut exhibit when it was first shown in New York in the 70s. Those statues looked African to me. In fact I recall there was quite a bit of controversy because one of the key pieces to that exhibit was not shipped to the US because it clearly showed King Tut with strong Negroid, Nubian features. They had a bunch of articles about this in the local papers i.e. The NY Times, Daily News etc. So as we moved into the new Millennium where all of us are supposed to be more enlightened, I just knew that we would see some accurate depictions in these flicks. The only Blacks I saw within The Mummy' were Pharaoh's body guards and they were all covered with gold metallic paint.
Props to rap star Lakim Shabazz for being the first and one of the only emcees who made a trip to Egypt to film his video and show us in some proper light. The last person I know whom publicly depicted ancient Egyptians in their African form was Michael Jackson in his video 'Remember The Time'. Believe it or not, he caught heat for that because there were so many people who grew up believing that ancient Egyptians like Cleopatra were white. That was due to popular movies like the one in which actress Liz Taylor played Cleopatra and hence they thought Michael was off point. Now everyone is running around saying ancient Egyptians were of mixed blood. Cleopatra was mixed. I guess that's the justification for not using Black people in these movies that take us back into history. If they were mixed with Nubians then there had to be some folks running around with thick lips and broad noses. I just wanna see them in these movies.
I bring all this up because this starts to become a pattern on several levels. First we start to develop situations where Black folks are all but written out their own history. If we're not written out, then our contributions are downplayed, diluted and fused in with everyone else's. This is precisely what's happening right now within Hip Hop. With it's widespread popularity and obvious multi-cultural appeal a lot of white kids have gotten comfortable asserting themselves in the history books. It happens so much that pretty soon popular inaccurate sound bites become history.
The first thing I always hear is how multi-cultural Hip Hop was back in the days during the 70s. Multi-cultural these days in many business circles is a code word for saying whites are included. People will nostalgically look back and talk about how all of us were under one roof in total peace and harmony. Such was not the case. New York City back in those days was racially charged and very polarized. In places where Black and white neighborhoods bordered, you always had racial fights jumping off both in the neighborhoods and definitely at the schools. White kids ran around throwing rocks and bottles at Blacks and in many cases attacking us if we ventured into the wrong neighborhood. Racial epithets and people yelling 'Disco sucks' was all too common. You had a more liberal and tolerant attitude from white people in places like The Village and in other parts of Manhattan. However, Hip Hop wasn't kicking off in downtown until the '80s. In places like the Bronx, you had strong neighborhood enclaves where whites tended to be very territorial especially when it came to Black folks moving into their neighborhoods. The way many of them felt was this was their neighborhood and they had lived there for generations and they had no intentions of leaving or integrating it without a fight. Many Blacks were starting to move out of places like The South Bronx and Harlem into what was seen as 'nicer' neighborhoods during this time. They encountered a tremendous amount of resistance from poor to working class whites who lived in these areas. Places like Throgs Neck, Pelham Bay, Country Club Road, Riverdale, Washington Heights, Moshulu Parkway were a few of the spots where racial fights always jumped off.
If you lived in my section of the Bronx which was Hip Hop hot spot called Soundview, crossing North past Zeraga Avenue would set things off with the Italian kids who weren't trying to be down with no Black folks at that time. In other spots, like around the west Bronx section called Marble Hill, you had Irish kids who would set things off by actually shooting pellet guns at Black folks as they would walk past the row houses to get to Black housing developments like The Promenade or Marble Hill Projects. Washington Heights that was just north of Harlem and is now mostly Dominican and Puerto Rican was an Irish stronghold and after dark, racial unrest was sure to break off if you came swinging around those parts. Boroughs like Queens and Brooklyn were even more racially charged and polarized.
The places where Hip Hop was really flourishing were large and for the most part separated from white and integrated neighborhoods. In my neighborhood you could literally go for days and not come across white folks. Coming all the way from the Soundview, Bronx River, Castle Hill section of the Bronx all the way through the South Bronx across the bridge into Harlem was quite a bit of territory to cover. You really had to be going out of your way to get into these areas of the Bronx and trust me there weren't a whole lot of white kids trying to do that. The way these neighborhoods were laid out coupled with the fact that they were essentially being written off by the mainstream, was one reason why Hip Hop was able to exist for so long and not be noticed by the rest of New York. During the early days all I saw at any of these early block parties was Black and Puerto Ricans. At the clubs like Ecstasy Garage, T-Connect or numerous hole in the wall spots all you saw was Blacks and Puerto Ricans. Most of the whites were into hard rock and hated disco. As far they were concerned all Blacks loved disco.
Hip Hop was multi-cultural in the sense that it was Blacks and Puerto Ricans who put this whole thing down. We lived next to each other and for the most part experienced the same urban problems. We also shared the same culture legacy of exploitation, oppression and colonization. Puerto Ricans are really the native Taino Indians who inhabited the island of Boriken. Columbus came with other Spanish settlers from Europe came on over and discovered them. He also discovered the island had gold. He pillaged the island and depleted its gold resources and since Columbus and his boyz didn't bring any women they started raping the native women of the island. Not long afterwards African slaves were brought over. That's how things got ethnically mixed up in Puerto Rico. Blacks as you know have Native Americans and European blood. Again the European blood was the result of slavery where African women were raped.
Oftentimes when people from NY said Black they were automatically including Puerto Rican. For the most part there are many Puerto Ricans who aside from the language looked Black as far as the mainstream was concerned. The relationship between the two groups has always been tight. Hence when Hip Hop first emerged it naturally included our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters who participated on all levels. Historically speaking that relationship had always been tight because of our shared drum based culture. It wasn't coincidental that you had a Puerto Rican brother, Felipe Luciano who was down with the original Last Poets. NY is such that Blacks and Puerto Ricans find they have each other in their family.
Were white folks involved with Hip Hop during the early days? People point to the graffiti writers, in particular Taki and his Greek heritage as proof. Graffiti to me was it's own cultural on to itself in the sense that the white kids I knew who did graffiti did not listen to the same music as we did. There were kids tagging walls in white areas like the Riverdale section of the Bronx who would call you a Black man a 'nigger' in a heartbeat. The wrote on walls but they weren't trying to be down with no Hip Hop. In fact one of the tags I used to always see was 'Disco Sucks'. How graffiti art developed from tagging to burners etc is really a history onto itself. It was likely to exist with or without the other aspects of Hip Hop culture. The fact is graf, was emerging at a time when other avenues to express oneself were being closed down in Black and Puerto Rican neighborhoods. It was no wonder it became attractive to kids who had artistic skillz. It still did not change the facts that during the early days of Hip Hop you simply did not see hardly any white kids running around hanging out with us.
The context in which you had to look at breaking, emceeing and djaying was that almost everyone in 'the hood' attempted to do these things. Just like everyone today will go to a club and do the tootsie roll or whatever popular dance is going on. Damn near everyone knew a breaking move. Everyone tried it. It was the dance of the day. Whether you were good at doing it was another story. As people became more skilled at it the dance and it's elaborate moves evolved, folks backed off and stopped breaking. With regards to breaking becoming a competitve thing. Within African American culture you had a history of competitve dancing. Most notable was the step drills that were done and our still done by Black fraternities and other organizations. That whole get down and lets see who can cut up the floor the best was part and parcel to our community. Of course it would carry over into breaking.
One of the things that moved some many people away from breaking was a dance called The Freak. This was the type of dance where you would damn near have sex with someone on the dance floor. At the very least you got to feel up on someone. Not to be crude or anything, but why break dance when I can come to a gig and start feeling up some fine female? That was the way it was back then. Plus by the time The Freak kicked in, kids who were breaking had advanced the whole genre to a level that you could not marginally participate in. So at a hip hop gig you would have guys busting moves and trying to out do each other while in another part of the room you would have couples trying to get their grind on. I recently heard Vanilla Ice on BET Tonite with host Tavis Smiley, claiming that 'back in the days' there were white and Latino breakers. Wrong! Back in the days I saw Black and Puerto Rican dancers. The first breakers I saw were down with the Zulu Nation. You kids like Crazy Legs of the Rock Steady Crew, The Nigga Twins and a bunch of other cats that were wrecking shop. White folks started getting hip to all this breaking stuff when kids started going downtown into mid town Manhattan and either busting moves on street corners or in train stations. Sometimes this was done for money. On a couple of ocassions you would have a tv news team cover this hence bringing more exposure.
I didn't really start to see white kids getting with Hip Hop until around 1980 after the Sugar Hill Gang's hit song 'Rappers Delight' dropped. That's when you started to have folks get invited downtown to places like The Village where you had liberal whites with resources and money to host Hip Hop functions. Really where you started to hear about Hip Hop being this multi-cultural [meaning whites were included] phenomenon was when Hip Hop pioneers like Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Afrika Islam started spinning at places like The Roxy. Initially it was the kids who were into punk and alternative music that got down with the brothers. It most certainly was not the working class Italians and Irish who lived near or around our Bronx and Manhattan neighborhoods. They were still not digging Black and Puerto Ricans although a lot of the racial tension had subsided by '81. Ironically the conditions that seemed to give birth to Hip Hop, which was economic, social and political isolation seemed to also give rise to punk. The whole need to be seen, heard and acknowledged was a parallel theme in both Hip Hop and Punk. The specifics that gave rise to punk I can't speak on. But I do know that even those punk rock kids weren't hanging out with us back in the early days of Hip Hop.
Finally, there's this whole argument that centers on the multi-cultural [white] aspect of the music used. Kids will quickly point out that Hip Hop was a universal movement because DJs cut up songs by white rock-n-roll artist like Billy Squire, Aerosmith, and Thin Lizzy to name a selct few. Well, lets just push aside the Black roots of rock-n-roll and deal with this notion practically. The name of the game for DJs was to find the flyest break beat to drop on your turntables at a party. You got mad props if you came up with something original. During this time, when disco was king, some of the dopest drum beats happened to be found on rock-n-roll records. I still have my 'Tales Of The Tape' lp by Billy Squire. I have only listened to that record to try and find break beats other then the immensily popular b-boy classic 'Big Beat'. Trust me, the Billy Squire or Aerosmith fans I knew weren't trying to get down with Hip Hop back in the 70s.and for the most part we weren't trying to rock out with them. We brought the records because of those one or two songs that had break beats. The whole Rock meets Rap thing didn't really start to kick in until '83 or '84.
All this is being pointed out to lend some accuracy to what is being spoken about with regards to Hip Hop culture. Hip Hop over the years has evolved into something that is multi-cultural. But it's extremely important to know the roots to a culture and more importantly to understand why it emerged in the first place. It's especially important that the creators of a culture understand their history. A tree without roots will not stand long when it rains or gets windy. A kid without roots will fall for anything that comes along. In this country we as African Americans have continuously found ourselves systematically written out of History books. We as a country have systematically distorted other people's history. Today we think cultural holidays like Cinco De Mayo means getting drunk and partying and couldn't care less about the Battle of Pueblo and it's significance. We think holidays like Christmas is all about Santa and couldn't care less about the historical or spiritaul orientation. Heck we even think Easter is some bunny laying eggs and not the resurrection of Christ. The list goes on.
We've also folks outside our culture to tell us our history and in doing so we've allowed it to be bastrdized and cheapened. It gets to a point that we ourselves don't even respect our roots because of all the misinformation. Cleopatra being depicted as a white women in a heavily promoted made for TV movie is directly related to some 7 year old girl calling herself a bitch and even Missy Elliot rapping about it. She has no roots so she attaches herself to anything that will get her attention. There's an old proverb that states you have to know your past in order to know where your going, otherwise your bound to repeat past mistakes. So here we are headed into the new age and were still going up against a system that insists on defining and rewriting other people's culture. You would think after 400 years progress would've been made. Instead we not only do not know our history, but sadly enough you have folks who will walk around and proudly say they don't care, not realizing their current actions or lack of current actions are rooted in their past..
written by Davey D
Taken from excerpts of Hip Hop Chronicles
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