Crazy Legs Speaks|
This weekend the world famous Rocksteady Crew celebrated their 24th Anniversary [July 2001] and people from all over the world will come to New York attended the annual celebration. As one of Hip Hop's oldest and most enduring organizations we felt it was important that people obtain a better understanding of the crew, so we sat down with Rocksteady President Crazy Legs and had him run down some of the group's history.
Davey D: First of all congratulations on Rocksteady's 24th Anniversary. But you know a lot of people aren't really up on the history of Rocksteady. So let's start by asking who is Rocksteady and when did you all form?
Crazy Legs: Rocksteady was formed in the Bronx in 1977 by Jimmy Dee, JoJo, and Eazy Mike who was JoJo's brother. There were other brothers who were down like Jimmy Lee, Weebles, L-Mack and a bunch of other people who were there before me. They were there two years before me. The name was based upon a dance called The Rock. Which was basically stylized Top Rocking. It was kind of like Top Rock/ Uprock. It was initially going to be called The Rock Dance Crew. But then people said let's name it Rocksteady just to keep it going. I actually joined Rocksteady in '798. It was me and my cousin Lenny-Len who had to battle Jimmy D and Jimmy Lee to get in. Jimmy D was the original president.
Davey D: Was Rocksteady primarily a dance crew or were you guys like other Hip Hop crews in New York where you were doing a little bit of everything?
Crazy Legs: Well you know when crews were first set up back then, there really wasn't a term called to label the culture. So what you had was just a crew. Within a crew you had brothers who liked to just rock the mike, while other b-boyed or deejayed. The first crew that I ever got down with was The Bronx Boys. There was an affiliation with Rocksteady at that time. The Bronx Boys had a lot of different things. We had everything from stick up kids to B-boys.
Davey D: Did you do other things other than dance?
Crazy Legs: I can never say that I was an emcee although I don't mind getting on the mic from time to time and getting 'Everybody say 'Ho!' ThatŐs just in my blood. I mess around on the turntables every now and then. I used to go bombing [graffiti] a lot in Manhattan and in the Bronx. I was a motion bomber, which meant that you would be bombing the trains while they were in motion.
Davey D:You mentioned the term B-Boy. What exactly was a B-Boy?
Crazy Legs: Before the term Hip Hop existed, this is the way you approached people; 'Yo! You B-Boy?' or 'Yo! Do you emcee?' 'Do you rhyme'? That's how you knew who did what. ThatŐs how the B-Boys were labeled. They were known as the Break Boys-the brothers that would dance to the percussive part of the record or the break. ThatŐs how we got labeled. That was our title. It had nothing to do with how we dressed. Some of us were straight up bums and some of us were fly. It had nothing to do with a stance or a pose.
Davey D: So it was known of that stereotypical stuff. It just signified what you got down with?
Crazy Legs: Yep. It was B-boying or B-girling.
Davey D: Most people outside of New York became aware of Rocksteady through the movie Flashdance. Was that a direction you intended to take or did that just kind of fall into your lap?
Crazy Legs: It just kind of fell into our path. We were just people who came across other people who were promoting clubs and looking to do something alternative to what was going on. There was no real movement going on at that time. By the late 70s early 80s, the movements from the 60s were dying out. We got into the movie when we were put on stage to perform. It was just for fun. We never really cared whether or not the crowd was going crazy or if they knew we did a move right or wrong. We just went up there for ourselves. There were no dreams of stardom, fame or anything like that. It was really just done for the love.
Davey D: Did appearing in the movie Flashdance open up a lot of doors? Or did you guys get any negative feedback from coming out of the hood and onto the big screen?
Crazy Legs: There wasn't anything about selling out back then. We had no concept of what was going on and what we were getting into. There was no conscious effort by anyone to say 'Yo! Forget these people, I'm gonna go get paid'. It was very rare when you came across someone like that. Yes, Flashdance created opportunities for us. But we never had to hear anything about us selling out. It probably had a lot to do with the way we did it. We went up there raw dog. We didn't go up there and try and candy coat it or anything like that. The only time things got weird was when we were tied into Virgin records and they wanted us to do some flimsy stuff. We were always against that.
Davey D: I remember your record "Hey You Rocksteady Crew. Was that you guys singing?
Crazy Legs: You know that was a bittersweet thing. During that whole process we were basically raped. No one had any idea that a song was being recorded. Everyone was told we were going to be brought to Boston to see if you could sing for these people. Little did anyone know that a record was being recorded during our audition. It was put out by Charisma/ Virgin Records. It was top 10 in the charts with no contract what so ever.
Davey D: And you guys didn't get paid for that?
Crazy Legs: We went through litigation. The record 'Hey You' sold over a million copies and I would say that each of us made 7gs. [7 thousand]
Davey D: WowÉWelcome to the music biz..
Crazy Legs: When we were that young and the rug was pulled out from under us in the mid 80s, it was definitely something that was hard to understand. We went from being on all the first tours that presented this culture to the world and set the foundation for what has now become the music industry to having to having to wait on the back of lines. That was a reality check for us that we weren't prepared for.
Davey D:I don't think anyone was prepared at that time. I wanted to see if you could elaborate and explain how people like yourself and Afrika Bambaataa went about introducing folks to Hip Hop..
Crazy Legs: First, before we went on the road, we brought that whole scene to Manhattan to clubs like Negril, Danceataria and The Mud Club. Back then it wasn't just about a Rap Thing. It was just a music thing and how we expressed ourselves physically or verbally. There was more variety and more of a universal feeling when it came to the music. Being around Afrika Bambaataa and people like him, opened us up to so many different styles of music like rock, punk rock, roots, soul, funk and electrofunk. Right now its just straight and narrow Rap. The clubs back then were way better then the clubs right now..
Davey D: Would you consider a lot of today's artists like a Jay-Z or a Puffy to be Hip Hop or Rap? And if they are considered Rap, what would it take for them to be considered Hip Hop?
Crazy Legs: In my personal opinion, Jay-Z happens to be one of my favorite lyricists. I think he has incredible metaphors. He can talk about the same thing and hit you from so many different angles and from so many different ways and still keep you interested. Puffy- he does what he does. I'm not gonna front, there's music that he does that I'll be dancing to and just having fun. You do need that type of music when dancing with a honey. I think its all valid, but then it gets to a point where people should admit if they're really down with Hip Hop or just down with the industry.
I actually have a great deal of respect for Ice Cube. This is something that happened several years ago when I first met him. He came up to me and said 'You you should hook me up with some information cause I really don't know that much about Hip Hop Culture and its history'. I really respected that. To me, it made him more Hip Hop then most of these people out here cause he had the nerve to admit that he actually did not know that much about where it came from.
Davey D: So what would it take for that artist to have that Hip Hop vibe? Is it having dancers in a vibe or just general knowledge? Is there any one thing a person could have or do that signifies they are Hip Hop?
Crazy Legs: I think a person can be considered Hip Hop even if they don't do any of the elements, but have a deep respect for it and understand what it is and what it consists of. To me, that in itself is Hip Hop. A person can be so into and supportive and to me, that's all good. I think a lot of brothers out there are just one dimensional. They're only focused on 'how they can get mine?' And when the rug is pulled out from under them, those are the same people that finally recognize and say 'Yo man, I remember you. They only come up and say that after they lose everything.
Davey D:Let's talk about the dancing aspect a littleÉ Over the years we've done everything from floor dances to the cabbage patch and the prep to spinning on our backs. What exactly is Hip Hop dance?
Crazy Legs: All these dances like the cabbage patch and the prep, are just trendy dances that can be within any scene. B-Boying is the Hip Hop dance. No one should ever get it twisted. It was the one that was treated as an art form and itŐs the one that was preserved. No other dance was preserved that came out of the root of Hip Hop. I would say popping, locking, strutting were adopted by Hip Hop. Those were the only other dances that I would say were treated as an art form within Hip Hop. All these other dances are just something to have fun with on the dance floor.
Davey D:So are there certain criteria or certain moves that one needs to master within these dances in order for it to be considered a Hip Hop dancer?
Crazy Legs: I would say, in order to become a Hip Hop dancer you have to know what you can't do. For example, some people just don't have rhythm and they just don't have flava. I think sometimes, certain people have to go back and resort to learning how to snap their fingers to the beat againÉ As you get into it, then you master your foundation and you treat it like you would any other art form. You go from step A to step B. I was fortunate to learn while it was still being developed and I was able to contribute in my own way.
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Davey D:many people who are into Hip Hop today were born in the mid 80s, after Hip Hop had already been established. Can they do things that add to that foundation that was laid down from the 70s and still have be considered Hip Hop?
Crazy Legs: Yeah, you can add your own flava to it, but it's like this. If you're going to make some soup, you still need the water. There are just certain things that you can not ignore or forget. My theory is thisÉ When you're out there dancing, you are partners with the music, but you will never be the lead. A lot of people don't understand that and they wind up running out there and trying to do something for the sake of being acrobatic. It may wind up being something that is obviously dynamic to the eye. They act like they're off to the races. They just do moves and have no regard for the music. When I go out and dance, I allow myself to dissolve into the music and I see where the music is taking me.
Davey D:A while back we were talking and you said you didn't think capoera had a direct connection to B-boying. Can you elaborate on that?
Crazy Legs: The first time I even saw capoera was in 1991. I grew up around the original B-boys. I know about the original B-boys and this dance [b-boying] was inspired by the way James Brown was dancing. People took off from there. In capoera, your back is not allowed to touch the floor. We as b-boys spend so much time with our backs on the floor. We always have things that definitely manifest at different times. I'm not saying that a move we do in b-boying couldn't have been made up within another art form, at some other time, within some other culture or some other place. But when it comes to Hip Hop and B-Boying, many of these other things we came upon like capoera moves was by accident. When I evolved the backspin, which lead to the continuous backspin, which everyone knows as the windmill it was by accident. The 1990 was by accident, I was trying to do something else.
Davey D:What were some of the other moves Rocksteady Crew members developed that are standard within Hip Hop dance today?
Crazy Legs: came up with the backspin in which you're whipping your leg around and you spin around real fast and ball up. Then I came up with the continuous backspin and the 1990.
Davey D: I bet you wish you patented that move.
Crazy Legs: Imagine if I was to get paid for that. You have moves by Frosty Freeze like the Suicide, where he jumps straight up in the air and lands on his back. That's a straight up Frosty Freeze move that really hasn't been bitten because you have to be a little tapped in the brain to be doing that.
Davey D: What about Mr. Freeze's move that he did in the movie Flashdance when he slid backwards with the umbrella?
Crazy Legs: That wasn't an original move. He got that from miming. He learned that when he lived in Paris. You also had the Lockers and Electric Boogaloos who people would see on TV out here and imitate them.
Davey D:I had a conversation with Kool Herc and he said there were some very distinct ways in which African Americans and Puerto Ricans approached b-boying. Could you shed some light on that?
Crazy Legs: I think the difference is when the brothas first started doing and it was at its infancy they weren't doing acrobatic moves. That didn't come into play until more Puerto Ricans got involved in the mid 70s. We then took the dance, evolved it and kept it alive. In '79 I was getting dissed. I would go into a dance and I would get dissed by a lot of brothas who would ask 'Why y'all still doing that dance? ThatŐs played out'. By 79, there were very few African American brothas that was doing thisÉ I one say one other thing. We always maintained the flava. It was like a changing of the guard and all we did was add more flava to something that already existed. We use to refer to it as Moreno style or Cocola style. That was just the slang back then. There were certain Top Rocks called Latin Rock
Davey D: Did certain cultural things in your back ground influence those dances?
Crazy Legs: Naw it was you were either Black or Puerto RicanÉ The bottom line is what it really all comes to. We all lived in the same ghetto. There weren't too many differences. We were all on the same welfare and we all lived in the same projects. The segregation didn't exists when it came to Latinos and Blacks the way it may be in places like LA where you have straight up Black neighborhoods and straight up Latin neighborhoods. Out here in NY, my neighborhood consisted of everything. We shared our cultures. You have brothas who have no problem speaking Spanish out here. Brothas out here know how to go to a Spanish restaurant and order food.
Davey D: What is Rocksteady doing these days? What do you see coming down the pipe?
Crazy Legs: We'll hopefully we ain't on no pipes [laugh]. There are two things I wanna do. One, I wanna open up a dance school thatŐs gonna have more than dance. Its gonna be an entertainment type of academy. Two, I would like for us to put together one more time an off Broadway show that's based upon what we wanna do as opposed to what other people are telling us to do. We just wanna do our story. We want it to be the Electric Boogaloos and Rocksteady Crew.
Davey D:I understand that Rocksteady has been getting involved with politicsÉ
Crazy Legs: Yeah, in fact we're getting a proclamation by Fernando Ferrer who is the Bronx borough president and now running for Mayor. The proclamation acknowledges Rocksteady as a group from the Bronx that is helping to preserve a dance form that started out in the Bronx. I personally have contributed to Fernando Ferrer's campaign. We also have a non-partisan voter registration drive during the anniversary as well.
Davey D: Lastly.. Shout out all those pioneers whom we should all be trying to seek out and learn more fromÉYou mentioned The Bronx Boys [TBB} and The Salsoul Crew.. Who were some of the others?
Crazy Legs: There was Star Child La Rock, Rockwell Association, The Zulu Kings, Rocksteady, TDK [The Disco Kings] . I also feel that a lot of the outlaw gangs contributed a lot as well especially when it came to the uprocking. There was the Savage Nomads, The Ching A Lings, The Seven Immortals. There are so many contributors to thisÉ This whole culture was really formed by a bunch of stick up kids that decided to do the right thing eventually. Thank God Hip Hop was there from them to do..
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