The Merger of Hip Hop & Punk..an Interview w/ Fab 5 Freddy


The meeting of Punk and Hip Hop cultures in the late 70s early 80s is an overlooked often downplayed facet of Hip Hop History. Most people think of Run DMC‘s Rock Box and later their collaboration with Aerosmith when they think of Hip Hop merging with Rock-N-Roll. The truth of the matter is that in a very organic way, artists from both cultures broke bread and came to respect each other not so much because of the music, but because of the ‘rebellious’ attitude and spirit that personified both groups.

With last weeks passing of punk icon turned Hip Hop icon Malcolm McLaren, the details of punk Hip Hop unions began to be revisited. We sat down with one of the key bridge builders to both worlds Brooklyn native Fab 5 Freddy to get his perspective.  Fab started out as a graffiti artist and later went on to rap and produce. His record Change the Beat is a classic. here Fab raps in French and at the end provides us with the classic line that every DJ worth his weight has used to scratch.. Ahhh This Stuff is Really Fresh. It was one of the earliest instances of a vocorder being used in Hip Hop. later on Fab5 became the face of Yo MTV Raps.

Fab 5 Freddy

He now heads up the VH1 Hip Hop Honors. He noted that this year they will be honoring the pioneers of the South. We spoke to him about those pioneering days and he noted that his love of art is what took him downtown to the thriving Village scene that hosted Punk, New Wave and artsy types..Fab 5 noted that his partner in crime (art crime) was the late Jean Michel Basquiat and together they attended a lot of the shows and parties and met folks like Deborah Harry and her man Chris Stein from the group Blondie.  The group would later immortalize Fab 5 in the song Rapture where they shouted him out. In our interview Fab 5 explains how that song came about.

Kool Lady Blue

We talked about Fab’s first encounter with Malcolm Mclaren. He noted that it was a promoter named Kool Lady Blue best known for her work at the Roxy and the Negril who introduced the pair and that Fab wasn’t really feeling McLaren. He explained that  his good friend Johnny Lydon aka Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols and later PIL had accused McLaren of ripping off the group. As a result when McLaren explained to Fab 5 that he wanted to go uptown to the Bronx and experience the emerging Hip Hop scene, he wasn’t gonna be ‘that guy’ to make it happen.

Fab went on to explain that he was impressed with the way Mclaren maneuvered. Not only did he make it up to the Bronx but he eventually teamed up with two guys Larry Price aka Se’Divine Price and Ronald Larkins Jr aka JazzyJust the Superstarwho were members of the 5% Nation who had started doing one of the earliest Hip Hop radio shows back in 1979 on WHBI. . The duo went by the name World Famous Supreme Team and they along with Mclaren made history by putting out some of Hip Hop’s ealiest hits including ‘Buffalo Gals’ and ‘Hey DJ’.. Fab explained what made Mclaren such a genius was his ability to capture not only the early feel of Hip Hop but also the groups popular radio show . He was ground breaking in his production and willingness to push the envelop.

Fab added that the Hip Hop -Punk fusion came about because there was a community of artists who were open minded and willing to collaborate.

The Clash

We talked about the groundbreaking role the Clash played. Fab noted that the London based group was influenced by reggae and saw similarities with that and early rap.  They did a weeks long stint at a club called Bond  where they decided to show support for Hip Hop by inviting a popular artist or deejay to open up for them each night. The line up included Grand Master Flash, Kurtis Blow, Afrika Bambaataa, Spoonie G and Funky 4 Plus One More.  he said rthe crowd was hostile. It would be like a rapper performing at a Tea Party. Things got so bad the Clash had to come out on one of the nights and let folks know they were in full support of Hip Hop. Later on Mick Jones would hook up with Futura 2000 to do a song called ‘Escapades of Futura’ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gR9K2ISCUqg

During our interview Fab talked about how the merger of Punk and Hip Hop helped paved the way for early Hip Hop journalism primarily with writers Barry Cooper and Greg Tate who were fixtures in the downtown art scene and started penning stories about Hip Hop.

Click HERE to Here Breakdown FM podcast featuring Fab 5 Freddy

Below is a link to the interview we did with Fab 5..

Breakdown FM Interview w/ Fab 5 Freddy How Hip Hop Met Punk

Here is a shortened video version of the podcast

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EyxNc-7cA7E

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3niRdoFgYoQ

Return to Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner

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25 comments on “The Merger of Hip Hop & Punk..an Interview w/ Fab 5 Freddy

  1. yes davey, trevor horn produce about 90% of mclarens and supreme teams works, also art of noise, beat box, moments in love, leggs, tommy gun. yes, owner of a lonely heart, but the owner of a lonely heart club version is the much loved, trevor had a production sound of his own during the period of 83-85 if the sound had that certain ooofah you knew it was a trevor horn produced gem.

  2. Give us a break with all this punk stuff. PLEASE! You got the music and young people’s minds GOT DAMN! GIVE IT A REST WITH THE MIS-INFORMATION.

  3. hmm, your talking points seemed a little familiar. LOL. i’m glad Fab cleared up that the Clash were the first to actually fuse hip-hop and punk, and also that chris stein and debbie harry were around before mclaren “discovered” hip-hop. not surprised to learn that mclaren didnt actually produce most of that stuff, are you sure he was “groundbreaking in his production”? LOL.

    if he was active today he’d be seen as a marketing genius and that’s about it. the sex pistols were equivalent to the runaways or the monkees of the UK punk scene.

    like i said before, buffalo, hobo, and hey dj were great records, also do ya like scratching. i still have the hobo 12″ it’s about as good as “double dutch bus.”

    but overall, mclaren’s contributions to hip-hop werent nearly as influential as celluloid, the label that put out futura, fab 5, time zone, and phase 2 as well as DST and reissued the last poets first two albums and jimi hendrix with lightnin’ rod. they also had manu dibango. i used to have ‘electric africa’ on wax, that record was ahead of its time.

  4. Eric you seem to really have it in for McLaren.. and u seem to wanna make this a debate about who was more influential Celluloid vs McLaren etc.. why i don’t know? That was never a point of contention.. so why are u making it such? Was DST’s record more popular than Mclaren’s.. Rockit was it won a grammy.. His other stuff no way not in the least.. including the Wildstyle joints they put out around that time..You seem to mixing apples and oranges on this.. DST wasnt a punk rocker doing Hip Hop.. he was a Hip Hop artist doing Hip Hop..

    And when I say bigger I mean Buffalo Gals was much more of crossover record..which means it was helping introduce Hip Hop to a wider audience.. both Black and White..and within NY and it definitely has stood the test of time.. Give it and him his credit..

    The main point with Mclaren was that he was very much apart of the scene of folks who came into the Hip Hop space and helped bring in to audiences outside the Bronx..in particular that downtown audience.. The reason why some of these folks get dap is because in 79 that scene was pretty much on its last leg in the Bronx- It was a dying scene… anyone around that time could tell u such.. and you didn’t have the block parties or the abundance of dances..Things had moved to clubs.. and folks like Flash had already started doing disco dances not playing break beats or playing downtown..It was pretty stale and definitely people were growing tired of the scene as it was… In places like Queens it was starting to pop off much more than at home..

    Rappers Delight re-energized thingsand gave new meaning to stuff.. and although we didn’t talk about.. That record was first played on white stations b4 black in NY with the exception of WHBI and 2-it was a big record downtown as well…Fab would tell as well as Bam all of them (Mclaren, Blondie, The Clash had influence and touched various points..some similar some not..
    It was various people who were opened minded who came together.. The downtown scene that Fab talks about and he’ll tell you himself was different then what was going in LA and the mergers there or even here in the Bay.. The ‘familiar’ talking pts are more aligned with what Fab was most associated with and yes I did wanna have him give some clarity for what he was a key figure in.. I wasn’t part of NY’s downtown scene in 81-83.. But I very much was an active deejay at many of the big jams out here and and other places where musical scenes merged.. The fact is that Futura’s record or the Clash’s joint magnifencent 7 were not big records out here by any stretch.. not compared to Mclaren’s.. Time Zone made noise..and maybe the Beasty Boys Cookie Pusss.. It was a favorite on KALX.. ..

    Last point about who was around and who wasn’t.. We’re talking about a two year period 79-81/82 when all this movement was happening… He and Supreme Team started doing shows around that time he wasn’t just a marketer.. and yes he was groundbreaking in his production.. meaning that what was released was on his guise and included his concepts.. the same way Diddy oversaw his Hitman team.. or Dre overseas his folks.. Was he beatmaker like Laswell know.. but his concepts are production.

    Bottom line is that Mclaren earned his spot.. lets leave it at that.. the same way Herc, Flash and Bam all different people earned theirs its not an either or thing.. he was groundbreaking. he was aprt of the scene that helped explode the genre to white folks starting with the punk and new wave communities at least in NY.. and some of hsi records were big..

  5. “hwe was aprt of the scene that helped explode the genre to white folks starting with..” – Man, you need to be shot! Have some dignity, Bro!

  6. lol dave. never said DST was a punk rocker, although some of his, bam, flash and the furious five’s outfits were definitely on the punk side. remember Bam’s mohawk?

    in fact what i actually said was mclaren wasnt exactly a hardcore punk rocker at that time, actually, he was a manager of a new wave act (Adam and the Ants) who started working with hip-hop artists who were already on the radio in NYC. at the time, i guess you can say he was ahead of the curve, but just slightly. really he’s like colombus, he “discovered” something which was already there.

    i guess my main issue with what you wrote was giving mclaren more credit than it seemed he deserved, and downplaying some of the other main factors in the merging of underground cultures, like graffiti artists and other influential NYC labels who had an ear on what was going on. maybe it’s a bigger topic than you initially realized…

    but still, you gave McLaren credit for producing a record he didnt actually produce; it would be interesting to know what his contributions to that actually were, besides appearing in a suit in the video and doing the ‘three buffalo girls round the outside’ voice-over. i’m fairly certain he didnt perform the hobo scratch, lol.

    if you’re gonna talk about hip-hop and punk fusion in the early 80s, as far as records, it’s magnificent seven, cookie puss, overpowered by funk, and world destruction. everything else is either new wave or urban hybrid. not too many punk kids on either coast were breakdancing.

    “The main point with Mclaren was that he was very much apart of the scene of folks who came into the Hip Hop space and helped bring in to audiences outside the Bronx..in particular that downtown audience..”

    not disputing this…but that crossover was happening before mclaren came on the scene, as Fab 5 confirmed. this was unclear from your original post. there IS a difference between 1980 and 1983, especially when you are talking about a fast-moving culture.

    sorry if i seem nitpicky, but i think if you are going to look at history, it’s helpful to get your dates correct.

    if we’re going to compare McLaren and the Clash, i dont think there’s any question (at least in my mind) who was more punk rock. also who was more innovative, influential, commercially-successful, or worked with hip-hop artists first. maybe you have different thoughts, lol.

    another interesting thing worth noting is futura’s influence on the whole thing. he was in the fashion moda show in 1980 which was one of the first exhibitions of subway artists outside of the trains. at that time, he’s quoted as saying, “we werent aware of SoHo” — of course, later SoHo became aware of graffiti art, as famously recreated in the scene in WildStyle where Lee gets seduced by a rich, cougar-ish art maven.

    Futura not only recorded with the clash and painted live backdrops for their 1981 NYC club gigs and their 1982 european tour, but also hand-lettered the lyric sheet for Combat Rock and designed the cover for the “This Is Radio Clash” 7-inch, as well as another 7-inch for Cabaret Voltaire, an experimental punk/new wave band of that time.

    finally, interesting comparison with diddy… i wouldnt say p.diddy was an innovative or groundbreaking producer, though, although i suppose it could be said he engineered the fusion of gangster rap with upscale bougie lifestyle trappings and pioneered the silver space suit in mainstream rap videos. mclaren might actually have been a better ‘rapper,’ j/k.

  7. just as an addendum, where that punk/hip-hop crossover really happened and was most impactful was in the skate world ( i know this because i had to research it for a magazine piece i wrote awhile back). just look at the photographs of glen e.friedman, who shot black flag, the beasties, run-dmc and ll cool j (among others). this fusion is still going on today–hiero, wu-tang and dilated are huge with skate crowds–and about two years ago there was a whole movement on the streets of berkeley and oakland of black skate-hoppers, most notably The Pack, who called their style “punk rock”–checkered bandanas, vans, trucker hats, skinny jeans, etc. just more proof that things go in cycles…

  8. do u acutally think people were dancing to punk rock records at roller rinks like empire roller rink or skate key? 2 historic well known nyc roller rinks that were in brooklyn and the bronx at the time, u are doing a no no do not blend geographical areas together, because that was not happening at the time at those rinks here, also u seem to have romance with magnificient 7, I hate to break it to you but new york city’s hiphop community back in 1981 was not feeling that vocal version it was the instrumental version why? because we used that to incorperate our own rap and vocal flow to it. Thats how that went down their in northeren cali, but that was not how it went down here in nyc, the roxy was always known as a downtown skating rink, and with that u were going to get the downtown aka village crowd. Davey talk to chuck about or johnny juice about the Jeff Foss radio on strong island that went back to the 70’s called the post punk hiphop party, I think u will get more completion, to what was happening in nyc at the time, also 1 thing fab left out because the history is long and that short period of time things were jumping off, he didn’t mention the influence that the clash’s country mates the specials had on them as well.

  9. Eric it does appear to be a lot of nitpicking..w/ all sorts of narratives that one can look at.. There is no definitive one as I pointed out.. and everyone has a different entry point into an already existing scene.. I did, you did, Mclaren did as did the Clash, Freddy and everyone else.. Once entering what did you do and what was the impact? What was the intended purpose? What was the overall impact..

    the facts are this..

    There was a scene in which the two cultures merged.. Mclaren was a not a side note but a KEY part of it.. His record was huge.. it was enjoyed by both crowds depending on what side of the world u were on and most people associated him with punk at that time.. Sure someone might’ve said Adam and the Ants.. But most knew him as a part of the Sex Pistols..

    Those are the facts to that.. whether he came in a yr at most after somebody else is irrelevent.. because the scene was continuously being ‘discovered’ by lots of folks in that scene during that time period..Hell to hear my older cousins tell it both who deejayed around that time Hip Hop was non-issue.. It was not as widespread and all encompassing it was still growing and that time period when those two worlds came together helped.. Records were already out and with each yr more and more folks got into it..if for anything because of the records.. Of course Malcolm wasnt the first.. That was never the point.. But he was significant and its not inaccurate to say he helped fuze the two worlds..

    This is like discussing the impact of Bam, Herc and Flash. Many got introduced to Hip Hop via these three and relate their experiences to them as a result. Many others got introduced to this by folks who are less celebrated or by folks outside of deejaying and rapping.. For example, many who grew up in my neighborhood knew Mario before we knew Bam..But when were talking about a scene that involved hundreds or thousands of people there are various vantage points.. Was Herc the first? probably not.. But most of us associate the scene with those three folks..The same applies here.. This merger was it because of the Clash and punk, New wave and Blondie or Mclaren and his material? It could be either one, all three or none? Hip Hop never rested on the shoulders of one person.. and nor did this scene..

    Secondly there’s a context to looking at merging requires two sides.. one was Hip Hop opening up to punk/new wave and punk opening up to Hip Hop.. Mclaren was not seen as some white kid who was doing Hip Hop he was seen as a member of the punk/new wave community doing Hip Hop..and depending on how close you were to the punk side you saw new wave and punk as one and the same.. even though people on the rock side saw the two as different..This would be like looking at Blondie a new wave act or Tom Tom Club a new wave act and contrasting them to the Clash a punk act.. As I noted earlier they were all one and the same to the average Hip Hop cat back in 82-83..and too be honest all those groups got played in certain settings..New Wave and Punk were one and the same to a lot of people period.. It was that way in NY and it definitely was that way out here.. Mclaren teaming up with World Supreme Team was part of that movement..Mclaren was never seen as a Hip Hop artist.. he was seen as punk new wave guy..at that time.. The politics surrounding him weren’t on the table for most…

    There’s something to be said about connecting the dots from a standpoint of 20 yrs later. Equally important is to know and understand how we viewed it at that time..For example, Blondie’s rapture record was dope and caught everyone’s attention when she shouted out Flash.. Most of us had no idea who Fab 5 was at that time.. Years later we understand the role he played .. Equally important was the small backlash to that song when the NY Daily news erroneously credited her with being a key inventor of Hip Hop..

    in 83 Mclaren’s records were a key jump off…it was explosive.. there was no mis-givens and people being upset with him for doing it In NY there may have been politics associated with him in the art world.. But his record didn’t live and die there.. His radio show catapaulted that song to other enclaves where it was embraced for variety of reasons. Here Mclaren was part of the UK invasion with many of us seeing overseas as a place that was hip…

    Lastly with his production.. There would be no Buffalo Gals or Madame Butterfly if it wasn’t for him production is beat making arranging and concept building..around a song.. I doubt if Mclaren just walked in a room and and these projects got made without him being a contributor..

  10. ok well said davey. i think you’ve made your points. i think your original post and headlines were perhaps a bit misleading, but you do a good job of clarifying where you are coming from on this one here.

    bottom line is 82-83 was a great era in hip-hop. classic records were dropping like–blaow–every week, it seemed. but at the time, no one really knew how seminal/influential any of those records would be. it’s only through the petri dish of history that we can pull out our microscopes and examine the significance of that period in detail, because it was all happening pretty fast at the time.

    was i being nitpicky? probably. but we all have pet peeves. historical accuracy happens to be one of mine. if i said al davis led the raiders to their 1976 super bowl win, and you pointed out the important role ken stabler played, in a sense we’d both be correct.

    “But he was significant and its not inaccurate to say he helped fuze the two worlds..”

    funny you mention DJ Fuze, because i remember in ’83-84 he came back from visiting his dad in NYC and brought all this hip-hop on wax back with him. stuff like spyder-d “placin’ the beat” which was a big record at that time which has been forgotten about today.

    fuze –back then he actually called himself davey d lol–also had a tape he called “computer music,” which was like new wave, electrofunk and stuff like that…i remember it got a lot of play in the cazadero music camp kitchen, as did my homie lamont adams’ tape which had stuff like human league fascination, run-dmc, and i need a freak.

    for a lot of us west coasters lucky enough to be at cazadero music camp between, like 83-84, we caught a lot of that stuff pretty early on, probably before some folks in the east were really aware of what was happening…

    back then there really was no east/west division because there were so few records out: utfo, egyptian lover, soulsonic force, surgery, sucker mcs, double trouble, planet rock, rockberry jam, rockit…and yes, buffalo gals. all those records were pretty big back then, because they altered people’s consciousness and perception of what music was. but then again, rock bock was extremely significant, there were hella hardcore metalheads who had no choice but to feel that one…

    so i guess i’m agreeing with you in the end that mclaren did have a significant impact on pop culture. but i cant really say for me buffalo gals was any bigger than any of the other seminal records of that time. atomic dog for one was mega. overall, hip-hop was kind of a sidenote to what michael jackson and prince were doing back then, if memory serves me correctly.

  11. I’m 37. I was in the skate punk scene at that time and hip hop was viewed as giving the same middle finger to reagonomics, apartheid, and the classic rock format that dominated the airwaves keeping both genres underground despite the incredible music being made.

    Sick of it All’s 1988 release, “Blood Sweat & No Tears” featured KRS on the outro and the song “Cloberin Time”. “….Sick of it all, blastmaster KRS 1, FRESH for ’88 SUCKA’s” The story was they were in the same apartment building and CBGBs had a hip hop night as well as a Hard Core matinee. That is strictly hearsay on my part I was in Buffalo then. One thing is certain it wasn’t because some PR douche brought them together to access new demographics. It was organic.

    Sick of it all is playing a reunion show next month in buffalo NY I will ask them to clarify.

  12. right, some people might remember PE teaming up with Anthrax on the “Bring the Noise” remake, or Onyx’s “slam,” or that group 24-7 Spyz. also Vernon Reid from Living Color played guitar on the first PE album. i always found it interesting that bands like Fishbone–who opened up for the Beasties on their Licensed to Ill tour–never got as big as the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

    for anyone interested in researching this topic further, there’s also a documentary called “Afro-punk” which documents the black hardcore scene. very informative.

    there’s also an afropunk website: http://www.afropunk.com/

  13. You are all on some real homosexual stuff stroking each others anuses with all this talk about “punk”. Please!

  14. Great article here, Davey!
    There is an excellent documentary out called “Electric Purgatory: The Fate of The Black Rocker,” just in case some of you may be interested and have not seen it. This documentary deals more so with Black rock artist as a whole, instead of only Punk artist or HipHop artist. You can check out the website at http://www.electricpurgatory.com/
    I am not sure how true it is, but I have read somewhere that the Beastie Boys were heavily influenced by Bad Brains, (the Black Punk Rock band from D.C.); so much so, that they too wanted their group name to have the initials “BB.” Someone also told me this in a conversation I was having about Bad Brains
    Thanks Bro. Davey!

  15. I love this website, the information is great and I have bookmarked it in my favorites. This is a well organized and informative website. Great Job!

  16. I am amazed how I came across this web site. I was born and raised in Queens during this time that the fusion was taking place in the early. I was heavy into hip hop as a graph writter and breaker, I was open to new wave and the punk sound. The fact the two sounds appealed to me at the time was awesome. This tribute is over due. As a young DJ back in the early eighties, Buffalo gals was my first record. Let not forget how Dj Jelly Bean Benitez at the Funhouse was rocking Punk rock records with Hip hop. There was also Danceteria night club where hip hop and punk artist hanged out. It was happening over allover NY In the 80’s. This shit was real. To deny its history is a shame. Its was amazing. This major cross creativity and fresh raw appeal was to never been seen again. I think NAS said it best” Hip Hop is Dead !”.

  17. Pingback: Hip Hop Punk Rock (thats better than the transplants) « The Least Pretentious Music Blog Ever

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