One Night at the Executive Playouse: Kool herc vs Pete DJ Jones

As Hip Hop continues to evolve and becomes more of a corporate thing, many of its landmark, golden moments get lost. In this article, veteran writer and longtime DJ Mark Skillz unearthed one of Hip Hop’s pivotal moments when an emerging Kool Herc squared off with well-known popular DJ Pete Jones.

This battle was symbolic on many levels. For Kool Herc to go up against Pete DJ Jones meant that Hip Hop had arrived and there was no denying it. It was Student vs Teacher, Young vs Old, and Hip Hop vs Disco… It’s a moment in time we should not forget.

Props to Mark Skillz and Wax Poetic Magazine where this article first appeared

http://markskillz.blogspot.com/2006/07/one-night-at-executive-playhouse.html

Logo Kool herc vs Pete Jones

Pete DJ Jones vs. Kool DJ Herc:
One Night At the Executive Playhouse

By Mark Skillz

Mark skillz brown-225Back in the good old days of 1977 when gas lines were long and unemployment was high, there were two schools of deejays competing for Black and Latino audiences in New York City: the Pete D.J. Jones crowd and the devout followers of Kool D.J. Herc. One group played the popular music of the day for party-going adult audiences in clubs in downtown Manhattan. The other played raw funk and break-beats for a rapidly growing, fanatic – almost cult-like following of teenagers in rec centers and parks. Both sides had their devotees. One night the two-masters of the separate tribes clashed in a dark and crowded club on Mount Eden and Jerome Avenue called the Executive Playhouse.

The First Master: The Wise Teacher

You can’t miss Pete D.J. Jones at a party – or anywhere else for that matter, he is somewhere near seven feet tall and bespectacled, today at 64 years old he is a retired school teacher from the Bronx, but if you listen to him speak you immediately know he ain’t from New York – he’s from ‘down home’ as they say in Durham, North Carolina. But no matter where he was from, back in the ’70’s, Pete Jones was the man.

“I played everywhere”, Mr. Jones says in a voice that sounds like your uncle or grandfather from somewhere down deep in the south, even though he’s been in New York for more than thirty years. “I played Smalls Paradise, Leviticus, Justine’s, Nells – everywhere.”

“Looky here”, he says to me in the coolest southern drawl before he asks me a question, “You ever heard of Charles Gallery?”

“Yes”, I said, as I tell him that I’m only 36 years old and I had only heard about the place through stories from people who had been there. “Oh”, he says in response, “that was one helluva club. Tell you what, you know that club, Wilt’s ‘Small’s Paradise’?”

“Yep”, I said, “that place is internationally known – but I never went there either.”

“That’s ok”, he says still as cool as a North Carolina summer breeze, “When I played there GQ and the Fatback Band opened for me.”

“No way – are you talking about ‘Rock-Freak’ GQ, the same people that did ‘Disco Nights?’

“One and the same”, he says. He suspects that I don’t believe him so he says, “Hey, we can call Rahiem right now and he’ll tell ya.” As much as I would love to speak with Rahiem Vaughn I pass, I believe him.

pete dj jones-225In his heyday Pete DJ Jones was to adult African- American partygoers what Kool Herc was to West Bronx proto- type hip-hoppers, he was the be all to end all. He played jams all over the city for the number one black radio station at the time: WBLS. At these jams is where he blasted away the competition with his four Bose 901 speakers and two Macintosh 100’s – which were very powerful amps.

At certain venues he’d position his Bose speakers facing toward the wall, so that when they played the sound would deflect off of the wall and out to the crowd. The results were stunning to say the least. His system, complete with two belt drive Technic SL-23’s (which were way before 1200’s) and a light and screen show, which he says he’d make by: “Taking a white sheet and hanging it on the wall, and aiming a projector that had slides in it from some of the clubs I played at.” These effects wowed audiences all over the city. He went head to head with the biggest names of that era: the Smith Brothers, Ron Plummer, Maboya, Grandmaster Flowers, the Disco Twins, “Oh yeah”, he says, “I took them all on.”

On the black club circuit in Manhattan at that time – much like the Bronx scene – deejays spun records and had guys rap on the mike. “I ran a club called Superstar 33, ask anyone and they will tell you: That was the first place that Kurtis Blow got on the mic at”, says a gruff voiced gentlemen who, back then, called himself JT Hollywood – not to be confused with D.J. Hollywood, whom JT remembers as, “An arrogant ass who always wanted @#%$ to go his way.”

“I wouldn’t call what we did rappin’ – I used to say some ol’ slick and sophisticated @#%$ on the mike”, said a proud JT.

“We spun breaks back then too”, Pete Jones says, “I played “Do it anyway you wanna,” ‘Scorpio’, ‘Bongo Rock’, BT Express, Crown Heights Affair, Kool and the Gang, we played all of that stuff – and we’d keep the break going too. I played it all, disco, it didn’t matter, there was no hip-hop per se back then, except for the parts we made up by spinning it over and over again.”

There have been so many stories written about hip-hop’s early days that have not reported on the guys that spun in Manhattan and Brooklyn in the early and mid ’70’s, that many crucial deejays of that time feel left out.

Kool-Herc-the-father-300“Kool Herc and guys like that didn’t have a big reputation back then”, explains Jones, “they were in the Bronx – we, meaning guys like myself and Flowers, we played everywhere, so we were known. Their crowd was anywhere between 4 to 70. Mine was 18-22. They played in parks – where anybody could go, no matter how old you are you could go to a park. We played in clubs.”

With a sense of urgency Mr. Jones says, “I have to clear something up, many people think that we played disco – that’s not true. There were two things happening in black music at that time: there was the “Hustle” type music being played – which was stuff like Van McCoy’s “Do the Hustle” – I couldn’t stand that record. And then there were the funky type records that mixed the Blues and jazz with Latin percussion that would later be called funk. Well, hip-hop emerged from that.”

He places special emphasis on the word ’emerged’. He says that because “If you know anything about the history of music, you know, no one person created anything, it ’emerges’ from different things.

The Second Master: The Cult Leader

Kool Herc drivingThere must have been a height requirement for deejays in the ’70’s, because like Pete DJ Jones, Kool DJ Herc is a giant among men. In fact, with his gargantuan sized sound system and 6’5, 200 plus pound frame, the man is probably the closest thing hip-hop has ever seen to the Biblical Goliath. Today, some thirty years since his first party in the West Bronx, Kool Herc is still larger than life. His long reddish-brown dreads hang on his shoulders giving him a regal look – sort of like a lion. His hands – which are big enough to crush soda cans and walnuts, reveal scarred knuckles, which are evidence of a rough life. During our conversation, Kool Herc, whose street hardened voice peppered with the speech patterns of his homeland Jamaica and his adopted city of New York made several references to ‘lock up’, ‘the precinct’ and the ‘bullpen’, all in a manner that showed that he had more than a passing familiarity with those types of situations.

As the tale goes Kool Herc planted the seeds for hip-hop in 1973 in the West Bronx. Along with his friends Timmy Tim and Coke La Rock, and with the backing of his family – in particular his sister Cindy , the parties he threw back then are the food of urban legend. In the 1984 BBC documentary “The History of Hip Hop” an eight-millimeter movie is shown – it is perhaps the only piece of physical evidence of those historic parties. In the film, teenagers of anywhere between 17-20 years old are grooving to the sounds of James Brown’s “Give It Up or Turn It Loose“. Young men wearing sunglasses and sporting fishermen hats with doo rags underneath them, are seen dancing with excited young women, all while crowded into the rec room of hip-hop’s birthplace: 1520 Sedgwick Ave.

As the camera pans to the right, the large hulking figure of Kool Herc takes the forefront. Sporting dark sunglasses and wearing a large medallion around his neck, Kool Herc is decked out in an AJ Lester’s suit. He isn’t just an imposing figure over his set; he looms large over his audience as well. His sound system – a monstrous assemblage of technology, was large and intimidating too, so awesome was it that his speakers were dubbed the ‘Herculords‘. When Kool Herc played his gargantuan sized sound system – the ground shook. And so did his competition.

Afrika Bambaataa & Kool Herc

Afrika Bambaataa & Kool Herc

Legend has it that with his twin tower Shure columns and his powerful Macintosh amplifiers, he is said to have drowned the mighty Afrika Bambaataa at a sound clash. “Bambaataa”, Herc said with the volume of his echo plex turned up and in his cool Jamaica meets the Bronx voice, ‘Turn your system down…”

But the mighty Zulu chief was unbowed.

So once again Herc spoke into the mike, “Ahem, Bambaataa…turn your system down!” And with that, Herc turned the volume of the echo plex up, and bought in the notorious break-beat classic ‘The Mexican’ all the while drowning Bambaataa in a wall of reverberated bass and funk drumming. According to Disco Bee, “That was typical of Herc – if you went over your time, hell yeah, he’d drown you out.”

In his arsenal Herc had the mighty twin speakers dubbed the ‘Herculords’ and his crew, a mixture of high school friends and neighborhood kids called the ‘Herculoids’. The squad consisted of the Imperial Jay Cee, LaBrew, Sweet and Sour, Clark Kent, Timmy Tim, Pebblee Poo, Coke La Rock, Eldorado Mike and the Nigger Twins. According to Herc, “Coke and Tim were friends of mine, it’s like I got the Chevy, and I’m driving. You my man, so you roll too. So when Coke wanted to play – he play, you know what I mean?”

Coke La Rock

Coke La Rock

Although the core crew was Herc, Timmy Tim and Coke La Rock, many of the people that frequented these parties could also be dubbed Herculoids as well. Even though they weren’t members of the crew, many of these people would become disciples of a new musical gospel. They would help spread the musical message and further build upon the foundation that Herc had laid down. Much like the early Christians, who endured all manner of harassment, the early followers of Kool Herc, would lead what would later be called hip-hop, through the parks and rec centers of New York and then onto the international stage. These devotees’s would be active figures in this new genre from the late 70’s into the mid-80’s.

“Man, Herc was a monster”, remembers D.J. AJ Scratch, who Kurtis Blow paid homage to on the classic record “AJ”. “I wasn’t even on back then – I was trying to get in the game back then”, reminisced AJ, “I was a nobody, I was like a regular dude, you know what I’m saying? I was a Kool Herc follower – I was a loyal follower, I would’ve followed Kool Herc to the edge of the Earth.”

“Yo, Herc was unstoppable back then”, said D.J. EZ Mike – who alongside Disco Bee, were Grandmaster Flash’s left and right hand men, they helped Flash develop his quick-mix theories and rock shows back in the day. “Back then, no one could touch Herc and his system – it was just that powerful.”

Disco Bee

Disco Bee

Disco Bee concurs, “The first time I heard Kool Herc, I used to always hear his music, I used to live in these apartments and I would hear this loud ass music. We used to go to the park and we would hear his @#%$ from three or four blocks away! We would hear this sound coming out of the park. You’d be like ‘what is that sound?’ You’d hear (Disco Bee imitates the sound of the drums) ‘shoooop, shoooop, donk, donk, shooooop. You wouldn’t hear any bass until you started getting closer. But you could hear his music from very far. And you’d know that Kool Herc was in the park. We used to go to Grant Ave. where Kool Herc would be giving block parties. We’d hear him while we’re coming up the street, we’re coming up from the 9 and we’d be coming up the steps and you’d hear his music on Grant Ave. It used to be crazy.”

“Herc had the recognition, he was the big name in the Bronx back then”, explains AJ. “Back then the guys with the big names were: Kool D, Disco King Mario, Smokey and the Smoke-a-trons, Pete DJ Jones, Grandmaster Flowers and Kool Herc. Not even Bambaataa had a big name at that time, you know what I’m sayin?”

According to Herc’s own account, he was the man back then. “Hands down the ’70’s were mine”, he said. “Timmy Tim is the one that bought me ‘Bongo Rock’, and I made it more popular. He bought me that album, and after I heard that album I said to Coke “Listen to this @#%$ here man! We used that record and that was what kicked off my format called the ‘merry go round”.

“Pete D.J. Jones was basically a whole other level”, says AJ. “He played disco music, and Herc played b-boy music, you know what I’m sayin?”

Mark Skillz: “So, when you say he played ‘disco’ music what do you mean? Give me an example of a record that Pete Jones might play.

AJ: Ok, he played things like ‘Love is the Message’ and ‘Got to Be Real’ – stuff like that; he played stuff with that disco pop to it. He didn’t play original break-beats like what Kool Herc was on. He played like a lot of radio stuff. That’s what Pete D.J. Jones did – that’s what made him good. I mean he had a sound system but he played a lot of radio stuff. Kool Herc played the hardcore @#%$ you ain’t ever hear: Yellow Sunshine, Bongo Rock and Babe Ruth – a whole variety of stuff; James Brown ‘Sex Machine’, you know the version with the ‘Clap your hands, stomp your feet?’

Before hip-hop was a multi-billion dollar a year industry, it was a sub-culture. All of the elements were coming into place, sort of being cooked like a stew, in a melting pot: a spoonful of funk, a fistful of bass, a heap of raw energy, all cut up on a platter with a dash of angel dust.

The Battleground

Deep in the heart of the Bronx located on Mt. Eden and Jerome was one of the first indoor hip hop spots. The owners of the venue probably gave it other names over the years but the two most popular ones were the Sparkle and the Executive Playhouse.

AJ Scratch

AJ Scratch

“It was real dark [in the Executive Playhouse]”, remembers AJ, “it wasn’t really like put together, it had a little stage, it had like a little miniature light show, you know what I’m sayin’, it was like a low budget venue. Right around the corner from the Executive Playhouse was the Parkside Plaza – that was a disco. The Executive Playhouse was something that maybe the guys went into the Parkside Plaza and got the idea to open up a club. So they went right around the corner on Mt. Eden and Jerome and opened up the Executive Playhouse – maybe they had the idea, but it wasn’t comparable with the Parkside Plaza. You go in there [the Executive Playhouse] and would be looking around, and you probably wouldn’t wanna go to the bathroom, because of the lighting, you know what I’m saying? There were lights but it was dim. That was hip-hop back then everything was dimmed out.”

The drug of choice back then was weed sprinkled with PCP – the ‘dust heads’ and the stick-up kids were all over the place, “That was the vibe back then”, declared AJ “and you wanted to be a part of that. The lights, the breaks, the dancing, them talking on the mike with the echo – that was hip-hop back then. You would go through anything just to hear Kool Herc’s performance. Kool Herc was special back then. It didn’t matter what the venue was like. It was what he displayed the night of the show; he did his thing.”

The Protégé

By day Pete Jones was an English teacher in Brooklyn. However, at night, Pete taught another set of students a whole other set of skills.

“I had several young guys that came around me trying to learn the deejay business”, explains Mr. Jones, “Magic Mike, Herby Herb and a lot of others, but none of them could figure out how to hook my system up. Except for one guy: Lovebug Starski. He went everywhere with me.”

Lovebug Starski

Lovebug Starski

Lovebug Starski was one of the few deejays of that time that could play for either a hard-core hip-hop crowd with an underground deejay like Kool DJ AJ or for the adult audience’s downtown with Pete Jones or in Harlem with D.J. Hollywood. His original mentor was his stepfather Thunderbird Johnny, a man who ran after hour spots uptown in Harlem. Starski was one of the few cats that could rock the mike and the wheels of steel at the same time.

But Pete had another protégé whose talent was immeasurable. In fact, he would forever change the skill set necessary to be a deejay. He was one-part scientist another part electronics wizard who possessed a sense of timing that was not of this world.

“One of the baddest deejays I ever saw was Grandmaster Flowers”, Jones says, “He could blend. He was a mixer. The things he did with records were incredible. He could hold a blend like you wouldn’t believe. He was the baddest thing I had ever saw.” That was until he saw a young man that had grown up in the Hoe Ave section of the South Bronx.

He was named Joseph at birth, called Joey in the neighborhood but would later gain fame under another name, a name which was partly inspired by a comic book hero. E-Z Mike, his best friend since childhood remembers it like this, “He got the name Flash because he was fast at everything he did. When we played basketball as kids, none of us could keep up with him. No matter what we did, he was always faster than the rest of us. He could outrun us all.” Later a local guy named Joe Kidd gave him the title of Grandmaster.

Before he became the Grandmaster Flash of legend, he was a student of Pete DJ Jones’. Friends described him as being intense, “When that guy caught the deejay bug real bad around 1973, we didn’t know what was happening”, said E-Z Mike, “He had a messenger job”, Mike continues, “He would get paid and by the next day – he would be broke. We’d be like, ‘Yo, where’s all of your money?’ He spent it all on records.”

From 1973 to 1977 Flash and his crew which first consisted of Mean Gene, Disco Bee and E-Z Mike and then later Cowboy, Mele Mel, Creole and Scorpio, were struggling to gain a foothold in the Bronx scene. But they could not get around Kool Herc. He was a giant.

“We’d try and get on Herc’s system”, Mike recalls, “But Herc wasn’t going for it. Flash would ask, “Could I get on?” and Herc would be like ‘Not”. You see back then”, Mike explains, “Nobody wanted Flash to touch their system. They’d be like, “Hell no, you be messing up needles and records and @#%$.” Both Disco Bee and E-Z Mike agree that Herc used to publicly embarrass Flash on the mike by talking ‘really greasy’ about him.

There have been many stories told about Flash’s early sound system, both EZ Mike and Disco Bee confirm that although Flash was an electronic wizard (E-Z Mike says, “Flash could build a TV from scratch”), his first system was the technological equivalent of a ’75 hoopty.

Disco Bee recalls that, “Flash built his own cueing system. Anything he could think of Flash would try to invent it”, Disco Bee laughs, “His system looked so raggedy, awww man, we had some raggedy junk. We were soldering stuff together right before we’d get ready to play, because he just built this thing, and he didn’t finish it. We used to get to a spot early and set up everything and he would be soldering stuff trying to get it to work. Man, we had some raggedy stuff.”

“Awww man this is gonna make you laugh”, E-Z Mike says, “Flash had these two speakers that he built from scratch, they were about six and a half feet tall, they were wood, he had three speakers in each one and on the top he put a piece of plastic with Christmas lights on the inside of it, so that when he deejayed the top of the speaker would be lighting up. Then he took white plastic and wrapped it around the wood – so that the speakers wouldn’t look like they were wood. We didn’t have any bass – there was no bass whatsoever. Just mids and highs”, Mike remembers.

The only person willing to give Flash a break was Pete Jones.

“The first time I met Pete was when I went with Flash to ‘Pete’s Lounge’. Like I said, Flash had gotten real serious about this deejay stuff and he would hook up with Pete and learn a lot of @#%$ from him.”

It must’ve been on one of these meetings at Pete’s Lounge that Flash and Pete plotted against Kool Herc.

A Sound Clash on the West Side of Jerome Ave.

Pete DJ Jones

Pete DJ Jones

“When I battled Pete, it wasn’t even a battle, it was telling my audience, what you think you gettin’? And you tried disrespectin’ and all that; let’s see what the other side of the spectrum sound like by a guy by the name of Pete DJ Jones”, said Herc.

Jones remembers it a little differently, “I guess he was somehow down with the club, he was like the resident deejay [at the Executive Playhouse] and they wanted to get a big crowd, so I guess it was his idea to battle me.”

It was inevitable that the two masters would clash.

The way Herc describes Pete’s audience is as “The bourgeoisie, the ones that graduated from the little house parties, you grown now you out your momma’s house. You puttin’ on Pierre Cardin now, you wearing Halston, you getting’ into the Jordache and Sassoon era, you down there where Frankie Crocker hangs out at, places like Nell Gwynn’s, or the big spot, whadda ya call it? Oh yeah, Leviticus, you down there. ”

“I’d say it was a week before the battle”, Pete remembers, “When I was out one night, and I ran into the twins. They must’ve had some kind of falling out with Herc, cause they were real mad at him. They said, “I’ll tell you all of the records he’s gonna play”. And he wrote all of them out for me, right there on the street.”

The twins he was referring to were the Nigger Twins, a couple of dancers who were a part of Herc’s crew. “When they wrote out his playlist for me, they said, “He’s gonna play them in this order”, Pete recalls.

The night of the battle Pete had a few cards up his sleeve so he went on first. ‘I broke out all of the records that the twins told me about, and I played them in the order that he would play them in. The next thing I knew I saw him walking around talking on the mike saying, “It sounds like I’m listening to a tape of myself.” He sounded real frustrated. I figured if I went first and played what he was gonna play, it would look like to the crowd he wasn’t doing anything different. That was the edge I had over him that night.”

But Herc’s followers were a devoted bunch.

After Pete played Herc went on and he dug deep into his playlist for the rarest of records.

“That was Kool Herc’s venue, the Executive Playhouse was a place that he played at constantly, so maybe they was using Pete to get a little extra audience. But Pete had notoriety. Kool Herc was big back then, he was probably number one in the Bronx.” Remembers AJ. “No matter if he took his playlist or not that doesn’t matter.”

AJ – a man who is well into his 40’s is still a devout practitioner of the ‘keep it real’ mentality. “Nah, Pete didn’t get the edge over Kool Herc”, AJ says, “You know why I think he got the edge over Kool Herc to be honest with you. This is only my opinion: Pete DJ Jones was a deejay but he was mad lazy yo. Pete DJ Jones used to hire dudes to come and play for him. The Executive Playhouse was not Pete’s kind of crowd. It wasn’t that he was a lazy dude it just wasn’t his crowd. It wasn’t Nell Gwynn’s or Nemo’s, it wasn’t downtown, so he wasn’t comfortable, so he put on the people that could rock that kind of crowd.”

After Herc played it was Pete’s turn again, this time he played his R&B and funk records – but the crowd wasn’t feeling it. So he pulled out a couple of ringers, in the form of his protégés: Lovebug Starski and Grandmaster Flash.

“Flash tore Herc’s ass up that night”, remembers E-Z Mike. “When it came crunch time to see what was what: Pete put Grandmaster Flash on”, remembers AJ. That was the first time I ever saw Flash play. The people were amazed. You see, Flash was a deejay, he was doing all that quick-mixing and spinning around and stuff – the Bronx lost its mind that night because we had never seen anything like that before.”

To the crowd of hundreds it looked like Pete Jones was winning. No one knew who Grandmaster Flash was that night. He was an unknown deejay playing on the set of one of the most popular jocks of that time. People yelled and screamed because it was the first time that they had seen a deejay with a magician’s flair for showmanship. Nobody played like that before. Kool Herc would haphazardly drop the needle on the record – sometimes the break was there, often times it wasn’t. Pete Jones could mix his ass off – but he wasn’t entertaining to watch. Both men had huge sound systems, but they weren’t charismatic spinners. Flash was.

On this night, the crowd at the Executive Playhouse was entranced with Flash’s spinning techniques, which were really revolutionary at this time. He had perfected a new technique called the ‘backspin’.

E-Z Mike remembers the first time Flash did the backspin: “He spent the night at my house, he woke up out of his sleep and turned the equipment on, it was like 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning. The first record he did it with was Karen Young’s “Hotshot” and he backspun it a bunch of times, and then turned to me and said “Yo, remember that and remind me about it when I wake up.” And he jumped back in his bed. When he woke up the next morning, he did it again.”

One could only imagine that night at the Executive Playhouse in front of hundreds of stunned spectators Flash cutting ‘Hotshot’ to pieces:

“Hot shot, hot shot, hot…hot shot hot shot hot…hot shot. Hot shot. Hot shot…hot…hot…hot.

“You know what at that battle, Flash showed the Bronx that he was for real”, said AJ. By Herc’s own admission by 1977 he was on the decline. Whether or not it had anything to do with him getting stabbed at the Executive Playhouse is open to speculation. What is a fact though, is that after this battle between two of the biggest stars of the era the name Grandmaster Flash was no longer relegated to a small section of the Bronx. His fame spread like wildfire throughout the city. According to more than just one person interviewed for this story, the long-term effects of the battle on Kool Herc were not good. In the weeks proceeding the battle Herc’s audience got smaller and smaller. They were leaving the Executive Playhouse for another hotspot: The Dixie, which was the home of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Four.

Soon The Dixie would become so crowded that by 4 a.m. when the house was still packed the only way they could get people out of there was by playing Jackie Wilson’s “Work Out”, but the fly girls and b-boys would still want to party, “We’d put that record on”, said Disco Bee, “And you’d look out on the floor and folks would be doing the Twist”.

The battle between Kool Herc and Pete Jones was also a pivotal moment in time because previous to it battles were all about equipment, records and who moved the crowd – Grandmaster Flash added the next dimension: showmanship. This was at a time when the sound system was king. Breakout and Baron had Sasquatch. D.J. Divine had the Infinity Machine, Kool Herc had the Herculords and Grandmaster Flash would later have a system called the Gladiator. Today’s deejays know nothing of sound systems; even fewer know how to hook one up.

Mark Skillz says peace, respect and special thanks to Jeff Chang, Davey D, Christie Z Pabon, Cindy Campbell, Kool Herc, Kool DJ AJ, E-Z Mike, KC the Prince of Soul, JT Hollywood, Pete Jones, Charlie Ahearn for the photos and Disco Bee.

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Editorial: Stop Calling These Imposters Hip Hop

STOP CALLING THESE IMPOSTERS HIP HOP ARTISTS,

they do not do or cover all its elements of the hip hop culture

Emile YxThis version of Hip Hop that the worlds media promotes globally, is a strange sissified version of its true self. It consists of middle-class fakers acting like gangsters, so-called hardcore rappers, so-called underground heads and so-called superstars killing each other, while the white controlled global media celebrates. Who are these imposters?

Hip Hop is the MC (not rapper), DJ or turntablists, B-boys or B-girls (not breakdancers), Writer (not graffiti artists), BeatBoxer and students of Knowledge of Self. These according to the founders of the culture are the main elements of the culture. Now you have world media calling EMINEN, 50cents and the rest of the multi-nationally backed “rappers”, the upholders of HIP HOP CULTURE. Excuse me, but do they b-boy, write, MC and DJ ? HELL NO! so why do we perpetuate these lies. They have no right to call what our ancestors created and gave as a voice for the people, whatever the hell they wish to call it. Strangely enough we just allow this bullshit to continue without any protest. We even reduce ourselves to speak their names and titles they named what we do. Hip Hop elders have not been approached in their research about the culture, they just named things as they wished. We sit in front of the TV and hear them spread these lies to the world and accept this powerless position they have put us in. I HAVE HAD ENOUGH. It is time to set the record straight. These titles that make up the HIP HOP CULTURE are titles that practitioners of writing, MCing, B-boying, DJing, Beatboxing earn and no just given to anyone. It is something that is earned with time, dedication, research and sacrifice. Nowadays everyone is a rapper and maybe they are right, because an MC earns that reputation for skill as well as ability to be the “master of the ceremony” (Where the name MC comes from by the way). Many of these rappers are studio rappers that have no stage, microphone or crowd/ audience control skills.

Afrika Bambaataa & Kool Herc

Afrika Bambaataa & Kool Herc

A true MC or Hip Hop head would not lie to the audience about fake bling, bling that he or she does not have, especially knowing how many youths are listening to them on the radio and watching them on the TV. A true B-boy or Hip Hopper learns the history of the culture and gives respect to those who have gone before. Those like Afrika Bambaataa, Kool DJ Herc, Grandmaster Flash, Grand Wizard Theodore, MC Cowboy, the Rock Steady Crew, The Nigga Twins, Pop Masters Fabel, Phase 2 and Mr Wiggles to name but a few who contributed to the REAL HIP HOP culture.

There are also hip hop histories in countries around the world and those contributions by those individuals have to be given the credit that they deserve. This new mentality of forgetting the past as quickly as a new song hits the number 1 spot on radio or MTV, is a global mentality. This eliminates respect for elders and those that pave the way. It also separates the younger practitioners from those who have experience and who could help them not repeat the mistakes that they have made before these young kids who are now earning millions. It is my opinion that it is for this very reason that the gap between the elders and next generation are made bigger by record companies and the entertainment industry. Their intention is to keep these younger artists as blind to the realities of the industry as possible. EXPERIENCE CAN NOT BE DOWNLOADED.

Aerosoul Art Do you think that classical music lovers would allow the world media to call their music “Screeching noise” or simply rename it whatever they wish, without putting up a fight ? I think the arrogance of the world media is because HIP HOP is considered a black sub-culture or street culture. Even the usage of the prefix “sub”, implies something that is lesser than or under what might be considered cultural. Think about it a bit more. We name it b-boying/ b-girling, they rename it breakdance, we name it writing, they rename it graffiti, we name it MCing and they rename it rapping. It is an insult to our creative ability. They control the media and thus feel that they have the power to name whatever they wish and get away with it. Like Michael Jackson being called Wacko Jacko, this is like calling us “Nigger”and “Kaffer” all over again. We internalize the lies they feed us and start to believe what they call us. Attached to the medias version of hip hop are gangs, profanity and violence. The REAL HIP HOP is a powerful tool globally bringing youth together and enlightening them to their true selves. REAL HIP HOP is educating youth, fighting AIDS, exchanging cultures, breaking down racism, protesting against global dictators.

I do this call out to all defenders of the TRUE HIP HOP CULTURE to use the correct terminology and free our culture from their verbal enslavement of it. Only once we do this will we be able to regain the financial control of this multi-billion dollar industry that they have almost taken complete control of. I know that everywhere in the world there are true soldiers of the REAL HIP HOP. Like Mr Devious, from South Africa, who was prepared to die for what hip hop has taught US. In the USA is the Universal Zulu Nation, Eazy Roc and Asia One that started the B-Boy Summit, also from the USA is Poe One and Cros One from the Freestyle Sessions event, in Germany is Storm and Swift of Battle Squad, also in Germany is Thomas of Battle of the Year, in Japan is Dance Machine, in Spain is Kapi, in Holland is Timski, in New Zealand is Norman, in South Africa is myself Emile of Black Noise, we have brothers in Brazil, Mexico, Sweden, France, Denmark, Zimbabwe, Australia and every other country on this planet. We are many my brothers and sisters and our voice can never be silenced, but we have to RE-IGNITE THE FIRE OF TRUE HIP HOP REVOLUTION. We have to insist that MTV Awards and Grammy Awards remove the false labeling of the best Hip Hop Artist, until they are willing to call up a group that have writers, DJs, MCs, B-boys, etc.

I hope that you will forward these thoughts to all those concerned with HIP HOP getting the respect it deserves.And hopefully we will enlighten more youth to the REAL HIP HOP and not the FAKE one that is spread MTV and other media.

Yours in the REVOLUTIONARY HIP HOP
Change must come
Emile YX?
Black Noise (South Africa)

Sept 2008

Physical Graffiti (The History of Hip Hop Dance)

This is a dope article  written by Hip Hop pioneer Jorge “Popmaster Fabel” Pabon of the Rocksteady Crew/ Universal Zulu Nation that gives us a brief outline on the history of Hip Hop dance. It was written in 1999 for the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame..

Preface: As we complete the third decade of what has been termed “hip-hop culture,” much has yet to be explored regarding its roots, history, terminology and essence. Deciphering theories from facts is a gradual, seeming endless process since many resources are scattered, leaving missing links in the chains of history. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that there are authentic facts, proven by sound testimony and evidence, regarding “hip-hop” history. These truths, unanimously agreed upon by the pioneers of the culture, should constitute the “hip-hop gospel,” whereas the questionable theories should remain as footnotes until proven to be fact.

In order to properly report the history of hip-hop dance forms, one must journey both inside and outside of New York City. Although dance forms associated with hip-hop did develop in New York City, half of them (i.e. popping and locking) originated and developed on the west coast as part of a different cultural movement. Much of the media coverage in the 1980s grouped these dance forms together with New York’s native dance forms (b-boying/girling and Brooklyn uprocking), labeling them all “break dancing.” As a result, the west coast “funk” culture and movement were overlooked and underrated as the public ignorantly credited “hip-hop” as the father of the funk dance forms. This is just one example of misinformation that undermines the intricacies of each dance form, as well as their origins and structure. The intent behind the following piece is to explore the past, present and future of these dance forms and their contributions to the performing arts worldwide.

Note: The facts in this piece were obtained through conversations with and/or public appearances by: Boogaloo Sam, Popin’ Pete, Skeeter Rabbit, Sugar Pop, Don Campbellock, Trac 2, Joe-Joe, King Uprock, Kool DJ Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and other pioneers. Information was also obtained from various interviews in magazines.

In the early 1970s, the unnamed culture known today as “hip-hop” was forming in New York City’s ghettos. Each element in this culture had it’s own history and terminology contributing to the development of a cultural movement. The common pulse which gave life to all these elements is rhythm, clearly demonstrated by the beats the DJ selected, the dancers’ movements, the MCs’ rhyme patterns and the writer’s name or message painted in a flowing, stylized fashion. The culture was identified in the early 1980s when DJ Afrika Bambaataa named the dynamic urban movement “hip-hop.” The words, “hip-hop,” were originally used by MCs as part of a scat style of rhyming, for example: “Hip-Hop ya’ll and ya don’t stop, rock on, till the break of dawn.”

At about the same time, certain slang words also became titles of the dance forms, such as “rockin’” and “breakin’,” used generally, to describe actions with great intensity. Just as one could rock the mic (microphone) and rock the dance floor, one could rock a basketball game or rock some fly gear (dress impressively). The term “break” also had more than one use in the 70s. It was often used as a response to an insult or reprimand, for example, “Why are you breakin’ on me?” Break was also the section on a musical recording where the percussive rhythms were most aggressive and hard driving. The dancers anticipated and reacted to these breaks with their most impressive steps and moves.

Kool DJ Herc, originally from Jamaica, is credited with extending these breaks by using two turntables, a mixer and two of the same records. As DJs could re-cue these beats from one turntable to the other, finally, the dancers were able to enjoy more than just a few seconds of a break! Kool Herc also coined the terms “b-boy” and “b-girl” which stood for “break boys” and “break girls.” At one of Kool Herc’s jams, he might have addressed the dancers just before playing the break beats by saying, “B-Boys are you ready?! B-Girls are you ready?!” The tension started to mount and the air was thick with anticipation. The b-boys and b-girls knew this was their time to “go off!”

Some of the earliest dancing by b-boy pioneers was done upright, a form which became known as “top rockin’.” The structure and form of top rockin’ has infused dance forms and influences from Brooklyn uprockingtaplindi hop,James Brown‘s “good foot,” salsa, Afro-Cuban and various African and Native American dances. There’s even a top rock Charleston step called the “Charlie Rock“! Early influences on b-boying/girling also included martial arts films from the 1970s. Certain moves and styles developed from this inspiration.

Capoera, a form of self defense disguised as a dance, was introduced to Brazil by African slaves. This form has some movements which are very similar to certain b-boy/girl steps and moves. Unlike the popularity of the martial arts films, capoera was not seen in the Bronx jams until the 1990s. Top rockin’ seems to have developed gradually and unintentionally, leaving space for growth and new additions, until it evolved into a codified form.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFIzrklt0PQ

Although top rockin‘ has developed an identifiable structure, there is always space for individual creativity, often expressed through the competitive nature of the dance. The same is true of all dance forms associated with hip-hop and west coast funk; as long as dancers represent the root forms of the dances, the rest can be colored in with his/her own flavors.

As a result of the highly competitive nature of these dances, it wasn’t long before top rockers extended their repertoire to the ground with “footwork” and “freezes.” For instance, one dancer might start top rocking then drop to the ground, suddenly going into leg shuffles then a freeze before coming to his feet. His opponent might have to do twice as much floorwork or a better freeze to win the battle. The fancy leg movements done on the ground, supported by the arms, were eventually defined as “footwork” or “floor rocking.” In time, an impressive vocabulary of footwork, ground moves and freezes developed, including the dancers most dynamic steps and moves.

Top rockin’ was not replaced with floor rocking; it was added to the dance and both were key points in the dance’s execution. Many times one could tell who had flavor and finesse just by their top rockin’ before the drop and floor rock. The transition between top and floor rockin’ was also important and became known as the “drop”. Some of these drops were called: front swipesback swipesdips and corkscrews. The smoother the drop, the better.

Equally significant was the way dancers moved in and out of a freeze, demonstrating control, power, precision, and at times, humor. Freezes were usually used to end a series of combinations or to mock and humiliate the opponent. Certain freezes were also named, the two most popular being the “chair freeze” and the “baby freeze.” The chair freeze became the foundation for various moves because of the potential range of motion a dancer had in this position. The dancer’s hand, forearm and elbow support the body while allowing free range of movement with the legs and hips. From the chair freeze came thefloor tracback spin with the use of arms, continuous back spin (also known as the windmill), and other moves. These moves pushed the dance in a new direction in the early 1980s, the era of so-called “power moves.”

The first spins done in b-boying were one-shot head spins originally known aspencils; hand spins originally known as floatsknee spins; and butt spins. The first back spin came from a butt spin. Once a dancer gained momentum on his butt he could lie back and spin into a freeze. The next phase of backspin came from a squatted position tucking the arm and shoulder under the body onto the floor, then rolling onto the back and spinning. This spin developed from the neck move (a move in which the dancer rolls from one shoulder to the other). Finally, the backspin, from the foundation of a chair freeze, was developed.

Power moves” is a debatable term since it is questionable which movement requires more power: footwork and freezes or spins and gymnastics. One notable point introduced by B-Boy Ken Swift is that spins are fueled by momentum and balance which require less muscular strength than footwork and freezes. The laws of physics prove this to be true: spins require speed and speed creates momentum. The advent of “power moves” brought about a series of spins which became the main focus of the media and the younger generations of dancers. The true essence of the dance was slowly overshadowed by an over abundance of spins and acrobatics which didn’t necessarily follow a beat or rhythm. The pioneers didn’t separate the “power moves” from the rest of the dance form. They were B-Boys who simply accented their performance with incredible moves to the beat of the music.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9tvzqLJtXo

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, Brooklyn, NY gave birth to another dance in Hip-Hop culture, known as “Brooklyn uprocking.” Inspired by similar or the same break beats used by b-boys/girls, this dance was more confrontational. Typically, two opponents faced each other and engaged in a “war dance” consisting of a series of steps, jerks, and the miming of weapons drawn against each other. There were also the “Apache Lines” where one crew stood in a line facing an opposing crew and challenged each other simultaneously. This structure was different from b-boying/girling since dancers in b-boy/b-girl battles took turns dancing while Brooklyn uprocking was done with partners. Brooklyn uprocking was also done to records played from beginning to end. In Brooklyn, DJs were mixing records and not cutting break beats. This allowed the uprockers to react to the song in its entirety, responding to the lyrics, musical changes and breaks.

Just as power moves became the focus of b-boying/girling, one particular movement known as “jerking” became the highlight of Brooklyn uprocking. Jerking is a movement which is used in direct battles, typically repeated throughout the break of the record. Today, Brooklyn uprocking consists almost entirely of jerking; the original from has been all but forgotten by the younger generation.

Brooklyn Uprocking also depended on quick wit, humor and finesse as opponents attempted to humiliate each other. Winning meant: displaying the swiftest steps; being receptive to the rhythms and counter rhythms of the music and the opponent; catching the opponent off guard with mimed assaults, humor, and endurance. Brooklyn uprocking consisted of quick arm and leg movements, turns, jumps, drops, and freezes. This dance was similar in spirit to b-boying/girling, yet different in form. Some pioneers believe top rocking’s first inspiration was Brooklyn Uprocking. The two forms developed simultaneously from similar inspirations yet kept their own identities.

The west coast was also engaged in a cultural movement throughout the 1970s. This scene was nourished by soul, R&B and funk music at outdoor functions and discotheques.

In Los Angeles, California, Don Campbell, also known as Don Cambellock, originated the dance form “locking.” Trying to imitate a local dance called the “funky chicken,” Don Campbell added an effect of locking of the joints of his arms and body which became known as his signature dance. He then formed a group named “The Lockers,” who all eventually shared in the development of this dance. The steps and moves created by these pioneers were named and cataloged. Some of these include: the lock,pointsskeetersscooby doosstop n’go,which-away and the fancies. Certain members of The Lockers” incorporated flips, tucks, dives and other aerial moves reminiscent of the legendary Nicholas Brothers. The main structure of the dance combined sharp, linear limb extensions and elastic-like movement.

The “lock” is a specific movement which glues together combinations of steps and moves similar to a freeze or a sudden pause. Combinations can consist of a series of points done by extending the arms and pointing in different directions. Dancers combined fancy step patterns with the legs and moves done in various sequences. The Lockers also jumped into half splits, knee drops, butt drops, and used patterns which would take them down to the ground and back up to their feet. This dance gained much of its popularity through The Lockers’ various televised performances which include: the “Johnny Carson Show,” the “Dick Van Dyke Show,” the “Carol Burnett Show” and “Saturday Night Live.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAIHco09KWY

In 1976, The Electronic Boogaloo Lockerswas formed in Fresno, California by Sam “Boogaloo Sam” SolomanNate “Slide” Johnson and Joe “Slim” Thomas. Since the group’s inception, Sam has continued to recruit and help each member master his individual form. Some of Sam’s early inspirations were Chubby Checker‘s “Twist;” a James Brown dance called “the Popcorn;” “the Jerk;” cartoon animation and the idiosyncrasies of everyday people. From these many influences, Sam combined incredible steps and moves conceiving a dance form which he named “Boogaloo.” This form includes isolated sharp angles, hip rotations and the use of every part of the body. Sam’s brother, Timothy “Popin’ Pete” Soloman, described Boogaloo as a dance which was done by moving the body continuously in different directions.

He also compared the body to a musical instrument in which the movement was as varied as the notes. Originally, “popping” was a term used to describe a sudden muscle contraction executed with the triceps, forearms, neck, chest and legs. These contractions accented the dancer’s movement causing a quick, jolting effect. Sam’s creation, popping, also became known as the unauthorized umbrella title to various forms within the dance, past and present. Some of these forms include: boogaloostrutdime stopwaveticktwisto-flex andslides. The transitions between steps, forms, and moves were fluid, unpredictable, precise, and delivered with character and finesse. Various forms were clearly showcased throughout the dancer’s solos and group routines. Eventually, popping was also misrepresented and lost its purity as younger generations strayed from its original forms.

The titles, “Electric Boogie” and “Boogie” were given, in ignorance, to the dance, in New York, after the Lockers and Electric Boogaloos performed on the television program, “Soul Train.” Unaware of the dance’s history, New Yorkers attempted to name the dance after The Electric Boogaloos (derived from the Electronic Boogaloo Lockers).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIptfnO2z0w

Dancers in Los Angeles also distorted the name by calling it “pop-locking,” while in France, it was called “The Smurf.” Elements of pantomime were merged with the dance, diluting its original essence. Miming creates illusions of the body without a rhythmic structure whereas popping and boogaloo create movement synchronized to rhythmic patterns. Most of the time, this fusion was done unsuccessfully since one would stray from the beat of the music. Other townships in central California are credited for creating original forms of dance as well. Each region was identified by its style: San Jose was known for “flying tuts” and “dime stopping;” San Francisco had the “chinese strut;” “Filmore strutting” originated obviously in the Filmore area. Oakland became known for “Frankenstein hitting” and “snake hitting.” East Palo Alto was also known for “snake hitting.” “Roboting” and “bopping” were popularized in Richmond. Sacramento had its own dances called “Oak Parking,” “Bustin’,” and “Sac”-ing (pronounced ‘sacking’). Dime stopping, strutting and hitting all predate popping and have their own histories within the west coast funk movement. In summary, all of these dance styles have contributed to the evolution of phenomenal forms of expression!

A connection between the east and west coast movements are certain records which are danced to by b-boys/girls, Brooklyn uprockers, and lockers. One example is “Scorpio” by Dennis Coffey and the Detroit Guitar Band. For the most part, each dance form had a different musical influence, dress code and terminology (all of which were mismatched and misrepresented during the 1980’s media coverage of these dance forms).

As relatively new dance forms, b-boying/girling, Brooklyn uprocking, locking and popping are rarely seen in a theatrical setting. They are usually performed in music videos, commercials or films for just a few seconds revealing very little of their full potential. In many cases, the filming of these dances has been poor where only part of the body is captured, taking away from the full impact of the steps, moves, and illusions. The film editing of these dances also deprives the audience of transitions and composition, since the editors are usually unfamiliar with the structures of the dance forms. Proper consultation with the dancers concerning filming and editing can remedy this recurring problem.

Another challenge related to the commercialization of the dance forms is the loss of spontaneous performance. In a cipher, a circular dance space which forms naturally once the dancing begins, the dancers can direct their performance in various directions, uninhibited and free from all counts and cues. This freedom is the key to creativity since the dancer is constantly challenged with variations in music, an undefined dance space and potential opponents among the audience. The transition from cipher to stage has had its effects on the dancers and their craft.

What was once improvisational forms of expression with spontaneous vocabulary became choreography in a staged setting. A stage performance creates boundaries and can restrict the free flowing process of improvisation. The dancers are challenged in a different way. Nailing cues and choreography becomes the objective.

Another major difference between the original dance forms and staged versions is the positioning of the audience, since most traditional theaters have the audience facing the stage in one direction. Having to entertain an audience in one general location requires the dancer or choreographer to consciously space the performance allowing the best viewing of the dance. In order to preserve the true essence and dynamics of these dance forms, they should exist as a social and cultural reality celebrated in their natural environments i.e.: jams, events, clubs, etc. Theatrical film and video productions can be used as vehicles for their preservation as long as the essence of the form isn’t compromised and diluted in the process.

The same concern applies to the storylines and scripts pertaining to the dance’s forms and history. The mixing and blending of popping, locking, b-boying/girling, and Brooklyn uprocking into one form destroys their individual structures. Unfortunately the younger generations of dancers either haven’t made enough effort to learn each dance form properly, or lack the resources to do so. However the outcome is the same: hybrid dances with unclear form and structure.

In addition, each of the dance forms are performed best with their appropriate musical influences. Intermixing dance forms and their music forms dissolves their structures and ultimately destroys their identities. Dancing on beat is most important. Riding the rhythm makes the difference between dance and unstructured movement. The formula is simple, submission to the music allowing it to guide and direct equals dancing.

Finally, the best way to preserve the dances is by learning from the earliest available sources or a devoted practitioner of the form. The pioneers of these dance forms hold the key to the history and intentions of the movement. They remain the highest authorities regardless of other opinions or assumptions.

Unraveling the history of locking, popping, b-boying/girling and Brooklyn uprocking takes us towards a true understanding of their essence and significance in the world today. Many other genres of dance have borrowed without giving credit to their rightful owners. Hopefully, we will see the day when these dances are clearly distinguished and given their due respect. Every so often, the dance world is introduced to innovations which revolutionize the arts. In summary, the hip-hop and west coast funk movements have succeeded in replenishing the world with new exciting dance forms which entertain and change the lives of many people worldwide.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NpdLz0WFbQM

This article was commissioned by the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame and originally appeared on this website in 1999
http://www.rockhall.com/exhibitions/past.asp?id=496
For more information on Hip Hop Pioneer Popmaster Fabel contact him at toolsofwar@aol.com