Incredibly captivating documentary about the environment and people that spurred the Hip Hop movement and Hip Hop culture. Interviews with original gang members from the Ghetto Brothers are a highlight of this documentary. Well worth watching especially for hardcore Hip Hop heads, or even those interested in the sociology of poverty, crime and ghetto life and music and culture.
Hip Hop has its origins in the street gangs of the South Bronx in New York City of the 1970s.
The South Bronx had been a beautiful and diverse community before the 1970s. Then City Planner Robert Moses put a highway right through the South Bronx, and in the process destroyed homes and left the community in disarray. The economy took a downturn and the stores closed up shop, meanwhile those who had money left the neighborhood for better places.
Landlords refused to heat their buildings which chased out the residents, and then the landlords would burn the buildings down to collect the insurance money. The South Bronx at the time had the world record for arson, the reason at this point is obvious.
Between 1963-1971, the homicide rate quadrupled, and the neighborhood was the center of crime and violence and drug addiction. By then, all of the positive political movements from the 1960s had been destroyed by the government and the people lost hope. As is usually the case in poor communities, police brutality was also rampant.
Out of this chaos arose many, many street gangs, such as the Black Spades, The Savage Skulls, The Turbans, The Javellins, The Savage Nomads, The Dukes, The Seven Immortals and The Roman Kings, to name several. They formed as a way for the people to protect themselves and to belong, as is always the case with gangs.
The gangs ruthlessly battled each other over territory. The height of this war occurred after a peace counselor from the gang The Ghetto Brothers was killed by a coalition of gangs that included The Black Spades, The Bongos and the Seven Immortals, who had planned on taking out The Rolling Kings. The peace maker was Cornell “Black Benji” Benjamin who he had come in peace to negotiate a truce between the gangs. After the murder of Benji, other gangs were enraged and planned a reprisal on The Black Spades’ coalition.
Ghetto Brothers President Karate Charlie Suarez and Yellow Benji Melendez went to the mother of Black Benji to talk about the situation. Though Karate Charlie was ready to go to war to avenge his fallen comrade, Black Benji’s mother talked him out of it. Charlie told her, “Mom, I got an army outside.”
She said, “Charlie, my son died for peace.”
Yellow Benji, always the diplomat said to Charlie that it could have been his mother talking, or any mother who didn’t want her son to die in gang violence.
Charlie announced that there would be no war.
The Ghetto Brothers brought together the representatives of 40 of the most notorious gangs in the Bronx, at the Hoe Avenue Boys Club, to negotiate peace between the gangs. A peace treaty was signed and the wars stopped. Just like that. What the police couldn’t do, the gangs did themselves.
After that, there was a different environment among these street kids from the Bronx. They started having house parties, basement parties, jams where their musicians brought their instruments and played while the people danced. What was once impossible, was now possible; the gangs came together, socialized, danced and made friends and lovers among former rivals. These former thugs found their self-worth in the free expression of musical talent, dance, art and even a style of dress.
This was the beginning of the development of Hip Hop. In fact, Hip Hop pioneer, Afrika Bambaataa, was a former Black Spade, but after the truce formed the mighty Zulu Nation, a multicultural, positive Hip Hop force and movement.
Former Black Spade gang member and Hip Hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa. By Mika-photography (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Amid this fun, this musical confluence of street kids and emergence of a positive direction for former gang members, came the DJ phenomenon. Turn-tablists like Kool Herc came to the parties and made themselves available and played the music of the people, the stuff they wanted to hear; stripped down beats that were made purely to dance to: The break beats, the part of the song that was just solid beat. There was also Grandmaster Flash, Grandmaster Caz (the actual writer of Rapper’s Delight) and Grand Wizard Theodore (inventor of the “scratch”).
Old School Hip Hop DJ Grandmaster Flash. By Mika-photography (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
A whole culture erupted out of this movement that came from reformed gangsters. A culture of MCing, DJing, graffiti art and break dancing. That culture is known as Hip Hop.
Watch the whole story of how Hip Hop evolved out of gang culture in the South Bronx in the 1970s. Incredible documentary, featuring original old school gang members and Hip Hop pioneers.
Featured image: By Joejackson22 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
I've been listening to Hip Hop music and exploring other aspects of the culture since the early 1980s, my teen years. I've seen it go through major changes. But there's a common spirit underlying this Movement. Hip Hop Ya Don't Stop!