It began on New York City’s streets. Way up town. At block parties, where neighbors and extended families would come together to share food, music and moves.
In the 1970s New York was a very different place. If you’re old enough to remember a Times Square that would leave today’s most aggressive Elmo cowering in a corner, and the idea of doorman condos in Alphabet City and Harlem was magical thinking, you know that the streets were not a welcoming place — especially in the Bronx. But residents found solace in their local communities, and created a movement now known around the world. That movement was hip hop.
More than just music, hip hop culture drew from Caribbean roots, turntables and beat boxes, emceeing and dance. And by 1979 the sounds of the South Bronx were finally getting popular with a mainstream audience.
Today the sound born of the Bronx is coming back to roost at the ongoing Boogie Down event at the Bronx Zoo. But first let’s take a step back and meet a couple of the locals that fostered hip hop in its infancy.
Grandmaster Caz (Cold Crush Brothers)
Born Curtis Fisher in 1961, Grandmaster Caz stepped into the world of hip hop when he was just 13-years-old, and knew he had found his home. In the late 70s he joined the Cold Crush Brothers, and together they set the standard for all future emcees. It’s around this time that Grandmaster Caz shared some lyrics with the up-and-coming Sugar Hill Gang, which laid the base for “Rapper’s Delight,” the first huge hit from the rap world to make the Top 40 — though Caz has never been compensated, as Jay-Z rapped about in his 2001 single “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”. Word of mouth, trading tapes and sticking close to their base took the Cold Crush Brothers farther than they could’ve ever imagined. These days you can take a walk with Caz — literally — through the Bronx and hear directly from him all about the evolution of the music as well as the neighborhood (check out hushtours.com).
Grandmaster Melle Mel and Scorpio of Furious Five
Melvin Glover was also born in the Bronx in 1961, and followed a parallel life as a cook in the kitchen that created and eventually served up hip hop as lead rapper and main songwriter for Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Melle Mel is credited as being the first rapper to adapt the term ‘emcee,’ and also cut his teeth on music at a very young age. The Furious Five, which includes Scorpio (Eddie Morris) recorded and released their first album in 1979, and the rest is history. Theirs was the first hip hop record to ever be added to the National Archive. Scorpio and Mel are not “Some Kind of Sorry” for having come together — “It’s been a blessing to be a part of this magic,” says Scorpio.
Want to see Grandmaster Melle Mel and Scorpio on hometown turf? They’ll be performing at Boogie Down at the Bronx Zoo on May 12 and 13 from 1 – 2 p.m.