I draw a lot of inspiration from old school hip hop and 80s breakdancing – this has to do with growing up in the country town of Rockhampton, Qld, and generally just being bored and needing something to do and occupy time as a kid. Like so many kids around the world, I too tried my hand in a bit of breakdancing on the street corner and spent a lot of time watching the American films that brought hip hop culture to Australia. In Brisbane when I was at uni I was really inspired by 80s graffiti and street art in NYC. So, I was very excited to go to the big apple and have the chance to experience some of this in the birthplace of hip hop… but I forgot that it wasn’t the 80s anymore….
I made an unexpected decision that I wasn’t going to go to do the art galleries/ Museums and instead do a Hip Hop tour – this was a big deal because I always do the Museums and I had never done a proper tour whilst traveling. After running 7 blocks down 5th Avenue to catch the tour bus, I jumped on it huffing and puffing and sat down just as Grandmaster Caz (our celebrity tour guide wearing a track suit in 28 degree heat) jumped on board with a CD player, sat it down and pumped “Empire State of Mind” at full volume. I was in for an interesting ride.
It was a small group of a mix of American and European tourists – some of them were die-hard Grandmaster Caz fans who purchased two of every piece of merchandise and had it signed at the end of the tour (hilarious!). We visited the Graffiti Wall of Fame. This is a legal space for graffiti set up a while ago where you can see work by old school artists. I figured I could have taken myself there, but we happened to be there when some crew were just about to paint over it and start again so we got to go inside for a closer look which was cool. We also got to have a little breakdance lesson with a B-boy as the graff crew got out the paint rollers in front of us – that was fun! Then we went to the Bronx to check out the apartment building where the first hip hop party took place: 1520 Sedwick Ave (that was a little weird) and also the Hip Hop walk of fame.
Apart from a few cringe-worthy tourist moments and questioning the whole idea of commecialising Hip Hop on this crazy tour with a guy in a tracksuit…. I have to say that it was all worth it cos that dude was indeed one of the pioneers of hip hop and I really appreciated the stories he shared with us as the bus rolled along through Harlem and the Bronx. He talked about how he experienced hip hop back in the day and how it evolved out of jams in tha hoods and on the streets. He talked about the blackout of 1977 and how it helped to spread Hip Hop throughout NYC cos of the “blackout shopping” that occurred and allowed a lot of people to get speakers and turntables but that everyone had mismatching speakers after that! And this was the best story… Apparently Big Bank Hank from the Sugar Hill Gang ripped off Grandmaster Caz’s rhymes in the song that popularized Hip Hop around the world – Rapper’s Delight!!! Woooha!!! The unknown bouncer Big Bank Hank had offered to be Grandmaster Caz’s manager but shortly after, signed his own record deal, joined the Sugar Hill Gang and took Caz’s tapes with him!!! Jeez!
So yeah, these stories were gold coming from him. Respect.
Link: Watch Grandmaster Caz’s response to Rapper’s Delight, MC Delight
In other news, at Colour Box Studio (the creative hub that I run with a group of awesome volunteers), we’ve set up a Pop Up Book Shop as part of our Writing and Performance program. If you’re in Melbourne please come and check it out – books, zines, comics, artist books, dvds, prints – produced by local Melbourne Artists. Come check it out at 236 Nicholson St, Footscray, VIC 3011. More information on the Colour Box Studio Website: www.colourboxstudio.com
Here’s a sneak peek photo: