Friday, June 5, 2009

Hip Hop Cliche and Nostalgia? or The Old School is the Only True School: Park Jam Series Brings Hip-Hop to New Generation

I savaged a piece from the New York Times a few months back that featured laid off corporate executives who are reinventing themselves by learning to be "dj's". The New York Times has redeemed itself a little bit with the following piece on the Park Jam series (and they also had a great article on "authenticity" in hip hop that I will post later today).

They also win double points from me because the piece gives some love to the often forgotten founding fathers of hip hop, Grandwizard Theodore and Grandwizard Caz--true greats that are living in relative poverty in the shadows of a multibillion dollar industry which they helped to create. I still can't get over the use of laptop dj software, especially ironic at an event celebrating the origins of hip hop music and culture, but alas I will simply have to accept that times are a changin'.

The story follows:

Park Jam Series Brings Hip-Hop to New Generation
By David Gonzalez

Rapid-fire riffs of bongo beats — the kind that sound like electronic popcorn — echoed through Behagen Playground in the Bronx on Thursday as D.J. Jazzy Jay cut between two versions of “Apache” on the turntables.

“Tonto! Jump on it!” came the lyrics from the Sugar Hill Gang’s version. “Kemosabe! Jump on it!”

And jump they did. While middle-aged women swayed their shoulders, two police officers came in tapping their feet, while a young, lean B-boy darted out onto the asphalt with a side-to side swing that morphed into a drop and a twirl. Within moments, the D.J. cut back to the Incredible Bongo Band’s original instrumental, a song that sounds like Sergio Leone meeting some beatniks on speed.

And it all made sense.

More than 30 years since hip-hop emerged in Bronx playgrounds and parties, its pioneering D.J.’s have joined their younger counterparts once again this summer for a series of free concerts in public parks. The True School NYC Summer Park Jam Series started seven years ago in Crotona Park, which will be the site for free concerts every Thursday evening in July. It has since expanded to St. Nicholas Park in Harlem and, this year, to Behagen Playground in Morrisania, where this summer’s series had its kickoff Thursday.

Behagen is a special place for Theodore Livingston, since it’s where he started D.J.-ing while still attending nearby Morris High School. He’s better known as Grand Wizard Theodore, the D.J. credited with inventing scratching.

“A jam like this is about coming back to my roots,” he said. “I never got too big or too Hollywood to not come back and play for the people. This is where I started with Mean Gene and Grandmaster Flash, right over there by the parkie house.”

He stood to the side, smiling and shaking hands with well wishers and fellow D.J.’s, like Danny Dan the Beat Mann (who helped produced some of Biz Markie’s early records). The mood was relaxed, even if the music thumped so loud you could literally feel it pulse through your lungs if you stood close enough to the tower of speakers. Grandmaster Caz — the leader of the Cold Crush Brothers — worked the microphone while kicking back in a beach chair.

“I feel the people appreciate it more now, at least the older heads do,” said Theodore, who will be performing at Behagen on Friday night. “The younger kids listen to the radio, the same old songs. They don’t know the songs we play in the park are the ones sampled on the radio.”

The manufacturers of deejay equipment also appreciate it, since they help underwrite the series, said Christie Z-Pabon, who along with her husband, Jorge, “Popmaster Fabel,” run Tools of War, a hip-hop information clearinghouse.

“That’s how we can do this for free,” she said. “It’s not like we’re going to charge people.”

As she spoke, a B-boy was methodically unfolding a large cardboard box, which he proceeded to tape down to the asphalt. He stood up, took it in, then got down and started spinning. Christie leaned over to a friend.

“Fabel tells me that in the old days, B-boys wouldn’t use cardboard,” she said. “That’s just an urban myth.”

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