It wasn’t on purpose – I just didn’t know any better. And to those baby boomers out there that wish I HAD prevented Hip Hop from occurring, I really didn’t have much of a shot anyway. But if the DJ/MC I admonished had been a little more thin-skinned, I might have slowed the movement down a bit.
It’s 1978 and I am hired to perform at what was known back then as a “Block Party”. I put it in quotes because sometimes it was actually on a street that the particular neighborhood that was hosting the party got permission from the city to close their street to traffic for the day. But sometimes it was in a neighborhood park, which in the Bronx in the 70’s meant concrete and dirt. In the case of this particular block party in the South Bronx it was down an alley in the back court of a bunch of apartment buildings. So, there I am doing my comedy/magic thing, when one of the first floor windows opens and a guy starts setting up two turntables, a crude little mixer, a mic and PA on the window sill. Then he starts – beat mixing, and rapping and SCRATCHING HIS LP RECORDS! No one else seemed to mind, but I had been brought up to be very careful not to scratch my Hi-Fi’s needle across the record. So I went over to the DJ on a break and asked if he wasn’t worried he was ruining his records!?! Little did I know I was actually witnessing the birth of Hip Hop. I just wasn’t hip to it!
It was still an underground urban movement then and it began to develop right then and there in the South Bronx in New York City. The DJ at this party could likely have been Grand Wizzard Theodore himself - the man who is widely credited with inventing the DJ Scratch. These DJs created their own music live, by mixing records, scratching, and improvising. This was a little before the other main elements of Hip Hop (graffiti, break dancing and beat boxing) joined forces with the DJ to take over the music industry.
This is not the first time I tried to stop an unstoppable movement. At one point I was living in the Bronx and some friends suggested we take in the midnight movie at the local movie house (single screen). We had never heard of the movie that was playing, but it was better than sitting in my living room staring at each other. So, we when to see “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”. This was in 1976 and the audience participation craze was just getting started. Up in the Bronx the audience had not started dressing up yet, so when they started engaging in the now famous “Rocky Horror counter-point dialogue", where they all yell dialogue and asides back at the screen, my friends and I became irritated. We thought they were a bunch of jerks trying to ruin the movie for everyone, so we started shushing them and finally yelling at them to Shut Up! Another “not-so-hip” moment for me.
But both of these experiences were a great lesson for me, and I have tried to practice what I learned from them to this very day. It is simply this – “If you don’t know what’s going on, for God’s sake don’t try to stop it. Life can be a wild wonderful “Happening”, if you just relax and roll with it.” Now that’s hip!