The East River Park bandshell filled to capacity for the 30th Anniversary tribute to the first hip hop film, Wild Style, and many leading lights of that first generation showed up in force. It felt like a high school reunion for the Uptown-Downtown connection.
Afrika Bambaataa and Fab 5 Freddy arrived around the same time from different directions and drew immediate swarms of autograph seekers, paparazzi and shout-outs from the stage. Grand Wizzard Theodore, inventor of scratching and undisputed grandmaster of all deejays, opened the show.
Chief Rocker Busy Bee delivered an important message, which was that hip hop really stood for “peace, love and unity,” which is the original message as conceived by founder of the Universal Zulu Nation Afrika Bambaataa, who dates the birth of hip hop as 1974. As a former leader in the Black Spades, Bambaataa is the Moses who led his people out of violence and focused everything on art and culture and having fun.
Strange how the first generation really never got their due. Most of the innovations in hip hop were worked out in the first four years. The power and freshness of the performances last night proves once again how powerful the original scene really was. Lisa Lee opened with a Zulu Nation rap, and those peace vibes continued throughout the show, a real antidote to the rap music of today. You don’t have to promote gang attitudes to have a hard style.
Rodney Cee and KK Rockwell just blew everyone’s minds with their performance of an old Double Trouble routine. I hope somebody puts that up on youtube. There were plenty of video cameras crowded around the stage.
Of course Grandmaster Caz and the Cold Crush highlighted the event. Charlie Ahearn, who produced and directed the film, managed to capture the greatest living hip hop act of that time, a title the Cold Crush inherited after Flash and the Furious Five were broken up by Sugarhill Records. Some of the early Sugarhill records were soft disco versions of the South Bronx style. But soon, Run-DMC would chart a return to that original hard style and take over the music world. But the ones who created that hard style, that first generation? Most of them remain relatively unknown and uncelebrated, which is sad because it was their creative juices that changed the world.
Lee Quinones, who plays Zorro in the film, was one of the most difficult to pin down for an autograph as he was darting around and being pulled in a half dozen directions at once. I did not see Futura 2000, although I later saw a picture of him in the crowd so I know he was there. Sorry I missed you Futch.
Charlie should take this act on the road. Oh, in case you didn’t know, I was the first generation hip hop journalist and wrote groundbreaking magazine and newspaper articles on the first generation for years before anyone else showed up, journalist-wise anyway. You can read most of my original stories on my smashwords site, link at top right. And check out Fab 5’s and Charlie’s great speeches at the end: