The Real Roots Of Hip-Hop

'Old-school characters wore Pro-Keds or Adidas, big metal belt buckles that had your name on it, and their clothes were more fitted," says hip-hop enthusiast Mike "Logik" Matcke. "Back then they used to have to iron their laces to get 'em real fat. Commercially, hip-hop is just regarding the music. For people into the roots, hip-hop is more about community." Matcke is coproducer of "Beyond the Schoolyard," a two-day event inspired by the hip-hop community parties in the Bronx during the late '60s and early '70s. The "B-Boy Battle" on Saturday night is the main event, when hip-hop crews will break dance against each other for the $1000 grand prize.

"The original crews were gangs," says Matcke. "Instead of fighting in clubs they would dance because they didn't want to get kicked out of the discos. The losers would have to leave." Winners were determined based on the volume and enthusiasm of the crowd's cheers.

"In a b-boy [breakdancing] competition, if someone goes down there and they pop and they lock, they're not in it -- it's not a popping or funk-style competition," explains Matcke. "Popping is that stuff that is kind of robotic and your body jerks to the beat; it was created on the West Coast. Locking is that dance that Rerun does from Good Times -- it involves a lot of rolling of the wrists and you're kind of just standing there." Popping and locking are popular moves in the dance style known as "boogaloo," a spin-off of break dancing.

The origins of break dancing, and therefore hip-hop culture in general, are attributed to two guys from the Bronx, DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa. Herc is credited with coining the term "b-boy" in 1969 (the b stands for "break"). Bambaataa founded the Zulu Nation, a hip-hop awareness organization that has grown into something resembling a religion, with 15 "beliefs" that read like a remix of the ten commandments phrased as independent mission statements. The second Zulu Nation belief states, "We believe in the Holy Bible and the Glorious Qur'an and in the scriptures of all the Prophets of God," and the tenth proclaims, "We believe that life, creation, everything is based on mathematics."

"Back in New York, Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa used to throw these events in their apartment building, big community parties that everyone would come to and there'd be DJs, rap, and dance," says Matcke's partner, Timothy Hernandez. Matcke elaborates, "DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa would go into thrift stores and buy rare albums no one had heard, and all they would look for is that break, when all the drummers and percussion would go crazy. They would look for that beat and play it over and over."

According to Matcke, the most sampled artist in hip-hop is James Brown, particularly his songs "Good Foot," and "Sex Machine." "Songs considered to be b-boy anthems are 'Apache' [by the Incredible Bongo Band], 'The Mexican' by Babe Ruth, and 'It's Just Begun' [by the Jimmy Castor Bunch], the one that was used in Flashdance." The primary facets of hip-hop culture are "graffiti art, emceeing or rapping, b-boying, and DJ-ing," says Hernandez. As with fashion and art, much of today's slang is derived from hip-hop music. Some examples are "crib," someone's home; "fly," someone or something that is attractive; "true dat," a form of agreement; "grill," teeth; and "wack," a person or situation that is "messed up."

"In the '90s, house kids used to wear those giant fat pants, giant XXL shirts, and they'd dance without any shoes on," remembers Matcke. "That's kind of like what we call the 'sell-out period.' It wasn't breakin' no more, it was housing, and the music they danced to was techno and house, which wasn't what the original dancers danced to." B-boy purists like Matcke and his mentors are now "trying to get back the '70s, to the core of dance -- doing a regular dance and going down to the floor and doing little steps kind of like jazz steps, like Sammy Davis Jr."

One local crew called the Mohawks continues to compete in b-boy competitions even though, as Matcke says, "Some people consider [what they do] not breaking because they do new-generation type, freak-show stuff. As opposed to just dancing and staying within the structure of the dance, they might do a dance and then do a flip using just their head, or dance and then all of a sudden they're balancing on one hand, doing a handstand, which isn't really breaking or dancing, it's just balancing. The Mohawks dress like they're punk, with makeup and nose rings. I like the kids, but that's not what we represent. They haven't won yet, but they keep trying hard." -- Barbarella

"Beyond the Schoolyard" Friday, September 8: Art Show Voz Alta Project Gallery 1544 Broadway East Village 8 p.m. to midnight Cost: $5 Saturday, September 9: B-Boy Battle The Epicentre 8450 Mira Mesa Boulevard 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Cost: $10 Info: 619-861-7588 or www.reddroomproductions.com

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