You are there


The New York Times gives us a glimpse into its Rolodex of old school contacts, in an article about efforts to preserve a moderate-income Bronx building in which Kool Herc DJed his first parties and, as he does not tire of reminding us, invented this shit:

“This is where it came from,” said Clive Campbell, pointing to the building’s first-floor community room. “This is it. The culture started here and went around the world. But this is where it came from. Not anyplace else.”

Also deemed worthy of quotation is Grandmaster Caz. As the building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue comes off of the Mitchell-Lama program it will become a market-rate apartment building, and tenants are trying to force the landlords to maintain the low rents that were offset by the program’s low-interest mortgages. At 1520 Sedgwick, the occupants are trying to get the building on the National Register of Historic Places — potentially preserving it as affordable housing — because Herc threw his early parties there.

The article also troublingly equates withdrawal from the Mitchell-Lama program with “gentrification” — blame “the yuppies” or blame “greed” but don’t blame the structure of the deal itself, which seems to have been set up to achieve exactly this outcome. Mitchell-Lama involved handing city-owned land over to the landlords, which is what capital does when smacked around by beefy Rockefeller Republicans: agree to a secure but limited return for a defined period of time in exchange for eventual complete control over the property. Kool Herc seems to be more concerned with continually reconfirming his primacy (his OG status is not in dispute, but his sweeping claims to cultural ownership are) than with helping the tenants out with an interesting strategy to keep their homes, but we don’t hire DJs to referee land use, we hire them to rock the party and shout out their own names.

Questions for class discussion:

-Given that historic preservation projects often pick the most relevant stage of a building’s long history to which they restore the structure, does that mean that we will be forced to lovingly replicate decaying infrastructure and “benign neglect” in restoring the Bronx River Houses to their appearance in the late Ford Administration?

-Are their other cultures whose “classical” period is redefined by a few dozen middle-aged men who have leveraged their position as “cultural radicals” into bullying elder status vis-a-vis a growing coterie of worshipful journalists/academics, playing off of the ossified hierarchies that would have had their teenage selves obsessed with well-scrubbed respectability a la Booker T?


KRS-One, by way of contrast, is entirely running on fumes by this point and can think of nothing more to rap about than his own imagined centrality to rap — oh, sorry about that, hip-hop culture. His dire new track, a collabo with former meaningless-80s-beef rival Marley Marl, “I Was There“, recites several of the mass public events at which KRS was a spectator, and on which his authority (and presumably that of the tens of thousands of other attendees) is based: an address by Nelson Mandela at Yankee Stadium, Stokley Carmichael’s funeral, the debut of Yo! MTV Raps. Some private events at which KRS was “there” are also listed: the births of his children (we would have thought that hip-hop transcended being a decent father and partner, but what do we know as we weren’t there), the various labels at which KRS has had successively smaller packaging-design budgets (we would submit that maybe a Koch affiliation isn’t quite the badge of honor it seems).

Indeed Mr. Parker takes special care to let us know he “was there” at the 1995 Source Awards, where Suge Knight and Puffy bleated threats at one another. Let the record show that 12 years turned this televised snit between intermittently solvent pop-rap moguls, both thoroughly hated by the herds of KRSoid backpackers who roamed the landscape in that era (leaving naught but shitty tags, mumbled pieties about the “four elements” and blunt innards in their wake), into the kind of historical event at which one’s presence is a badge of authenticity.

KRS poses these assertions as his claim to superiority over “hip hop historians” who are doing culturally retrograde things like writing books about events in the past. These might include the opinions of people who are not KRS-One, who may have different recollections of what occurred when they too were “there”, or who may even have been in other places and will claim that where they were was “there” and that where KRS was at the time was someplace inferior or potentially less important to the world than it was to the erstwhile Blastmaster himself.

This petulant and self-centered posturing — from the man whose worldview and incisive intelligence were so expansive as to work shit like a cogent and catchy exegesis of the origins of the notion of “race” into fucking rap videos and suchlike — is apparently an attempt to not back down from the juvenile rhetorical sucker-punching of a fellow participant at a Stanford University roundtable last year. He turned the panel’s talk into a denunication of “enemies to the culture”, who had been “slandering” him in other fora, and when other panelists tried to school KRS in how not to act like an irrelevant psycho, threatened to “beat your fuckin ass”. Audio and links to further discussion can be found here, but our own opinion may not really count in the end for we (thankfully) were not there.


One response to “You are there

  1. Isn’t the Sedgewick Ave. situation super-analogous to the failed attempts to save CBGB’s? And, if so, so what?

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