Due to the untimely departure of a humble legend and pioneer of the London pirate radio scene, I feel it necessary to repost this last interview with Lepke. Lepke was the inspiration behind a wider acceptance of the pirate radio scene across London and even Europe. His DBC Radio inspired many ‘legal’ radio stations today.
This may well have been his last interview, conducted in Summer 2017.
As a child growing up in the Ladbroke Grove area (Notting Hill), one of my earliest memories of the music scene, besides my father’s need to glorify the bass of the Mighty Diamonds every Sunday morning, was DBC radio.
Being influenced as a child by their presence on Portobello Road every Saturday morning, I have to attribute a large part of my ongoing love for music to those earlier experiences. It was only natural that Urban Dandy should eventually catch up with the man who pioneered such an influential station…
The architect of the revolutionary radio show, posse and collective: After sitting in The Tabernacle for a short while, Lepke arrived ready to lay down the station’s rich history. Unfortunately for me, time wasn’t on our side. Lepke told me he had about half an hour so, I got my Magnus Magnusson on. So, Lepke, you have 30 minutes on the story of DBC Radio starting …now.
UDL- What does DBC stand for?
Lepke- DBC stands for Dread Broadcasting Corporation. It’s a pun on the BBC. It was a friend of mine called William who came up with it but it was originally called Rebel Radio.
UDL- Okay, and when did DBC start, who’s idea was it?
Lepke- I started it on my own then my sister and a few of my close friends came on board. I was on my own for six or seven months then a friend called Douglas, aka DJ Chucky, came on for a few months, then a third DJ called Lloyd Rainford, or Doctor Watts, came in. He knew how to build amplifiers and he set up the system. Then we kept adding people and varying the music, it was reggae at the start then went to Soca and then Jazz, original music really and of course then Hip Hop and Funk.
You couldn’t get that music on the radio, you might hear a bit, maybe a little on Radio One but no Soca and hardly any Jazz. Hip Hop was breaking through at the time. The first Hip Hop show was with The Rapologists: Early Daze and Flakey C, then Neneh Cherry came in.
UDL- I read online that DBC was the first black pirate radio show.
Lepke- It was the first black radio station owned by black people in Europe. As far as I know, there was no other black-owned, black music radio station in Europe. There were stations playing black music but not owned by black people.
UDL- Did you guys have a presence at Carnival as well?
Lepke- Yes. I went to the first carnival as a kid. Later on, I had a spot by Ronnie Biggs (on Portobello Road) in the 70s, then later I got a spot outside Honest Johns record shop, he handed me the keys. Then we had a spot by the print shop opposite Honest Johns. As far as we know that was also the first live broadcast in the carnival. That was when Wilf Walker used to run the carnival. Any time major artists would come through like Bunny Wailer, the Mighty Diamonds, Burning Spear…he’d put us on the show so we got well promoted. The flyer would say DBC on it, through that he’d give us control of the stages.
In scrubs one time they had a super tent run by Alex Pascall, Melody Makers was there and Freddie Mcgregor and with me being me, I decided to put it on MW (medium wave), we were still on FM but I hooked it up so that the prisoners at scrubs could tune in too. They couldn’t really hear it from where they were.
I used to try to link the stages up too. There was the Meanwhile Gardens stage, the tent on Portobello Green, The Tabernacle stage and the Super-Tent at Scrubs. We were broadcasting from the Super-Tent so we had links to all of the stages. I controlled it from the print shop location on Portobello Road. I’ve still got most of the tapes from 1980 to 1984, I’ve got lots of the tapes. Some have made it onto the internet too. People recorded it so it went abroad.
UDL- There is a mention of DBC on the New York Zulu Beats Show with Afrika Islam, was there a connection there?
Lepke- I wasn’t aware but the person who was responsible for that was probably Jollie Mcfee. He used to make badges for all the punk groups and he was also on Portobello Road. I used to go see him and one time I saw all these wires under his desk and asked what it was. He told me it was a transmitter but it wasn’t working. I asked him what he wanted for it. So I bought it and he gave me the contact who could fix it. He came to my yard, fixed it and showed me how to rig it up, he used to play Rocker Billy music and he later became a Dj on the show. They used to call them anoraks because they used to always wear anoraks. They would wear anoraks while messing around rigging up in the bushes. In the fields, everyone wore them to shield them from the wind and rain so I also became the first black anorak.
UDL- How long did you guys reign and when did it end?
Lepke- It ended in ’84 but people think it ended because of a raid, There was a raid but it wasn’t because of that. We joined a group called the Free The Airways Campaign. In between that we still used to play Glastonbury. We were also the first Reggae sound to play an all-night Shabeen at Glastonbury and also to broadcast from Glastonbury. So the owner would give us the main stage so we were also the first to do the main stage. We played it with Aswad.
UDL- (I’ve started so I’ll finish). It seems like the area has so many firsts, there’s a strong original energy there.
Lepke- The ley lines.
UDL- Yeah I’ve heard that before.
Lepke- But the reason we stopped was the government told us if we came off the air by a certain date (they gave us a date) then we could apply for a license, most did and it was bullshit. They took my Sister on board. First, she did a guest appearance on radio 1 and then John Peel put in a word to his heads to do this. It turned out I was his favourite DJ. I think it was on his 50th birthday they did this surprise for him. They put the decks up, brought him in and I jumped up from behind the set and started playing some reggae roots. He was happy.
DBC came in two parts. After the station closed I started JBC. One of the last DJs I brought on, Stanley Burns, also known as The Challenger, asked me why I didn’t continue. I told him that I couldn’t do it in that same name then he told me he had premises so we hooked up and started JBC. I’ve done a lot of others too, I did Grove FM, Globe FM, it had a small transmitter but it went out local. We set up one in St.Lucia too. They named the station Enola because that’s the true name of St. Lucia, after a while, the government gave them a break and they’re still on today. It was such a good transmitter I think they’re still using the same one.
Time’s up. (Stepping out of Mastermind mode)
Well there you have it, as short as our talk was, If anyone can break down the history of DBC radio and the host of other artists that could attribute part of their success to this early music revolution, it’s Lepke.
As you can now see, whether it’s ley lines or just living in the best area on the planet, the Grove is never short of firsts to note. Nowadays we have internet radio, (Portobello Radio in particular) done with an air of safety and exposure in comparison to the days that posed the possibility of the dreaded police (Babylon) raid. We’re hopeful that at some future point we will resume this history lesson with Lepke, but in the meantime, you can catch the 80s vibe below.
Angel Lewis UDL
My condolences to the family of beloved Leroy Anderson, Rest In Peace
In respect of the natural path of truth and also empathy, we felt it necessary and an honour to speak with an ex-Zulu Nation member, to set the record straight, hoping to inform the world of how one man suffered out of a perverted salacity going on behind closed doors during the preliminary days of the Zulu Nation.
The Kinky In The Chain
When you hear the power in the word Zulu, you’re taken back to thoughts of the 70s movie Zulu Dawn. You think of group strength, greatness, unity, trial and victory among a tribe overcoming conflicts together as one unit. These appear to be some of the fundamentals that made the Battle of Isandlwana (1879), which the movie was based on, impossible for the British to win against the united Zulus.
Fast forward a hundred years and change, to the 80s. African Americans and their displaced counterparts around the world re-discovered and then embraced the word again; only this time as a nation with, instead of a physical battle going on, a psychological war in their midst. They combine music, rap, graffiti and dance culture together like links on a chain to a proud past. This came as a salvation to a people that had long been politically and strategically dismantled.
The new and fresh Zulu Nation was full of soul and hope, having all the potential and elements within to resurrect those ancestral spirits. It should have been as easy as A , B , C, but there was a warp in the design – a kink in the chain.
It was formed by Afrika Bambaataa, aka Kevin Donovan, aka Lance Taylor, becoming the so-called father of The Zulu Nation and Hip Hop in a sense; yet he and his associates managed to keep the fact that he was covertly homosexual, with a fetish for young boys, under their hats. This eventually became the straw that broke the camel’s back.
So I’ve been struggling with life a bit recently. Nothing out of the ordinary perhaps. Just the usual vicissitudes of life – what the Buddhists call dukkha – thwarted relationships, my business not being as successful as I feel it ‘should’ be, the ravages of age, relapsing in my addiction, unexpected tax bills, just the rough and tumble of life. When that happens, and when I stare frustration, failure in the face, with no prospect of change and I can’t see a way out, as a morbid person, my thoughts tend naturally to gravitate towards death. Okay I’ll admit it, I’ve been having suicidal thoughts lately. I know that might come as a shock to you. And you probably think I should be ashamed of saying it – that I should either get the act over and done with, discreetly if possible or share it but only having already overcome it. Because to say I still struggle with it, well, an awkwardness surrounds it that demeans us all. What I’ll be arguing in this piece is that the real shame attaches to a society that has yet to make such thoughts acceptable. I believe it is the taboo around disclosure of such thoughts in the first place that contributes to the pressure cooker environment that leads to suicide.
Many more people than you might expect have suicidal thoughts. Very few actually make an attempt and of those only some succeed, but those who do attempt suicide and succeed the chances are that a contributory cause is the inability to share their self-destructive thoughts.
And let’s be clear; suicide is not just a Japanese affectation. The Campaign Against Living Miserably, CALM say that suicide is the biggest killer of men in the UK between the ages of 20 and 44. That’s bigger than cancer, heart disease or road accidents. CALM believe that “if men felt able to ask for and find help when they need it then hundreds of male suicides could be prevented. We believe that there is a cultural barrier preventing men from seeking help as they are expected to be in control at all times, and failure to be seen as such equates to weakness and a loss of masculinity.” When we consider high profile male suicides in the last few years (Alexander McQueen, Gary Speed, Robin Williams), there is often little inkling beforehand that suicide is imminent. In other words, too many leave us early because they had no way to notify loved ones that their ruminations had long passed beyond the morose.
A university friend killed himself recently in a very public way. He posted a very eloquent endnote online setting out his reasons for wanting to die: being tired of life, not being able to find a partner, financial insecurity, feeling inadequate, not being able to compete in a Darwinian fight for resources and said he had accepted he was part of a natural cull. It seemed very important for him to justify the act. He put together a detailed preemptive rebuttal of potential accusations from commentators that he was cowardly, selfish or over reacting etc for doing it. His pugnacious death note emphasised for me that even in his last moments, his indignation against dismissal of his right to die burned in him. I heard of his death on Facebook hours before I left the UK on a flight to India. In shock on the way to Heathrow I called some friends, but found their reactions didn’t help. One, was initially sympathetic, but made a flippant comment, the other waxed lyrical about how unbelievable was someone could find himself in such a desperate state and how he could not imagine anyone in our group, countenancing such a thing. I found it hard to hear – it was as if he had robbed my right to feel. I resented these friends for misunderstanding me (as my friend may have felt misunderstood). I found it even harder to sleep than normal on the flight and I arrived in Delhi sleep deprived, and quite distressed. The next day, jetlagged in the hotel, I was assailed with dark thoughts. I texted a few people but I also plucked up the courage to call the Samaritans, because I wanted to discuss suicide and my suicidal thoughts with someone who might understand and with whom my relationship would not be affected… My mood only deepened the pathos I felt for my dead friend and his final blog post mindset empathizing with his sense of aloneness and isolation. But it also made me wonder if a more forgiving an accepting attitude towards suicidal thoughts might have alleviated his pressure.
Having had these thoughts swirling around my head I thought I would do with them what I do with all difficult emotions – which is to get them out on paper in an effort to take the sting out of them. As an addict in recovery, I know that the first step to emotional health is always to break through the delusion and denial; recognizing that you have a problem and then reaching out for help. Denying reality won’t help take reality away. It is only in accepting reality that we can start to move forward. I firmly believe that the shame of having these thoughts in the first place and the sense of abnormality it can engender only cements feelings of pariah status in potential suicides. The taboos around male suicide in particular are as pervasive as ever. People find talking about death hard enough at the best of times, but suicide is a breed apart. It transgresses several natural laws, that of self-preservation, nurturing one’s loved ones, the struggle for survival, honouring one’s body and clinging onto the life one has been given. In medieval times suicide was a social taboo. It was anathema to the natural law and to the dictates of religion. Through chapters entitled the Curse of Self Murder and Violent Against themselves the meticulously researched three Volume set Suicide in the Middle Ages by Alexander Murray details a cases where the cause of death was posthumously inferred to be suicide. Souls who wanted to die often attempted to disguise their venture in veiled accidents or sacrificial missions in war. Oftentimes the cause of death was simple recorded as ‘perished with no other persons present’. Euphemism and evasion were the strategies used to deal with this most awful of acts. This is because the theological censure for this act was infernal and sociological penalties for suicide were gruesome, including mutilation of the corpse and ostracism and punishment of the bereaved family such was the sacrilegious nature of this most sinful, heinous act in the eyes of God.
In fact, our proclivity to desire pleasure and to flee pain and to escape terrible things is ingrained in human nature – the law of nature is such. Indeed Scottish empiricist David Hume in his tract On Suicide ridiculed the idea that is a betrayal of our Divine gift of life and wrote that suicide is no more an unlawful interference in God’s plan than seeking to save one’s life when it is in clear peril and it looks like one is fated to expire. Embracing death early, for Hume should logically be no more ignominious than cheating it. He argues that suicide is a rational act to end one’s life and is based on utilitarian considerations of future pleasure versus future suffering. Morally, this is a sound consequentialist argument broadly made by those arguing in favour of legalising euthanasia assisted death for the terminally ill.
Wanting to escape our facticity does have a rationality to it – who we are and what we are faced with, our desires and our calculations of our abilities to shoulder these burdens, our neuroses, limitations as adults. When in a game that is difficult enough play, one feels one does not really have the tools to compete, it is only natural to want to abort the game – unfortunately, as humtrapthis can only be done through self annihilation in violent physical acts.
Of course yearning for death as a youthful end soon became romanticised as part of the quirks of the artistic temperament. A prefiguring of this was Hamlet’s famous soliloquy in Act III, Scene 1 a meditation on life and death. What we learn from this is that not taking one’s life is rooted in cowardice. Because oblivion is the ‘undiscovered country from which no traveller returns’ and that puzzles the will. And the act itself ‘when he himself might his own quietus make, with a bare bodkin’ is shrouded in euphemism. The lugubrious prince bemoans the wearisome nature of life and says the promise of welcome delivery from the ‘hundred natural shocks that flesh is heir to’ is only avoided because we lose our nerve. Almost 300 years later came the poem Two Voices, written by Alfred Tennyson. The original title was “Thoughts of a Suicide”. In it, the two voices in his head battle for prominence, one urging self extinction, the other holding out hope for a better future. The two couplets that sum up the debate are “I said, “When I am gone away, “He dared not tarry,’ men will say, Doing dishonour to my clay.” “This is more vile,” he made reply, “To breathe and loathe, to live and sign, Than once from dread pain to die.” And then elsewhere is written “life of nothings, nothing worth, From that first nothing ere his birth To that last nothing under earth.” The poem as I read it is about the essential pointlessness of human life but in the end Tennyson concludes that carrying on regardless is truer to our human spirit than ending it.
Fast forward from 1842 to 1996 and we have Notorious BIG’s Suicidal Thoughts. “When I die, fuck it I wanna go to hell. Cause I’m a piece of shit, it ain’t hard to fuckin’ tell.” And then
“I swear to God I want to just slit my wrists and end this bullshit / Throw the Magnum to my head, threaten to pull sh-t.” Self-hatred, anger, abnegation, a sense of worthlessness and nihilism are part of the hyper masculinity, the Get Rich or Die Tryin’ ethos of hip-hop culture. Tupac mused as to how long he would be remembered after his demise in When I’m Gone. Since gangsta rap, the whole genre of rap music conjures up a claustrophobic milieu of haters, backstabbers and a competitive zero sum hustle playing for survival in the game.
What I think is interesting about this though is that the poetic intensity and melodrama of existential monologues makes suicide into a glamorous (if final) lifestyle choice for high rollers and thrill seekers. This masks the uninvited grimness of mundane lives gone hard and of suicidal thoughts as a common lifestage event. Demographic sequence analysis demonstrates that middle age for men (and apparently, 44 represents the nadir) is a very difficult time. Decrepitude and physical decay are taking their toll, career stagnation is biting, men start to look around them at their peers and up and down the ladder, possibly with feelings of inadequacy or disappointment, rueing wasted opportunities, status anxiety, financial worries, supporting ageing parents and with school age fees to pay. Add in an ever more stressful and unpredictable economic environment and you have the seeds of despair.
Relationship breakdown, loss of job, chronic financial pressures, serious health problems, the upheaval and losses of middle age can trigger depressive episodes. All this, accompanied by the very real social disease of loneliness, which is endemic in many, so call ‘developed’ societies which robs a person of the significant other who represents an intimate confiding voice and this may, in many people engender suicidal thinking. So why are we so surprised?
I found myself at an event this Sunday which, for the first time, gave an airing to these sorts of views. It was quite an eye opener. It was at a Buddhist themed event and the open discussion was entitled dying to talk – subtitled Choosing to Die “There are many ways of choosing to die such as suicide and assisted dying. A supportive space to share personal stories.” It was held sitting on embroidered cushions sipping herbal tea in a teepee. AS we went round the circle there was a palpable appetite to invite death in, to discuss death in a more positive, fruitful way. As we went round the room I was remind of the Buddhist parable about the grieving woman encouraged by the Buddha to bring a grain from the house of someone who had not experienced, or was not experiencing bereavement. Once she had done the rounds of the village she was still in mourning but was largely cured of her self-pity, realising that every householder she visited had been affected by death in some way. I shared about my friend and how much I felt for his isolation. The man on my left said he had lost his Buddhist faith, was in between jobs and had been considering suicide and was distressed bi it. Two of his friends had died recently in quick succession, one in a bitter suicide, the other through assisted dying. Another man had lost his twin brother and was still struggling to overcome his sense of survivor guilt and to grieve properly. He had come to connect. A woman had coached her severely disabled friend through her decision to die and being with her in her voluntary starvation regime after having been diagnosed with a compounding condition that compromised her quality of life. A good looking young girl then shared about how she fluctuated on a weekly basis between a relish for life and craving oblivion. And also how exasperated she has been at not only failed suicide attempts but also with how much pluck you need to do it. She had been put off on a cliff precipice by a dog walking interloper or a miscalculated a pill dosage. She said that she was at peace with the idea of dying and said she was not afraid of death should it be her chosen path. Then there was the girl, on the brink of tears talking about the suicide of her little brother some years beforehand. She said that she cried for his loss and the fact that a search party was needed to find the body but she said she did not regret his decision since he had made it clear that he wanted to die – he suffered from health problems, addictions and mental illness and a rehab which was his last chance to get clean had not worked. She described his death as perfect, beautiful and unselfish and whilst missing him, she respected his decision. I was wowed by the power of these honest shares from people bereft and in mourning, struggling with a variety of feelings, but at the very least respectful and in many cases in awe of the brave, ominous decisions their loved one had made, against great fear, in their own interest.
This is a million miles away from the knee jerk reactions of the media to suicide where the unholy trinity of cowardice, selfishness and stupidity are trotted out in order to condemn the right to die by one’s own hand. Of course, I do not in any way condone suicide and would do all I could to help someone who asked for help. I just believe that the obstinate refusal of many to engage with the complex mechanics of the process and to admit that some people can make perfectly logical decisions to end their own life to be a bit moronic. This is the ostrich-in-the-sand logic analogous to those who say we ‘should never negotiate with terrorists’ – well, negotiate maybe not, but at least talk to them, seek to understand what motivates them, their genuine grievances and it might actually save some lives. So, what can we do about this? Well, for me this is an issue about societal acceptance of death, understanding depression and changing masculinity. All I can do is work on myself – it is an inside job. I have found that my Buddhist practice and mindfulness meditation that renders me more equanimous towards and detaches me from negative, morbid, unhelpful thoughts, is a major antidote. The First Noble Truth consists in the axiom that life entails suffering. Wanted things don’t happen, unwanted things happen, we suffer. We become fond of and cling to things that change: people move away, or renounce us or die. We get sick, decay, grow old and eventually all die. However Buddha said that death is not a tragedy. We are all born to die. It is failing to realize how precious this life is that is the real tragedy. When we meditate long enough we can see this truth in our mind body complex at an experiential level and how we have been conditioned to identify with or to avoid these thoughts. We see how every thought and sensation arises and passes away: absolutely nothing abides – everything is impermanent – including negative thoughts. Buddhism teaches that a desire to escape suffering is normal, but that seeking to do so by ending one’s life is ultimately based on delusion about the power our thoughts have over us; it is the painful things that most help us to develop wisdom. In the book “There’s More to Dying Than Death” Buddhist nun Lama Shenpen Hookham shows how the whole of Buddhist practice can be seen as a long rehearsal for death and that need not be morbid since an awareness of ephemerality can allow us to live more fully. Meditation is a great resource for those suffering in depression.
But what about at a societal level? Clearly there is a problem with men asking for help. I believe nothing less than a cultural shift is required. Beyondblue the Australian support service show that ‘men who feel suicidal often share similar distinctive traits and experiences before they try to end their lives… The Men’s Experiences with Suicidal Behaviour and Depression Project found that among four elements common among suicidal men for instance depressed or disrupted mood, presence of things that are stressful and a tendency to isolate themselves socially is what they call “stoic beliefs about masculinity”. In other words, stoic beliefs around masculinity are literally a killer. As Terence Blacker argues in his book “I Don’t Want to Talk About it”, fewer men tend to be diagnosed with depression, because male depression tends to be concealed in addiction, violence and workaholism. Exasperation with life and thwarted will to power without outlet over time is likely to result in pent up wrath eventually congealing into self hatred and suicidal thinking this given extra sting by the self disgust associated with the thoughts themselves. Blacker writes: “The issue is shame. While depression may carry some sense of stigma for all people, the disapprobation attached to this disease is particularly acute for men. The very definition of manhood lies in ’standing up’ to discomfort and pain. In the calculus of male pride, stoicism prevails….A man brought down in life is bad enough. But a man brought down by his own unmanageable feeling – for many, that is unseemly.” And so these deaths continue…
CALM in the UK write: “Suicidal thoughts show that life is tough and there is nothing to be ashamed of having the thoughts. The thoughts themselves are normal, but bottling them up is dangerous and the secrecy and shame surrounding them leads to them becoming more intense.” So, how do we help men open up around this issue?
In my next blog piece, I will explore the possible ways we might tackle this complex problem.
From the UK to the US and back these are the reflections of one mans travels and experiences outside of the boundaries of time.
Thrown back and forth in hip hops colourful history. Enjoy the ride
It’s strange how much easier it is now for me to travel in time. I question whether I’m in the future thinking about the past, or if I’m in the past thinking about the future?
I’m reading George Orwell’s book, ‘1984’ and wondering why he never mentioned anything about scratching, ‘cos here I amin1984 making horrible noises with my brother’s ‘Ray-gun-omics’ LP. Flash made scratching look so easy in the movie ‘Wildstyle’. I figured by pressing the tape button on the stereo system I could switch from the record player to the tape deck and be like Flash, but it sounded more like screech than scratch. I guess that’s where the journey began. ‘The Girl Is Fine’ is playing on a tape I made, compliments of Radio Invicta. On the other side of the phono button, that pop sound as I switch back and forth from turntable to tape, was becoming a problem, but as my fingers got faster the noise seemed to disappear. Interesting how you can master those compromised tools you acquire.
Almost between an inhale and an exhale, my Bush stereo system became 2 Technics turntables and a phonic mixer. Thanks to my mother recognising my commitment to the cause, she thought a new pair of Technics SL 1200’s worth going into debt for.
Exchanging record titles became commonplace for DJ’s. I gave up, ‘I Just Wanna Do My Thing’ by Edwin Starr for ‘Take Me To The Mardi Gras’ by Bob James. Cut Master Swift was one of my trading partners and thought the, now classic, Bob James song was common knowledge in West London but it wasn’t; maybe to Bertrum and Froggy from Krew, but I wasn’t in their league yet, so he threw in another title for free.
Remember these were just the names. We’d now have to do the searching from record shop to record shop for those rare singles. These titles were songs DJ’s would play but would rarely reveal the Artist or Title. I remember tearing off the record labels and devaluing the records, a small price to pay, if I was to be true to the exclusive DJ fraternity.
How many times I bought the right artist, wrong song and vice versa. The important part of the song was the drum break but not all breaks were alike. This is probably the sole reason why Hip Hop absorbed every single genre of music. It was like a monster that kept eating anything funky and growing and growing. I remember when I cut the hell out of ‘The Big Beat’ by Billy Squires it was at the Albany Empire in Deptford. You have just four bars of the break before the singing is followed by the rock guitar, revealing the genre of that song to a mainly dance hall crowd that are barely ready for Hip Hop let alone un- hip Rock! If I wasn’t so nice on the turntables the crowd’s patience would have run out but they let me cue up the next record despite Billy Squires screaming.
But then again DJ Big Bob at Empire Boulevard got away with more than that with a much tougher Brooklyn crowd. It wasn’t all Rob Base and Big Daddy Kane, it was ‘Bounce, Rock, Skate, Roll’ to ‘Put The Music Where Your Mouth Is’ then ‘Liquid Liquid’. I remember skating to the whole of ‘The Mexican’ by Babe Ruth (beginning to end) but Big Bob had turned a simple roller skating rink into a church of music from his Tuesday and Thursday contributions.
I broke my leg in one sermon, but that’s a whole nother story. The mid 90’s were just about when DJ’s were getting their props and people were starting to realise how important the DJ was with Zhane’s tribute ‘Hey Mr. DJ.’
Shorty’s even prettier in the flesh… that’s when I realize I am actually in the future thinking back to the past, sitting across the salon and waiting for one half of the singing duo to sit in my chair, while I’m figuring out what to do with these uneven patches in her head and why in hell a public figure at the height of their game would risk a homemade hair cut – go figure. I admit I’m a bit star struck, but you would be too if you were a budding producer. Anyway I gotta figure out how to get her back to the studio…
From the UK to the US and back these are the reflections of one man’s travels and experiences outside of the boundaries of time.
Thrown back and forth in hip hop’s colourful history. Enjoy the ride
…Its 1983 I’m on the cobblestoned streets of Covent Garden London, the stomping ground of opportunists and the training ground of many entertainers. Ozzie’s crew are popping in the background, its not new to me although at this time people don’t quite know how to place body popping and break dancing. It’sjust starting to blend in with the juggler, the unicycle rider and the clown. Absent from this type of street scene is the attitude of the street.
There’s a Carousel set up just as you enter the square. On one of the wooden horses right ahead is a girl that looks like baby love, it is baby love! Hey you the Rocksteady crew is playing on a turntable in my head. The crowd’s star struck eyes supported my hunch then crazy legs, coming into view, made it a fact. At this point in time I saw them as competition. I had ambitions to one day take over their spot.
Fast forward a few years and My ego’s expanded beyond control. I won first prize in a breakdance competition held and hosted in wormwood scrubs by Mastermind Roadshow. These all day events are held in summer this is a time when ragga, rare groove and hip hop are just beginning to blend. Mastermind roadshow made a name for themselves in the Notting hill carnival and played a variety of musical genres, so they were, at the time, the most likely medium to introduce the hood to this different flavour. Because hip hop was still new in London breaking was misunderstood by most, by rolling around on the floor, I risked my credibility yet who cares when I got my crew with me, besides the Lisa lisa and Cult Jam album I had won was like a trophy testifying to my skills making it well worth it.
Yet I blame all of this on Malcolm McLaren and his Buffalo Gals. See them here. Who told him to show us body’s twist, spin and lock like that? It took exactly 3 minutes and 40 seconds, the length of the video to get me over Jeffrey Daniel’s moon walk on Top of the Pops. But this wasn’t gonna be as easy to get. As a kid all things are impulsive so to me, concentrate in maths class or use those smooth polished floors to figure out this backspin thing wasn’t even a real question. Some believe aspects of the dance came from sailors in the 50s, some believe it came out of lindy hop dancing from the 1920s and others believe its from Brazilian capoeira, to me it didn’t matter I just needed to be spinning.
The Crew came together like magnetism as all five of us had seen that video. We somehow found clips of most of the Rocksteady’s
performances, they circulated around the area, our addiction was obvious, Alf broke his wrist in Maths class. I didn’t have much of an idea where this would take us yet at the same time I didn’t quite picture my future in this doing forward flips through the carriage of the A train uptown before it reaches Manhattan. Impressive as it seemed, I couldn’t quite write home about that. This aspect of the art form just wasn’t me. This was often the scene on the train to Manhattan to be exposed to even more entertainment as the train pulled in to Times square, it always felt to me like it carried the same air as Covent garden, it’s the street without the street thing, that I couldn’t quite understand. Although the break dancers and poppers had often made a few extra bucks on the train journey back to the hood, you’d think it was legal, I could never quite imagine them doing those maneuvers in the hood, its like they were permanently attached to 42nd street. Maybe that’s because the lino only came out between 4th avenue and 110th which, for the most part, was the safe, commercial district of Manhattan, tourists and all.
It’s 1998 I’m standing on Broadway outside MacDonald’s in Times square, looking at duke spinning on his neck I realise that I had succeeded in leaving my break dancing addiction back in London. After my crew buried The London Allstars, our adversaries, at Hammersmith’s Riverside studios way back then, I had all the justification I needed to go on to bigger and badder adventures in Hip hop, It was goodbye breaking hello scratching.…..
These are the true adventures of one man’s travels in Hip Hop from location to location outside of the boundaries of time. Back an forth back an forth.
Captains log, September 2004.
I’ve landed at the Atlantic Center mall in Brooklyn, Atlantic and State Street. In the walkway between the DMV and MARSHALLS. KC, a fellow traveler, gives a salute to a tall dark figure wearing a hat and shades. He looks up and replies in like manner, I recognise his pitch, all of a sudden I feel like I’m falling backward into that old movie Wild Style. It’s Fab Five Freddie! About seven syllables were the extent of their short dialog as if they vaguely know each other, though when reserved KC talks there’s certainly some bond. KC is King of Chill if you can follow me back to MC Lyte’s album: Lyte as a rock, you can put a face to the name. KC’s from way, way, beyond back where I’m standing right now, only I’m in London and its 1986 Kurt AKA Mono Man is scratching sh sh sh Chang’e a beat. Yep, I repeat, scratching –London-1986. For those unaware, the European equivalent of that cultural energy that King of Chill and Fab 5 Freddie harnessed in the Apple was West Londons Laylow Ladbroke Grove, chiefly Powis Square the home of The Krew, Cash Crew, Break Jam, The Clash, Dizzy Heights and Flakey C to name but a few.
So why is it that at this time when most of the UK was listening to Jazz Funk and Steve Arrington’s Dancing in the key of life on Radio Horizon, the beats of Whizz kid, Herbie Hancock, Schooly D and Run DMC was blasting from speakers parallel to the early New York Hip Hop scene? Someone tripped forward in time and returned to Ladbroke Grove with what was to become the beat of the street, lino and all. I’D LIKE TO SAY IT WAS ME but it was already poppin when I embraced this culture. At this time an independent record shop called Rough trade on Talbot Road was selling Zulu Beat mixtapes featuring DJ Afrika Islam (The Son of Bambaataa) and Jazzy Jay. Listening to these tapes gave us the insight and the inspiration leaving us with two choices: Dream about being there or Create our own version. We did the latter. Within the next five years for the London Hip Hop scene, it was like JFK international straight to Powis Square. Queen Lateefa, the Jungle Brothers, Rocksteady Crew, Fab 5, Freddy, Brim, Futura 2000, Debbie Harry, Grand Master Flash and a host of others all blessed West London, in particular, teaching the novices a perfect collaboration of the combined arts that formed Hip Hop.
It’s 97 I’m still not over “The Infamous” album by Mobb Deep. I’m living and working in a salon in Brooklyn’s Fort Green: A direct parallel to Ladbroke Grove as a cultural hub. A local patron and writer Kevin Powell has invited the whole salon to his book launch party at a venue near the West Side Highway in Manhattan. After we get past security into this magnificent warehouse, reminiscent of the Dome – west London party paradise of the 80’s, only cleaner and better lit we mingle with the illuminated celebrities faces. DJ Stretch Armstrong and Bobitto are on the turntables and amongst others like actress Garcelle Beauvais, I recognise non-other than Crazy Legs from the Rocksteady Crew. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3ZNFGE8PZE&feature=related
Such a scene had me regress back once again leaving ma boy Fab standing alone in this NY warehouse looking confused, with lots a questions. I arrived back in 1983 at London’s Covent Garden, another stop off for the new American Hip Hop stars of the 80’s where they discover there is a world and a scene outside of NY, and of course Ladbroke Grove…..