We have to talk. All of us. Not just the people that are genuinely interested in learning about Hip Hop but those that think they know it all. By “it”, I mean the origins of Hip Hop culture. And we have talk now because the younger generation will soon know more than us, even though we have lived it.
First of all, let’s discuss this term “b-boy/b-girl”. What does it mean and why does it matter so much? I’ll answer a question with a question: Why is the history of Hip Hop’s first dance quickly passed over in nearly every discussion about Hip Hop culture? It’s not a conspiracy but more likely a gap in knowledge that begins with a dance form known as “rocking”.
In the 1960s, the Bronx was broken up into blocks that different street gangs claimed as territory. The gangs fiercely defended their turf from brutal police officers, heroin dealers and other gangs. Before combat, members of each gang would dance to specific songs and mime the physical damage they were going to visit upon their opponents. A knife jab or slash mixed with rhythmic movement based in tap, salsa and swing. In other words, rocking is a war dance.
A real war dance.
The first practitioners were mainly Puerto Rican Americans rocking to Latin groups, like The Ghetto Brothers, as well as soul artists, like the legendary James Brown. This is the historical point where things get a little glossed over because the accepted story is that dancing replaced fighting within the gangs. According to several primary resources (read: I talk to people that lived it.), dancers wanted to get down without the violence and brought the dance into clubs for competitions. Violence still happened and sometimes the dance was precursor. The space allowed for growth in the dance and a formula developed. The dancers didn’t take turns like breakers; rather, they danced for a whole song, face to face and in large groups.
To pay homage to the first generation of rockers, dancers would pantomime physical attacks and defenses but touching an opponent was considered bad form and a loss of control. Another form of respect is not crossing the “Apache line” that separates the two groups or dancers during battles and a nod to the initiation ritual of the gangs. During a particular part of a song known as “the break”, all the rockers would drop to the floor and spring up immediately while executing aggressive burns (read: disses). Eventually the dancers tired and dropped out one by one until only two rockers were left. Sometimes one dancer would stand still after a furious attack and turn-taking developed but only as a specific strategy, not a structure.
The Godfather of Hip Hop, DJ Kool Herc, took notice of the energy level of the party when the break came on and the rockers got down. When he began throwing his own house parties, Herc took two copies of the same record and extended the break by switching back and forth between turntables. The music told the rockers to go down to the floor but since it was much longer, from eight seconds to twenty minutes, the dancers began to experiment with floor movement. The dancers and the DJ had a direct effect on one another that created the first Hip Hop music AND the first Hip Hop dance. And then the emcees had a platform to rhyme on. They were the last element added but you all know that…Right?
In 1973, Afrika Bambataa and the Universal Zulu Nation codified Hip Hop culture into four artistic elements that expressed the philosophies, viewpoints and politics. Chronologically, the elements are graffiti art (writing), DJing, b-boying/b-girling and rapping. The complex gang origin of Hip Hop was pushed aside in favor of a story that brought Hip Hop culture into a positive light with limitless possibilities for constructive outcomes. The recounted history that I have shared is not common knowledge but enough time and distance from those New York street gangs has passed and now the stories must be told. And they are being told by the people that lived through it all.
The “b” stands for the break. It stands for the Bronx. “B-Boy/B/Girl” is a title earned by battling in breaking. That’s it! If you don’t break or never did, you can’t use it. Well, ask Ken Swift, Mr. Wiggles or Popmaster Fabel and see what they say. Or rather said in a series of articles. One of which was in a 1997 issue of The Source.
See, we needed to talk. Now that we are all aware of how much history is being revealed by the elders that created this culture, it’s time to do the knowledge.
Written By Jason Noer a.k.a B-Boy J-Sun
-Editor's Notes (a.k.a Kevin Beacham says...)
1)"B-Boyalty" is the first in a series of articles to be written by new FE Blog contributor, J-Sun!!
2)The Photos: The featured image is a picture of many of the new generation of B-Boys in the Twin Cities who are learning the artform from its roots! The second image is local B-Boy, Stepchild, showcasing some rocking. Stepchild has been taking trips from MN to LA and NYC connecting with the originators and pioneers of the B-Boy and Popping movement to get the history direct from the source.
3)J-Sun is a veteran and extremely skilled B-Boy in the Twin Cities. He is currently a dance instructor at the Shubert Theater/Zenon Dance School. He's also a choreographer for some high-quality B-Boying based shows in the Twin Cities. Make sure you are in attendance! Connect with J-Sun on Facebook!