New York City and hip-hop have an interesting relationship.
Hip-hop was born in the city, fathered by a Jamaican immigrant in his late teens who was DJing a party for his younger sister in the Bronx during the summer of 1973. While DJ Kool Herc unconsciously birthed the genre, its origins were already brewing on the streets of New York City. It was unfocused energy; a distinct restlessness that Kool Herc harnessed that fateful night almost 41 years ago.
Hip-hop is no an ungrateful child, either. The anthems celebrating the boroughs and the city as a whole are numerous, but the city has been hesitant to officially reciprocate the love for hip-hop and its icons. In August 2009, 205th Street and Hollis Avenue in Queens was co-named "Run-DMC/Jam Master Jay Way," a tribute to the pioneering group and their DJ, who was murdered in 2002.
Where is the representation of hip-hop's birthplace in New York City and how much respect has been given to hip-hop in New York City?
Last May, Palmetto Playground in Brooklyn was named Adam Yauch Park in honor of Adam "MCA" Yauch of the Beastie Boys, who lost his battle with cancer in May 2012. The state recognized the building Kool Herc grew up in as the official "birthplace of hip-hop" in 2007, but short of that and the other two aforementioned honors, the city has been cautious about honoring hip-hop formally, substantially and visually.
LeRoy McCarthy of Brooklyn has taken on the ambitious task of starting petitions for the co-naming of hip-hop figures in boroughs across the city. Though his two biggest initiatives—"Christopher Wallace Way" in Brooklyn and "Beastie Boys Square" in Manhattan—have garnered public support, they've both been rejected by the governing bodies in their respective neighborhoods. In a 2013 interview with City Guide, McCarthy questioned New York City's respect for hip-hop on a government level, despite its willingness to reap the benefits.
"Since 1973—40 years—how much money has hip-hop made for New York City? Where is the representation of hip-hop’s birthplace in New York City and how much respect has been given to hip-hop in New York City?" he asked. "I think that New York City has been suppressing hip-hop and hip-hop culture since the very beginning, yet still taking the money generated from it. All of the popping bottles in the club and all of the fashion that trickles down to New York Fashion Week, a lot of that is influenced by hip-hop culture and there was a lot of money made off of that."
Nas, a Queens native and irrefutable hip-hop legend, agrees that hip-hop deserves more appropriate official recognition from the city. "We represented [for] New York so much. Why not?" he asked during a conversation with City Guide earlier this year. "We are the language of the streets."
As the fight to honor hip-hop in New York City continues, City Guide has chosen to highlight a pack of artists who deserve this distinction from the city. It includes campaigns started by McCarthy and others, as well as many that should to be started. The sooner those conversations begin, the better for hip-hop and the better for New York City.
The time to bridge the gap is now.
Written by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)
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