This is in salute and honor of one of the greatest modern art forms to come out of the economically-challenged areas of urban society. But there is an overlooked fact the Lower East Side was formulating what was to become Hip Hop culture just as long ago, if not prior, to the “official” day bestowed upon New York and more specifically the Bronx, regarding the ‘official’ day Hip Hop was born. Big props to Kool DJ Herc, well deserved to be recognized as one of the authentic ‘hip-hop’ DJ’s from the time. But he was not doing it alone. Community centers and outdoor “park jams” were happening in all the housing projects of the Lower East Side in the early 70s (Smith, Rutgers, LaGuardia, Vladeck, Gompers, Baruch, Lilian Wald, Jacob Riis). What folks didn’t know was…
NOBODY HAD THE JAMS LIKE THE L.E.S.! NO BOROUGHS CAME WITH THE DANCE MOVES, PRE-HIP-HOP, LIKE THE FELLAS FROM THE L.E.S.! Back when boys and girls battled each other on songs (back then vinyl 45 records — with part 2 on the other side), it was called “burnin‘.” Then the girls got pushed aside and the guys started challenging each other, it was called “breakin‘.” Remember the reactions? “Oooooooh….Ohhhhhh, he BROKE on him!!” Those dances, started by the brothers in the L.E.S. ‘hoods, became known as “Uprock.” The upright footwork morphed and transformed a generation later into twists, spins and turns later on their necks, backs and heads… down on the ground… and eventually “Breakdancing,” was born. The rest is history. However…
Pictured: LES Creative People In Action Inc. recognition Salute to the L.E.S. DJ Legends in 2019, LES Bands 11 at the East River Park Amphitheater (where “Wild Style” was filmed).
L-R: DJ Ice & Spanky; DJ Hank; Widow of DJ Apache; Brother of DJ Lenny P; not pictured, DJ Sammy Sam.
I am convinced the boys from the L.E.S. had the most ecclectic infusion of diverse cultures out of all the NYC boroughs that had to be an influence in their dancing. The exotic tastes in album cuts that emerged as ‘ultimate break jams‘ made the reputation of the L.E.S. what it was, during this incubation period that was to become Hip-Hop. All the downtown, funky, integrated, bohemian, Greenwich Village, downtown and underground clubs (Paradise Garage; The Dukes; The Dome), to neighborhoods like Alphabet City’s “Ave D,” to Soul-R&B-Funk-raised childhoods co-existing with Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Jewish culture where the guys bargained with the merchants of Orchard St. to buy the latest double knits, suede fronts, cortefiel coats and fur kangols. Cap it off with the very exciting talent shows in the L.E.S. community centers and schools in the early 70s, performed by our immensely talented African-American and Latin youth raised in proud, hard-working households and you have a rare, helluva mix of creative expression.
Many recordings that are Hip Hop staples were introduced to other boroughs by L.E.S. kids bringing their albums to parties in other boroughs. I was one of them. DJ Kool Herc had mad respect for one of the L.E.S. most popular spinners named DJ Apache who turned Herc on to various songs the L.E.S. was jamming to. Hip Hop pioneer and first Rap superstar Kurtis Blow (above center, left) knew L.E.S. B-boysbefore the Hip Hop era, during his high school years, admiring that way the brothers downtown, ‘got down.’ One of Kurtis biggest hits was named after a popular mix-master from the L.E.S., DJ AJ! The Lower East Side was one of the earliest neighborhoods to enthusiastically welcome the dynamic rap vocal group, Crash Crew, to perform at one of our neighborhood centers when Hip Hop was bubbling under the surface. KRS-One acknowledges the L.E.S. East River Park Amphitheater off the FDR Drive where the first Hip Hop movie was filmed, called “Wild Style.” With that said check out the list below…
THE 25 SONGS THAT MARKED THE EARLY ROOTS OF HIP-HOP ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE:
Get Into Something – The Isley Brothers (1969)
Get Ready – Rare Earth (1969)
Get On The Good Foot – James Brown (1970)
Super Bad – James Brown (1970)
Scorpio – Dennis Coffey (1971)
Soul Power – James Brown (1971)
Give It Up Turn It Loose/Sex Machine live – James Brown (1971)
I’m Comin’ – Bobby Byrd (1971)
Moment of Truth – Earth, Wind & Fire (1971)
C’mon Children – Earth, Wind & Fire (1971)
Melting Pot – Booker T. and the MGs (1971)
Listen To Me – Baby Huey (1971)
Love the Life You Live – Kool & the Gang (1972)
It’s Just Begun – Jimmy Castor (1972)
Power – Earth, Wind & Fire (1972)
Think – Lyn Collins (1972)
Soul Makossa – Manu Diabango (1972)
Rock Steady – Aretha Franklin (1972)
The Mexican – Babe Ruth (1972)
Date With The Rain – Eddie Kendricks (1972)
Yellow Sunshine – Yellow Sunshine (1973)
Can You Get It (Susie Caesar) – Mandrill (1973)
Fencewalk – Mandrill (1973)
Apache – Incredible Bongo Band (1973)
Shaft In Africa (from soundtrack) – Johnny Pate (1973)
Many monster break jams followed in the years to come, I wish we could list them all. But looking at the above list as an example of what was being produced at the time, provides a look into the genesisof Rap Music, one of the world’s most popular and lucrative music genres. These songs are the source for many rap samples. Can you recognize what sample was used in a modern rap hit if you heard these original tracks? Take time to listen to a few. For the OG’s, take a walk down memory lane. For the New G’s, listen how it all went down…and be inspired to create.
In the wake of the East River Park and its Amphitheater undergoing renovations, LES Creative People In Action (LESCPIA) took L.E.S. Bands to the historic Henry Street on September 24, 2022. Surrounded by legendary institutions St. Augustine’s church and the Henry Street Settlement it became a flashback to the 70s when many at the show witnessed the original music celebrations by the talents of that time.
L.E.S. Bands 13 featured three bands Lady Cantrese, a jazz ensemble; Soundboy, bringing us Latin Hip Hop, and a return of Leon and the Peoples, an R&B/raggae/funk group fronted by actor Leon Robinson (“The Temptations” “Five Heartbeats”). Also were rappers Meta Mike and B Fortune. In addition LESCPIA music supervisor Robbie Mitchell and Norris Barrino presented a musical tribute to their friend and Chazz member, the late Hector Rivera, who passed away in the previous year after a long illness. Norris sang to their rendition of “Court of Love,” with Hector’s outstanding baritone opening the song. Darcel even added her own tribute to Hector with a touch of his favorite closing choreography as they did at the end of their 70s Soul Jam performances.
Compared to the vast space and large size of the Amphitheater stage, Henry St. gave L.E.S. Bands 13: Lower East Side Showtime a cozy intimacy for the crowd in the narrow street surrounded by landmarks and a great view of the new World Trade Center building in the background behind the portable stage. Neighborhood residents brought their chairs and as Summer tradition on Henry St., along P.S. 134, lined up the fence with grilling and feasting for all the families to enjoy.
On September 4, 2021, LES Creative People In Action (LESCPIA) celebrated their 12th annual free, live, music concert at the legendary outdoor venue off the FDR Drive at Grand Street. Artists featured this year were mellow band lead by Jeanne Ricks, crooner Lester Robinson, theatrical singer Jalyn Johnson and an impromptu treat by her sister Bree Johnson, Latinas Milly Millicent and Gloria bringing their individual vocal flavor, inspirational rappers JR & Coogie, R&B singer and LES legend Norris Barrino, Hip Hop Dancehall Latin rapper El Capitan Ortiz, entertaining rapper/writer/vocalist/dancer Hazel and a treat of a performance by “LES Bands” music supervisor, our own LESCPIA board member, Robbie Mitchell.
The “LES Bands” events at this amphitheater was the second incarnation of this unofficial landmark after being renovated the second time since being built originally in 1941. The site of the first Hip-Hop film, “Wild Style” in 1982, many were saddened to see it demolished by October of 2021 but be of good cheer: the Amphitheater is coming back, more beautiful than ever! LES Creative People In Action were invited to join the Amphitheater Working Group, a division of NYC Department of Design and Construction (NYCDDC), to provide valuable feedback to the committee regarding pertinent usage and utility of the venue, and to inform the committee on crucial needs of the venue. Among them, was insistence on building the canopy, otherwise it would not be an amphitheater! Needless to say, the Mayor’s office committed extra money to finance the building of the cover for the stage and the design, as shared at the NYCDDC and NYC Department of Parks and Recreation presentations, will be an amazing site for visitors as well as beautifying the LES waterfront view from Brooklyn. Anticipated completion of the park – considering the reason for the renovation is to improve the sea walls for future storms and rising tides against the promenade — is scheduled for 2026.
We will all miss talented singer Hector Rivera (2nd from r.), thankful for his talent, enthusiasm and love for music and helping to preserve R&B music and support live musicianship. May God bless him for sharing his creative gifts and that he rest in peace.
As a co-founder of LES Creative People In Action, we also mourned the passing of Michael Steele who we all affectionately knew as “Rocky” (far left). He dedicated his adult life to community work as Rutgers Houses Tenant Association President, and advocating for public housing rights for tenants. He introduced us to the funding resources that helps us to this day. May he also be blessed and rest in peace.
COVID-19 has put society on a new path of living, but hopefully on a temporary basis until health and safety for all is restored. Keep caring for one another by wearing your masks and thoroughly washing your hands!
The Lower East Side Avenue Reunion was held on the first Saturday in August on Aug 1, in East River Park on the FDR Drive at 9th Street headed by organizer Ezell Turner.
The Smith Family Day – usually the 4th Saturday in August – despite the pandemic was still held in the Smith Houses.
Sadly, L.E.S. Bands 12: Lower East Side Showtime2020 had to be cancelled at the Amphitheater in East River Park as issued by NYC Parks & Recreation due to criteria having to use the stage and service road. Rather than put residents, performers and visitors at risk, LES Creative People In Action, Inc. (LESCPIA) decided to postpone their live music concert until 2021. Look forward to an announcement of a new venue while East River Park and the Amphitheater is expected to be closed for renovations throughout selected portions. We appreciate every one of you for attending faithfully and making our events a standout in our neighborhood for over a decade.
The L.E.S. family is devastated by the recent passing of Paul “PJ” Johnson, a dear childhood friend of many of us. He has been a staple of the “LES Bands” events as a spectator and performed twice: in the reunion of Boyz N Girls R&B/Funk band and later in the jazz band Mo’Jazz Network. Paul has left an indelible mark on all of us not only as a caring man for the people he considered ‘family,’ but truly an amazing brother, uncle, father and grandfather. He leaves a legacy of being one of the standout role models from our community and one of the smartest, talented musicians out of LaGuardia Houses. Whether playing drums, congas, steel drums, or having a great eye for talent, offering advice, connections, or managing artists, PJ dedicated himself to creating many opportunities for others with ease. Our hearts ache as he will be terribly missed. May Paul rest in peace in the Arms of the Most High.
The live, free, music concert known as LES Bands 11: Lower East Side Showtime presented by LES Creative People In Action, Inc. (LESCPIA) took place for the last time at the Amphitheater in East River Park on September 7, 2019. The artists again represented a wonderful variety of talent from LES favorites Chazz, to teenager Joseph McBain, hip hop singers McGruff & Patrick, guest rapper Troubled Mal, former LESCPIA intern turned artist RickySmithNow, seasoned pop band Nfinity and for a return play, hot R&B band The Mighty Kamm.
Special moments included presenting plaques to well-deserved recipients. LESCPIA dedicated a segment called “Salute to the LES DJ Legends” awarding pioneering DJs Ice and Spanky, DJ Hank, DJ Sammy Sam and posthumously DJ Apache and DJ Lenny Patterson. Apache’s wife Cathy and Lenny’s brother Clifford accepted on their behalf. As part of the presentation, the Boogie Down Boys, a dancing troupe known in Times Square, choreographed routines to classic jams known to be played by these veterans decades ago.
In addition to awarding the DJs, a welcome surprise came when legendary recording artists and New York City heartthrobs BLACK IVORY [!] stopped by to introduce The Mighty Kamm Band, who back them up during their live shows. Unknown to them, with much help from LES own Eric Young from the band, requested the surprise for Black Ivory’s 50th Anniversary and LESCPIA obliged happily! It was an honor to recognize the important contributions by the trio of Leroy Burgess, Russell Patterson and StuartBascombe for their classic 70s Romantic Soul songs. “Don’t Turn Around,” “You & I,” “Spinning Around,” “Baby Won’t You Change Your Mind,” and even a smash disco anthem “Mainline,” will always be part of our musical, cultural history. Hopefully they can grace our stage at a future “LES Bands” concert.
If you know George Escalante, originally from Rutgers Houses and formerly a counselor for Lower East Side youth, is now a social worker specializing in innovative re-entry programs helping those released from correctional facilities. However, feeding his passion for Hip Hop, he also is a podcast producer and co-host of a live show called “Sound Minds.” Airing live on Sundays at 7:00pm, he (known as “Liteskin”), along with a few co-hosts discuss topics rooted in hip hop and its many cultural elements. It is refreshing to hear these young men intelligently take their culture to heart as relates to their generation. Their second season ends at end of this month, but the shows are posted on You Tube after the live podcasts which can be viewed on their website SoundMindshiphop.com or check out the last couple of live episodes on Instagram at realliteskin123.