Words from Rojonekku…

Excerpted from “J.J. Krupert Top 13 Countdown – March ’11 #11: “South Bronx” by Boogie Down Productions”

In my opinion, were I to be commissioned to do a list of the greatest hip hop albums of all-time, there is no doubt in my mind that to this very day, Criminal Minded by Boogie Down Productions would still be in the top 5. The sound, compared to everything else that was going on at the time, was so raw and fucking perfect, sounding like people banging on pipes vibrating inside concrete. And the fact the whole thing was done on a four-track with nothing but turntables and a drum machine is fucking amazing. That album is like the truth of early hip hop to me, and this particular song is a testimonial to the origins. When I was in 9th grade, we took a multi-day field trip to NYC from bumfuck Farmville, Virginia, a bunch of naive ass kids going into the belly of the beast’s brightest demon jewel. And what a trip man. We stayed at the YMCA. Can you imagine that? I mean, I know it’s cheaper and all, but being a grown ass man now and knowing the things I know about the way the world is, how could you in good conscious book a field trip to NYC with a bunch of small town and rural kids and stay in the YMCA on 47th Street? I have never figured if the administrative leaders of this expedition were naive as well, or crazy, or what. Of course, us being in NYC, we were supposed to never go anywhere without a chaperone. But me and the dude I was sharing a room with, who was a year ahead of me but already a weed-smoking buddy back home, we snuck off from shit as much as possible, the first afternoon even, when we actually had a shady dude crouch down in front of us on the sidewalk and hold out his hand offering to sell us crack for cheap. That really happened, like an old afterschool special. Interesting looking back to think about crack being a new thing and go-getter sales people actually pushing it on the streets, trying to get people to try this new thing that they were gonna get addicted to and thus buy more and more. It’s very simple capitalism and not much different than selling Little Debbie oatmeal cream pies to diabetics. But for it to happen so laughingly like a Just Say No warning, and compared to how things are now, it’s pretty funny looking back.
We stole off a whole day one time on the trip, to go to Times Square, which was dank ass smut whore delinquent’s paradise back then. We bought a bunch of thrash metal tapes, punk rock singles, swords, knives, and a couple bongs. I mean, that was the culture we were looking for anyways at the time. But looking back, I’m still so amazed at that trip, thinking about letting my oldest daughter – in two years- go stay in the fucking YMCA in NYC. I bet my paranoid ass rural dad was sweating the whole goddamned time I was gone, thinking I was gonna get murdered or raped or turned gay or something while I was there. I’m sure for a long time afterwards he was worried some sort of staining to my soul had happened that could never be undone. His only time in NYC was on a bus ride home from juvenile detention in Ohio, and he got off the bus and was immediately accosted by a crazy fucker, so he hid in the bus station cafe until his bus came, and he ran on and hunkered down until he was back in southside Virginia. My dad was an alpha male of the first sort, but there are many things he never had the strength I’ve had to navigate. Urban clusters of humanity is the most obvious of those things. Hell, he would pull out his pistol, take the safety off, and set it on the seat beside him when we went to Richmond. That was city enough for him.
Anyways, being a little rural dumb fucking kid from southside Virginia, I remember the charter bus for the trip rolling into NYC, staring with big eyes at the endless thick growths of brick and concrete far taller than anything on the main intersection of Main and Third in Farmville. Ran down buildings full of people milling around outside, idle, sneakers over telephone wires, decay, graffiti, beautiful urban decay, the immensity of being on the wrong side of civilization’s progress, but trapped in the midst of its thickness. That was some crazy shit to see for the first time, and wash into my little naive ass mind. And as corny as it sounds, me being a fucking naive ass whiteboy from rural southside Virginia, population not much, the Boogie Down Productions Criminal Minded sound made even more sense. The shit I was geeking on visually looked like that raw ass early boom bap sounded. Grimy yet calming, kinda violent but kinda exciting, and putting a smile-time good feeling on a concrete compost pile of a born life. And I am no expert on NYC by any means, but the times I’ve been there, I’ve felt it. I’m a sensitive person to environmental energy, and Criminal Minded felt like a NYC tape. There have been others that get hyped as pure NYC tapes over the years, classics from hip hop’s birthplace. Seems like it’s falling on a dry spell, and they’re always hyping some new unsigned rapper as NYC’s latest savior of that old flavor, but it never comes to fruition. Maybe it’s because NYC ain’t the same. They’re gentrifying the world it seems sometimes, pushing the grime and dirt further into strange corners, out to Jersey or over into Connecticut or up into Yonkers. If they can find something cheap and with history, they’ll clean it up and the gay people and the young liberal couples will boutique it up. And then their kids will live on the fringes of that, and further spread the economic (bordering on ethnic) cleansing, and what once were thrift stores for Jesus are now vintage stores for AIDS awareness.
But “South Bronx” to this day is a 101 class handout on the origins of hip hop. I’m not sure what KRS One is up to these days, but I know he fell from relevance there for a while, which is fine because that’s the natural order of things in the lion-like alpha world of authentic hip hop. The old has to become unseen for the young to roar and show their fresh dipped manes. But this song, it is a serious song, one that I love to this day, and sounds like NYC looked to me as a goofy assed 13-year-old boy. I feel sad for people who think synth disco rap is a reflection of urban reality nowadays. I mean, I don’t want to get stabbed for no reason or addicted to crack because that’s more real or anything. But I also don’t want the bright lights of Disney, McDonalds, and Target blotting out the beautiful twisted grime of smut theaters, head shops, and bootleg bodegas. I understand wanting to progress as a collective unit, but running property values into some extra digits does not constitute actual progression.

via rojonekku: J.J. Krupert Top 13 Countdown – March ’11 #11: “South Bronx” by Boogie Down Productions.

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