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I Was There – the New York City Rap show, 1982

The first ever hip-hop tour rocks the house in Lyons
hip-hop image

It was around 1979/80 that I started hearing about an exciting scene happening on the other side of the Atlantic in New York and reading about Grandmaster Flash, Trickeration, The Funky Four Plus One and Spoonie Gee .

The following summer, I’d hang out with my mates at the weekend in the local park in Peterborough, listening to rap on our friend Bud’s ghetto blaster. A couple of Saturdays in a row Bud didn’t turn up. I asked a friend where he was. “Oh, he’s gone to New York”.

It turned out Bud’s sister Ruza aka Kool Lady Blue, was working with Malcolm McLaren. As well as managing the Rock Steady Crew, she was largely responsible for the move of hip-hop from the Bronx to Manhattan where she staged nights at The Roxy. That’s also where Blondie met Fab 5 Freddy, leading to their release of their single ‘Rapture’ and exposure of rap to a mainstream, white audience. The next thing I heard was that Bud was working with the Rock Steady Crew.

By now it was 1982 and I was in Lyons as part of my university study abroad year. I used to hang out at the local record shop where I picked up a promo copy of ‘Change Le Beat’ – a French version of a tune by Fab 5 Freddy on the label Celluloid. The track contained a sample at the end (“Ah, this stuff is really freshhhh’) which was used on practically every hip-hop track for the next 12 months. I also noticed a flyer advertising a night at the Palais d’Hiver on November 26 called New York City Rap. I was intrigued and bought a ticket.

Lyons was the second date of the French leg of the tour and the venue, the “Winter Palace”, was well named that year – an early ice-cold snap lay upon the city and on the night itself, it was snowing.

The aircraft-hangar atmospherics of the enormous venue didn’t help. There was a group of kids breakdancing in one corner. In another corner an artist was spraypainting graffiti onto a wall next to a DJ playing hip-hop (or electro as it was called back then) and scratching. A guy was doing electric boogaloo/mime and, oddest of all, a group of girls were jumping over a skipping rope with amazing athleticism in another part of the hall.

There was no real focus, electronic beats were echoing around the building and people were wandering around – it was hard to tell what we were supposed to be looking at. I guess that was the whole point; this was a showcase for the new hip-hop culture as a whole.

The breakdancers were the Rock Steady Crew and the DJ was Grandmixer DST with the Infinity Rappers. The other performers were Phase 2, Afrika Bambaataa, Dondi, Rammellzee, Mr Freeze, Fab 5 Freddy and the Double Dutch dancers, the Fantastic Four. And the guy doing the spray-painting was one of the acts which had really drawn me in, Futura 2000.

It was all still quite new to European music fans – even though they’d read about it and probably bought some records – the overall atmosphere was one of disorientation. It wasn’t until later on I found out it had been co-organised by Kool Lady Blue (it was going to be called The Roxy Tour), along with Fab Five Freddy and Celluloid Records. That’s why – apart from London and LA – it mainly consisted of French dates (Lyons, Belfort, Paris, Mulhouse and Strasbourg).

A few months later, the Rock Steady Crew’s first single ‘(Hey You) The Rock Steady Crew’ was released, reaching number six in the UK chart. And, sure enough, there were Bud’s writing credits on the label.

As one commentator said of the New York City Rap show at the time: “The clothes, the dancing, the scratching, the rap, the graffiti. All this was new at the time. It was the beginning of a new culture. A new lifestyle.”
Gareth Wyn Thomas