The Story of the B-Boy Suspended in Animation
For this supposed anniversary, we investigate what a B-Boy from ’78 would think
Comics are mainstream now.
That’s how I arrived at this premise. There’s damn articles explaining how it could’ve been possible to bring back the suspended in animation Captain America.
I said comics is mainstream so I don’t have to tell you Cap Ap was frozen for 70 years (see: Captain America — The Last Avenger).
Well, we ain’t gonna keep our B-Boy inert for that long. Alls we need is forty-five to make our point, and a point we sho gonna make. Because while there’s all these retrospectives and talks about how Hip-Hop is 50, this writer is of the belief that a B-Boy from back day wouldn’t recognize “the culture.”
So let’s look at homey.
First, a quick story on how ya man got froze. Since the Black man and woman were enslaved and took on the names of their enslavers, we can even call our B-Boy Steve Rogers, but known in Jam circles as Stevie Steve.
Friday, February the 3rd, 1978.
Stevie Steve was inspired. The previous Saturday he had been on punishment. Luckily, he was fifteen, otherwise getting caught stealing paint could have landed him in an adult facility. Instead, he was threatened with Spofford. His Dad — a transit officer — struck a deal, and Double S was at home.
It had been almost a week of good behavior and it appeared the smoke had cleared.
But fuck it. Flash was spinning at the Black Door. Stevie lived in Crotona Park East (Google It) — so E. 170th and Boston Road? Shit, he could walk there, listen to some sure shots, and be back in his bed before his dad’s overnight shift ended.
Like I said, he was inspired. In every damn OJ (think of em like urban Ubers) around the way, you could hear Flash, L Brothers, Jazzy Jay. Someone was making tapes and selling em. Stevie Steve couldn’t figure it out until he caught episode sixteen (Season 2) of What’s Happening!! — Doobie or not Doobie.
In that episode, Rerun wanted to go to a Doobie Brother concert but he ain’t have no dough. Unluckily for him, he ran into some bootleggers who offered him tickets and cash…just so long as he carried a portable tape recorder into the concert and GASP recorded it.
Steve decided to cut out the middle man and go for self. Who needs a bootlegger strong arming you. He snagged his pop’s Radio Shack CTR-60 and headed out.
We’ll get back to the particulars later. Just know that Stevie Steve pulled it off. He was able to record 60 minutes, both sides of the cassette. Standing by the speaker, inconspicuous, he was confident the sound would be top notch.
But as Stevie walked up E. 170th headed home, he could hear steps moving fast towards him. Normally, he’d turn up Wilkins but if he was really being followed, he wasn’t about to lead the assailants to his rest so instead he kept up 170th. He didn’t even turn up Charlotte. No. He beelined to Seabury and then tore ass up 172nd.
When Stevie looked back, he guessed right. It was them. The Casanovas — Black Spades turned Flash security guards — and they were on to him. Past Hoe Ave, past Vyse, Longfellow Ave was a blur, but when Steve reached Edgewater he knew he fucked up. Only thing east was the East fuckin River. North was the place where Starlight Park used to be. And south — the Casanovas.
“Give it up,” one of em yelled.
Steve tried to play stupid but these dudes was all six feet plus, diesel, and scary as shit. One of em went and scooped Stevie off the ground like he was prep’n for a WWE suplex. Nope. Dude held o’ Double S up by one leg and shook him til his daddy’s tape deck fell out.
All Steve could remember next was a bright light (he was dropped on his head). Next thing he remembered was flailing away in the East River. That night it was ten degrees. The river was frozen. And thus, so was Stevie Steve.
What was on that cassette?
Let’s act like you don’t know what that is. Let’s put you in the mind of a person fifty years ago.
The music between 1967–1975 took a turn. Spurred by James Brown, some artists began dropping their clean, radio friendly veneer and became more funky. While you could play songs like Give it Up or Turn it a Loose all the way through, that wasn’t all of em. Some of them songs, the best part was the breakdown where the music would be stripped down to the rhythm section — piano, bass, and drums.
That’s what the kids wanted to hear. That’s what the DJs played. Yes, Herc. Yes, Flash. Yes, Bambaataa. But also Disco Mario. Also Grand Wizard Theodore. Also countless others.
Not just in the Bronx. Also, Harlem. Also, Queens. Also Brooklyn. Also, Staten Island. And I would imagine Connecticut. I would imagine Jersey. I would imagine that word was spreading among teens throughout the Tri-State. Outside of that — not too many people — teens or otherwise knew ANYTHING about this “thing.”
But the kids in the Bronx were absolutely going crazy over the breaks. The above mentioned DJs scoured the record bins for any record that had percussive breaks. Grand Wizard Theodore recalled hearing Bam playing the Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Woman, he recalled Thin Lizzy’s Johnny The Fox getting spins.
So if you were to digitize that cassette that was shook off of o’ Stevie Steve what you would hear is this — Incredible Bongo Band’s Apache, the first six seconds repeated for over ten minutes by the DJ playing two copies on two turntables— six seconds, then, with the use of a mixer, switching to the other record six seconds — on and on for at least ten minutes.
You’re gonna hear Bobby Knight & The Universal Lady. You’re gonna hear four seconds of the 20th Century Steel Band interspersed between that and eighteen seconds of the Whole Darn Family repeated for five minutes. You’re gonna hear a bunch of things that after all of these years of study I still can’t detect. Breaks on breaks on breaks. And then you might even hear Earth, Wind, & Fire’s Beijo because the DJs weren’t afraid to play popular songs if they were danceable (extending Beijo is beautiful, song is only one minute and some change).
It’s gonna go on like this for hours.
And the rap — in 1978 — it’s going to be like:
ya go on and and on and on, cuz the beat won’t stop til everybody’s gone — ya rock the spot until the crack a dawn, like a hot butter on…the popcorn — ya don’t stop, keep on
yes yes ya’ll, to the beat ya’ll, freak, freak ya’ll, and don’t stop — we’re the furious four and we back for more, gonna give ya more than what you bargained for, it’s like that ya’ll, it’s like that ya’ll, keep on
You got echo chamber effects on some of them words, especially if they said by Kid Creole, ya got a lot of space between verses. Why? Because it’s mostly about the music. And the music? The music is geared to the dancer.
The sole purpose of all of this is the dancer. That’s why the DJ is the star in 1978. He’s playing the music that the dancer wants to hear. And the DJ that everyone credits with starting this culture, he was a dancer, a B-Boy, and became a DJ to do just that.
B-boys loved music. They clamored around the DJ to see exactly what songs were being played to the point where a) DJs began finding ways to soak the titles off or mark them off and b) employed MCs. The MC was NOT the star. They were the Master of Ceremonies.
And in 1978, what we know as rapping was only a year old. It had just developed from the call and response/shout out style of MCing that was prevalent since Herc’s first party into short rhymes and an occasional story. From what I can tell, routines took hold around ‘79…which would also be the beginning of recorded rap.
But Stevie Steve would see none of that. He’s still suspended on the bottom of the East River (yes, that’s implausible — but this is my story).
Recorded rap changed everything.
Although it would be five years before Jam culture was obliterated by records, the writing was on the wall. Most people’s association with Hip-Hop began with recorded rap. To them, breaking (b-boying) was a fad, graffiti was a non entity, and unless the DJ was dealing in “turntablism,” their sole purpose was to back up the rapper (notice I ain’t say MC).
Ask people about their Hip-Hop memories and where they begin, you’ll likely get albums. I’m not any different. I had no idea that Rap was a part of any greater culture until the work of Michael Holman hit me and most of America. That’s when breaking was flashed on us in commercials and videos.
But then it was gone.
All that was left was Rap. Next, there was a short time period of rappers having dancers. That was barely four years. This was something I wrote of before. Come 1993, wasn’t no dancers.
CUT TO: Modern Times. Rap is attached to dance again — because dance is what makes songs go viral. TikTok is the modern music video. And many artists make songs with dance in mind. So we’ve come full circle, right?
Let’s ask Stevie Steve. The Zulu Nation is defrosting him now.
Let’s ignore all of the real things Double S would be confounded by: smart phones, internet, flat screen tvs, electric cars, laptops, clothes, sneakers, etc.
We’re only going to focus on Hip-Hop.
Stevie Steve would walk the streets of the five boroughs looking for who was jamming only to recognize that no such thing exists. If he did happen to find a party or club to attend, he would be confused. No one is dancing. But if he got to listening to the music…
…the music is computer generated. And what if, after the party or club he decided to talk to the DJ, ya know, ask him questions about the music. He would be amazed to learn that the DJ not only knew nothing of the breaks but he would be more saddened to find out that the DJ didn’t care.
Since Stevie Steve would be the most famous B-Boy alive, he would be on all the anniversary panels, he’d be interviewed by all the outlets. I doubt that he’d make it through 2023. He would be so depressed to know that while everyone was “celebrating” Hip-Hop, barely anyone would have knowledge of how it even began.
Sure, they could say Kool Herc, Flash, Bam, yadda yadda yadda but it would only be an after thought. Stevie Steve would be broken up that none of the all-time great rapper lists even had Melle Mel on em. Yeah, Double S would soon realize that in this world of Hip-Hop, this $2.7B industry, this thing that everyone was celebrating, in this culture — there is no room for a B-Boy.
Stevie Steve would wait til hell froze over again. He’d walk up the High Line (wow), then up the West Side highway, and as he saw a crew of kids getting sturdy dancing for someone’s phone, he’d take a tumble into the Hudson River. Perhaps there he can stay frozen.
His tumble would make him go viral again. But even that wouldn’t bring back the breaks.
Most people are not built to understand foundational work. A Bout de Souffle (Breathless) is a pointless, plotless overrated film without the context of time.
Without the context of time, you get the hot takes that the Beatles were overrated and that Jay-Z was never influential.
If you weren’t alive during a particular era, you need to put on some time traveling shoes and place yourself back then. Watching Breathless in 1960 made you, well, breathless — no one had ever seen jump cuts…on purpose. The Beatles studio work paved the way for all the sonics that you’ve grown accustomed to and Jay-Z had heads wearing platinum and button ups.
I was six in 1978, playing with Fisher Price toys and listening to the Commodores and The Brothers Johnson. Prior to college, I had only read about how Flash would spin or the battle between Cold Crush and the Fantastic Romantic Five.
I discovered Fat Beats in search of more “old school tapes” and I teleported myself back to those Bronx streets.
You can try too. Click on this link of Flash at Jackson Projects. Or this one of the L-Brothers. You might recognize some of the breaks. Ya might not. But if we’re gonna be talking anniversaries then it’s only right that we at least learn more about the foundation.