Rock Steady Crew Celebrates 40th Anniversary With Havoc and MC Lyte
Doin' it the park—Central Park
Let’s take it back. Before the credit cards and scammers, before Auto-Tuned rap vocals. Before ring-tone rap, and well before the bling-bling era. Before the ’90s, the era of the hustlers, before gangster rap and before the crack epidemic, there was Hip Hop, and it started out in the park. Although the parks in question were mostly in New York City’s outer boroughs, yesterday that spirit was alive and well in Central Park when the world famous Rock Steady Crew partnered with City Parks Summer Stage to celebrate their 40th anniversary yesterday.
The movement that began to build in the South Bronx of the late Seventies, a culture, rooted in Black music and the rebellious attitudes birthed from the impoverished communities of the borough, has transformed worldwide pop culture. We all know that Hip Hop officially rules American music. Fewer understand that the process began when DJs began organizing park jams and taking over community centers, when what were once gangs became crews who would settle their disputes with dance battles rather than violence. One of the pioneering crews from that time was the Rock Steady Crew, who have marked their anniversary faithfully for the past four decades. Yesterday RSC’s top worldwide ambassador Crazy Legs made some major announcements.
When Crazy Legs took the stage, the entire crowd was ready for him to start breaking. However, he brought up the organizers of the Rock Steady Anniversary and made a number of announcements, the first being that this was the last anniversary.
“Y’all know I’m Rock Steady for life, right?” said B-boy O.G. Crazy Legs. “I can’t do the Rock Steady Anniversary anymore.” Leaving no time for shock, he said “I’m gon’ Jay-Z this mother fucker and start a music festival called Rock Steady For Life,” adding that said music festival will be all about “employing and taking care of our people.”
Immediately after he called up one of his protégés, a young B-Girl that’s been with Rock Steady Crew since she was 10, Oriana Ortega—and named her the new leader of the Rock Steady Crew. Later he told MASS APPEAL, “the best thing we can do in Hip Hop is empower the future and the only way to do that is to get out of the way. Clear the lane so they can grow.”
With that announcement hanging in the air what might just be the RSC’s final anniversary celebration (at least as we’ve known them for the past four decades) continued, hosted by Hip Hop group End of the Weak, backed by DJ JS-1. Opening the show with classic NYC Hip Hop and very impressive freestyling before bringing up the opening acts Haddy Racks, followed by Napoleon Da Legend and then Milano.
After an intermission of DJ JS-1, Mighty Mike C of the Fearless Four & Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers took the stage. Performing a routine filled with all of the elements you’d expect from a couple of pioneers: a medley of breaks, familiar verses, a lot of call-and-response, expert showmanship, & a circle of B-Boys getting down in the back. Before they could leave the stage, hosts End of the Weak brought them back front and center to remind the crowd that so far, the old school has gotten the biggest response from the crowd.
After a dope set from DJ JS-1, DJ Premier stepped up to the wheels of steel and the crowd went crazy, though at that moment he was only “getting his monitors right.” A minute later though, he’d bring out West Coast legend MC Eiht to perform classics like “Straight Up Menace,” “Hood Took Me Under,” & “Growing Up in the Hood” before cueing up “Compton Zoo” from their new album Which Way Iz West.
Before getting on the decks DJ Tony Touch brought up the “producer battle” subject—you know the one—and echoed what one of the members of End of the Weak stated: DJ Premier will beat any of them. He tried to get Premier to “show them what he’s known for,” to which Premo gracefully responded “Nah I don’t do that, but you can play it.” From there Tony Touch went into a deep set of breaks and golden era Hip Hop courtesy of Preem.
Immediately after MC Lyte took the stage she began shouting out the pioneers and legends who paved the way for her, specifically the Funky 4+1’s Sha Rock for being the first female MC and stating that she herself knew she could do it after hearing Sha. After shouting out Salt N’ Pepa she set it off with a tight acapella verse that lead right into her covering the 1987 Audio Two classic “Top Billin’,” which she did a duet remix of in 1998 for her album Seven & Seven. This led to a medley of covers and freestyles that ended with the 1988 Stop The Violence song “Self Destruction.”
Before going into her 1993 hit “Ruffneck,” MC Lyte took a moment to shout out Black men, and stress the importance of introduce the old school to the new school so they can better understand their culture and how it important the Black man is to the community and how important it is to uphold and respect the best parts of them, not the worst.
And in the end, Crazy Legs did get down. The entire Rock Steady Crew got down. There were flips, spins, and a whole of footwork.
Chilling backstage were Statik Selektah, Evil Dee of the Beatminerz, Breakbeat Lou, & Dante Ross. Then Havoc made his way to the stage.
This is the first time I’ve been at a show featuring a recently fallen member of the community where a moment of silence wasn’t called. It was simply given. As the tribute video began to play, the only sounds to be heard were the voices of radio personalities, artists, and members of the hip hop community taking turns speaking on screen about the influence of Prodigy and Mobb Deep. Even when the classics played, the crowd sang along in their inside voices. When a young Prodigy appeared onscreen and broke down the meaning of his name, and how that had nothing with why he picked it, there were a few laughs. That was when Havoc took the stage and finally, the crowd roared.
Havoc went through hit after hit, often doing both his and Prodigy’s verses. From “Give Up the Goods” to “Keep It Thoro” to “Shook Ones pt. II.” he didn’t miss a beat and neither did the crowd. It was the kind of moment one doesn’t soon forget, a celebration of life through hip hop. Rock Steady For Life.