Tomorrow evening our “Under the Influence of ego trip Pt. 2” documentary film series kicks off with Founding Fathers, a fascinating history of park jam era DJs, emcees, and promoters in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan and their roles in hip-hop and NYC sound system culture. Screening info:
Thursday, February 24, 2011 @ 7:30
Maysles Cinema / 343 Lenox Avenue/Malcolm X Blvd.
(b/t 127th & 128th Streets) NYC, 10027
2 or 3 train to 125th St.
Suggested donation: $10
Buy advance tix here.
Hassan Pore, who co-directed the film with Ron Lawrence, will be present for the post-film Q&A along with Fab 5 Freddy, the Disco Twins, DJ Lance, and DJ Divine of Infinity Machine. In advance of the screening we caught up with Hassan for a few minutes to discuss the back-story of the film, the controversy it’s sparked, and whether or not he believes hip-hop actually began in Queens, not in the Bronx.
Q&A after the jump…
How did you and Ron Lawrence come to make Founding Fathers?
Hassan Pore: Me and Ron grew up in the same neighborhood [East Elmhurst/Corona, Queens]. And we were in the studio one day just talking about the history of hip-hop, the whole thing about Kool Herc and Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash. And we just started comparing the dates of [when they] said they created hip-hop with [our memories of local Queens DJ crews]. So then we started thinking: wait a minute, they said hip-hop started in ’73 or ’74. I remember [DJ crews in Queens from] ’71, ’72. And I know stuff went on before what I remember because I was just a kid. We started researching. We remembered the DJs’ names and the different crews that was playing, got in touch with a couple of them, and asked them how far back do they remember [playing jams]. Some of them said they remember ’68. Some of them said 1970. We started asking them about what kind of equipment was being used, and some guys said they remember as far back as using the reel to reel before the turntables. And we felt that it would make a nice [film] to put that together. It’s not about taking away anything from the Bronx. We just wanted the information out there.
And when you talk about remembering hearing these DJs playing are you talking about outdoor park jams?
Hassan Pore: Yes, we’re talking about in the parks. There was a park [at a school] that was probably the main hub back then in the early ’70s that everybody liked to play at. And I was actually going to that school. It was Public School 127. The highest grade there is the sixth grade. And I remember when I was like in the fourth grade when we would go to school on Monday all of our friends would talk about the grown-ups playing the music in the park, and how they were dancing nasty and all kinds of stuff like that. [laughs]
At that point were you aware of what style of music was being played?
Hassan Pore: No, it was just that there were DJs in the park playing music, and you had some guy was on the mic saying things like, “Throw your hands in the air,” or, “Say ho!” It was no complex rhymes or anything like that back then. It was more like nursery rhymes.
There are several Queens DJs featured in the film, but who were the ones that really stood out to you from back then and why?
Hassan Pore: There was a group called Nu Sounds. They’re the first ones that I remember playing. And I just remember every time they played in the park they always had the biggest crowd. The music they played – a lot of other DJs didn’t have those records. Also they just was a class act. That was in the earlier days. A little later Ron Lawrence’s brother – he went by the name of Dance Master. He was probably known for the best sound system as far as the quality.
At what point did you become aware of hip-hop as it became known – the stuff coming out of the Bronx?
Hassan Pore: The first time I ever heard of anybody from the Bronx I think was Flash. I think that was probably around ’78. I don’t even know how I heard of him. I just heard that there was a guy in the Bronx on the turntables who was really fast. And then there was a mix-tape that was floating around in ’79. That was the first time I heard him on a cassette. And he was doing a lot of stuff that we didn’t hear. I’m not gonna lie. The way he was cutting and scratching it was like, wow. And just the way Melle Mel was rhyming – it wasn’t even the Furious Five yet – it was some different stuff. It was kind of next level as far as that. But then maybe a year later everybody in New York could rhyme, everybody could cut, you had all kinds of DJs poppin’ up from everywhere doing the same thing.
So it spread quickly. What’s your take on the controversy the film has created in certain circles? When you go to youtube to watch the trailer and read some of the comments it’s clear that some folks are reacting in a very hostile way to what some of the Brooklyn and Queens DJs say in those clips about hip-hop not starting in the Bronx.
Hassan Pore: Well, the way the clips are [cut] on youtube is to create the controversy so people will wanna see it. But I think the average person from the Bronx or Harlem once they see it they’ll see that we’re not trying to bash the Bronx. It’s not about that. It’s just another part of history that took place. I’m not from the Bronx so I can’t say what [Kool Herc] did. I can only go by what the people in the Bronx say. They say he started it in ’73. If that’s what you say he did, okay, I believe you. But if you’re from the Bronx you can’t say what started in Brooklyn or in Queens because you’re not from there. So you can’t say, oh you guys weren’t doing this or that if you didn’t grow up in that particular borough or neighborhood.
Any long-time hip-hop fan is inevitably gonna think of all this in relation to MC Shan’s “The Bridge.”
Hassan Pore: They were telling a story about where they came from. Everybody has a story. It’s just that the Bronx – their story for whatever reason happened to get the shine and the light. The cameras were there for whatever reason and they were able to capitalize off of it.
There’s a lot of great music in the film. Musically what tunes stand out to you from that era?
Hassan Pore: Well there’s “Love Is the Message.” You go to any club today you’re still gonna hear it. “Trans Europe Express. You have “We Got Our Own Thing” and “Devil’s Gun” by C.J. and Company. There’s just so many records. I’ve spoken to a lot of people from the Bronx – a good friend of mine, Whipper Whip, he’s with the Fantastic Romantic 5 with Grand Wizard Theodore – and he told me, “What you’re talking about [in the film] is disco music.” And what I told him was when we were playing in the park, when Herc was playing in the park, it wasn’t called “hip-hop.” The word “hip-hop” didn’t come until ’79, ’80, ’81. We never called it hip-hop. We just said, “They’re jamming in the park.” They’re just playing music. So it’s not about having to play a certain type of music for it to be hip-hop.
Even today if you go to any club where the younger generation is going to see Jay-Z or whoever – that’s not the same thing that we grew up doing. We grew up with someone playing an instrumental, someone cutting a break-beat and somebody rhyming with no hook, just spitting fire. Now you go to a party and you’re listening to rap records, you’re listening to Mary J. Blige, you’re listening to Ne-Yo, it’s everything. And that’s what it was back then. It wasn’t just one type of music.
[Bob James’] “Mardi Gras” is a big break-beat. But is that hip-hop or is that really a jazz record? So no one can just say, this is hip-hop and that’s not hip-hop. [Chic’s] “Good Times” was what Sugarhill Gang used for “Rapper’s Delight.” Now is “Good Times” a disco record or is it a hip-hop record? I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder. Whatever you want it to be that’s what it can be. When I grew up what hip-hop meant to me was all of those records. It was the disco, it was the soul music, it was the club music – what they call house music or whatever, the break-beats. It was everything. It was the experience. It was how you dressed. It was all of that stuff.
Founding Fathers is screening tomorrow, Thursday, February 24th, @ 7:30pm @ the Maysles Cinema, 343 Lenox Ave (b/t 127th & 128th St.), NYC 10027.