With the Hush Tour a trip down memory lane is literally that. Well, except the lane isn’t called memory and isn’t downwards but upwards. Instead it’s a northbound travel going from downtown Manhattan up to Harlem and The Bronx filled with all the stories of early Hip Hop you can possibly think of.
We paid 110 $ online for two tickets to the four hour tour. We’re greeted at the starting point by MC Reggie Reg of Harlem’s legendary Crash Crew. He’s sporting a Hush Tours jacket with his name on it, but he wouldn’t have needed to, despite being in his early fourties, he still looks, sounds and acts like a Harlem b-boy. As we’ve entered the bus he introduces the main tour-guide, none other than Grandmaster Caz from the Cold Crush Brothers.
“Hip Hip is like a card table” (and life is like a box of chocolates)
Caz takes the floor of the bus and with a microphone in hand starts running down the components of Hip Hop all the while quizzing the tour participants as he takes us back thru Hip Hop: “Hip Hop is like a card table”, he says, “In order to play with it, you need to set up the legs, and like a card table Hip Hop has four legs, can you name them?” DJ’ing, Graffiti, B-Boy’ing is listed, and with the final one missing, Mismarie, my girlfriend, yells out: “MC’in’!” “Give the lady a round of applause” Caz yells, “If she had said rapping, she would have been off the bus. MC’ing is what we do…as Hip Hoppers!”
The stories and sights roll by. Caz is equal parts tour guide and entertainer, as he takes us back in to time. We might know the origin of the innovations and the names of the artists, but it’s a whole other deal having a pioneer tell the stories of his life himself. We all know Kool Herc is considered the first Hip Hop DJ, but it’s much more vivid and easier to understand why he got that title, after hearing how he took it upon himself to DJ his sister Cindy’s high back to school party at a recreational room on Sedgwick Avenue, went from there and took his turntables outside to the park and started throwing the legendary block parties.
Back in the day we used to graffiti
We pass Frank E Campbell’s Funural Chapel – where The Notorious BIG had his last ride, enter Harlem, pass the building where parts of New Jack City was shot (“Can’t you recognize it? It’s The Carter!”) and go to The Graffiti Hall Of Fame at 106 & Park where we’re shown around while getting candid stories about graffiti’s origins. It’s mostly a tour to trace Hip Hop’s roots, but we’re brought up to date by Caz who’s a personal friend of the TATS crew that organize the annual burners: “This piece here” Caz says pointing at a mural of two DJ’s, “Was done by a writer named Dez, you might know him as DJ Kayslay, in honor of his deceased friend Justo who organized the mixtape awards.”
On the corner by the street light we’re wizened to the art of getting electricity for outside parties: “You’d crack open one of these lampposts and there’s all the power you’d need.”
Back on the bus we the offices of Bill Clinton (or as Caz dubs him: “the first Black president”), Malcolm X’s mosque, The Apollo and suddenly Caz points to a grocery shop: “This is where the legendary Harlem World, one of the best Hip Hop clubs used to be. It’s the place where Kool Moe Dee battled Busy Bee”. That’s another great part about the tour you couldn’t do on your own, get the stories of what used to be there, like The Cotton club and other sites that are now just apartment buildings. We stop shortly at Rucker Park, legendary street b-ball court, and as we pass a street of nice looking houses, are casually told: “That’s where Doug E Fresh lives.”
Next stop BX and MC’s Revenge
Then we enter what Caz refers to as “Holy land” as we cross The Bronx bridge. It may look like the rest of New York, but when the streetsigns read “Afrika Bambaataa”, “KRS-One” and “DJ Red Alert”, you know you’re in the home of Hip Hop. Graver subjects such as the crack epidemic are touched on, and as we pass a big building Caz comments: “That’s the Bronx court house, not Hip Hop as such, but many a rapper have been in and out of these doors.”
Caz also rolls out the story of the first rap records, particularly “Rapper’s Delight” and how Caz’ then-manager Big Bank Hank ‘borrowed’ Caz rhymes for his verses, which Caz to this day get no royalty for. He then raps his own version of the track called “MC’s Revenge” where he uses the same cadence as Big Bank Hank but sounds a million times better and delivers some nasty truths about the gang called Sugar Hill. Of the first bona fide MC’s from the first decade of Hip Hop Grandmaster Caz is – and should be – considered top three…at least. It’s safe to say that, since DMC basically said it, without him there’d be no Run-DMC. Having him rap live in front of 15 people on a tour bus is an unbelievable honor, straight up.
Soul Food And Enjoy Records
It’s dinner time and we head back to Harlem. We eat soul food at the Manna’s Soul Food and Salad Bar. You basically pay 4.99 for a pound of food, a buck for a glass of Koolaid and get your chow on. Chicken, black eyed peas, ribs, collard greens etc. fill the menu, and in the spirit of every I try the pig’s feet, which turn out to be a great eat if you can get beyond the fact that there’s hair on them. Another participant, Ray from Amsterdam, commented in the soul food restaurant: “We’re eating with legends”. The other people on the tour were really cool, there was Ray and his girlfriend Pum fra Amsterdam,a guy with his younger sisters from Queens, a couple from Finland, a female DJ from Japan and even a family with kids from Denmark.
As we eat music by the likes of The Treacherous Three is playing, which turns out to be ironic as their first record label Enjoy is basically next door. That is to say, next to the soul food restaurant is Bobby’s Happy House, a record store owned by Bobby Robinson, one of the first people to make rap music with the likes of Furious Five, Treacherous Three and Spoonie Gee. And low and behold – Mr. Robinson, now at least in his 80’s, still sits in the back of his store.
When fives mics were unheard of
Caz says his farewell and Reggie Reg takes over for the remainder of the tour. Reg shares a lot of stories one of which was Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five’s first show in Harlem at Reggie’s old high school: “When we came there, they had set up five microphones, and we weren’t used to people doing longer rhymes than maybe the DJ on the radio saying two lines, so everybody wondered: “what are they going to do with five mics?”” He also tells us about how The Crash Crew formed, signing with a really small label before heading to Sugar Hill Records. Going on tour with Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five (“When it came to women I didn’t know much before I went on tour, but when I came back I was a seasoned pro”).
Especially for Hip Hoppers who already know the basics, hearing many of these personal anecdotes, helps put the culture into a bigger picture. We may know “when” and “where” Hip Hop was created, but the sights and stories add the “how” and especially “why” to the puzzle.
The (re)Invention of Hip Hop
The tour is close to over. Reggie makes sure to answer all the questions that we have, but I feel it’d be impolite to ask more than three in a row, so instead I choose to sit and remember what I can from the tour. What stands out are two quotes from Grandmaster Caz: “We didn’t invent anything, but we reinvented things and put them together our way”. His example was naming the guy rapping an MC, because prior to Hip Hop, masters of ceremony were the only people they had seen talking on the microphone, but it’s basically true of all the elements. And the second one: “Hip Hop was our version of a party, now it’s the biggest thing in the world along with the internet”. He’s right, Hip Hop could have been a craze going for a few years in the ‘70’s, had it not been for the MC’s, DJ’s, B-Boys and writers that kept going in the periods when it wasn’t as popular. Reggie and Caz were eager to share their version of Hip Hop, and I can understand why, because what they did it for was love and dreams, which isn’t always the case today.
I’d recommend the Hush Tour to anyone going to New York for several reasons. First of all it’s a great way to see the city so you can explore the sites further on your own afterwards. Secondly you’re sure to have a great time no matter if you know some of the stuff beforehand, because it’s told in such an entertaining and personal fashion. But mainly you get to see the real sites, hear the real stories and hang out with the actual pioneers. If you go on a tour of Pompeii, you can get a guide that’s knowledgeable about the history and can even make it seem alive, but you can’t get a guide that’s lived it.
Hush Tour is the best tour I’ve ever been on, and the one that I’ve taken the most away from.
Tours can be booked at www.hushtours.com, where you can read other reviews, see previews etc.