An Oral History of New York’s Early Hip-Hop Clubs

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Phade, Gizmo and Milk at the Latin Quarters, 1987

During the formative days of the mid 80’s, when Run-DMC, Kurtis Blow and the Fat Boys were the biggest names in rap, the New York club scene was a vital part of the hip-hop food chain, providing both essential networking opportunities and the chance for new acts to get on, provided they could win over the often unforgiving crowds. Let’s take a step back into time as some 80’s hip-hop artists recount the good, the bad and the ugly of the club scene back then.

MC Chill: The Fever was one of the first hip-hop clubs of any note. Any day at The Fever you just met a who’s who – I met Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc, Red Alert, just hangin’ out.

Positive K: Latin Quarters more like a family thing, Union Square was really a ‘club’ club. It was bigger than Latin Quarters, and it was the kind of place where as soon as you walked in you felt the energy. You just felt electricity when you walked in there, like, ‘It’s on right now!’ That was really a rough club. It was straight electric. There was the Rooftop, the Underground, the Zodiac, Roseland, Union Square and Latin Quarter were the clubs of the time.

Chucky Smash [The Legion]: Rooftop was probably one of the biggest, most influential clubs that we went to. That was the hustler era, where you would see the likes of Rich Porter, Alpo, AZ – pretty much all the drug lords at that time. You would see people like LL Cool J come down, DMC would be down there. They would come down there just to rub elbows with the drug dealers. It’s funny, the rap stars are the big superstars now. At that time? The drug dealers was the shit! You would see somebody like LL Cool J just tryin’ to inch over and try to be around Alpo and them guys. Another person who was on the scene who gets big, big props, who had a lotta nice jewels who was good on the scene was Biz Markie. He got embraced by that crowd a little bit. He picked-up on the fashion and the style pretty well, and he adapted and he linked in good. Right across from Rooftop was Rucker Park, which is the famous park for basketball, which was pretty much a party in itself. All the biggest basketball stars – again, it was a fashion show. All the hustlers brought their cars out. Basically, it would start off in the daytime – Rucker would be the big-time street ball players, the girls would be out there and all the drug dealers would have their cars out – and then in the night time, the club across the street was the Rooftop.

Freshco [Freshco & Miz]: I was mainly a popper. I could do windmills and stuff like that but I started going to The Roxy, watching guys like Fabel and Normski from Rock Steady Crew, and I basically was copying their style and bringing that back to Brooklyn. Professor Paul took me to The Roxy, I must have been 15 or 16. I made a fake ID, I got into The Roxy and I was turned on to Fabel. He was a legend, watching him pop was like watching a god on the dancefloor. It was unbelievable. I was one of the few people in my neighborhood that had access to that kind of thing, so when I came back to the roller skating rink I was doing moves that I kinda caught from Fable, and people were like, ‘Oh my gosh! How the hell are you doing that?’ By the way, there was another guy that used to pop the Roxy – we didn’t know his name so we called him Boots, because when he was popping he would always have Timberland boots on. That guy ended-up being Kool Keith from Ultramagnetic.

TR Love [Ultramagnetic MC’s]: We performed there [The Castle] a couple of times. A little a hole-in-the-wall, it was alright. It was cool for the time because of the aesthetic of the club – it was big, it was known and that was the only thing popular in that particular time in The Bronx. We had Devil’s Nest, the old Latin Quarters was closed so they opened the new Latin Quarters but it wasn’t really popular. We had certain venues that we could only go to, for our crowd, to do what we wanted to do. LQ was the main one, then we had Union Square, we had Roxys, we had Rooftop. We had a couple of roller rinks, Empire, but the main spots were Latin Quarters and Union Square and The Roxy. We had Palladium, Tramps and Irving Plaza also.

Sadat X: There was a time I used to go to parties, in order for you to even have on a chain you had to be a made dude, ‘cos someone would take it from you! I came up in an era where if you went to a party you’d get your chain taken if you wasn’t strong enough to keep it. First of all, for you to even go to those places, you knew that you were taking a risk. That’s when hip-hop wasn’t really safe. It was so exciting that you would risk going to Latin Quarters and Union Square – where you knew there would be four or five fights in there – but you wanted to be there so bad that you went to these spots. That was like hip-hop gladiator school – that’s where you went to test yourself. If you could withstand being in those places, then you felt like you had a badge of courage, because you got to see real live shows in a real live hip-hop spot. Back then didn’t go to no hip-hop show by yourself. That really wasn’t advisable. You went with about two or three people from your hood – at least that amount! We might go 25, 30 deep, especially if you planned on wearing jewelry or having on anything fly. I’ve seen people have get their coats taken, I’ve done seen people get their sneakers taken – where somebody tells you, ‘Take those off!’ Cazel glasses were a big item to take back then. That’s how it was.

Eric B: The only place we went to really was the Latin Quarter, 48th Street and Broadway in Manhattan, [with] the original 50 Cent – he wasn’t notorious to us, I never looked at it like. I laugh at all the stuff we see now – Supreme Magnetic from Fort Green, Brooklyn, his brother Rat.

Positive K: The Latin Quarter was incredible, man. It was the hardest place to perform at. On top of the violence, you had the best time, but you had to do so many things at the Latin Quarter. You had people to avoid so many people! Me myself, I knew everybody in there and I wore jeweler, everything was cool. But they put on “Go Stetsa” and girls were getting their earrings snatched, guys were getting their chains snatched off their neck, getting beat-down and thrown out the club! It was one of those things. If you didn’t belong, you had to be on the air of caution. I watched some groups go up there and get booed! I remember when Kid ‘N Play got booed. When they first came out, they got booed, and it was bad booing! I think the Latin Quarter made them real good on stage, because they didn’t want to go through that again! [laughs] They would make you feel like a piece of crap if you wasn’t proper, man. At that point in time, it was word-of-mouth. If people started talking about, “Such and such was on stage, and he was terrible!” It would spread from borough to borough. I remember when Lumumba Carson said, ‘You’re performing next week.’ I was like, ‘Oh my gosh! You’re kidding me!’ I hadn’t even done ‘Step Up Front’ yet, I was green. Wise from Stetsasonic did the beatbox for me and he got me over, I was thankful for that. [laughs] You definitely didn’t want to push the Latin Quarter too far. Once they gave it up for you, get out of there. It was a rough club, you had every thug in the world was in that club. They used to say when they went into the club, they was “going shopping”. I need a chain or I need a ring, or my girl needs some earrings. That’s what that was. It was a Brooklyn-based club, and you had the worst of the worst coming from Queens and the worst of the worst coming from Manhattan and all of Brooklyn in there, so there were many clashes.

Pudgee Tha Phat Bastard: I think the Fat Boys was the first time my brother could get me out of the house. It was at Latin Quarters. Maybe two times I got snuck in because of a bodyguard hook-up. With the breakers, the energy in the clubs was so much different. You had something going on which is more like the reggae clubs no, where people are on the floor, dancing upside down on their heads. The clubs kinda segued into people standing on the wall. Once the dancers left the club, it was over! Everybody came in trying to look fly, hanging by the bar. Nobody was battling. The thing I really loved about those days, there was no holding back! People were flipping and lifting each other up and jumping over each other on the floor and all kinda stuff! It was action! You came to see a show. My homeboy broke his neck trying to spin on his head.

Brother J [X-Clan]: Architect [aka Paradise], he used to bring me and Shaft to the back door to see what was really going on in hip-hop. That helped me mature in the kind of style that I developed into. It was when hip-hop was so young and everybody was into it for the love. There was no money involved, because nobody knew what their worth was, including the promoters that were doing it. All they knew was that it was a good crowd every night they threw an event. Everybody that I saw on that stage from Melle Mel to Ultramagnetic, the first shows of Public Enemy, KRS-One. there’s so many people that performed there at the Quarters. And MC Serch [3rd Bass] was really up there grabbing the mic and getting loose, man. He was doing the dances and keeping the crowd live – there really was nothing that he wasn’t doing.

T La Rock: [MC] Serch was one of my best friends at one time. He lived in Queens, I lived in the Bronx. Serch used to drive from Queens to The Bronx every other day to hang out with me. I was getting Serch in all the clubs, he was able to walk-in with me and he started networking and meeting people. The clubs like the Roxy, the Funhouse, Roseland – all of those clubs, if you wasn’t V.I.P. like I was – there would be lines, especially at the Roxy, I kid you not. There were lines about a hundred feet long! So Serch didn’t have to wait on that line, I would walk him in through the front door.

T-Ray [producer for Cypress Hill, Artifacts and Ozomatli]: The first time that I went to the Latin Quarter in New York, my friend got me in. He knew Paradise who helped run the place and was later down with X-Clan. When I walked in the first person I saw was Melle Mel, fuckin’ standing right there with the whole outfit on and I’m like “Oh shit! That’s my fuckin’ hero! I love this motherfucker!” I was straight hillbilly, I’m not kidding you, I was in the club with holes in my fuckin’ jeans, worn-out t-shirt… I looked busted. Then I walked over to the bar and I’ll never forget, MC Serch was sitting at the bar! The only reason I show that man respect is because he was there, he was there damn-near from the beginning. Fuckin’ Latin Quarter back then? That seemed like hip-hop, man. I went up and tried to get on the turntables with Red Alert! Red Alert was fucking deejaying and I had the balls to go up to the DJ booth and actually said, ‘Yo, lemme get on those turntables real quick!’ He just laughed at me, ‘Yo, you a wild motherfucker!’ I said, ‘Yo, lemme just get five minutes!’ Can you imagine rockin’ the Latin Quarter? C’mon man, that’s the shit!

Originally published in the May 2014 edition of Easey Magazine.

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2 Comments so far
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I would absolutely love for someone to put a movie together documenting all of the above no BS just pure unkut from old tapes and interviews aint it been on the cards for a minute?

So much greatness in the accounts. It is evident rappers love talkin about those days. What would a list look like of all the most popular records played at LQ, Rooftop, Union Square etc 87-88?, anyone care to post a chart or something.

Ive got an old Wax Poetics with the LQ feature but still this one of my favorite posts thus far on this blog! Needs film clips.

Salutations!

Comment by P_gotsachill 05.15.14 @

^ +1, No doubt. Been thinking the same thing myself. Somebody make this happen. It’s got be doable.

Comment by ezlrockwell 05.26.14 @



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