Some stories need to be told.
The 1970s were a rough decade for the Bronx. Jobs were leaving the area, families were getting poorer, and kids faced daunting hopelessness and lack of opportunity. Gang violence ruled the streets, terrorizing residents and outsiders alike.
And then came hip-hop.
The mechanics behind hip-hop's emergence from gang culture aren't widely known, so Shan Nicholson's new documentary has an opportunity to fill a major historical gap. But it needs money to do so, and you can help: Rubble Kings examines an important bit of Americana that has wider implications than most people recognize.
It's not every day a movie comes out about the cultural impact gang presence has on a neighborhood. If addressed at all, gangs in film are treated as parasitic entities, the existence of which has few implications outside the lives they destroy. There's unquestionable validity to this — anyone who's been touched by their violence can tell you that.
But things are rarely so simple. As films like Crips and Bloods: Made in America clarify, complicated social, political, and economic factors contribute to the existence of gangs in the first place. In Los Angeles, they arose in response to relentless systematic oppression enforced by police, and a culture-at-large that placed little value on young black lives. Gangs were families, protection, and a means of feeling like you belonged.
In the Bronx, many similar factors were in place. Urban squalor caused by the absence of employment opportunities left youth with almost nothing. Pride, respect, and economic prospects were thus linked to holding onto what little you had. This meant territory, street corners, blocks, and residences. And as we all know, there's power in numbers.
But as the trailer for Rubble Kings indicates, peace treaties between Bronx street gangs laid the foundation for hip-hop culture. Collective frustration that had long been channeled into acts of violence was re-routed into a distinctive dance and musical style. As one interviewee suggests, the "attitude" of hip-hop came from street gangs: kids went from fighting to dancing competitively, and if you won the dance battle, you won the fight.
Many major names in early hip-hop have roots in the gangster life. Afrika Bambaataa was a member of the Black Spades before becoming a DJ, and as evidenced by his lifestyle shift, this new culture was vital to maintaining peace in the streets.
And now that hip-hop has become one of the most popular and lucrative cultural forms in the world, it's shocking how few artifacts attest to it's historical roots. It's not a nice or pretty history, but neither is much of the music. That's part of why we love it.
Much like Jeff Chang's terrific book Can't Stop Won't Stop, Rubble Kings provides a glimpse into a world that remains marginalized and unfamiliar to much of the American public. Ignoring its history would bear uncomfortable similarities to the ways much of America ignored these kids in the first place.
They were left to fend for themselves without any help. Don't let the same happen to the film that tells their story.