Nelson George: City Kid "Kings from Queens" (excerpt)
By Nelson | march 2, 2009 | Post a comment
City Kid: A Writer's Memoir of Ghetto Life and Post-Soul Success
KINGS FROM QUEENS (excerpt)
next big hip-hop event I attended was the Sugarhill Convention held at
the Harlem Armory. It was 1981, and rap records were becoming the
hottest items uptown. On the bill were Grandmaster Flash and the
Furious Five, the Treacherous Three, and several other uptown icons. I
was there with two hip-hop tourists – Guy Trebay, a columnist for the
Village Voice (where I was finally freelancing), and a very comely,
light-skinned single lady I’ll call Alma, who worked in the Voice’s art
The stage was on the floor of the cavernous armory,
with most attendees standing on the floor in front of the stage. After
my CCNY experience there was no way I was gonna be on that floor. So I
guided Guy and Alma up to a balcony that overlooked the floor. From
there we could see hundreds of young people milling about, flirting and
dancing the Patty Duke along with several other then popular dances. As
the music flowed, we could look down and see little clumps of people,
mostly boys, move through the crowd, bumping into people and causing
little testosterone-fueled dustups. Then, like a tossed rock rippling
through a pond, the crowd would part, as weapons were drawn. Two or
three people would scrap. The battle would subside the music played.
After this happened two or three times, Alma praised my good judgment
for sitting us upstairs.
Down below, the scrapping escalated. A
gun was pulled. A shot was fired. The crowd scattered, and fear
infected everyone like a dope beat. This was a time before crack, so
gunplay like this still wasn’t commonplace. I grabbed Alma’s hand and
Alma grabbed Guy’s. Somehow we moved through the crowd, down a long
staircase, and out into the street without stumbling, or being stomped
or robbed. I was really worried about Guy, a tall, whiter-than-white
man in glasses. He would be an easy target in the chaos, but he was
cool and collected, and we made it out of there safely. The theme
remained the same throughout the eighties: energetic crowd,
cutting-edge music, random violence.
I remember feeling the same
restlessness, palpable anger, and intense enthusiasm at every show I
attended during the eighties. But I must admit that feeling that
something could jump off at any moment was actually part of the
attraction. This wasn’t “rap violence,” as the tabloids labeled it.
Just because something happened in a club or concert hall didn’t make
it any different from the violence that was escalating in the streets.
same stick-up kids and gangsta wannabes who were squeezing off in the
streets outside the concert halls brought that attitude inside. These
hip-hop gigs were the perfect cover. In the darkness of a club or
arena, with innocent eyes peering toward the stage, the criminal-minded
could run up on a victim unseen and because of the music, unheard. This
was especially true if the venue had a standing-room-only section or
wide aisles between the chairs on the arena floor.
As a rule I
never took floor seats at rap shows. I’d sit on the sides or in the
mezzanine, so I could see the stage better. If forced to be in the
standing sections, I’d spend a lot of the show watching my back, just
in case a bum’s rush was imminent. By the time hip-hop was playing
arenas, Russell’s Rush Management was booking most of the shows, so I
went to a great many of the, feeling that same sense of exhilaration
and dread on many nights.
An excerpt from City Kid Chapter 22 "Talking Head" will be posted next week.
City Kid: A Writer's Memoir of Ghetto Life and Post-Soul Success will be available April 2nd, 2009.
Stay tuned for more info on Nelson George's upcoming City Kid appearances:
April 2nd, 2009 – Vertigo Books (College Park, MD)
April 6th, 2009 – Hue-Man Bookstore & Cafe (Harlem)
April 7th, 2009 – Barnes & Noble (Brooklyn Heights)
April 15th, 2009 – Marcus Books (Oakland, CA)
April 16th, 2009 – Book Soup (West Hollywood, CA)
April 17th, 2009 – Eso Won Books & The Root Down (LA, CA)
May 13th, 2009 - Brooklyn Historical Society
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