Have you ever really wondered like Beres Hammond did, “Just what one dance can do”? I never did until I was told something that made me proud me to be born a West Indian, now, I wish that every day was Labor Day so I could put on my “I iz a Bajan t-shirt” and parade for the world to see. Listen people if Hip Hop was a tree the sun that nurtured it and made it grow was the Caribbean sun. This sun, shone brightly through our sons, like DJ Red Alert (Antiguan), Grandmaster Flash (Barbadian), DJ Kool Herc (Jamaican) and Ralph “Uncle Ralph” McDaniels (Trini to de bone), just to name a few. Us West Indians, as my mother would say, we are like salt, we in everything.
Let me paint you a picture. As the saying in the club goes “Lets go back,,,way back, back into time”, and who do we see? DJ Kool Herc, and Patricia and Vincent Chin leaving Jamaica for the Bronx and Jamaica, Queens respectively, and taking with them all the reggae culture in vinyl form and much more that they could possibly carry in their luggage, hearts, minds and souls. Then we see DJ Red Alert embarking on a new life in Harlem, teaching everyone there all that there is to know about Antigua. And Uncle Ralph, man he was singing The Mighty Sparrow all through the streets of Brooklyn. But we are all one, so within the mix of course there were the likes of James Brown, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Dennis Coffey, the Isley Brothers, and Harry Belafonte, among many other greats. Pretty soon a fusion was formed, and through VP Records, Patricia and Vincent allowed many artists to produce, write and distribute their own music, exposing the world at large to their unique sound and extreme bass. DJ Kool Herc, added to this fusion by throwing his famous “JAMS” where everyone, American and West Indian alike would come just to hear him spin records and when he gave the instruction during the break, all the dancers went wild (this is why we now have break dancers). Herc also added, that these parties sometimes never ended until sunrise. That is truly a testament to the times. I couldn’t fathom being at a block party, or a party at a neighborhood park that wasn’t ended early for fear of something violent happening. But Herc quickly added that the Police didn’t mind, quite frankly they were glad when he throw his parties because they knew where everyone was. Herc also added that he had strict rules when he played, he expected certain behavior from the crowd and he wasn’t playing unless it was understood. He is also accredited for helping to start this era because not only were the dancers at his party, but also the lyricists, who took toasting and made it rapping, and also the graffiti artists who beautified those trains now on display in museums. It is because of him that DJ Red Alert, turned around and did the same thing.
And, because of it all “Uncle Ralph” was able to form the very first music video show, Video Music Box , focused exclusively to a broadening urban market and broadcast on public television for the world to see. Just so you understand, “Uncle Ralph” was doing Rocsi’s and Terrence’s job way before there was even a 106 and Park.
As “Uncle Ralph” said, “its all about the rhythm”. The rhythm proved to be more effective than any UN meeting. It ultimately united a growing community of West Indian immigrants as they fought to Americanize while still maintaining their own identity. The end result was the “Caribbeanization” of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem and for that matter, eventually the entire world. The results also encompassed the sharing of the rhythm, the mixing of the beats and ultimately Hip Hop.