The Hip-Hop 50 live shows, museum reveals, movies and lectures this Friday have fun the anniversary of DJ Kool Herc’s invention of the style at an Aug. 11, 1973, social gathering in his Bronx house rec room. However they principally don’t doc the circumstances that led to this occasion.

Within the ’60s, white flight ravaged the Bronx, and New York’s subsequent neglect resulted in widespread fires, crime and avenue gangs. On Dec. 8, 1971, Cornell “Black Benjie” Benjamin, a frontrunner of the Ghetto Brothers gang, was crushed to dying whereas attempting to peacefully resolve a dispute. The tragedy impressed a kind of ceasefire, and a interval of creativity set in — which led to onetime gang member Afrika Bambaataa sampling data at home events, setting the desk for DJ Kool Herc.

Can You Dig It?: A Hip Hop Origin Story, a brand new, five-episode Audible sequence, paperwork this historical past, with narration by Chuck D of Public Enemy, born on Lengthy Island in 1960. “I was still sitting in the back of my family’s car [at the time], going to the Bronx and Harlem to visit relatives,” remembers the Rock and Roll Corridor of Fame emcee, on a half-hour zoom from Atlanta. “I remember how much the city was left for dead, and the people were left for dead. It was a tough time.”

In excessive spirits because of his 84-year-old mom’s current hip surgical procedure (“She has no pain today, Bro!”), Chuck discusses Black Benjie, the Ghetto Brothers, Herc, Hip-Hop 50 and what musicians have in widespread with hanging Hollywood writers and actors within the digital age.

At one level in your narration, you say: “This is an American story. This is the American story, from nothing to something. So now you know.” This strikes me as one thing you may say. How a lot did you contribute to the writing in Can You Dig It?

Nah. I give credit score to the producers and writers. If I noticed one thing that was sort of corny, or attempting an excessive amount of, I wouldn’t in all probability go there. It was solely right here and there the place I used to be like, “I could say this a little different.” Largely, they had been doing it effectively.

What made you conform to this undertaking, and the way did it come about?

In the course of final yr, as we had been getting into Hip-Hop 50, I checked with my managing companion, Laurie Boula: “Listen, I want to be involved in things that challenge hip-hop.” I all the time have issues coming at me, in movies and narration and jobs. However I didn’t wish to do the identical rigamarole. She merged the BBC and the PBS with the Combat the Energy: How Hip-Hop Modified the World four-part sequence [in January]. This time [for Can You Dig It”], at first, I mentioned, “Yeah, but… ”

However after I began unpeeling it, I used to be like, “Wow, this is the story behind the story.” It was the germination of the seed, the beginnings of hip-hop. We all the time might speak loosely about “hip-hop started when the gangs stopped, then all of a sudden they used hip-hop.” However these are broad strokes and laced with mythology. This [series] received to the element of what was what. You possibly can virtually odor the contemporary paint of the Cross Bronx Expressway over the rubble.

You had been a pre-teen, rising up in Lengthy Island, when most of this story was unfolding within the Bronx. How a lot of it had been you conscious of on the time?

I’ve received dad and mom from Harlem and kin everywhere in the metropolitan space – and at the moment, within the ’60s, I bear in mind leaving Harlem and questioning once we had been going again house to Queens. By the ’70s, you begin to see the place the destruction and the disintegration of the neighborhoods begin to happen, and the Bronx appeared like an unserviced, unkept Harlem. And Harlem wasn’t even serviced within the ’70s! I’m not even speaking concerning the fires — the Fort Apache Bronx — that was the late ’70s, when it was actually deserted. So I’ve plenty of reminiscences from the Bronx, with blended critiques.

For me, the revelation was how the dying of peacemaker Black Benjie led to peace among the many Bronx gangs, which led to a interval of creativity, which led to Afrika Bambaataa, himself a gang member, internet hosting DJ events. And that opens the door for DJ Kool Herc’s home social gathering. Was that historic cause-and-effect as revelatory for you?

Oh, no query. Numerous occasions, if the parable remains to be flying and no person places it down, it will probably flip it into one thing else: “Oh, man, I don’t even believe that shit, because it sounds crazy.” It’s necessary to place that stuff into some sort of paper. Once you come into the written truth of the matter, you pay a real respect to these those who paid the worth. This documentary highlights what all of them tried to do afterwards — preserve the peace. The truth that it comes earlier than the Holy Trinity [of hip-hop] — Kool Herc, Bambaataa, [and] in a while Grandmaster Flash — is a superb story to inform.

What do you consider the Hip-Hop 50 celebrations and occasions up to now? 

It’s slightly incomplete. It’s disjointed in plenty of methods. However I’m not going to take something away from the makes an attempt. I’m a board member of the Hip Hop Alliance. I’m concerned with [rapper] KRS-One throwing a free occasion at 1520 Sedgwick. I’m getting a rental automobile and pulling up at plenty of occasions and getting on the mic and saluting it. It’s actually the other of what’s occurring corporately. I plan to do some work at Yankee Stadium, too. But it surely does really feel crammed. My thought is, Hip-Hop 49 was a priority, and Hip-Hop 51 is a priority. If this was rock ‘n’ roll, they curate, they domesticate the whole lot. There’s a want for a union. We acknowledge the actors and writers happening strike — we’re related to that, as a result of now we have grievances and issues that ought to have been finished by elders on this artwork kind.

Have you ever seen this clip going round of Snoop Dogg, criticizing the economics of music streaming? What do you concentrate on that?

It’s like synthetic intelligence — it’s a dance. Know-how giveth and it taketh away. If the place to giveth, then you must be capable of be open-eyed sufficient to know that it will probably chew your entire surroundings [up] in the event you don’t work out what your dance goes to be with it.

The minute you interact in placing a needle on a bit of vinyl, now you’re into the document enterprise. The truth that we’re doing this interview that comes by means of zoom on my Apple laptop computer by means of my AT&T wiring — you’ve simply received to know you’re within the jungle generally, you gotta preserve from going below. And Hollywood — the writers, the actors — they knew what they had been getting concerned with. Or possibly they didn’t. However the minute you signal a contract to get right into a enterprise: “OK, now you’re a thespian on stage, but now you’re taking it into the area of two-dimensional distribution,” look out! What appears to be like grass is admittedly inexperienced on one facet, on the opposite facet, you discover out it’s a minefield. It’s like, “Wow, initially it was dope! I got in here!” – however now I discover out the factor that received me extra money in my contract has now received a again finish that’s going to return firing at me.

The typical musician … was identical to, “Man, is my music getting to people?” You discover out, “Wow, I’m really in a different jungle here.” That’s what plenty of the actors and actresses have came upon. Now they discuss streaming – however, yo, the minute that protest ought to have occurred was the minute anyone mentioned they’re going to carry your film to a telephone.

You referred to renting a automobile. I can’t resist asking: Do you request a ’98 Oldsmobile?

Oh, hell, no! I ask for a small. Particularly in New York Metropolis. The smaller the higher, ’trigger you’ve received to park. Toyota Corollas normally work. Kias work. Once you drive within the metropolis, don’t get nothing outlandish. That’s a New York Metropolis rule from method again: Don’t stand out. Slot in.