Monday, November 2, 2015

Music Monday - On the Streets of the Bronx

I haven't discussed my childhood in the Bronx very much on my blog.  A couple of years, I wrote a memoir manuscript that I will try to return to one day, to start the hard and painful work of editing.

Suffice it to say that I spent my first 21 years in two different New York City housing projects - one in Queens for my first five months, and the remainder of that in a New York City housing project in the Bronx in a neighborhood called Williamsbridge, just off Gun Hill Road.

So what does that have to do with music?

A lot, if you are into hip hop music, because it was being born around me when I was busy trying to go to college and escape from that very same housing project.  It was born in a housing project some four miles from where I was growing up, not long before I left.

Hip hop is not a music that I get into that much, although there are some exceptions.

Today, I want to introduce you to some music by a man who now calls himself Afrika Bambaataa.

But this man, born Kevin Donovan in the Bronx in 1957, had taken a very different path at the time I was growing up.

At one time, this man was the warlord of a major gang called the Black Spades.  My neighborhood was part of their territory.  My memories of their presence are not happy ones.  But now, when I read about these men who are in their 50's and 60's, I see something much different than what I saw in the 1970's.

Something happened to the Kevin Donovan and the Black Spades as they transformed themselves from a powerful street gang to something else.

They entered into a peace treaty with other gangs. They became interested in social justice, music.  If you enjoy hip hop music today, you owe a great debt of gratitude to Afrika Bambaataa and others of the former Black Spades.

This mainly happened after I left the Bronx for good in 1974, but it makes for some fascinating reading, if you are interested in the subject of what became (and still exists as) the Universal Zulu Nation.
 And if you aren't - there is the music, which will make you want to dance.

If you have about seven minutes, listen to the story of Yellow Benjie, of a different gang called the Ghetto Brothers -  I have read the graphic novel Ghetto Brother, and highly recommend it. (There's a twist to Yellow Benjie's life that I especially identified with.)

This is day two of NaBloPoMo - head on over and enjoy some other bloggers dedicated this month to daily blogging.


  1. Such an interesting history, and fascinating that it happened right around the corner from where you grew up! Thanks for sharing these tidbits on the start of hip hop music.

  2. Never heard of him. I understand rent in New York City is high.
    But we need more subsidized housing. We have a shortage here of low income housing.
    I see you got #2 day done in posting for NaBloPoMo Coffee is on

  3. That's really attesting! I'm also going to have to checkout the music!

  4. Very interesting! I am not really into hip hop either, but I do like to know the stories behind the musicians. I have been a blogger since 2005, but this year I really, really slacked off. I'm hoping that NaBloPoMo will help me get back into the habit. I'm enjoying reading your blog.


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