The key elements of hip-hop have been well documented over the years, but director Shan Nicholson uncovers the layers of what brought the genre into fruition by exploring the gang culture of the 60’s and 70’s in the brilliant 2015 documentary, “Rubble Kings.”
With hope, a Kickstarter fund and a little help from a Hollywood funny man, “Rubble Kings” was created over the span of eight years. Nicholson, a former DJ, spoke to NewsOne about the journey, hip-hop’s true roots and how the current climate of social injustice regarding African-Americans mirrors the tales of yesteryear.
New York was often seen as many things between 1968 and 1975 — a gritty wanderlust of big business and culture was often one of them. Diving into the forefront of gang culture, Nicholson zeroes on ‘The Ghetto Brothers,’ one of the biggest gangs in the Bronx. Ghetto Brothers leaders Carlos “Karate Charlie” Suarez and Benji “Yellow” Melendez, in comical and serious detail, paint a picture of the life that once took over the concrete jungle.
Early hip-hop pioneers like Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa, as well as gang members from beyond the Bronx also reflect on how the loss of one life prompted a borough-wide truce and later the block parties that helped grow what we know now as rap music.
The film, narrated by John Leguizamo, is executively produced by Jim Carrey. Nicholson says the Hollywood support was appreciated, but the process was a history lesson in its self. After speaking with Bronx historians, gang members, the women that stood by them and politicians like the late mayor Ed Koch, the director believed the story needed to be told.
“In the beginning we were totally under-financed but we believed in it and just grinded it out,” Nicholson told NewsOne. “I knew someone with a camera, they knew someone with a boom mic so we kind of just stringed the whole thing together. Bambatta and Kool Herc were amazing to speak with. These are the founders of hip-hop so it was an honor to speak with them face to face but it definitely took a while to track them down,” he continued.
“Gang” and what it stands for today wasn’t as frightening in the past. Yellow and Karate Charlie discussed how the Black Spades, Savage Skulls, Savage Nomads, and more were respected as brotherhoods before economic turmoil and drugs infiltrated the South Bronx. From there, the 70’s became a time for survival as the gangs became the hosts of crime, turf wars and negativity. With the media on the tails of the gangs, the Ghetto Brothers took the opportunity to change the conversation into a political one, speaking on the importance of unity between Blacks and Latinos.
After the death of their widely respected “peace counselor,” Cornell “Black Charlie” Benjamin, a truce was called in the Bronx by the Ghetto Brothers. The gang later found interest in their own culture by creating block parties and even putting out fusions of soul, latin rock and pop music.
Bambaataa, a former BS warlord, turned the gang into Zulu Nation. DJing and breakdancing soon followed creating the culture of hip-hop. For Nicholson, it’s the love, togetherness and soul that he only dreams of the genre returning to. He also hopes hip-hop’s millennial fans can dive past their obsession with the golden age and understand the story isn’t just a music one, but a human story.
“It’s an important movie for many reasons,” he said. “Not just because of their history. It’s a direct reflection of what’s going on today. Here you have a culture that was built out of rubble basically and social upliftment. Every one of these kids were relatable; especially when you come from a disenfranchised neighborhood you feel sort of down trotted in the society.”
With hundreds of African-Americans killed in police related shootings this year, today’s war on social justice has transcended past Twitter feeds and news headlines. During the BET Awards this year, acts like Kendrick Lamar, Janelle Monae and Jidenna performed “Black Lives Matter” themed performances, while actor Micheal B. Jordan paid respects to the victims of the AME Shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. All echo the social efforts of the Ghetto Brothers, Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc.
Response of the film has been overwhelmingly positive with Nas and Killer Mike praising its precise account of the moments that shifted a culture. The independent flick received a limited release in theaters, but it can be viewed online via Amazon and iTunes.
Check out the full list here and the trailer below.
For more information, visit the film’s site here.
PHOTO CREDIT: Rubble Kings | VIDEO CREDIT: YouTube