NYCD: The Blog

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


The time: Autumn 1984.
The place: the Beacon Theater, Upper West Side.
The band: Public Image Ltd.

Every punker, hipster and alt-rocker was jammed into the place to see John Lydon, formerly Johnny Rotten, do his thing. But up first was the opening act, Afrika Bambaataa, already a hip-hop legend thanks to the classic "Planet Rock."

I was in 10th grade at the time, and I had the distinction of being the first white kid in my snooty Upper East Side prep school to like rap. It helped me bond with the one Hispanic kid in my grade -- we'd trade verses on UTFO's hit "Roxanne, Roxanne" in between classes -- but everyone else thought I was a freak. Of course, at my school you were a freak if you wore a black Polo sweater instead of a green one, but that's another story. Listening to anyone blacker than Bob Marley was a major no-no.

I, along with maybe two or three other people, stood up and cheered when Afrika Bambaataa made his way behind the twin turntables. After a couple of minutes of scratching and rhyming, the crowd started heckling him. Between songs, the boos rained down on him, along with the odd plastic cup here and there. "Lemme hear you say ye-eah!" he shouted. "Fuuuuuck yooooooouuuu!" the crowd, including my friend Jason (a diehard Rush fan who'd just discovered punk rock), screamed back.

He then proceeded to confuse the hell out of everyone by throwing a new record on the turntables that none of us had heard. The beats were hip-hop, but the music was a little more electronic and new-wavey, and ... wait, was that John Lydon rapping along with Afrika?! He played the record, which turned out to be "World Destruction" by Time Zone, with very little scratching or other distractions -- probably just to get the crowd to shut up. At the end of the song, there was a lot of murmuring and scattered applause. Then they went back to booing him for the rest of the set.

"Time Zone" wound up becoming a hit, especially in England, and along with Run-DMC's "Rock Box" was one of the first records to mix rock with hip-hop. The walls came down, slowly but surely. And now, twenty years later, you can go back to my snooty prep school and find MC Scott Rabinowitz and DJ Ezra Sheckter saying "Whassup, my nigga?"


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