Joe Conzo’s pictures were all black and white, but as I stared, I began to see them in color.
My name is KeKe, I am a 14 year old high school student from Jamaica Queens. I started my summer vacation going to an exhibit with my cousin Sommer. I didn’t understand exactly what I was walking into until she broke it down.
The exhibit was “Born in The Bronx: Afrika Bambaataa, Buddy Esquire, Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style and Joe Conzo.” At the exhibit I saw the work of flyer artist Buddy Esquire, part of the record collection, clothing and Zulu Nation accessories of DJ Afrika Bambaataa, a few things from film director Charlie Ahern, and my favorite, Joe Conzo’s photography.
When I think of old school, I think of black and white, you know vintage? Joe Conzo’s pictures were all black and white, but as I stared I began to see them in color. Each was it’s own moment but together they told a story. I wondered how Joe Conzo remembered each moment from the other side of the camera.
Adding to the vibe, two DJs took turns playing music from Bambaataa’s record collection, while people nearby dug through boxes of his records to purchase and others smiled and took pictures. The DJs were Tedsmooth and Breakbeat Lou, whose stories I later learned. That night, my cousin and I literally spent hours talking, listening, and breaking down remixes and identifying break beats.
“I said a hip hop the hippie the hippie. To the hip hip hop and you don’t stop,” I sang out loud, my cousin laughed.
Buddy Esquire’s flyers which were used to promote hip hop parties back in the day, also sung the music of their time. They had bold words (which I later learned were inspired by the text on compact cassette wrapping), photos that drew my attention, many of which were actually shot by Joe Conzo and other drawings. I was sad to see that he had recently passed away. R.I.P Buddy!
This exhibit has forever changed my view of Hip Hop. Its is not just hot beats, catchy lyrics, and the latest fashion, it’s a lifestyle. Some of my Hip Hop listening comes from BET, MTV, Hot 97, and they all play the same thing. That means Drake, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, the whole YMCB group. Thanks to my cousin, I now know what a Program Director and payola is! My visits to YouTube and Souncloud usually result in a more interesting and mixed playlist with Tyler the Creator, Bobby Shmurder, Speaker Knockerz, or Band O’Jones and my favorite 90’s hip hop and R & B.
Since the exhibit I’ve spent the last few weeks searching for as much information on the roots of Hip Hop. I found stuff online but kids my age are not going to look for it, which means it needs to be brought to us! This is my official call for:
- More hip hop exhibits like Born in the Bronx
- Hip Hop books that are written for us kids, maybe even by us
- Radio, TV and websites and hip hop artists to embrace and discuss Hip Hop history
- the start of a Junior Hip Hop Ambassadors program
… so that kids my age can identify and say proudly “Bambaataa started that, Buddy made that, and Joey shot that!“
Leave me comments below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
- Please visit the Cornell University Hip Hop Collection which houses the archives of Buddy Esquire, Joe Conzo, Breakbeat Lou, and more!
- More info on the Born in the Bronx exhibit can be found on the Boo-Hooray website.
- Buy the book Born in the Bronx here.