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April 26, 2005

BRICK HOUSES OF HIP HOP


LADY PINK's brick lady...>



Juxtaposition Arts is a non-profit youth focused visual arts organization engaging audiences through its community collaborations, studio arts workshops, public mural programs and special festivals and art exhibitions. Two visual artists [and one Hip Hop wife] founded the organization in 1995 as a means to engage artistically inclined urban youth in high quality creative experiences in ways that are practical, relevant, and life-changing. Juxtaposition Arts exists to nurture and channel creativity by providing community outlets for young people to create and show fine art.

I met DeAnna Cummings through our collective advisory board for B-Girl Be. DeAnna was co-curating the gallery exhibition, which is now open at Intermedia Arts, and I didn’t know much about her except that she’d done a great job gathering together art from women all over the world. One day after a meeting at Intermedia, we hooked up with DeAnna and made our way over to her organization’s spot on the Northside of Minneapolis. Like all cities, Minneapolis is divided, segregated and subjugated. Intermedia Arts, which is a wonderful organization, is located in the “nice” part of Minneapolis.

Juxtaposition Arts, however, is in the ‘hood, deep in the Northside. But it’s all good. That’s what it is. Juxta’s for the kids. DeAnna, who is the Executive Director of Juxtaposition, her husband Roger, and his artistic partner Peyton do amazing, inspiring work in the community, educating the youth and giving them space to move, groove, create and devastate while taking in Graffiti, Hip Hop music, Breakdancing and the history of the movement and culture. But the thing that struck and impressed me most about Juxtaposition Arts, besides being a safe space for youth to create, is that they’re giving young people ways to make a living doing Graffiti art, murals, customizing sneakers with Graf designs, airbrushing clothing, and finding myriad ways for creativity and commerce to coexist.

So I wanted to share with you this excerpt from DeAnna Cummings’ memoir-in-progress, A HIP HOP KIDS GUIDE TO CHANGING THE WORLD. The words following are her own, and as DeAnna states, “some may argue with the dates or other details of this piece. They can feel free to tell it their way when they tell it but This Is My Story.”

I first met Hip Hop like so many people living in Middle America, through “Rappers Delight” the first ever Top 40 rap hit by the Sugar Hill Gang. KPRS radio in Kansas City, KS was giving the cut mad spins – like every other radio station across the country in 1979. I was 9 years old in 4th grade at Stony Point North elementary. I now know that rap (I didn’t know of the word Hip Hop yet) was 5-10 years old by then. Popping and B-Boying was developing on both coasts. Aerosol writing had been around for a decade plus. But for me—a country girl from Kansas City it all started with “Rappers Delight”.

Thinking about the time period from 1979 to 1982 and my becoming acquainted with Hip Hop music, I get an indescribable feeling in my body and heart remembering the times—roller skating in my cousins basement, and the songs—“The Breaks”, “Funk You Up”, “The Message”, and “Double Dutch Bus”! I had a certain affinity for this music from the start. There was an edge of rebelliousness. It was at the tail end of Black Power and urban unrest. The end of Caring Carter. The beginning of Wretched Reaganomics. Rap music reflected all of this to me. But I didn’t think of it as very different than other contemporary music of that time – “Bustin Loose”, “Ring My Bell”, “Bad Girls”, “Rock with You”, “Let it Whip”. To me Rap was just an extension of disco and R&B.

It wasn’t until moving to the Twin Cities in 1983 the summer before 8th grade that I came to know of Hip Hop as a unique youth culture.

My family arrived in Minneapolis via Greyhound bus and spent a summer living on the Northside. Then right before school started we got a sweet brand new townhouse in a Southeast Minneapolis low-income housing co-op. There were a grip of kids in my new neighborhood who where around my age. Boys mostly. The only other girl was my friend Vickie who is three years older than me—which is a lot older when you’re a 13. I have four siblings and a foster sister. Six kids total in my house. Three bedrooms. One bathroom.

My mom is a former Black Nationalist organizer. Panther Party wife. Kansas City girl, by way of Los Angeles by way of Minneapolis. In the early 80s incantation of herself Moms worked a full-time job as the Human Resource manager at the Lake Street K-Mart. Her evenings were filled with meetings of the Minneapolis Civil Rights commission, letting off steam with friends, and other grown folks stuff. Us kids were alone a lot. I was the oldest and in charge of the brood. We were one of the few families in the co-op that had cable TV and a VCR. Obviously, for all the right reasons, our house was the neighborhood hang out spot.

The Twin Cities vicinity to Chicago and people moving here from East and West coasts for all the jobs meant it is a much more cultured city then my hometown in Kansas. Almost immediately upon coming to Minneapolis I came to realize that Hip Hop was what was up with kids here. I don’t remember an exact spark, but it came to my awareness like a wave rolling in. Suddenly it seemed like everyone was wearing Adidas, Kangols and Kazals. The boys from my neighborhood would congregate at my house. We’d watch MTV and rented videos trying to catch a glimpse of a kid doing a windmill, a fresh popper, or a dope freeze. They would move our living room furniture up against the walls, flatten out a cardboard box, rewind the video over and over again and practice for hours.

It was very free form. It wasn’t about building a Hip Hop culture or making history. Just kids teaching other kids what their cousin taught them. Organizing practices. Building without realizing they’re building. As my grandma used to say though, “hindsight is 20/20”. Meaning our attempts today to codify and record the history of Hip Hop doesn’t exactly match with the way I remember it. It all sounds a bit too contrived – like it was planned, orderly, methodical, revolutionary. The stories—including this one—are told with nostalgia. My friend Tom Bowman (former B-Boy, always lover of Hip Hop) describes it as our generation trying to make sure we have our Hip Hop credentials. Pontificating about “Being down since day one!” But in reality there wasn’t an official Day One. There was only each of our own Day Ones. A bunch of kids 12-16 years old, exploring who we were individually and collectively. Building on this developing art form. Practicing. Studying videos. Going to parties. Getting in fights. Rocking fresh gear. Going with a new guy. Breaking up. Meeting another. It was about your skills and love and having fun. Pretty simple.

Movies such as Wildstyle, Stylewars, Breakin’ and videos on MTV fueled the fire. Pretty much everybody I knew was a B-Boy back then. The majority were breakers. (The Circuit Breakers were from my neighborhood.) A few caught tags. MCing was just starting to bubble in the circles I hung in. Only a handful of girls were breakers or mcs. I mean you could count the females on one hand who were active participants in the culture. Most girls hung out and watched, cheered, commented, and eyeballed future boyfriends. Except for brief flirting with graf / tagging, I fell into the latter category.

In 1984, I was a freshman at South High. On my 2nd day of school a Minneapolis B-Boy named Roger asked me for my phone number, called me that night and in short order we proceeded to fall in love. He was a breaker, popper and graf writer. He had an early 80s Prince, El-Debarge thing going on. I was gaga! There were many haters. We became inseparable in a tumultuous passionate teenage love kinda way. My priorities shifted from studious schoolgirl/southeast Minneapolis hoodrat to “me and my guy against the world”.

After a summer stay in Los Angels my foster sister, Stephanie came back to Minneapolis and showed us all how to do Cholo letters. I took up tagging briefly over the summer and into the fall of 1984. Everywhere we walked Stephanie and I would write “Giggles” and “Dee”. Each of us had our own version of a smiley face character to go with our tag. In October or November 1984, Me, Stephanie and Roger got hemmed up at Washburn High School for tagging on every locker on the 2nd and 3rd floor of the school. It was in the middle of the day. The three of us were enrolled at South High, but on the frequent suspensions program, mostly for having too many unexcused absences. Roger was in the middle of a 3-day suspension. Stephanie was just getting off a one-day suspension and was supposed to return to South that day. I, always a foot in both worlds (nerdy book worm / urban vandal) decided to take the day off too and head up to Washburn with my compadres to visit Stephanie’s boyfriend/Roger’s best friend Donald.

Upon arriving at Washburn – we just walked right in as schools were unlocked with only a few security folks roaming the halls back then. To our pleasant surprise we discovered that over the weekend Washburn had installed brand new lockers– bright orange, shiny new surfaces that were begging to be broken in. The three of us walked down the 2nd floor hall then up the stairs and down the 3rd floor corridor, marking every locker with our fat black signatures along the way. One of us at a time would work each side of the hall. Then we’d switch sides and hit the other row. Our plan was for each of the three of us to tag every locker so kids at Washburn would know that Giggles, Dot2 and Dee were there. We were about halfway though our plan when out of nowhere the Wasburn Hall monitor rolls up – chases us through the school and eventually catches us

We were in HUGE trouble. We waited in the office for what felt like hours terrified that the school was going to call the police. I was physically sick waiting for my mom to come pick us up. Me and Stephanie sat there holding hands and shaking with terror anticipating what was going to happen when my mom showed up. See my mom was not to be fucked with. She was/is the most intimidating person I know. Everyone was scared of her. No one wanted to suffer her rath. Case in point – mom picked me and Stephanie up from Washburn and we rode home in total silence. She dropped us off at home then went back to work and told us she’d deal with us later. After work she came home and picked Stephanie and I up, saying we were gonna take a little ride. Mom drove us to a deserted area along the Mississippi River and parked. She got out of the car to pick up a glass beer bottle, then got back in the car pointed the bottle at us and said “I am going to break off the bottom of this bottle, cut our throats and throw your bodies into the river. No one will every find out.”

From the official ranks, our Southeast Delinquents Crew received a light punishment by today’s “zero-tolerance” standards. A 2-week out of school suspension, and a $500 fine each. No cops. No jail time. My mothers’ fury was the worst of it. Still my appetite to Do Graffiti was thoroughly satiated but Roger’s hunger grew bigger.

Around 1987 Hip Hop is in full effect in the Twin Cities. The culture is well formed by now. Cats are specialists in particular elements. There are fewer B-Boys and more mc’s here than in the early days. Roger is known for his skills as a writer and is getting pretty steady work doing custom graffiti jackets, commissioned backdrops, drawing party flyers. Basically he’s getting his hustle on, making money with his art. I have assumed the unofficial role of manager, comrade, organizer and wifey. I bought him his first airbrush as a birthday present. He hadn’t really thought about using airbrush before, but I figured he’d be nice with it and he’d have more options to make money.

In 1988 Roger became a member of Traviton’s Hip Hop Shop. The Hip Hop shop was one of the first if not THE FIRST Hip Hop radio show in the Twin Cities. It aired on KMOJ 89.9 on Saturday afternoons. It was Travis Lee’s show and Roger was a member of the Hip Hop Shop Posse. Roger would answer the phones and read the list of shout outs from people who called the Cool Check In line. He and the other three posse members were like hype men in a lot of ways, they gave Trav someone to play off of. In addition to the radio show, Trav was putting on a lot of parties at this time. Roger and the possee carried the crates, did the party flyers, and helped out wherever necessary to keep it flavorful. I remember going to Trav’s infamous parties at the U of M Coffman Union. Almost 1,000 kids would pack the Great Hall. We’d watch performances, dance, battles would erupt in the crowd, while someone was on stage. Kids are sweating, cheering, betting on who would win, making out in the corner. It was bananas!

Flash-forward about 5 years to 1993/1994 and me and Roger (we’re married by now) and our friend/B-Boy/artist Peyton formed a three-way collaboration that eventually became Juxtaposition Arts. Juxtaposition Arts is a nonprofit visual arts organization committed to providing creative space for kids who live in Minneapolis' urban hood known as the Northside. We also use Juxtaposition as a platform to promote, educate, and create connections within and about Hip Hop. At Juxta kids get hands on instruction and experience drawing, painting, sculpting. They study art history looking at the work and life of traditional masters alongside graf legends like Dondi, Phase 2 and Futura. In the summertime the kids do outdoor murals. Most often spray paint and markers are the tools of choice.

Juxtaposition is the manifestation of a group of Hip Hop kids who wanted to build a place for youth who grew up like us—raised by single moms, growing up in low-income housing, "at-risk"—but with a desire to create and express ourselves. In the organization's lifetime we've done afterschool and school residency workshops with more than 2,000 Twin Cities youth and provided opportunities for old heads and up and coming Hip Hop kids to hone their craft and get experience teaching the younger generation. We've hosted national and international graf icons in Minneapolis -- Lady Pink, CASE 2, Blade, Crash, Daze, Daim, Blue, Muck and TATS CRU.

As Juxtaposition Arts approaches our 10-year birthday, I find my self-reflecting on whether we've done enough, and what should be next? Writing this piece has been good for me, it has got me to really think about my first experiences with Hip Hop. Those early days of freedom, love, unbound creativity, and passionate pursuit. It's a reminder that what I'm doing and will continue to do is important in and of itself; just giving kids space, and freedom, and access to creative people. A place where they can move the furniture out of the way and dance—moments out of which they might be inspired to do whatever their thing is in their own way. Maybe that's the gift me and the other grown folks who are the Hip Hop generation can give to the kids of today. Kids who seem to be in desperate need of space where they can figure out who they are and what touches their souls and one day write their own histories.

2 Comments:

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