If you find yourself visiting New York City looking for good ways to occupy your time, I strongly suggest you jump on the bus: Grandmaster Caz’s luxurious Birthplace of Hip Hop bus that is.
The tour runs between three and four hours and costs $75, a bargain considering one of the best emcees in history provides a command performance.
The day I went Caz was suffering from a killer toothache, but I don’t think he can give a show (even for 20 people) without putting his heart into it, and his rap routines were mindblowingly entertaining, and aside from being one of the top ten emcees in hip hop history, Caz is also one of the funniest dudes I know and could easily make the jump into stand-up if he wanted, although some of his humor might have been lost on one or two of the foreigners. He had me rolling in the aisles frequently.
First stop was a playground for some b-boy lessons. Like most of the first generation, Caz started as a b-boy in the Casanova Crew (not to be confused with the former Black Spade gang known as the Casanovas, who did security work for Ray Chandler).
Everyone in that early West Bronx crew had the first name Casanova, and members could make up any last name they wanted provided they were down with the crew. Caz came up with “Casanova Fly” and became one of their top breakers until he had his growth spurt.
Notice how the best breakers tend to be on the shorter side? Their bodies are just so much better suited to going to the floor and staying there, so once Caz became too gangly to break, he became a deejay.
Mouse came along up to give a class on Breaking 101, and also a lecture on the history of breaking that was fascinating and outlined the original innovators, like Keith and Kevin (the Nigger Twins) and the Rock Steady Crew. He gave major props to Michael Holman for getting Rock Steady into Flashdance, which is what kicked off a global b-boy mania that’s been going strong ever since.
Of course, the highlight of the tour was a visit to 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, the site where Kool Herc and his sister Cindy threw their first jams. Caz admitted he didn’t make the first party as he was only 13 at the time, but the sounds had been loud enough to draw crowds from six blocks away, and a party happened in the street in front of the building that night that was just as big as the party happening in the rec room inside.
This was August 11, 1973, the most important date in hip hop history.
And Caz lived right around the corner.
The first emcee was Coke La Rock, and he came up with some phrases that stuck, like “you rock and you don’t stop.”
But then a second wave of emcees quickly appeared the next summer, and they elevated the art of emceeing immensely.
Even though he was known as Deejay Casanova Fly, and had a crew of 50 following him around wearing his name on their custom shirts, Caz became an early emcee and went to the front of the class immediately, not just for verbal skills writing some of the best lyrics of the time (and certainly some of the funniest) but also because his delivery epitomized the hard attitude of the Bronx b-boy. The rest of the city was ruled by disco, and disco was deemed too soft, same as hippie culture, while hip hop and punk, were the cultural reactions against being too soft.
Toward the end of the tour, Caz stopped by his marker on the Bronx Hall of Fame. Only a handful of hip hoppers have been honored with a street sign along the Grand Concourse, and he’s one of the few, and deservedly so.
I think I learned as much in three hours riding around with Caz as I picked up in the three years I was working on my book Hip Hop.
The tour made me want to go back and rewrite my book with a lot more details added.
Meanwhile, Caz and I are working on some more adventures to take place in Colorado. He was the host of our Munchie Cup, the first event thrown by Abakus, but certainly not that last. He’s also one of the founders of the Pot Illuminati.
So stay tuned to this blog for some big announcements coming soon. And if you live in Colorado, be sure and ask your local dispensary to get some copies of our print edition. They are free for the asking and already available at dozens of dispensaries, mostly in the mountain resorts and not so much in Denver yet.
After the tour was over, Caz took us all out to lunch at his favorite Harlem Soul Food buffet. I plan to be back soon, as the food was spectacular and very reasonably priced. For more information on Caz’s amazing tour, check out the website here