Dear Mr Marzipan
Dear Mr Marzipan
Post Brexit the international mail service has gone haywire. Muddled up with desperate missives to Saint Nicholas, your envelope en route to an OG was pushed through my letter box. After tussling it free from the jaws of a hound, I carelessly opened the seal without checking what was left of the address label. I also did not have my reading glasses to hand – a pair of classic Cazals, lensed unlike the Artifacts' who rocked their's with no glass, have been downsized to a low key tortoiseshell Rayban. My digression stalled my recognition that the letter was infact, not meant for me. But like the Artifacts, I go Whayback with flash backs to windbreaker suits and fat Kangols. I still savour Clarks, and peace always to Buck 4, Kuriaki and Frosty Freeze who laid the groundwork, designed the floorwork and polished the linoleum for what has become meshed into the very fabric of my being.
I suspect, from the YouTube uploads on your website, and LA-bound address, you were directing your letter to one of the Popping pioneers. My writing is borne from calloused bboy lineage but as someone who remembers the milkman, Betamax and BVSMP, I remain loyal to the ideal that Popping, Bboyin' and Locking are fundamental dance styles of the same culture of Hip Hop. I read all of your questions as pertinent to this collective experience and therefore believe that they could be shared with DJs, writers, MCs and beatboxers alike.
You wrote that you understand yourself as a guest to this culture – I was also not party to the New York scene at Hip Hop's inception, but have been down since the '80s and feel as much a guest to Hip Hop as I do to my own body. Perhaps my experience may add a useful perspective to your investigation. Usually in correspondence, I would respond line by line to your questions and observations yet I have hijacked this particular dispatch, therefore will proffer a more general return so as not to over stay my presumptuous welcome. But know, Mr Marzipan, I have considered your words in full.
In introduction to my response, it is necessary to attempt to define the meaning of the initialism, OG. For this, I hand over to Tracy Lauren Marrow and his fourth studio album, O.G Original Gangster. Reviewed as his best work, and according to NME, 'all those things NWA profess to be but clearly aren't,' the album is a deep dive into life beyond the law with lyrics weaponised with first hand experience of dealing, pimping and robbing banks. Marrow, better known as Ice-T is described in album track First Impressions as 'the epitome of antidisestablishmentariansim who embodies the entire spectrum of the urban experience and struggle.' Straight up gangster – bringing home the G. He can also stake a claim on the O: active during Hip Hop's infancy, performing in Breakin/ Breakdance the Movie; debut album was first to carry an explicit content sticker; second album Power went platinum with a cover that created a covert intimacy between every Hip Hop kid of my generation and Marrow/ Ice's then-girlfriend, Darlene. Along with Schoolly D, Ice-T is cited as pioneering the Gangsta Rap sub-genre. It would be hard not to recognise the influence he has left on the scene, 'bullet-proof [he and his legacy] die[s] harder than Bruce Willis.'
def: an original or originator and especially one that is highly respected or regarded.
Although folklore narrative ascribes the first use of OG to the Cripps in the '70s, it is feasible that the international success of O.G Original Gangster, helped to migrate the term from gang culture to Hip Hop to popular culture. In the long haul flight that followed, the G has become shaded by an emphasis on the O. Along with your letter, Mr Marzipan, words intended for the hills of Los Angeles, have come to be interpreted in the flatlands of East Anglia.
Once upon a time there was a little person, in age not height, called Razzle Dazzle.
Razzle Dazzle had a stupendous imagination, and a mum who always bought shoes with space to grow.
Razzle Dazzle gorged on cartoons, old kungfu films, and quarters of strawberry bon-bons but what Razzle Dazzle liked the bestest was to hang out with friends...
Marcus – may I call you Marcus? Before I continue with Razzle Dazzle's story, I wondered if you are aware that a group of researchers worked on a study to prove that dancing is innate. The study found that humans are born with a predisposition to move rhythmically in response to music. Psychologist Mark Zenter reported that 'the better the children were able to synchronise their movements with the music, the more they smiled.'
Razzle Dazzle's friends would bring pause tapes round, which they would listen to on a portable Sanyo MW-725LU. If Razzle Dazzle's parents were out, they would shorten the life of the needle by playing records on the coveted-do-not-touch-secondhand Hitachi T53-L hifi system.
Sometimes they would move the coffee table to the back of the living room and push the sofa against the wall
Sometimes they would split open a cardboard box to cover the oil slick in the garage
Sometimes they would go to the shopping centre, to the corner farthest from security
Sometimes they would hit the smooth polished floor in the Hong Kong House takeaway. But not on Tuesdays
Razzle Dazzle would smile
Razzle Dazzle's friends would smile
and they would create. They would imitate the kids bigger than them in age and height; the cartoon characters; the kungfu masters;
and they would play
and they would fantasise
They named themselves the UltraUnbeatables and, curious and hungry, believed they could be
They claimed the rhythmical, angular, Kodak moment movements their bodies found, as their own. Naming them after themselves only to find out, in due course, that the same movement had already been developed on the otherside of the planet. But no one really paid any attention to an idea that this was all more than a moment. No one considered the blue print was being etched for a whole culture and future generations. There was a looseness to it, no one was serious about notating choreographies or breaking down techniques. Razzle Dazzle and friends, the UltraUnbeatables; kids of all ages and heights, didn't have that foresight.
Kenneth Gabbert says they were all just spazzing out and goin' off.
Lance Taylor and James Joseph Brown preached 'peace, unity, love and having fun.'
One of the people who did capture the moment in Kodak, is Martha Cooper. Her photographs have formed the official photo album for the beginnings of Hip Hop culture, informing young disciples in search of the punctum of what it is to be Hip Hop. What a massive responsibility that becomes. I was representing at an event in Germany in the 2000's which Cooper was speaking at. I was very excited to hear her story and meet the woman in person. I was shocked to hear her say that she had no interest in Hip Hop culture.
But this was not a responsibility she had asked for. She had taken photographs of what was around her at a time which have since become significant to our movement, helping to shape the silhouette, style and slant of our culture. Cooper doesn't owe us anything.
So what about the pioneers, these OGs you address? How does the landscape look if we consider the very real possibility that they did not plan for this decree. What a very heavy weight to bear.
There are many Originals with strong shoulders who are ride or die with fantastic stories to tell and the skills with which to do so. There are others who have their own agendas not necessarily inline with the protection of history, or the nurture of an empowering future. Just because someone is down by law at aged 12 in 1982, does not mean they still are. Or still want to be. For some it was a moment in time, that snapshot of youth, Weetabix, concrete dust, and your cousin's hand-me-downs. For some there is no romance in their memories. Any scent of nostalgia has been masked by the stench of manipulation, loss, abandonment and death:
peace always to Buck 4, Kuriaki and Frosty Freeze who laid the groundwork, designed the floorwork and polished the linoleum for what has become meshed into the very fabric of my being... Buck 4 - Gabriel Marcano, murdered; Kuriaki – Lorenzo Soto tortured and executed in a garage; Frosty Freeze - Wayne Frost, after struggling with his mental health and addiction he died in hospital on a life support machine.
For a next gen dancer to elevate their status with a back stage pass, you have outlined the necessity for a nod-of-approval from someone deemed an OG. But who gave the OG a triple A? Just because they were throwing down in one of Cooper's photos wearing a tiny pair of adidas running shorts; just because they were best mates with Razzle Dazzle one summer holiday and maybe even toured the world with their teenage flexibility and Above the Law attitude? Preposterous. And now, still living like a hustler, their conduct is Total K-Oss. The special privileges their access all areas pass affords them is building new communities with very tight achilles. Tiptoeing around OGs for fear of falling out of favour, we are automatically tolerating intolerable behaviours. Be wary of too much misinformed respect, be selective on who's path you want to walk before treading your own. And watch that while teetering on the edge of student, you don't topple into fandom. As you wonder if the Legend remembers you vying for attention in the sea of 'hundreds of faces at each jam or event' refer back to the hard hitting fable by Marshall Bruce Mathers lll, Stan and consider what an autograph on a Starter cap is really worth.
Marcus, I am addressing this letter to you, but like Roy Ayers, the you is ubiquitous. We've all fallen into fanboy status at some point. Lets be honest, Hip Hop is a worldwide colony of geeks, nerds and collectors. Foraging for knowledge, building opinions, caring for proteges, and keeping our trainers clean. Like worker ants repairing the nest, looking after the larvae, and defending the colony by stinging, spraying acid, or biting. But we know that biting is uncouth and will not serve us well in a battle. So why do we continue to copy to the apex of an identity crisis? You wrote that '[imitation] felt good at the start, [you] could almost start to imagine what it felt like back in the day' but more than a game of copycat, imitation is a crucial part of skills development. When I am team-teaching a group of young people over an indefinite duration, there is a period of time after the basics have been learnt, that the students start to look like each of us. You can see who they have been influenced by the most at any one time, through more than choreography, its a tone, a personal dynamic, the mannerisms that you mention. They are learning the scriptures and traditions which have been scaled 3,456 miles as the crow flies, across mixed terrain by the all female worker ants. This sisterhood can lift up to 5,000 times their own body weight, and during the pilgrimage of Hip Hop Kõsen-rufu the load was inadvertently added to, elucidated and reinterpreted.
I often ponder over who the real poet is when I am reading a translation.
Imitation during infancy and early childhood is a typical development stage for non-verbal communication, to express emotion, learn how to take turns and evolve motor skills. Research also suggests its use as an important intervention strategy for children with autism. Then one day, our students turn up to training with a swagger. They have found themselves in us. Armed with their new bodies, maturing into foundation techniques as a preset, and the sinew of confidence to train now for themselves, as themselves; to make the dance their own. This growth spurt comes after a period of intense study and absorption into the culture, with a personal knowledge and understanding of the Whys. When you know why a move was created, why a belt buckle is worn to the side and why a cultural movement began, then you have to ask yourself why it is relevant to you. You can't answer that without honestly knowing who you are. Brian Toh's essay, This Dance Is Not Our Own is a personal exploration of how to answer 'how much of our dance truly belongs to us, when Hip Hop is a culture that we have inherited' by firstly diagnosing his own feelings in regards to his identity. It can be uncomfortable to stand in your truth, to feel alienated, to question your own identity as you have experienced, Marcus. And you're going to feel as deceitful as a three-cornered tart if you are attempting to stand your ground wearing someone else's clothes. Clothes don't make you, they can help fabricate a façade and fancy dress you up like its world book or Tudor day in school, but at best you look like a tribute act, low season at Butlins. Worse, you are likened to the 'urban one' in a boy band line-up, especially if you are displaying an eminent appreciation for random bandanas, flamboyantly fluttering from your pockets and belt loops as you show everyone your helicopter. Sometimes, like Aldous Huxley describing helicopters before they were invented, you have to brave your new world alone.
And Razzle Dazzle went shoe shopping without mum to find the right size.
I believe you do not have to live in the hood to understand the funk. Once we have reached the developmental stage of the growth spurt, we find freedom in authenticity to each tell our story in the language of Hip Hop, not with a quasi American accent, but in our home vernacular, unless you have the unfortunate affliction of being raised in the black country. Stop tormenting yourself Marcus, there is no need to call Hip Hop your own as culture is not something to be owned, it is something to be part of, a place to belong, with 'peace, love, unity [as] the agenda' (KRS-One). And if people continue to tell you otherwise, in the wise words of Gregory Edward Jacobs RIP, tell them to 'step off, I'm doing the Hump.'
In your ninth paragraph - I don't count single sentences as paragraphs, you speculate as to whether 'it’s in the blood of the dance that there has to be some “beef” in order for us to create something great out of it.' Well Marcus, although up to an estimated 4.3% of the total blood volume of a live steer is retained in the musculature of its carcass, by the time the beef is on your plate next to some peas and smothered in gravy, it contains little more that 0.3% residual blood. The pink liquid residing in the packaging your steak came to your kitchen from the supermarket in, is diluted myoglobin, not blood at all. I will now refer back to my third paragraph whence I conjecture that I am 'as much a guest to Hip Hop as I [am] to my own body.' I have been gifted my physical body for a finite duration. At some point I will leave this carcass, and the matter which has housed me since the year Minnie Riperton released Adventures in Paradise, will rot into the ground. My blood will live on through my daughters and with every conversation, every meeting or exchange, every word I have written that someone else has read, a moment of me is shared, to be continued. You cited Taylor and Brown's Unity at the end of your letter; it was reformed on the lips of Lawrence KRS-One Parker; was sampled by Mark Chadwick Jackson, and my funeral congregation will leave to the 12” of Hear the Drummer (Get Wicked). If you believe in reincarnation, maybe I will return as an ant, or flutterby, or my business partner's unborn child. When Jacobs died, he left his fake nose and me giggling whenever I enter a Burger King bathroom. When Marrow dies I will still have the memories of his visit to Cambridge. I will still get a little hysterical when, before he stepped on stage with Body Count, I recount the tumultuous performance Hijack gave to open the show. We are all visitors to Hip Hop as the culture will live on beyond our sojourn, and Razzle Dazzle will live on until the last bboy sticks the final freeze. Ever. But Marcus note the difference between being a tourist (1), and committing to naturalisation with your heart and soul (2).
def : a traveller, un-invested. May appear Kin, but on closer acquaintanceship proves hollow and stale, consisting chiefly of puff and self-interest.
bound by my ribs is a beautiful brown goat hide stretched over a white
disposable plastic cup - one of them ones that folds and crumples easy if
you hold it wrong. one of them ones that lurks at the back of the kitchen
cupboard gathering dust, probably since the drink to mark the berlin wall
being pulled to rubble. to dust. the goat hide makes it look more robust
than what it is. what it is, is some truck djembe. due to its blue peter style
creation, the sweetness of the bass, tone and slap are thwarted by
unwanted overtones vibrating from a skin pulled taught in a lopsided lean.
always a challenge still, but in the right hands, my djembe is solid gold.
excerpt from Late to the Party, by Lucille Rococoa
Once naturalised, we are as accountable for tending to the bodies bestowed to us as we are for the conservation and advancement of our culture. What responsibility, Marcus, can you take to highlight Hip Hop as a 'movement that celebrates all its contributors'?
Garnished with heritage, I sit with my posterior padded from the cold of the black and white checked lino floor, by an ET x Goodhood collab cushion. A shawl crotched with recycled wool is sprawled across my lap, and the two hounds, satisfied from their wanton destruction of mis-delivered post, are proliferated by my side, as I consider my closing to you. Thankyou in advance for humouring my gatecrashing of this exchange. I have enclosed my credentials as a letter writer but have no such attestation to my standing as an OG. I am a minimum of sweetness with an unconquerable propensity to disagree with everyone, but I agree Marcus that the more histories you listen to, the similarities will become clear and it will feel 'more like perspectives on the same story rather than “alternate truths.”' Confusion and contradictions are important in documenting history, and yes, everything is 'inspired by what came before.' Influences are honoured in Hip Hop more than most creative and inventive ventures. In this culture we are proud of how we have taken something existing and flipped the script – you only need to listen to the bodacious use of samples as already referenced in this epistle. To emphasise this point, I will bring your attention back to Riperton's Adventures in Paradise, a vintage 1975; sampled twice in 1999 by Keida Brewer, and the aforementioned Marshall Bruce Mathers lll; revisited again in 2007 by the Beatnuts. Does this knowledge make me a bonafide OG?
I shared your questions with my peoples; Mses Lauren Stewart, and Jaelle Crowe; and Misters James Fogerty, Alexander Peters, Cai Monaghan, and Timothy a-drain Hamilton. Their narratives are sometimes aligned and othertimes in contrast with mine but all is relevant in the contours of Hip Hop. We each play our part as community members, our voices harmonised in a choral response to our cultural lives and responsibilities. Does this make us eligible for OG status?
Dear Mr Marzipan I am curious about your pilgrimage so ask these questions back to you, and beseech you to re-evaluate in three and ten years time:
Who are the creators of these dance styles?
Who are the pillars that kept the culture alive back then?
Who are they now?
Who are the ones who carried the torch?
Who are the unsung heroes who contributed to the dance but never got credited?
Who were the people that made the dance commercially accessible?
Who were the artists who trusted and engaged those dancers?
Who were the ones that quit, that we never got to see the magic they created?
Who are we to you?
What do we need to know?
What do we need to preserve and what can we change?
What is your culture?
What is your heritage?
What is your idea of evolution?
What is the future for this dance, the art forms?
What could our community do for each other?
What can we translate into different geographical cultures and it still make sense to them?
What is dance?
What is art?
What is being original?
What is the next big thing?
Where can we find you?
Where is the origin of this dance?
Where are our pioneers?
Where are the ones that got left behind?
Where can we find them?
Where else do we look?
Where can we find the blueprint of the culture?
Where do you think this culture is going?
Where do you see this form evolving to?
Where can we find inspiration from?
When will you come to visit and learn more about other cultures out there?
When do you think this style will evolve?
When will it have a new name or iteration of the style?
How can we find a balance between heritage and evolution, between the past and the future?
How can we teach the next generation, to give them the values that they need to survive in the current landscape?
How can we maintain the history and heritage of the styles while evolving it further into modern forms?
How can the community have better communication?
How can we be better people?
How do we push the boundaries of this dance, of this culture?
How can we unite the world?
How can we help you?
How are you?
When we are committed heart and soul with fewer dealings in extremes and absolutes, if asked
'Do you know who you are talking to?'
we will know when, with veracity it is time to answer
'Do you know who you are talking to.'
Miss Lucy Crowe
Commissioned for Ink Cypher, May 2022
Lucy is a writer and dance artist, specialising in bBoyin and creating work underpinned by Hip Hop culture. She makes art to revisit, capture, deconstruct moments, and test boundaries. Raised by Hip Hop culture, Lucy experiences art as a communal event, a dialogue of stories. She was born in London in 1975, and grew up with her adopted parents in Cambridge. By seventeen, Lucy was expecting her first child and expelled from sixth-form. She began her career as a professional dancer with the Sinstars bBoy crew five years later, and has performed, competed, and judged internationally, with a legacy of students.
Lucy has been devising subversive, Hip Hop based theatre work since 2000 to define, reinterpret and extend the boundaries of bBoyin as a performing art. Her first degree was in Communication Studies, analysing of a range of cultural and communicative practices for which she produced a film on the portrayal of British bGirls. Lucy gained a Distinction for her second degree, an MA in Creative Writing, exploring the intertextuality of Hip Hop in written form. Supported by Arts Council England, Lucy is one third of the triumvirate of directors for the arts organisation, SIN Cru.
Lucy Crowe, Credit Simon Richardson