The year was 1973. DJ Kool Herc pulled out his turntables to give the Bronx crowd at his sister's back-to-school party a new flavor for their ears. Little did he know that his decision to try something new would birth hip hop. Just a few years later, in 1978, another group of Bronx youngsters would burst onto the scene, bringing an added layer to the genre. Welcome hip hop's Cold Crush Brothers.
Deemed as the group responsible for taking the music genre international, it was the group's appearance in the 1982 film Wild Style that allowed a larger audience to get a glimpse of this new sound. According to Grandmaster Caz, the emcees' trip to Tokyo to promote the film really opened up doors like never before.
"About 20 of us went to Japan to promote the film, and it was the first time that many of them had witnessed any element of hip hop live. We had graffiti artists, B-boys, DJs, emcees—just all parts of the culture. We introduced that country to hip hop."
It was a stamp of approval for the Cold Crush Brothers, who were rising in popularity during a time well before social media, streaming platforms or even before music television channels promoted the music genre as a whole. Now, here we are, 50 years from that party in the Bronx, giving this art form its flowers for withstanding the test of time—and ultimately changing the world.
EBONY sat down with Grandmaster Caz over Zoom video to get his take on the state of hip today, the impact of the Cold Crush Brothers on rap music and so much more.
EBONY: As a pioneer, do you feel like we're giving hip hop its proper recognition with the 'Hip Hop 50' movement?
Grandmaster Caz: I think the movement is great and that the genre is being acknowledged for being around for 50 years. But I do think some of the celebrations and festivities aren't really about hip hop as a culture; more so about the commercial aspect of rap music, which is only one aspect. It's important that we have our homegrown celebrations of the culture within the culture. But also, we shouldn't feel left out as contributors if we aren't included in certain moments because at the end of the day, we know what we contributed and what we brought to the overall culture.
As a group that existed before the social media era, do you feel like online platforms are a gift, curse or a bit of both?
It's a gift and a curse. In a lot of ways, it's helped to promote artists independently. But, everything that goes up is out there forever, so it's a catch-22. Yes, we have to move with the times as technology improves; we just have to use it to our advantage and try to avoid some of the pitfalls associated with it.
"This year is honestly surreal. It's hard for the younger generations to even conceptualize how we as OGs feel."Grandmaster Caz of the Cold Crush Brothers
A stat recently revealed that there hasn't a chart-topping hip hop song in 2023. Talk to me about that and your thoughts on the current state of the genre.
The reason why there are no chart-topping hits this year is because people's attention is being so divided, especially with the 50th anniversary. Also, there's not really any classic music anymore. Music is so disposable now, and people are putting out so much back-to-back; dropping two to three albums in one year. People can't concentrate on what they're hearing before we're moving on to the next song. Things aren't able to "ferment," if you will. But, I will say a lot of older music is going diamond, and albums that were successful years ago are now making a comeback on these streaming platforms.
What are you most looking forward to with Hip Hop 50 and the Rock The Bells fest coming in August?
I teach hip hop, and I live hip hop, so most of the things going on this year are nothing new to me. It's a continuation of what I already have going on. But this year is honestly surreal. It's hard for the younger generations to even conceptualize how we as OGs feel.
As far as Rock The Bells, I'm involved with the brand on a weekly basis with my radio show. But I'm so glad LL took back control of the name and brand and made it something we can enjoy year after year. As for the Cold Crush Brothers performing at this year's festival, it's a milestone. For us to still be viable at year 50 of hip hop, I'm totally honored. We're one of the most unheralded acts ever because we never had that commercial success like many rap greats. We don't have Grammys or platinum records, so people tend to look over that first era of the genre. So, this is a great look for us. But you can guarantee that all the greats were inspired by us in some way. Ask Jay-Z, ask Rakim or even some of the fallen soldiers. They'll say the same thing.