On a chilly morning in Manhattan, I join two dozen people gathered in front of a tour bus. In midtown, it's a sight as common as pigeons and tepid hotdogs. We’ve come from every corner of the globe – Belgium, El Salvador, Australia, Indiana – to discover what can only be found in The Bronx: the birthplace of hip hop.
Aboard the bus, classic hip hop music videos played on a giant screen at full volume. The tour guide dialed up the energy another notch. “If you’re ready for some hip hop, make some nooooooise!” he hyped.
Calling him a tour guide doesn’t quite capture his spirit. He was an emcee, and not just figuratively.
“I’m Uncle Reg, and welcome to your Hush Tour,” he said. “When I was 17 years old, I helped make one of the first hip hop records in history. Google me!”
Uncle Reg wasn’t lying. He was an original member of Crash Crew, and his work has been sampled by the likes of LL Cool J and Jay-Z.
A Hush Tour promises not just famous hot spots, but celebrity guides. Each group is led by a hip hop pioneer with a goldmine of personal perspective, on-the-ground stories and a passion for preserving the culture. It was the vision of Hush Tours’ founder Debra Harris, a Bronx native.
“Growing up in The Bronx, seeing all the new, creative, innovative ways that young kids like me were expressing themselves was so exciting and inspiring,” she explains. “Hip hop connected people across boroughs that usually wouldn’t say hello to each other, let alone enjoy the new record by Run DMC or Kurtis Blow together."
In the seventeen years since Hush Tours began, it’s served over one million people – or, in the words of Uncle Reg: “We’ve gone platinum!”
Weaving through streets and time, Hush Tours highlight the four main elements of hip hop: DJing, rapping, breakdancing and graffiti. It’s a masterclass in little-told history.
“Hip hop doesn’t create anything,” said Uncle Reg. “But it reinvents everything.”
Reinvention aside, the Boogie Down Bronx has held on to its roots. People walking through the gates of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, the birthplace of hip hop, aren’t tourists with tickets, but tenants with groceries. Local bodegas line the streets. Listen closely, and you’ll hear hip hop through open car windows on every corner.
And maybe from a tour bus, too.
More Hip Hop Experiences in The Bronx
On August 11, 1973, hip hop was born in The Bronx at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. Cindy Campbell needed money for new clothes worthy of her tastes, so she enlisted her brother, DJ Kool Herc, to put on a back-to-school party in the recreation room of their apartment building. To advertise, she passed out handwritten index cards – “9 p.m. to 4 a.m., 25¢ for ladies, 50¢ for fellas.” Cindy’s fashion sense and entrepreneurialism changed the course of music history. Hip hop's elders reverently refer to 1520 Sedgwick Avenue as “the Stonehenge of Hip Hop.” And Cindy’s handwritten fliers can now be seen at the Smithsonian.
This article was presented in collaboration with The Bronx Tourism Council.
To start planning your trip, visit ilovethebronx.com