Hip-hop wouldn’t be what it is without New York City’s parks. B-boys, DJs, and hip-hop heads across New York City came together in the 70s to host Park Jams, where DJs would plug into speakers and spin vinyl to showcase the lyricists and musicians booming in each borough. Park Jams had no age restrictions, no entry fee, and were an open space for people to come together during a time of economic and social injustice.
Hip-hop might be going through its millionth transformation, but Bronx-based collective Uptown Vinyl Supreme is bringing back some of the magic of the genre’s early years, highlighting the power of vinyl records and paying homage to legends of yesteryear. Through their series Vinyl to the People and their extracurricular program Hip-Hop Summer School, the crew is educating youth on the power of hip-hop via the genre’s many pillars.
Uptown Vinyl Supreme, birthed two years ago, was founded by visual artist and curator Sunny Vasquez, Caribbean-born hippie and journalist Rainy Cruz, and photographer and healer DJ Buddy. After launching as a party series, this summer, the collective developed a Hip-Hop Summer School program for students between the ages of 12-18. Its mission is to educate teens on their borough’s hip-hop history, and remind them of the power that dance, music, and visual art have as a platform for social dissent and activism. Students have learned about the genre’s history through workshops, field trips, and guest visits.
The group has not only won love from listeners eager to dance and escape, but also from local businesses and organizations aware of their impact, who have hosted residencies in historic spaces, coffee shops, bars, and art spaces in Uptown Manhattan and the Bronx. The collective even won a $5,000 grant from the Bronx Council on the Arts.
“Hip-hop is a global phenomenon and kids look at these stars and they don’t think they could exceed to that.”
We spoke with the multidisciplinary creatives about their journey, which started with their desire to carve out a new nightlife space and has transformed into a movement committed to the liberation of new generations through music and history.
What made you all want to come together and unite the community through vinyl?
Sunny: When we started doing these events, we did it because we wanted to have fun. We were tired of parties that didn’t feel organic – no one was dancing and it felt like a party I never wanted to be at. We threw one party and the feedback was amazing. After that, the demand just grew. This started Vinyl to the People because the people were asking for it, which is why we’re doing it so much. I feel like the music we play takes people somewhere they’re not usually at and they want that.
Buddy: I think it has a strong sense of community in a very natural way. We’re still doing it and it’s still growing because of the reaction and response to it. I think it fills a void, especially this far Uptown.
Rainy: The records themselves, because they’re artifacts, have a spirit, and if you think about it, that’s magic. These artists from past decades have put in their energy, pressed onto vinyl. That thing spins around and it literally makes magic. Just like photography, you can’t speed the process up – technically you can, but the magic is playing in a circle and is constantly coming back. We’re playing records from the 1970s almost in 2020 and that conversation is relevant, and I think that’s what’s making people speak to us. Love is the message and music is the conversation. Everyone gets to be themselves while being present and those records allow us to be present. We don’t skip them and that allows everyone to live in the moment.
What spaces have you performed in and why?
Sunny: McGoos was our first show. We performed South Bronx’s BXLive and that was just by a community of people who found out what we’re doing. We did Camarades and Bronx Beer Hall where we connected with legendary DJs Large Professor and Grand Wizzard Theodore. We’re bringing people to the Bronx and showing them we still get down. We also spun at a senior home at 161st Grand Concourse three times.
Buddy: Once a month, they have an event celebrating elders who have birthdays that month. We’ve never seen them move like that. There were walkers and canes on the floor. A couple of them came up to us the second time we performed with their own records; he didn’t want us to play them, he just wanted to show them [to us].
Sunny: That was mind blowing because they grew up listening to the music we play, and I wasn’t even thought of when it came out. We performed at Andrew Freeman Home, a mansion open to all ages on the Grand Concourse and we got drinks sponsored by Bronx Beer Hall. A lot of people don’t know about the space and it’s a staple symbol in our community. I feel like opening the doors to a mansion for everyone to come is like our own little fairytale.
Buddy: The music we play and the energy in the room, it’s incredibly positive and non-threatening, non-aggressive. It’s not corny but people can just relax. To be available, especially now, is important for therapy and wellness.
I saw a clip on a show you all are creating on BronxNet. Can you talk more about the series?
Sunny: The show revolves around Vinyl to the People. We’re going to incorporate special guests for our pilot that hasn’t aired yet. We have COCO 144, who was one of the pioneers of graffiti back in the day, and Rocket, who is a local b-boy. We want to incorporate different pillars of hip-hop, education, and bring in people to talk about creativity.
We talked about the connection between music, history, and education through Vinyl to the People – what about the Hip-Hop Summer School you’ve created?
Sunny: Hip-hop is a global phenomenon and kids look at these stars and they don’t think they could exceed to that or [that it could] belong to them, but it started in their backyard, their own borough. We want to show them that culture, the essence.
“All the answers to our problems are in the records.”
Buddy: All of our instructors [for the Hip-Hop Summer School] are in their 20s and we have visiting pioneers in their 40s, 50s, and 60s and students as young as 12. The age range of the program covers the number of years hip-hop has been alive.
How did you pick your instructors?
Sunny: The grant is paying for the instructors and bringing in people who are heavily [involved] in their craft. I choose Samson Da Poet as our Emcee Instructor. He’s a Bronx native and founder of Good Vibes Creative Minds, an art community he has built Uptown. He puts on events and open mics. He embodies every [part of the] word of the emcee. We have dancers from Break Fresh Crew; they embody the word b-boy. We also have Alexis Gonzalez, a graffiti artist who has worked with children in connection to the world of graffiti and street art. We also wanted to highlight a woman, especially with how male-dominated genre is. Another powerful woman is LiKWUiD, who serves as our DJ instructor. We went to people we know personally to join and help us. At the end of the program, we will have a Park Jam, which will open up their mind to these tools that they have.
Any projects or missions after the Hip-Hop School?
Sunny: I really want to look into being a non-profit organization so we can get direct funding from the state through grants. To not only be an organization in the Bronx, but to other low-income neighborhoods. There are so many schools ending programs because of the person who is in office right now, so we have to cultivate the arts and keep it alive. I feel like we’re growing a seed right now and what is possible from UVS can really bear a fruit. Not for just us, but for the community.
Rainy: It’s not us; it’s the records. They speak for us. The records are the answers. All the answers to our problems are in the records.
Uptown Vinyl Supreme’s Hip-Hop Summer School will culminate in a jam at Kingsbridge Heights Community Center on Friday, August 11, the 44th anniversary of Kool Herc’s first jam. Check the crew’s Instagram for more information and events.