Rappers and dancers take to the streets for a day
The first-ever South Bronx Ignites block party brought a star-studded group of performers to Port Morris on June 14.
Legendary rappers Kurtis Blow, Afrika Bambaataa’s Soul Sonic Force, and Grandmaster Melle Mel headlined an afternoon of music and dancing on streets usually clogged with cars and trucks.
Vendors from across Mott Haven came hoping to make prospective customers aware of their goods and services. Local arts groups like Dancing in the Streets also took part in the celebration, which was organized by the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corp. (SoBRO) and emceed by South Bronx-based rappers Rockefella and Majesty.
Hundreds danced and grooved to salsa, African drumming and various DJs spinning sounds on the turntables. Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. tried his hand rapping to hip hop group Boogie Down Production’s “South Bronx.”
The event conjured a sense of possibilities for neighborhood residents, who want to see Port Morris’s mostly industrial waterfront opened up for more recreational uses. Monxo Lopez, 41, who has lived in Mott Haven for eleven years, said he thought the event would help residents recognize the area’s advantages.
“I think that closing the street and getting people acquainted with the possibilities of what can happen here in the streets, different than what has happened for decades and decades, is a very important step in the right direction,” said Lopez.
Port Morris resident and general manager of the Charlie’s Bar & Kitchen, Michael Brady, who helped organize the event, said he and others were striving “to highlight the neighborhood and the community revitalization efforts,” pointing out that all of the businesses and many of the performers present hailed from the community or nearby.
Brady pointed out that Lincoln Avenue serves as an “invisible barrier” that divides the district, a division he hoped the block party would help to dissolve. The 45 businesses that comprise the Mott Haven Merchants group, and area residents represent a “community to be reckoned with,” he said.
Although it was Port Morris’ first big block party, Brady guaranteed that it won’t be the last.
“We just really want to keep music, arts, culture alive and really let people know that there are businesses in this neighborhood that like the support of the neighborhood,” he said.
The borough president was not the only elected official in attendance. City Comptroller Scott Stringer came to show his support, and said the South Bronx is one of the “great parts of New York” that should be invested in.
“Making sure the arts and culture become part of a business plan so our kids can get real jobs that make them successful,” would help the economy flourish in talent-rich Mott Haven, he said.
Many of the rappers who performed had another objective in mind, along with entertaining. They came to promote the creation of a Hip Hop Museum in the birthplace of the genre. Grandmaster Melle Mel, Kurtis Blow and others threw their support behind the idea of establishing a Hip Hop museum in the South Bronx.
Plans have been floated to convert the Kingsbridge Armory into a Universal Hip Hop Museum, but Blow said the South Bronx is the ideal place to build it.
“We need to get the truth out there because you never know where you’re going unless you know where you came from,” Blow said, adding building a museum in the area would contribute to “just making the history stable in one location.”