Blast from the past: Bronxites relive the history of hip-hop

In an evening of nostalgia, Bronxites and hip-hop devotees relived the genesis of the artistic and cultural movement that molded the identity of the borough and forever altered the landscape of the music industry.

Author and journalist, Vikki Tobak, discussed her new book “Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop” which drew a crowd of dozens on Thursday night at 364 E. 151st St. in the Bronx. The event was put on by the Bronx Documentary Center and featured a panel with Tobak, and two local photographers, Ricky Flores and Joe Conzo, whose iconic pictures of the underground hip-hop movement helped shape the book.

Conzo, 55, who the New York Times dubbed as having taken “hip-hop’s baby pictures,” said the revolutionary music genre is all about “peace, love and unity.”

“The Bronx created a genre that is now the No. 1 genre in the world, but with that, came a culture of its own,” Conzo said. 

Tobak’s book features several historical contact sheets, pieces of photographic paper that contain negatives from a roll of film, from the Bronx hip-hop movement during the ‘70s and ‘80s that were captured by photographers like Flores, Conzo, and others. Tobak said the objective of her book was to pay homage to the photographers and the history they unknowingly documented.

“The images visualize the culture,” Tobak said. “I wanted the book to come from a foundational place of love.”

After the panel finished the presentation and fielded questions, those in attendance lined up to purchase the book, receive autographs, take pictures and reminisce about a movement that was birthed amidst the Bronx’s economic turmoil during the ‘70s. One resident, Carla Rice, said that’s just “the spirit of the Bronx.”

“It’s about people going through hell, and having a creative energy that rises above,” Rice, 54, said. 

But today’s mainstream hip-hop age vastly differs from the atmosphere of the past, and largely prohibits much of the raw access that was once given to photographers. Flores, 56, whose work included pictures of b-boys and b-girls in the underground hip-hop scene, honed in on the importance of documenting the obvious; the scenes of everyday life. 

“My work gives you an insight of what I was experiencing at that time,” he said. “A sense of rebellion — despite what was happening — people need to recognize their power in creating culture.”