Will Gentrification Spoil the Birthplace of Hip-Hop?

Photo courtesy Tyler Hicks/New York Times

Yesterday the New York Times featured an article on the attempts at proclaiming 1520 Sedgewick Avenue, in the Bronx, New York, a landmark. Why 1520 Sedgewick Avenue you ask? Well it just happens to be the birthplace of Hip Hop culture as delivered through the parties thrown in the buildings recreation hall by DJ Kool Herc beginning in 1973. Throughout NYC the changes within the minority communities have left many without affordable housing and has seen many local institutions shut down or bought out. The fear that it will trickle down towards areas that signify the birthplace of Hip Hop is becoming very viable. Here is a brief rundown direct from the NY TIMES:

"The Sedgwick building is part of the state’s Mitchell-Lama program, in which private landlords who receive tax breaks and subsidized mortgages agree to limit their return on equity and rent to people who meet modest income limits. The contracts allow owners to leave the program and prepay their mortgage loan after 20 years. Rent regulations can protect tenants from increases, but not always...

“It is complicated when you try to preserve some other feature of a building besides its architecture,” said Lisa Kersavage, a preservationist at the Municipal Art Society of New York. “But this is a very important cultural touchstone for New York, and awareness should be raised.”

Cindy Campbell, who promoted the first party where her brother spun the tunes, is intent on doing at least that. She hopes that by highlighting the history of the building, where her family lived for nine years, she might be able to enlist big-name rappers to Mayor Bloomberg in her campaign to help the tenants.

She still recalls the first party — on Aug. 11, 1973, she says — which she dreamed up as a way for her to get some extra money for back-to-school clothes.

“I didn’t want to go to Fordham Road to buy clothes because you’d go to school and see everybody with the same thing on,” she said. “I wanted to go to Delancey Street and get something unusual.”

Her brother wound up giving the neighborhood something unusual, too, inside the packed and sweaty community room. Drawing on his wide-ranging musical tastes, he combined sounds and in time those sounds were combined in new ways as he extended the beats to the delight of the dancers.

“It wasn’t a black thing, it was a we thing,” said Mr. Campbell, now 52. “We played everything. Gary Glitter? We rocked that. We schooled people about music.”


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