Tour offers New York history of hip-hop

Friday, May 9, 2003

— Imagine Yoko Ono directing sightseers through the Dakota. Or Elvis leading a tour of Tupelo.

That's how history is written on the Hip-Hop Cultural Sightseeing Tour of the Bronx and Harlem parks, clubs and neighborhoods where the culture was born. The guides are the very pioneers who created today's global, multibillion-dollar industry.

On a recent Saturday, the bus stopped in a Bronx restaurant, where tourists were joined by the DJ considered the father of hip-hop: Kool Herc.

In the early 1970s, Herc began playing the instrumental segments of songs over and over while speaking in rhyme over his microphone. Still a DJ after three decades, Herc said he got involved with the tour because "it's giving back to the kids that don't know their history."

Said L.A. Sunshine, a member of the 1970s group The Treacherous Three: "If you're going to call yourself part of the hip-hop culture, you've got to know the true essence of it, where it originated from. If not, you're being fake."

Sunshine was accompanied on the bus by the legendary DJ Red Alert, Reggie Reg of the Crash Crew, and Rahiem of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, which recorded the seminal political song "The Message."

There is no shortage of tour choices in New York -- art galleries, jazz haunts, tea services, fashion bargains. But Bronx native Debra Harris, president of Hush Tours, felt that not enough people ventured out of Manhattan to explore the other boroughs.

She also wanted to recognize the pioneers often neglected by today's fans. "When they go outside of the country, they are treated with a lot of respect, but right here in the United States and especially in New York City, I think that they are under-recognized," Harris said. "I wanted to change that."

Harris did her first tour three years ago; they should run twice a month this summer. Tickets are $75 for the four-hour excursion.

Hearing the history of hip-hop from the people who lived it makes a difference, said Hillary Fontaine, 29, of San Francisco, who was taking the tour with a friend.

"It adds authenticity," she said, wearing the Kangol hat and the fake gold chain all riders are given to wear as examples of hip-hop style. "It doesn't make it feel like a tour."