What my German great-aunt and Run-DMC have in common

18 Apr

Hollis. It’s a neighborhood in Queens that the Real Estate section of The New York Times on April 12 described as “Serene, for All Its Hip-Hop Cred.” Jake Mooney writes:

Since1962, Anita Friday’s home on 205th Place has provided her a vantage point for the waves of change that have come in succession to Hollis, her family’s corner of Queens. At the start the population was predominantly white, said Ms. Friday, 80, who is black, and who recalled that over her first decade as a resident, most of her white neighbors moved away to Long Island.

Not my German-immigrant great-aunt. She was already in her 70s or 80s when Anita Friday moved to the area, and she spent the last part of her life there. In the ever-changing ethnic makeup that is New York, Hollis’s more recent residents “have come from farther-flung places: Haiti, Panama, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic,” says the Times. Ava Winston came only from somewhere else in Queens, but in Hollis, she lives in what has become, post–German great aunt, a famous place:

A few blocks away on 205th Street…Ms. Winston’s street is also known as Run-DMC JMJ Way, after the rap group, which made the neighborhood famous with songs like “Christmas in Hollis” and “Hollis Crew.” Joseph Simmons, known in the group as Run, grew up on the street, as did his brother Russell Simmons, the music impresario, who has recalled Hollis in the 1970s and ’80s as a middle-class neighborhood increasingly plagued by drugs. Run-DMC’s D.J., Jason Mizell — also known as Jam Master Jay — lived in the area until his murder in 2002 in nearby Jamaica. One side of the Hollis Superette, on the corner of 205th Street and Hollis Avenue, bears a mural commemorating his life.

(That difference between Street, as in Ava Winston’s block, and Place, as in Anita Friday’s, trips up just about any driver new to Queens. Perhaps the subject of another post, if I ever come across a dream of being lost and bewildered by Streets, Places, Roads, Avenues, Terraces, and Circles.)

Google map of Hollis

Google map of Hollis

Hollis has been known for a long time now as the birthplace of hip-hop, but despite  my pretty eclectic interest in music, particularly music of a variety of cultures, I haven’t warmed to hip-hop.

It took a dream to make me check out a DVD I kept seeing on the shelf of my local library branch, and which brought me more up to date on Hollis: 2 Turntables and a Microphone: The Life and Death of Jam Master J.  In the video’s interviews, there’s a lot about what Hollis means to JMJ’s friends. If I recall correctly (it’s been a year and a half since I watched it), included among the memories are Hollis Superette, its owner, and its mural.

"2 Turntables and a Microphone: The Life and Death of Jam Master Jay"

(image from Amazon.com

As Wikipedia explains:

“Two turntables and a microphone” is the basic concept of a DJ’s equipment.

This phrase describes turntables (phonographs) and a microphone connected to a mixer. The DJ uses the mixer’s crossfader to fade between two songs playing on the turntables. Fading often includes beatmatching. Live hip hop music also often has an MC rapping into the microphone. In nightclubs the microphone is usually used only for announcements.

Because, as an undergraduate student, I created a radio show of ethnic music and literature, I’m familiar with using the two turntables and a microphone of a radio studio (although with simple segues, not any kind of beatmatching).

DJ turntable (photo from DigitalTurntables.org)

DJ turntable (photo from DigitalTurntables.org)

That’s why this next image, from a dream the day after a conversation with someone who, like me, had worked in radio news, prompted me to finally take home that hip-hop DVD:

Sketch of a plate on a desk in my November 11, 2010, dream

Sketch of a plate on a desk in my November 11, 2010, dream

(My post about other aspects of that dream is one of the very first I wrote for this blog [“Radio days dream“]. There are still more aspects, which I’ll write about in the future.)

Hip-hop that spoke to me

Once a dream points me to something, I’m a lot more likely to pay attention, even if it’s in a genre I don’t much like. So when I saw a listing for The Rap Guide to Evolution, a one-man hip-hop show about Darwin’s theory, of course I headed to the Soho Playhouse, where Baba Brinkman was explaining how the natural selection purposes of hip-hop!

Loved it, loved it.

ScienceBlogs has a review that puts Brinkman’s amazing show in better hip-hop perspective than I’d ever be able to do. (The Dead Prez video that’s been removed from that post can be seen on YouTube.)


2 Responses to “What my German great-aunt and Run-DMC have in common”


  1. Stuff I wouldn’t be looking at if it weren’t for dreams « - April 28, 2012

    […] hip-hop, only this time a visual interpretation. My last two posts (here and here) explain how I started following a hip-hop thread of associations in waking life because […]

  2. In the wake of my Hollis hip-hop post « - April 24, 2012

    […] that led me to watch a DVD about the Queens neighorhood of Hollis, birthplace of hip-hop (“What my German great-aunt and Run-DMC have in common“). Sketch of a plate on a desk in my November 11, 2010, dream, which reminded me of a radio […]

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