Q&A: Kool Keith On Times Square's Seedy, Marquee-Lit Old Days

Categories: Interviews

via Audible Treats
Kool Keith used to love the Times Square of the early '80s; while interviewing him for this week's Voice, he waxed lyrical on the subject. Here's his full and lengthy rememberance of the days when 42nd Street was a seedier place, one lit by marquees advertising kung-fu flicks and boomboxes that looked like spaceships.

When was the first time you went to Times Square?

First time I went to Times Square, my pops took me down there. I went to see a movie as a kid—Superfly or something. There were all the lights, colors, all the bulbs around the movie theaters; marquees had the balls all around. Nathan's was down there. It was, like, no gift shops—it was really pinball places, arcades, and you saw pimps riding by in the streets. Like the old 42nd Street, by the Greyhound bus station, you used to see like 20 pimps out there with the Jheri curl. Dudes was coming in from Ohio. It was real. You'd see cats in, like, Fila sweatpants standing on the deuce. That was the thing, to be a pimp on 42nd Street, to be on 8th Avenue. It used to be, like, pimps with suits on, Jheri curl pimps, the Fila sweatsuit pimps.

What do you remember about the pimps in Times Square?

They used to be waiting for girls to come off the Greyhound bus station. That was the trap, like, girls coming from different cities. The Greyhound bus station used to be real pimp-infested. Friday used to be the trendy night; all the pimps would be out standing in front of the bus stain, Jheri curls all wet, S-Curl Activator. Back when that Activator shit was hot, you'd see the real pimps with the real wetness dripping on their shirts; their shirts [would] be wet from the Activator. That was real, like Stoney Jackson, real Stoney Jackson looking. You don't see that no more. That's gone.

As a kid, what did you think of it all?

It was funny, it was like The Mack in your face. We had to go to movies and it was in your face 3D-like as a kid, like all the colors they had on and big giant Cadillac El Dorados, big orange 1974 El Dorados. It was just wild. You go in the movies, then it was like the movies but real and outside. [The pimps] had like a culture. They wasn't out there every week, man, it was like a ritual—they'd be out Friday and Saturday. You see them out there, a bunch of them looking like S-Curl Activator everywhere, like 10.8 S-Curl Activator. Some had their hair like the long shit, like the pressed iron shit, some had the Jheri curl.

Those cats came from different places, though, and planted themselves in New York. A lot of those cats came from Cincinnati, some of them cats came from Detroit, I think some as far as Chicago. [Pauses] Nah, Chicago stayed in Chicago. A lot of dudes from Ohio. It's funny to me 'cause they [Ohio] had the music back then: Slave was out, Slave was probably the band, and they had the Ohio Players. You don't see that no more.

Did you go into the arcades much?

I mean, you go out there and play games. There would be a guy in there with a bunch of quarters who'd give you a bunch of change. You'd break out, like, a hundred dollars and he'd give you a hundred bucks worth of quarters. All them games was down there, all those games, many different games. Before, like, combat stuff was out, it was the hard driving thing: you sit in a car, put like eight quarters in there. That was cool. They had that in there.

Were you any good at the video games?

I used to go in there; I was good at pinball though. I forgot that game, it was a game where you keep getting the ball, like "pop" and get a free ball—"Pop!"—and a free credit. I forgot the name of that game. It was shaped like Las Vegas with all the beams, you could see the back of other things and it would go "ding ding ding" and start adding balls.

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