Revisiting Beat Street 30 Years Later
Last week kicked off City College New York's fifth annual Is Hip-Hop History Conference. An annual conference aimed at preserving and promoting hip-hop culture, this year's opening night was a celebration of the classic hip-hop film Beat Street's 30th anniversary. Along with event co-founders Elena Romero and Professor Warren Orange, on-hand was the night's keynote speaker, MC Sha-Rock of the legendary hip-hop group The Funky 4 + 1 as well as Beat Street screenwriter Steven Hagar.
Cel Garay/ Xcelphoto Steven Hagar, Sha Rock and DJ Breakout
Whether you're most familiar with Sha-Rock as the "Mother of the Mic" or the "First Lady of Hip-Hop," there's no denying her impact, influence and importance to hip-hop culture. As part of The Funky 4 +1, Sha-Rock was seen in the first rap performance on Saturday Night Live, as well as responsible for hits like "That's The Joint," and while her skills and presence alone saw her heralded as one of rap's most elite pioneers, the fact that she was a female and taking part in all these hip-hop milestones permanently etches her into the culture's history, and in the DNA of every woman on the mic who followed her.
Which is why her keynote address last week was one of absolute fearlessness. Passionate about hip-hop's place in the world to such a degree where, at one point, she was moved to tears, Sha-Rock's boldness captured both the importance of hip-hop's worldwide presence as well as stressed the urgency of preserving and educating further generations about where the now multi-billion-dollar industry surrounding rap came from. This lead to an interesting question and answer segment where she freely admitted that being a female in this early stage of hip-hop wasn't a particular obstacle because her contemporaries didn't see her as a "female MC," but rather an "MC" who had come up in the scene the same way as everyone else.
Sha-Rock also came to Nicki Minaj's defense when asked about her opinion on Minaj's latest single "Looking Ass Nigga," which the student asking the question described as "dogging on all the dudes." Sha-Rock said "Nicki is very controversial, smart and knows what she needs to do to get your attention...This is how guys are representing themselves these days. This needs to stop."
The only thing close to real anger we heard from Sha-Rock was in regard to how her and her contemporaries reacted to the Sugar Hill Gang's initial explosion with "Rapper's Delight." Apparently, considering in 1979 that there were already rap records in stores from hardworking hip-hop luminaries by that time, when a completely unknown group called the Sugar Hill Gang took off, nobody could find even a flyer with this new outfit's name on it, and they were pissed. This animosity has subsided as Sha-Rock admitted to hearing it recently and considers it a feel-good record. Following her address, she was briefly joined by DJ and fellow Funky 4 +1 member DJ Breakout who added "God bless America!"
We spoke to Sha-Rock afterward about how she felt Beat Street, which was shot around the City College campus, reflected the hip-hop culture at the time. She told us "It was an honor. We had to convince [Beat Street producer] Harry Belafonte that we were the best and most powerful females out at the time. He arranged for us to become a part of the movie. I was very happy because it depicted what was really going on and allowed most of the players at that time to be a part of the movie."