Blacknuss and Brooklynuss were soul mates, playmates, back in that day fire-in-the-hole mates. Now the two are at something of a transitional stalemate—the Nuss in the Black goes on like Herodotus predicted, ex Africa semper aliquid novi (out of Africa, always something new), but the Nuh factor in today’s BK is becoming more and more Nuh-ish by the day. In our Sirius-bred recollections of this space-time continuum these fellow travelers, Black and BK, bopped boom-bipped and flipped plantation and American Bantu-stan scripts in tandem along the byways, space ways and alleyways favored (and Flavor-ed) by Astro-Blacks, Afrobeat fanatics and crate-digging beat-aholics alike.
Yale’s resident Africentric cartographer Robert Farris Thompson describes New York as one the planet’s “great African cities,” but it’s got to be Brooklyn he was really thinking of. The Brooklyn of Brown’s Public Lounge, The East, The Blue Coronet—where Miles used to park his red Ferrari out front (and where local mobsters put a hit on Miles, which directed two shooters to follow him into Manhattan after a gig and blast his Ferrari and wound his hips; only the Ferrari’s weighty doors saved Miles’s life, we’re told)—and Boys & Girls High School out on Utica where they held The Africa Festival back when regular guests Fela and Sun Ra were still alive and cooking.
For nomadic and routinely uprooted Black America, the battle on the ground has never provided as much updraft as taking to the air and speaking with the spirits above
This was what we call Original Brooklyn: the radically Black BK of haute culture and avant-cult leaders, the BK of Bed-Stuy doers and skin divers, of Dr. York and Sonny Carson, of Rev. Al Sharpton and the Slave Theater, of The New York Eight, the Black Men’s Movement Against Crack and the December 12th Coalition, of Viola Plummer, Coltrane Chimurenga, C. Vernon Mason and Alton Maddox, of Senator Al Vann and Ali’s Roti Shop and Rastafari and the prime developers/devotees of the Metu Neter and the many poster announcements for SoundClash’s once seen plastered up and down Flatbush Avenue. Not to mention the legacy of badass funk bands who erupted out the boro’s box in the ‘70s (Mandrill, Brass Construction, BT Express), the Brooklyn which also begat triple-threat guitarist-tenor-saxophonist-pianist Arthur Rhames who helped Coltrane’s last drummer Rashied Ali Pay It Forward and also served to beget Living Colour’s Vernon Reid and Harriet Tubman’s Melvin Gibbs, then-future backbones of the late Ronald Shannon Jackson’s Decoding Society, Joe Bowie’s Defunkt and the Black Rock Coalition.
Meanwhile back in Fort Greene—before the gentrifying pinkskindid man or even the entire cast of Native Sun Nelson George’s Brooklyn Boheme came, way before even Spike Lee had shot a single frame of Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop, we’re talking way before all that. Going back to the late ‘70s when nearabouts the entirety of the émigré AACM/Art Ensemble of Chicago dudes and The Black Artists’ Group cats out of St. Louis (like Oliver Lake) and free agents such as Cecil Taylor had secured properties in The Greene. Most due to the real estate legerdemain of Art Ensemble trumpeter Lester Bowie who used to straight serve the amped-up arriviste younguns among the Black avant-garde with the question, “Well, do you want a house or do you want to just be a renegade motherfucker?” Those were the long-gone once upon a tempus fugit daze when you could be in some bourgeois Eastern Parkway debutante’s living room tryna dance to some lameass New York house music. Overcoming temerity you’d ask madameoiselle for some Run-DMC and be told, in all innocence of the shape of thangs to come, “This isn’t a Run-DMC kind of party.”
Those were the long-gone once upon a tempus fugit daze when… you’d ask madameoiselle for some Run-DMC and be told, in all innocence of the shape of thangs to come, “This isn’t a Run-DMC kind of party.”
The Bronx bequeathed the world hip-hop and Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash and Grand Wizard Theodore and Afrika Bambaataa and Melle Mel and Cowboy and The Cold Crush Brothers and KRS One and DJ Scott La Rock, but ‘twas Brooklyn gave Planet Rock none other than Jam Master Jay and the records he play and Stetsasonic, Brand Nubian, X-Clan, Big Daddy Kane, Salt (but not Pepa) and DJ Spinderella, MC Lyte, The Audio Two, Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z, The RZA, The GZA and ODB aka The Old Dirty BZA, and Joey Badass, Capital Steez and Storyboard P who also calls himself Storyboard Basquiat. Worth a mention because how remiss would we be not to recognize BK as the land that also graced Gotham, Sotheby’s, MTV and the global art market with Jean Michel Basquiat, Rammellzee and Fab Five Freddy?
‘80s Brooklyn also taught us about Hasidic fundamentalism and sexism and enforced modesty and bland brunette wigs and a certain breed of race-baiting negro-hating Italian Americans. Joey Fama, Keith Mondello, Joseph Serrano and that ilk run murderously amok in Bensonhurst, a rotten seed from which issued forth the blood of Willie Turks and Yusuf Hawkins and “The Day of Outrage” in protest of Hawkins’s murder in 1989, which turned into a night of war between the NYPD and Our People on the Brooklyn Bridge. As the Times reported 25 years ago:
Night sticks flailed and bottles and bricks flew as the leading ranks of a predominantly black crowd of 7,500 demonstrators breached the police lines in an attempt to cross the bridge and carry the protest into Manhattan.
At least 20 police officers sustained injuries ranging from cuts to broken bones, and an unknown number of demonstrators were hurt in the 20-minute melee. Four people, including two photographers, were also arrested as the police kept the protesters off the bridge’s roadways.
The violence, which erupted just before 7 P.M., was the culmination of a march of angry, chanting demonstrators that had begun at Grand Army Plaza about 5 P.M. and moved northward, noisily but peacefully, through downtown Brooklyn, disrupting traffic at the height of the rush hour.
Now we rally 80,000 strong for AfroPunk‘s annual music and neo-Nubian fashion-forward fair of peace and good vibes, and the face of young Black Brooklyn is a rock band of tween rocker brothers from another mother called Unlocking the Truth and another band of fams known as The Skins. These days the outrage has migrated out to Ferguson, MO, #justiceformikebrownericgarnerjohncrawford&darrienhunt, and points south and west while throwback Brooklyn flavor appears to us, if at all, to be in limbo, as sky-higher rents keep being dropped like megaton bombs on the longtime BK populace.
Whose Brooklyn is it now anyway with Girlfiends (sic) strolling around Bushwick, Connecticut Muffins ensconced on Nostrand and Dean? A moot and rhetorical question but just for the sake of argument could Detroit’s own Martha Reeves and The Vandellas be the ones we need to provide the most right and proper catchy refrain for this Brooklyn Exoduster moment? “What’s this old world coming to? / Things just ain’t the same / When the hunter gets captured by the game.” Of course for nomadic and routinely uprooted Black America the battle on the ground has never provided as much updraft as taking to the air and speaking with the spirits above and moving in oceanic motion with the troubled waters that raced and riptided the first Africans into America.
This is why if you’re on the beaches of Coney Island in early June you’ll see folk of African descent engaged in the annual Libations for the Ancestors ceremony—a Yoruban gather-together for many now gone who arrived here, survived here, on slave ships. Their American nightmare begun as preamble in transit would soon begin in earnest on the auction block. That aquatic River Goddess Funk, from the oldest of our old-time religions. All still coming to live you from the outer edges of the once most radically Live and super-culled Brooklyn Zoo.