A Graphic Novel Draws On Hip-Hop’s Earliest Days For Inspiration (Old School)

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Earlier this month, a documentary called Rubble Kings was released, which chronicled some of the turbulent history of the Bronx in the ’70s. Plagued with virulent gang activity, street warfare, and systemic poverty, much of the Bronx was considered to be a wasteland, one that tourists (and even other New York City residents) simply avoided like the Plague. However, as films like Rubble King show, out of such dismal environments, the strongest and brightest flowers can be spotted easily.

In 1971, a group of local street gangs arranged a peace meeting in the cold days of early December. Nearly 40 sects showed up with the intended goal of establishing some inter-gang ceasefire in an effort to make their community a safer, happier, and healthier place for themselves and their families. Called the Hoe Avenue peace meeting, it took place at a Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx and many of those who took the proposed alliances seriously would go on to take on new hobbies, and by the end of the decade, breakdancing, rapping, and DJ’ing became popular. That fateful meeting never became a well-known piece of cultural folklore, but a recently released graphic novel hopes to shed light on a pivotal moment in the cultivation of proto-Hip-Hop culture.

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Ghetto Brother: Warrior to Peacemaker is an unusual piece of literature in that a medium usually reserved for fantastical tales and superheroes is now being used as a vehicle for the telling of a true story. Written by Julian Voloj and illustrated by Claudia Ahlering, the book follows Benjy Melendez, a founding member of the Ghetto Brothers gang who in the late ’60s became a local hero, particularly in his Puerto-Rican community. Not only does the story include Melendez’s direct involvement with the Hoe Avenue peace meeting, it also follows him on his own personal journey, one in which he seeks to explore his Jewish heritage as it seems diametrically opposed to his boricua upbringing. Also an informative history of demographics and cultural shifts in mid-century New York City, the graphic novel traces this time of great change in the Bronx to the 1950s and white flight, giving readers a sense of the environment which existed prior.

What other Hip-Hop stories would make for a good graphic novel?

Related: Want To See How Hip-Hop Got Started? Two New Shows Document Its Beginnings (Video)