A New Book Details The Rich Hip-Hop History Of NYC’s Latin Quarter Club
In No Half Steppin’: An Oral and Pictorial History of New York City Club the Latin Quarter and the Birth of Hip-Hop’s Golden Era, legendary musician, archivist, and activist Claude “Paradise” Gray shares over 175 color photographs and flyers. Along with Giuseppe “u.net” Pipitone, Paradise has provided scholars of Hip-Hop culture a new book to add to their collections, one which contains first-person accounts of a notorious nightclub where the roots of the Golden Age of Rap took hold of New York City, and eventually the world. Big Daddy Kane, Queen Latifah, Eric B., Kurtis Blow, MC Shan, Grand Puba, Fab 5 Freddy, Kool G Rap, Daddy-O, DJ Clark Kent, and many more have contributed their memories of the Latin Quarter, the club on 48th & Broadway in Manhattan where the fly came to be seen and heard. But it was more than that – it played a prominent role in the mid-1980s Stop the Violence movement, and it helped birth legends like A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy, and countless others.
Today (November 15), No Half Steppin’ arrives through Wax Poetics Books and in celebration, Paradise and u.net spoke with Ambrosia for Heads about their personal histories and what makes this particular book so important. Heads will likely recognize Paradise as a member of the iconoclastic group X-Clan, whose very existence was in part cultivated at Latin Quarter. “I met both DJ Sugar Shaft and Lumumba Professor X Carson At The Latin Quarter, it was during the ‘Meetings Of The Minds’ that we began to organize the foundations of The BlackWatch Movement, The Self Destruction/Stop The Violence Movement and what would later become known as ‘Conscious Hip-Hop,'” he explains.”It was during these tumultuous times that the BlackWatch Movement and its messenger group X-Clan was born, featuring Brother J, Sugar Shaft, Myself (Paradise The Architect) and Lumumba Professor X Carson, the son of the infamous New York City Community Leader Sonny Carson. Our music was unapologetically Black, sprinkled with Funk samples and lessons from our Elders,” he recounts. “It became the soundtrack of the struggle.” The X-Clan would go on to release To the East Blackwards in 1990, and it was named one of the top 100 hip hop albums of all time by The Source.
The relationships forged at Latin Quarter helped members of Stetsasonic, XClan, BDP/KRS-1, Just-Ice, King Sun, A Tribe Called Quest, The Jungle Brothers and many others “meet with community land religious elders to figure out ways to merge efforts with the youthful energy of Hip hop to combat the violence, chain snatching, drug dealing and other negative aspects of street culture that was so prevalent during the crack epidemic in America.” As such, documenting the goings-on during the club’s heyday is an integral part of keeping the history of the culture alive. And it’s particularly relevant in today’s climate, just as it was back then. As Paradise explains, at the time of Latin Quarter’s existence, “the atmosphere in New York seemed like a page snatched out of today’s media: Michael Griffith, 23, died after he was chased into traffic in Howard Beach, Queens. Yusef Hawkins, a 16-year-old African-American who was shot to death on August 23, 1989 in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, The Central Park 5, (five Black teens who were wrongly arrested and convicted of a violent rape of a White woman in Central Park), and last but not least, Larry Davis – a childhood friend of mine who was arrested after a shootout with over 20 members of the NYPD.”
He hopes that No Half Steppin helps to remind readers of the power cultivated by young people at Latin Quarter. “This book is the ‘Missing Link’ of Hip-Hop in the gaps of a period that created so many world renowned artists yet still has so many untold stories,” he says. Moreover, the book aims to emphasize “that these were the formative years of Conscious Hip-Hop, the years when The Gods fought back against the onslaught of commercial Rap with intelligent lyrics and banging beats. The rise of Big Daddy Kane, Rakim, Public Enemy and The Native Tongues. These were transformative years, a changing of the guard – so to speak – in Hip-Hop.” He continues: “It is very important to document this change in the direction of Hip-Hop; this was one of the most imaginative, creative periods to observe, where they were less cookie-cutter artists and there was room for diverse imagery and new artists breaking every week. You could be hard or soft or occupy any pace in between, as long as your beats banged and your lyrics were tight.”
Specifically, Latin Quarter provided artists with a place to prove themselves. “New records were debuted, deals were made, careers were launched or dreams broken,” he remembers. “It was a great time to be young and a rapper or a Rap fan, a place and time when Hip-Hop culture, dancing, and fashion merged with the hardcore streets, drug dealers, actors and sports stars to create a dangerously sexy environment that pushed us to sensory overload.”
Paradise’s co-author is also an activist who goes by u.net, and one whose love for Hip-Hop culture drove his desire to help tell this particular story. “My love for Hip-Hop culture and Black history was born when i was given [Public Enemy’s] It Takes a Nation of Million to Hold Us Back as a present,” he tells Ambrosia for Heads. “To cut a long story short, I did my final dissertation on the Black Panthers and Cointelpro, and started a journey to dig deeper into Black culture, a journey still going on ’til this very day.” Of working on this particular book, he says “this research taught me a lot about what happened during the mid-80s, when a new generation over-night supplanted the old school. Nothing was sudden and the old school tried to resist this new wave of creativity, but this kids wanted to speak about their reality at 360° in their lyrics, and took advantage of technology with samples and loops.”
The book is available now for purchase via Wax Poetics’s website and a digital version will be available for sale soon.