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The Black Door was a major jumping off point for hip-hop. One of the first legendary DJ's, Grandmaster Flash, and his crew, The Furious Five, held their first performances here with the help of Ray Chandler. Flash and The Furious Five are best known for their tracks "The Message" and "Supperrapin'," the latter of which pays homage to The Black Door, a safe space for creating and performing during a time of turmoil in the South Bronx. These creations paved the groundwork that become the largest musical genre in the world: hip-hop.


During the era of urban renewal in the 1950’s and 1960s, along with the construction the Cross-Bronx Expressway, the Bronx went through a sharp change. Numerous white families left, taking with them wealth and jobs, and were replaced by low-income families of color. Disinvestment and poverty in the area followed, aided by racist red-lining practices and deindustrialization. Before waves of arson or the drug epidemic had really hit the area in the 70’s, the owner of 1375 Prospect Ave, Gerald McConn, a resident of the Bronx at the time and living just a few blocks away, gave ownership of the property to Maude R. Rutherford and her partner Septimus O. Rutherford. The Rutherfords lived down the coast in Atlantic City, New Jersey, far enough away to spend little to no time monitoring their Bronx property. 

Musicians made of quick use of it though. Before they even found The Black Door, the Furious Five needed to assemble the members, including  “one of the all-time greatest DJs (Grandmaster Flash), and one of the all-time greatest MCs (Melle Mel), as well as four other skilled MCs (Cowboy, Kid Creole, Mr Ness/Scorpio, and Rahiem).”  Joseph Saddler, a.k.a. Grandmaster Flash learned quickly under the tutelage of DJ Kool Herc, who held parties in “abandoned buildings on Faile and Fox Street on blocks so devastated that police and fire personnel had dubbed the entire neighborhood “‘Fort Apache.'"  Flash had higher dreams and moved to the more heavily populated streets of Morrisania, advertising in local projects around Boston Road. He “did something that would have been unimaginable in neighborhoods that were carefully policed; he’d set up shop in school yards — one on Boston Road and 169th Street, the other on 166th Street and Tinton Avenue — hooked up his turntables to street lights and blasted music, drawn from the instrumental sections of funk records, that was little more than raw percussion,” notes Melle Mel. Flash first began at his apartment at 927 Fox St, then moved to places he called “63 and 23 Park," the former of which was the schoolyard of nearby P.S. 63. This is where he tested the waters, noting that this was a place where "I could try new music on you, if you keep dancing, I got something. It’s time for me to take it and soak it in the bathtub.”

Flash's antics brought a crowd of students and youth out while also attracting complaints. Police we’re not always present, but annoyed residents made it difficult or, at times, even dangerous for these performances to continue as they attracted more and more people and ran longer and longer performances. Because the incubation of an entirely new genre with entirely new methods was forming, people took issue with its form and sonic capabilities, hating that it, “was lacking melody, harmony, or instrumental and vocal virtuosity.” Noise and aesthetic complaints were the least of the worries the overworked, Bronx police force had though.  Often complaints were not even filed due to overcalling and reporting.  And there is no record that the Rutherfords, who owned the property where The Black Door was located, ever responded.  Even with this opposition, Grandmaster Flash had started a movement.

Ray Chandler was a police officer who grew up in the Bronx and was connected to Paul Himmelstein, a legendary Morrisania doo-wop singer, and to the Feaster brothers of "Chords" fame. Chandler took a specific interest in the movement Flash and company had created. He first met Flash on Boston Road, recalling that he was “walking along Boston Road in the Bronx and he [saw] a whole lot of young kids, like a posse situation. Then he [saw] one guy with the turntables, and some other guys were saying something over microphones.” Chandler was smart enough to see history in the making and connected the dots to a small club he had been building underground right down the street at 1375 Prospect Ave. He asked Flash and his friends to perform, at first charging one dollar per head for a place Flash notes was “probably the size of four bathrooms.” 

However this is not the only reason Flash moved off the streets: local gangsters also approached him, demanding he stepped his game up. “It was my humble beginnings because there was this group of brothers that was watching me when I played in the park. They walked up on me and they said listen, we could put you in a place inside and you could charge people. They kind of forced me and cornered me. They were like the gangstas of the neighborhood. The rest was kind of history." In other words, hip-hop might have remained an underground and informal invention if it weren't for local gangsters who thought money could be made from it.  

1 New York Department of Buildings, State of New York, County of Manhattan, The Title Guarantee Company. ACRIS Office of City Register, https://a836-acris.nyc.gov/DS/DocumentSearch/DocumentImageView?doc_id=BK_7820036800635
2  Knight, Christina. “How the Bronx Gave Us Hip Hop.” Thirteen - New York Public Media, The Music Dish, 21 Nov. 2016, www.thirteen.org/blog-post/how-the-bronx-gave-us-hip-hop/.
3 Knight, Christina. “How the Bronx Gave Us Hip Hop.” Thirteen - New York Public Media, The Music Dish, 21 Nov. 2016, www.thirteen.org/blog-post/how-the-bronx-gave-us-hip-hop/.
4. Knight, Christina. “How the Bronx Gave Us Hip Hop.” Thirteen - New York Public Media, The Music Dish, 21 Nov. 2016, www.thirteen.org/blog-post/how-the-bronx-gave-us-hip-hop/.
5. Giannotta, Meghan. “Grandmaster Flash, from 'Disrespecting' Vinyl to Hip-Hop Fame.”Am New York, Am New York, 27 July 2017, www.amny.com/entertainment/grandmaster-flash-from-disrespecting-vinyl-to-pioneering-hip-hop-in-the-b....
6. Giannotta, Meghan. “Grandmaster Flash, from 'Disrespecting' Vinyl to Hip-Hop Fame.”Am New York, Am New York, 27 July 2017, www.amny.com/entertainment/grandmaster-flash-from-disrespecting-vinyl-to-pioneering-hip-hop-in-the-b....
7. Knight, Christina. “How the Bronx Gave Us Hip Hop.” Thirteen - New York Public Media, The Music Dish, 21 Nov. 2016, www.thirteen.org/blog-post/how-the-bronx-gave-us-hip-hop/.
8. “Rat Information Portal.” The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene .
9. Knight, Christina. “How the Bronx Gave Us Hip Hop.” Thirteen - New York Public Media, The Music Dish, 21 Nov. 2016, www.thirteen.org/blog-post/how-the-bronx-gave-us-hip-hop/.
10.   Fricke, Jim, and Charlie Ahearn. Yes, Yes Y'all: the Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hop: the First Decade. Perseus, 2002 (85).
11. Fricke, Jim, and Charlie Ahearn. Yes, Yes Y'all: the Experience Music Project Oral History of Hip-Hop: the First Decade. Perseus, 2002 (85).
12. Giannotta, Meghan. “Grandmaster Flash, from 'Disrespecting' Vinyl to Hip-Hop Fame.”Am New York, Am New York, 27 July 2017, www.amny.com/entertainment/grandmaster-flash-from-disrespecting-vinyl-to-pioneering-hip-hop-in-the-b....