BY KULSOOM KHAN
Brooklyn, Harlem and the Bronx are the places that typically come to mind when people think of hip-hop in New York. However, Queens also has its fair share of talent and has produced stars such as Nicki Minaj, 50 Cent, Nas and Mobb Deep.
In fact, The Bridge Wars— which led to Boogie Down Productions’ scathing “The Bridge Is Over”— was the result of a hip-hop feud between Bronx and Queens rappers in regards to the location of the art form’s birthplace.
Way before these rappers, there were Queens-based DJs, MCs and recording engineers who paved the way for today’s artists. Music video director and hip-hop pioneer Ralph McDaniels is aiming to draw attention to these icons with a project he spearheaded.
McDaniels serves as the hip-hop coordinator at Queens Library, which is currently featuring a photo exhibit of the borough’s hip-hop artists that dates back to the late 1970s. McDaniels wanted to build a timeline of Queens hip-hop that pays tribute to some of the original contributors such as DJ Lady Love, DJ Divine, Disco Twins, Roxanne Shanté and Dr. Bob Lee. He also plans to create a timeline for the 1980s and 1990s.
“Queens has actually the most successful hip-hop artists in the city from Nas to Run D.M.C. to 50 Cent to Nicki Minaj to Mobb Deep,” McDaniels said. “The amount of money that is made off of Queens artists is more than any of the five boroughs.”
In order to understand why Queen artists have been so influential, McDaniels said it’s important to note the neighborhoods from which they hail, such as Long Island City, South Jamaica, East Elmhurst and St. Albans. He also said that Queens had the largest community of middle-class African Americans in the 1960s and 1970s.
”These [artists] are the grandkids of those people,” he said. “Here we are, 30 to 40 years later, and that community is still alive through these kids and through hip-hop.”
McDaniels collaborated with photographer Mike Walker on the project. McDaniels and Walker both grew up in Queens, were childhood friends and even DJ’d together at local nightclubs.
“From that time on, we’ve always had a connection,” Walker said, who added that he was excited to work with McDaniels on this project, since both of them were part of the Queens hip-hop culture of the 1970s. “When he told me about this project, it caught my eye. He really had the vision and I was able to make it happen. I’m part of this history, but now I’m on the side of documenting it.”
Instead of featuring old photographs, Walker and McDaniels wanted to include current photos of the artists, but in black and white. Walker said he thought that black and white photos “had a timeless classic feel”.
Even though the exhibit features artists from back in the day, McDaniels thinks it’s something that young people can enjoy as well, noting that the DJs, rappers and performers from the 1970s and 1980s aren’t too different from today’s aspiring musicians.
“They were just teens from 30 years ago and the same dreams and aspirations that teens have now are the same dreams we had 30 years ago, 40 years ago,” McDaniels said.
The exhibit will be on display at Queens Public Library through February in honor of Black History Month.