When hip-hop was born at DJ Kool Herc’s back-to-school bash in The Bronx on Aug. 11, 1973, little did anyone know it would be the most consumed genre in the U.S. and would change the lives of millions across the world more than 40 years after its inception.
Depending on your school of thought, the five elements of hip-hop are DJing, MCing, break dancing, graffiti writing and knowledge. Each major aspect of hip-hop had their monetary moment in the spotlight. In the beginnings of hip-hop, DJs were the star, with artists like Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash, among others, leading the way. With the rise of the DJ also put the spotlight on the b-boy and graffiti writing.
Charlie Ahearn’s independent film Wild Style (1982) and PBS’s early documentary on hip-hop culture Style Wars (1983) documented the beginnings of the genre, placing an emphasis on graffiti and breaking. But as the years went on, the MC became the face of hip-hop and, in the states, graffiti, DJs and breaking became sub-genres of hip-hop. These days, the key aspects of hip-hop are thriving internationally, especially break dancing. Red Bull BC One is the place where the art of b-boying is celebrated.
The championship competition features the best break dancers in the world in an effort to celebrate one of the essentials that makes up hip-hop culture. Over the past week, from Nov. 1 to Nov. 4, hundreds of b-boys, b-girls, DJs and hip-hop lovers gathered in Amsterdam to participate in the 14th edition of Red Bull BC One World Final.
For day one, DJ Skeme, a member of the famed Rock Steady Crew, and Amsterdam-based DJ Rob Manga took XXL around to the best record shops in Amsterdam to discuss the importance of the DJ and what separates a true DJ from the rest. The shops—RedLight Records, Waxwell Records and Rush Hour Records—are home to some of the best vinyl records (of any genre) you’ll ever find and a holy ground for DJs.
“The importance of a record shop, that’s the meeting point, that’s the barbershop for DJs,” Skeme tells XXL. “A good record shop should have owners that can turn you on to something that you might not been turned on to before, get you to listen to different genres. But it’s that central meeting point where you come and feed off the energies of other people are playing. With the out the record shop, the record shop is like the neighborhood, without there really is no DJ culture. The DJ is the backbone of the club, the record store is the backbone of the DJ. Not everything is online and not everything is digital.”
As vinyl has seen a revitalization with special edition releases and collector drops, crate digging has become more important than ever. Crate digging is an art and it’s an important part of what makes a DJ stand out. “Going to record shops and crate digging is a part of DJing,” Manga adds. “Did you ever carry crates of records, go from town to town for record digging? It’s all a part of the culture. It makes the DJ who you are. I’m really curious about who only spins from a USB.”
The city of Amsterdam, buzzing with life, places a strong importance on preserving art. So it’s appropriate this is the city where aspects of hip-hop like break dancing are flourishing. As day one of Red Bull BC One concludes, 31 b-boys from across the world compete for the final spot to participate in the finals. Dancers from France, Australia and the U.S., among others, show off their best moves in the hope to land that one coveted spot as the winner of the competition. Physically-daring, eye-popping moves are on full display. At the end, b-boy Leony from Brazil wins the The Last Chance Cypher and gets a spot on the main stage, beating out hometown favorite and Dutch champion Justen. The 21-year old Leony is a second generation member of Amazon crew and has been breaking for nine years, since 2008.
The next day, the b-boy finalists from the U.S., Houston’s Moy and Seattle native Thesis, discuss why breaking is important and why it’s still popular across the world.
“Breaking is universal,” explains Moy. “Believe it or not, breaking in hip-hop is huge in the least likely places that you think it doesn’t exist, it exist. That’s the beauty of hip-hop culture. [Breaking] is free, anyone can do it. It’s a community that anyone can get involved in. Coming from Texas, we were limited to the resources that New York, Los Angeles and Chicago had, but we made the most of it and we were able to break through and make some things happen.”
Thesis sees the evolution of breaking similar to the evolution of hip-hop. The sport has become so big worldwide that it brings in fans from different backgrounds and cultures and musical taste.
“if you look at breaking now, some breaking aren’t even hip-hop, some breakers don’t even listen to hip-hop,” Thesis shares. “It comes to a point now that breaking has evolved to such a high level, anyone can really connect to it and express yourselves.”
Breaking has certainly evolved since it got its start four decades ago, with it recently being added as one of three new sports in the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. This accomplishment is huge, as a pillar of hip-hop has gone from the street corners of the local neighborhoods to a world stage.
“It’s so great,” Vin Rock of Naughty By Nature tells radio personality Sway Calloway about break dancing heading to the 2018 Youth Olympics. “These guys are athletes, yo. It’s a form of gymnastics, a form of martial arts, a form of street art. The breakers deserve it.”
The following day, for the BC One finals, 3,000 fans packed Amsterdam’s Westergasfabriek to watch as 16 of the best breakers in the world compete to see who’s the top dog. This is a special final as b-girl Ayumi made history as the first b-girl to ever compete at the Red Bull BC One World Finals. Dutch Red Bull BC One All-Star Menno, who took the winning title in Paris in 2014, reclaimed his title after a two-hour, heart-pounding competition. The stadium was electric and audience was on their feet for the majority of the time.
Richard “Crazy Legs” Colón, a Bronx-born b-boy who’s been the face of breaking for over three decades, believes break dancers are warriors. “B-boys and b-girls are literally the warriors of hip-hop because we’re the only ones who put our bodies on the line,” he explains. “Every time we perform our art, there’s possibility that we can end up in the hospital.”
He also adds why the art form has drawn an international fan base for decades. “When we did the first tour, after we were doing the first shows in Manhattan and presentations of all these elements, this was before it was called hip-hop,” Crazy Legs says. “This was before Run-DMC was around, we already doing shows. When we went to places like France and even the U.K., where people couldn’t necessarily understand what the MCs were saying, whether it was because of language or accent, what drew people international initially was the visual aspects of it. The lyrics was something they had to figure out. Of course the MCs are entertaining, they are who they are and they are our heroes, but the b-boys were closing out the show in the very beginning because it wasn’t much to understand. The physicality and the visual, you didn’t need a translator.”
Preserve break dancing and every pillar of hip-hop at all costs.
See Photos From the 2017 Red Bull BC One World Final