Birthplace of Hip Hop Hush Tour
I’m a big advocate of day tours/activities while traveling — taking a local cooking class, signing up for a historical walking tour, singing your way through Salzburg, so when my friend asked me if I would be interested to go with her on a rap tour of Harlem & the Bronx in New York City, you know there was no hesitation. A rap tour?? Are they actually going to rap for us? Will we have to rap? I’ll let you all know, I can do a pretty badass rendition of “Hot in Here”, but that’s all I got to offer**.
**This level of “baddassery” is more that I just know all of the words without looking at the lyrics
She signed us up for a tour with Hush Tours, the only rap tour company in the world. Established 16 years ago, the tour guides are rappers (proper term is “MC”, but modern media dubbed the term rapper and it has stuck ever since) who have helped influenced and shaped the hip hop scene. The tour guides change daily (I don’t even think I could handle being that energetic and perky for one day, let alone every day of the week!) and we lucked up with the perfect guy for us: Grandmaster Caz, known as the "Godfather of Hip Hop", born and raised in the Bronx. We were greeted with a star-studded introduction, listening to rap songs by famous artists — some you’ve maybe heard of: 2pac and Jay-z — that mention Caz’s name. Rap tour credibility is high.
From our meeting spot, we headed uptown in the official Hush tours bus, having Caz lead us through the pillars of hip hop culture, diving into the development and historical context of each. Along our drive, through the bustling streets and stretches of blocks of Manhattan, he pointed out different buildings of importance within hip-hop culture. Once arriving in Harlem, we stopped to get out at notable places, such as the Apollo Theater. Originally, the theater was a white-only burlesque show, but in 1934, opened its doors to black patrons and became the theater it is today. Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, Buddy Rich, all performed there. Ella Fitzgerald won amateur night that first year that the Apollo opened to all patrons (she won a $25 prize) and Jimmy Hendrix later won amateur night in 1964. Tons of other famous artists started their careers off from here: Billie Holiday, Gladys Knight, The Jackson 5, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye… This list could go on for ages, but the Apollo Theater has, quite clearly, been an important venue for music, noted for its African-American performers.
Besides the musical and cultural stops, we passed by some politically historical locations, such as the Adam Clayton Jr State Office and Hotel Theresa. Adam Clayton Jr. was the first person of African-American descent from New York to be elected to Congress. He represented Harlem in the US House of Representatives and became a strong voice for civil rights within the country. The Hotel Theresa, located nearby across the street, was the tallest building in Harlem until the State Office was built. During the 40s and 50s, the hotel became the epicenter of social life in Harlem, making it to be known as the “Waldorf of Harlem”. In 1960, Fidel Castro caused a stir by staying at the hotel for a United Nations address (which, he still holds the record for longest speech given at a UN session), hoping to rally support for his cause in Cuba. Later that year, JFK campaigned for his presidency at the hotel.
From Harlem, we travelled further north to the Bronx, where Caz told us personal stories of the development of hip hop, showing us the birthplace of hip hop and notable places within the borough. We stopped at Yankee stadium and was greeted with a mini-breakdancing class (the fourth pillar of hip hop culture!). Mind you, this was the day before the Bomb Cyclone Blizzard of 2018 in New York City, so it was miserably cold outside. Yet somehow, Kid Glyde managed to effortlessly breakdance for us.
Overall, the tour was an awesome experience — a great look into hip hop culture, Harlem & the Bronx, accompanied with some awesome people with amazing energy. You can check out Hush tours here — they also have a variety of other tours, such as a walking tour of Harlem and a graffiti art tour!