Hip Hop Foray

Classic icons like Times Square and the Empire State building
are synonymous with sightseeing in New York, and on any given day
the Macy’s in midtown Manhattan is likely to be filled with more
tourists than tax paying residents. But a new tour service
developed by a native New Yorker aims to bring tourists to a part
of the Big Apple rarely frequented by the tour busses: the
Boogie-down Bronx.

Few New York guidebooks lend ink to the neighborhoods north of
96th street. The Rough Guide to New York City’s upper
Manhattan section typifies the travel industry’s unenthusiastic
view of the area: ‘Washington Heights is a patchy neighborhood with
little in the way of attractions.’ As quoted recently in City
Limits Magazine
, Debra Harris, the Bronx-born mastermind
behind Hush tours ‘says the tourism industry is missing a lucrative
market by relegating Bronx culture to this sort of postscript.’

Harris’s Hush Tours, the Original Hip-Hop Cultural Sightseeing
Tour, guides inquisitive visitors around hip hop’s hometown.
Leading the tours are the founding fathers of the music, ‘the guys
who as teenagers created what is now a multibillion-dollar global
industry.’ The list of luminaries includes Rahiem of Grandmaster
Flash, whose 1982 hit ‘The Message’ is a hip-hop foundation, DJ
Caz, one of the lyricists behind ‘Rapper’s Delight,’ and
30-year-veteran Kool DJ Red Alert. For the benefit of the
camera-wielding throngs, these living legends give informal history
lessons and wax eloquent on the ‘four elements of hip hop’ culture:
MCing, DJing, graffiti art, and break dancing. ‘The group grows
throughout the day as the guides spot other pioneers prowling the
streets and invite them to join free-ranging conversation about the
culture they all dreamed up 25 years ago.’

The tour bus makes stops at notable landmarks like the Apollo
Theater, Rucker Park — famous for its basketball tournaments —
and the movie locations for ‘New Jack City,’ ‘Krush Groove,’ and
‘Sugar Hill.’ On a more somber note in the itinerary, tour-goers
pay homage to the memories of Brooklyn rapper Christopher Wallace
(AKA Notorious B.I.G), R & B star Aaliyah, and Celia Cruz
outside an Upper East Side funeral home. A substantial amount of
time is also dedicated to admiring murals and taking photos at the
Graffiti Hall of Fame in Harlem, and enjoying an all-you-can-eat
lunch at a local soul food restaurant.

Patrons of Hush tours are an eclectic mix of ages, races, and
backgrounds but there is often at least one aspiring MC in the
group. On the ride back to midtown, equipped with complimentary
Kangol hats and rope chains, tour-goers are encouraged to share
their lyrical skills in an impromptu talent show. Now that’s
something you probably won’t see at the top of the Empire State
building.
Eliza Thomas

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