Hip-Hop History in NYC Parks
Hip-hop was born in New York City, and since its birth in the ‘70s, our parks’ open public spaces have provided the perfect venues for park jams, impromptu dance-offs, and rap battles that established the sound, fashion, art, and message of hip-hop.
The Birth of Hip-Hop
August 11, 1973 is dubbed as the birthdate of hip-hop, where at a Bronx party—Cindy Campbell’s Back to School Jam at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue—the art of hip hop was born.
The party was hosted by DJ Kool Herc, Cindy’s brother, who is a Jamaican-born graffiti artist, dancer, and DJ. The invitations—in graffiti-like writing on index cards—welcomed the “ladies and the fellas” to the building’s “rec room” for an all-night jam. But the party became so crowded that Cindy and Herc had to move it next door to Cedar Playground, known locally as Cedar Park—the birthplace of hip-hop.
Cedar Park is as one of the birthplaces of hip-hop, and was the spot for many park jams back then. (Photo by Malcolm Pinckney/NYC Parks)
The demand for Herc’s parties became very popular and were moved outdoors in the parks, since the original rec room could’ve only accommodated about 100 people. Influenced by Jamaican dancehall music parties, which were hosted by a deejay in an outdoor open space, these parties in the parks became known as park jams.
Hip-Hop pioneers Cindy Campbell, DJ Kool Herc, Coke La Rock, and Grandmaster Caz at Cedar Park in 2016. (Photo by Malcolm Pinckney/NYC Parks)
At the August 11th Back to School Party and at the park jams, Herc, using the similar techniques as Jamaican deejays, engaged the crowd on a mic and used turntables to manipulate the “breaks of the song” (the instrumental-only snippets of what was usually funk or disco music) to create a varied sound that was looped and played through large speakers for partygoers to listen and breakdance to. As “the jam” evolved, the DJ would become accompanied by an emcee who would speak a message, tell stories or jokes, or freestyle to beat of the music. This became known as rap. The DJs, emcees, breakdancers, and graffiti artists of “the jam” became the core elements of hip-hop.
Today’s Hip-Hop Park Jams
Throughout the 70s and 80s, and as hip-hop spread through the city, parks like Crotona Park and Behagen Playground in the Bronx and Queensbridge Park in Queens, to name a few, became the go-to venues for park jams.
Today, you can get a taste of the ‘70s/’80s park jam scene at the True School NYC Summer Park Jam Series at Crotona Park in the Bronx, and St. Nicholas Park and Poor Richard’s Playground in Manhattan. These free, nostalgic, old-school hip-hop jams are hosted by some of NYC’s most iconic hip-hop DJs and feature DJ battles, breakdancing, and showcases.
KRS-One aka "Hip-Hop Teacha" performing at SummerStage at Coffey Park in Brooklyn in 2017. (Photo by Malcolm Pinckney/NYC Parks)
In the summertime, CityParks Foundation’s SummerStage hosts free hip-hop concerts in parks across the city. The series, NYC's largest free outdoor performing arts festival, has been around since 1986 and has featured notable hip-hop artists, such as Prodigy performing at Queensbridge Park, Naughty by Nature at Mahoney Playground on Staten Island, Nas at Central Park in Manhattan, KRS-One at Coffey Park in Brooklyn, and Jadakiss at Crotona Park in the Bronx.
Growing Up Hip-Hop
Some of our parks were childhood playgrounds of well-known rappers.
This Brooklyn park was officially named Adam Yauch Park on May 3, 2013. (Second image by Daniel Avila/NYC Parks)
Rapper Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys grew up in this park, east of Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6. The park was named in his honor after he passed away in 2012. Each year, on his birthday, fans meet at Adam Yauch Park in tribute to his life and legacy.
We officially renamed the basketball courts at Crispus Attucks Playground on August 2, 2017. (Second image by Malcolm Pinckney/NYC Parks)
The late Notorious B.I.G. played at the Crispus Attucks Playground, about four blocks away from his home in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn. In August 2017, the basketball courts at the playground were named the Christopher “Biggie” Wallace Courts in honor of his celebrated legacy in the music.
Hip-Hop Takes the Courts
Uptown at the Holcombe Rucker Park, a younger rapper named Greg Marius of the Disco Five founded the world-renowned Entertainers Basketball Classic in 1982. Like street-corner cyphers, the tournament was orginally created for hip-hop rival groups to compete against each other. Over the years, the Classic became very popular and evolved from a hip-hop basketball competition into a series of games featuring hip-hop celebrities and NBA basketball players. In 2017, the courts were renamed in honor of Greg Marius. Learn more about the Greg Marius Courts at Holcombe Rucker Park
- Ad-Rock, Member of the Beastie Boys, at the Naming of Adam Yauch Park (video)
- Cindy Campbell and DJ Kool Herc Discuss the Birth of Hip-Hop at Cedar Playground (video)
- DJ Kool Herc, Cindy Campbell, and Other Orginal Emcees Join NYC Parks to Cut the Ribbon on Upgrades to Cedar Playground (video)
- Naughty by Nature at SummerStage in Mahoney Playground (video)
- NYC Parks Names Basketball Courts in Honor of Late Rapper Christopher "Biggie" Wallace (video)
- Black History in NYC Parks