Charlie Chase of the Cold Crush Brothers at Club Negril, 1981. Photograph by Joe Conzo

Charlie Chase of the Cold Crush Brothers at Club Negril, 1981. Photograph by Joe Conzo

Joe Conzo has been called the photographer who took Hip-Hop’s baby pictures. The author of the seminal photography book, Born in the Bronx (Rizzoli), Conzo was at the forefront of an art form as it was birthed on the streets and exploded the world over. He speaks with NYC, 1981 about Hip-Hop as it first came up.

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Conzo recalls, “Abandoned buildings were nothing new to me. They were my playgrounds because I didn’t know anything different than that. It wasn’t until 1974, when my stepfather moved us to Chevy Chase, Maryland, that I realized what it was what a house with a white picket fence looks like. But when my mother divorced him a year later, it was back to the South Bronx. It was a culture shock. But I really didn’t miss anything because this was my playground: the abandoned buildings, the streets, the open fire hydrants, the daily fires, and this, that, and the other. On one hand it was a turbulent time, but on the other hand, for a young kid growing up, it was a happy-go-lucky, free-spirited time.

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“The vibe of the South Bronx at the time was a very colorful, animated, happy go lucky, do what you want to do time. I used to tell people that I was from the South Bronx and they were like, ‘Ohh abandoned buildings, gangsters,’ but on the contrary it was family back then. Yes there were gangs and drugs back then but there are gangs and drugs everywhere in this country. We were just more out in the open. But it was a good time. There was family values back then. If Miss Smith who was the next-door neighbor gave you that look ‘cause you were doing something wrong, you stopped what you were doing. You respected your elders. Lots of family unity and strength. There was unity. If Miss Smith in the next building lost her job and needed groceries for the week the whole building would chip in.

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“Yes the Bronx was burning at the time. You didn’t know if your building was going to be there the next day because if you lived in an old tenement your building might be marked for arson. But it was part of the time. You just picked up and moved on.”

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Read the Full Story at NYC, 1981

South Bronx, 1981. Photograph by Joe Conzo,

South Bronx, 1981. Photograph by Joe Conzo,