Back To Borinquen: The Rock Steady Crew In Puerto Rico

Words by Kieran K. Meadows—

Puerto-Rock-Steady

Most of the time when we reference rocksteady on LargeUp we’re talking about a late 1960s Jamaican music genre that slightly predated reggae. But there’s another “Rock Steady” force with roots in the Caribbean — namely the island of Puerto Rico. We’re talking about the world renowned B-boy pioneers from New York City, the Rock Steady Crew.

Breakdancing was a crucial element in the birth of hip-hop culture in the Bronx in the 1970s, with African American and Puerto Rican (or “Nuyorican”) youth taking to the streets and clubs to show off their latest moves when the break portion of the record was looped by DJs. We’ve already established the Jamaican roots of hip-hop culture, but many Puerto Rican kids were at the forefront in the burgeoning b-boying aspect of the culture. Rock Steady Crew was established in 1977 in the Bronx by Jimmy D and Jojo Torres, and was known as one of the toughest crews to join. Only the best b-boys were down. The b-boy craze had mostly faded in the Bronx by 1979, but thanks to another b-boying Puerto Rican kid, Richie Colón, a.k.a. Crazy Legs, who was granted permission by the founders to establish a Manhattan chapter, it was given new life in Manhattan.

By 1981, Crazy Legs and Rock Steady Crew were popularizing the art form across the five boroughs of NYC. They also got attention from the media and eventually the general public following a performance at Lincoln Center Outdoors program where they battled The Dynamic Rockers, another crew with many Puerto Rican members. This led to a string of movie appearances: Wild Style (1982), Style Wars (1983), Flashdance (1983), and Beat Street (1984). Fast forward 36 years — and many performances and tours later — and the Rock Steady Crew has beyond-legendary status, with b-boy (and b-girl) chapters around the country and the world.

It was only right then that the roots of hip hop culture be celebrated in Puerto Rico itself, in the form of a fledgling annual festival. This past May, Crazy Legs and Rock Steady Crew threw the first ever Puerto Rock Steady — a weekend event he envisions becoming a big international music and dance festival — in the small town of Isabela on the west side of the island. The vision was to bring together the global DJ/dance scene of “all styles funky,” throw in some beach parties and pool parties, and give it all a boost of much-needed soul, as well as community vibes. The DJ lineup included the likes of Tony Touch, Rich Medina, Sucio Smash, Statik Selektah, Ivan Robles, Puerto Rico’s own Jansy, and even Crazy Legs himself.

Also present were famed hip-hop photographer (and Bronx-raised Boricua) Joe Conzo, Rock Steady Crew Seattle chapter founding member DV-One, and NY-based, Dominican-Haitian hip-hop artist/musician Oveous, who described the weekend like this:

“People flew in from all parts of the globe to come together in the name of dance and music. It wasn’t about conferences and workshops and competition. It was about community and dance. Everyone came together like family. From the beach to the block party on the final day, everyone came together to celebrate life and a legacy. And we did it all for our bro Crazy Legs. Cause we believed his vision would be a successful one. And guess what, it was!”

Don’t just take Oveous’ word for it — check out this highlight video below to get a feel for the sights and sounds of the weekend, then visit the Rock Steady Crew Facebook page to find out more about 2014’s Puerto Rock Steady.

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