Jams: The True Pioneers of Hip Hop



Groundswell Community Mural Project ©

Acrylic on Plaster
7 x 20 Ft

Lead Artist: Conor McGrady

Youth Artists: Kwabena 'Cue' Johnson, Winston 'Neo' Henry, Sergio Varel, Tiffany Joy, Melissa Torres, Issac Johnson.

Location: Monroe High School, South Bronx

Community Partner: Monroe High School


Monroe High School is located in the South Bronx, in the heart of the area that gave birth to Hip Hop in the 1970s. The first pioneers of Hip-Hop as a cultural phenomenon began their careers in the area surrounding Monroe High School near Elder Avenue and the surrounding housing projects. Monroe High School wanted to recognize the historical impact and cultural contribution of the neighborhood by creating a mural in the school lunch room to acknowledge and celebrate early Hip-Hop culture and the local figures that created it.

The school had the unfortunate experience of having a number of its lunch room murals painted over during summer 2004 by accident. A number of the students who worked on the original murals expressed interest in working on the Hip-Hop project. The group decided to focus on portraits of the key figures that were instrumental in beginning Hip Hop as a movement, including the original pioneers, Cool Herc, Africa Bambata, Grandmaster Flash, Sha Rock and Wanda Dee all of whom were from the South Bronx. During the initial workshops it was stressed that the women pioneers should be given as much significance in the mural as the men, as some histories of the movement have had a tendency to minimize their contributions. The group wanted the mural to honor the local figures that made Hip Hop a world wide phenomenon, and two of the earliest pioneers, Wanda Dee and Sha Rock, were from the immediate community.

Other images of significance that were generated included the housing projects where Hip Hop began, the number 4 and 6 trains that serve the South Bronx, graffiti style lettering and break dancing. Local DJ Cool Clyde, the first DJ to use the scratching technique and who still lives in the neighborhood, gave a presentation to the group on his involvement with some of the early figures in the movement. Clyde brought copies of his early records and contributed photos from his personal collection of the early pioneers including Wanda Dee and Sha Rock. The group decided to include DJ Cool Clyde and his partner DJ Lightening Lance in the mural, and settled on a depiction of them both DJ'ing behind record decks. KRS One, another local MC who impacted the direction of Hip Hop culture, is also included.

A border runs around the mural, naming of all the early Hip-Hop acts, while an RIP section recognizes Hip Hop artists who have passed away. A section of the mural also honors the major female musicians in Hip-Hop, past and present. During the beginning stages of painting DJ Cool Clyde stopped by with Lightening Lance and brought a copy of one of his early LP's. The group took the artwork from the cover of the LP and added it to the front of the decks where Clyde is spinning in the mural.

The mural took four weeks to complete, with a short break for the Christmas and New Year holidays. There was a high level of enthusiasm and participation all round, with the group doing research on their own and bringing in images and reference material. Teachers and members of the school community were highly impressed by the visual impact of the mural and the enthusiasm of the participants.

Special thanks are due to Tom Porton at Monroe High School and to DJ Cool Clyde for volunteering his time and support.