50 years of Hip Hop: Five iconic landmarks that live in hip hop history

ByRalph Bristout WABC logo
Monday, December 18, 2023
Hip Hop creators reflect on 50 years music and culture
In this Eyewitness News special, we look at how Hip Hop is woven into every aspect of our lives, and how every step of the way, New York has been at the center of it all.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Hip Hop started out in the parks and traveled far beyond the Boogie Down Bronx - lifting up underserved voices, transforming culture, and inspiring generations along the way.

While the genre's reach has grown far beyond a back-to-school party in 1973, its roots remain very much intact in New York City.

As the hip hop capital of the world, NYC doesn't just boast an Avengers-esque roster of iconic emcees, DJs, graffiti artists, breakdancers and beatboxers - it's also home to a treasure trove of landmarks that are just as responsible for unleashing the cultural revolution.

Whether you consider yourself a hip hop enthusiast or just trying to learn the history of the genre as it marks its 50th anniversary, these NYC landmarks are just some of the many that tell its story.

Hip Hop Blvd.

As we celebrate 50 years of hip hop, David Novarro takes a look back at the music genre's history and origins in the Bronx.

Location: 1520 Sedgwick Ave., Bronx NY

It doesn't get any more hip hop than this.

Located in the Morris Heights section of the Bronx, this is where it all started.

On the night of August 11, 1973, a party in the rec room of this 18-story apartment building became the birthplace of hip hop - courtesy of the DJ, Clive "DJ Kool Herc" Campbell, host, Cindy Campbell, and master of ceremonies, Coke La Rock.

This is hip hop's hallowed ground. In 2021, a congressional resolution was passed, officially declaring the 102-apartment building as the birthplace of the genre.

Cedar Park

Location: 1890 Cedar Ave, Bronx, NY

Hip Hop was born inside 1520 Sedgwick Ave., but Cedar Park was where it took its first step.

When the crowd at the Campbells' now-fabled back to school jam grew larger than intended, the party moved outdoors to Cedar Playground.

As the party moved to the neighboring outdoor park, also known as Cedar Park, it simultaneously led to the first historical park jam.

DJ Kool Herc would go on to host many other outdoor parties at the park thereafter - thus inspiring the ubiquitous rap line, "Hip Hop, it started out in the park."

READ MORE |50 Years of Hip Hop: The Bronx and Beyond

The Tunnel

Location: 220 12th Ave, New York, NY

Before there was a streaming service or social media platform to gauge how well a song was destined for success, hip hop had the Tunnel.

Located in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, the 80,000-square-foot nightclub was genre's Studio 54.

Built in 1891, this location was previously a freight train depot. Though it hosted many parties between the 1980s and '90s, the Tunnel on Sundays was particularly integral to hip hop.

Between 1993-2001, the club hosted its hip hop-themed nights on Sundays, which was the only day of the week when hip hop was featured and performed.

These parties, known as the "Mecca," became the ultimate proving ground for artists - from The Notorious B.I.G. to Jay-Z, and more - as renowned New York DJs like Funkmaster Flex and Big Kap would debut records and, depending on the crowd's reaction, determine whether or not it was poised for success.

While there are any infamous stories associated with these club nights, this was the ultimate rite of passage for everyone who was anyone in hip hop at the time.

Fun fact: actor Vin Diesel once worked there as a bouncer.

To fully illustrate the feel of these parties, look no further than DMX's music video for "Get At Me Dog," which was shot inside The Tunnel in 1997. Not long after, the record reached Top 10 on the rap charts and later propelled the rapper's debut album, It's Dark and Hell Is Hot, to No. 1 on the Billboard charts.

In 2001, the Tunnel closed its doors, and is now a $1.25 billion renovation project that will soon see the building converted into commercial unit featuring office suites, retail space, and dining options.

Holcombe Rucker Park

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Location: 220 W 155th St, New York, NY

Harlem's Holcombe Rucker Park, more affectionately known as The Rucker, is heart and soul of New York City basketball.

"Madison Square Garden of the playground," is how Knicks legend and former Warriors coach Mark Jackson once described it to Eyewitness News. In addition to its sports roots, the court is also very much entrenched in hip hop culture.

Every summer, a world-famous tournament takes place at Rucker Park in Harlem, where the best basketball prospects and street ballers compete for playground primacy.

The first tournaments began under Holcombe Rucker, a teacher and playground director from Harlem, in the late 1940s.

In the 1950s, the tournament, which was founded in Rucker's name, moved to its current location.

Its magnetic aura not only attracted professional ballers, but major hip hop names as well. Much of this credit is due to Harlem native Greg Marius, a former hip hop artist, who enlivened the space with the introduction of the Entertainers Basketball Classic in 1982.

These tournaments allowed local playground legends to share the court with professionals, while hip hop soundtracked the atmosphere. It wasn't long before both worlds joined forces as one. The rest was history.

As rap's popularity soared in the 1990s, sponsorships from record labels began to flow into EBC, leading to Rucker Park basketball teams for the likes of Def Jam, Bad Boy Records, Roc-A-Fella, and more.

These games became so popular that former President Bill Clinton even stopped by once to catch the action. Kobe Bryant, fresh off of his third championship with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2002, hit the legendary court to partake in a game. In 2003, hip hop luminaries like Jay Z and Fat Joe, whose respective Rucker teams reached the finals, led thousands of eager fans to fill up the court all while NYC experienced its biggest blackout since 1977.

The Rucker Park tournaments continue to this day, remaining a staple in both basketball and hip hop culture.

Christopher 'Notorious B.I.G.' Wallace Way

Kemberly Richardson reports on Christopher 'Notorious B.I.G.' Wallace Way in Brooklyn.

Location: 226 St. James Place, Brooklyn, NY

The childhood of Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace is to hip hop what Graceland is to rock 'n' roll.

The Bedford-Stuyvesant building may not have been the rapper's last known residence, but it's a historical gem that the borough holds near and dear. After all, this is where most of his iconic rhymes were forged.

This is the location Big describes on 1994's "Juicy," in which he raps, "Thinking back to my one room shack, now my mom pimps an Ac' with minks on her back."

In 2019, the corner of St. James Place and Fulton Street was fittingly renamed Christopher 'Notorious B.I.G.' Wallace Way.

Even in spirit, the late rapper continues to "represent BK to the fullest."

RELATED|Concerts, block parties & more to celebrate 50 years of Hip Hop in NYC

Derick Waller has more on the Hip Hop concert set to air on "GMA" live from Central Park.

Watch our half-hour special 'The Bronx and Beyond: 50 years of Hip Hop' airing on Eyewitness News at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, August 11, followed by a one-hour extended look on Channel 7 at 1 p.m. on Sunday, August 13. Both editions will be made available to stream on-demand at ABC7NY.com or our ABC7NY app on Roku, FireTV, Apple TV and Android TV.


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