The Pillars of Hip Hop: Breakdancing and graffiti

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BRONX, New York (WABC) — Hip hop history is so important to both artists and fans. In fact, “knowledge” is one of the so-called five pillars of hip-hop. The others are MCing, DJing, breakdancing, and graffiti.

Eyewitness News reporter Kemberly Richardson takes a look at the latter two pillars: breakdancing and graffiti.

In the late 70s and 80s in the Bronx, two little boys were exposed to both, and it ended up being a life-altering experience.

When it comes to hip hop, breakdancing and graffiti are two very critical elements that are deeply intertwined.

“From that point on, it just became my mission to learn everything I could about graffiti,” said Wilfredo ‘Bio’ Feliciano, co-founder of Tats Cru.

“I was brought to a jam, and it blew my mind. That was when I felt like born in ’66, but came to life in ’77,” said breakdancer Richard ‘Crazy Legs’ Colon.

The seeds of breaking and graffiti were planted in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s, and it grew.

“I was coming off of a subway train and the doors closed and there was just a huge cartoon character on the outside of the subway car,” Feliciano said. “And I was like, ‘whoa,’ I was like, ‘what is that?'”

It was one way a generation was expressing themselves. Giving a voice to the voiceless.

“Because it’s always about competition and graffiti,” said Sotero ‘BG183’ Ortiz of Tats Cru. “You know, even like an MC, you want to be the best rapper, you want to be the best, DJ you want to best breakdancer. The same thing with graffiti.”

As for perfecting their skills, there was no internet. They learned from watching other so-called writers and spending what seemed like forever on subway platforms.

“Train pulls in a station, you absorb as much as you could and then it rolls out, so sometimes you wait a couple of hours for that same train to come around so you can see it again,” Feliciano said.

That attention to detail would be one of their strong points. Others wanted in, so it went from a trio to up to a dozen members.

At the same time, a shy kid named Richard Colon was finding his way b-boying. He said you had to have thick skin because critics were harsh.

“If your skills were trash, those words were used, ‘Yo, that’s trash,’ or ‘that looks hurt,'” Colon said.

He earned his stripes and the nickname ‘Crazy Legs,’ an original member of the Rock Steady Crew.

“So, we had this newfound success and fame, which we couldn’t see beyond like ghetto props,” Colon said. “We didn’t know how big those things were hitting the United States and the globe.”

Colon was one of the first to take breakdancing to Paris and London. Tats Cru was also on the rise, landlords were paying them to paint murals on their buildings, noting how other artists respected their work and wouldn’t tag it. Different, yet the same.

In the end, it was the colliding of many worlds.

“The birth of hip hop kind of came from not having social places to go to,” said Hector ‘Nicer’ Nazario of Tats Cru. “And from that we created our own form of dance, our own form of music, our own form of art.”

All of this overlapped in so many places. Graffiti artists, like the Tats Cru would make a background and then someone like ‘Crazy Legs’ would start dancing.

Ultimately, someone would grab the mic. The international reach of all of this traces right back to the Bronx.

Watch the half-hour special now, 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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