Take a Tour: Hush Hip Hop Tours

Jonathan Zeller

Are you a dyed-in-the-wool rap fan looking for a way to enjoy hip-hop with your grandmother, who's never so much as tried to memorize the lyrics to "Bust a Move"? Hush Hip Hop Tours may be just the thing to bridge that gap.

The conventional wisdom about hip-hop tours has long been that they hinge on three key factors: location, location, location. Luckily for Hush, they've got this covered with New York City. Hip-hop has its origins in uptown Manhattan and the Bronx, where pioneers like DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa practically invented rap music at house parties and created the hip-hop culture that’s so widespread today—its influence felt in TV commercials, at sporting events and on fashion runways. (Note: the company also runs a Brooklyn-based tour and one just focused on Harlem, incorporating jazz as well as hip-hop sites.)

For the hard-core faithful, Hush combines the advantages of operating in hip-hop's birthplace with the cool factor of a tour guide who has his own AllMusic bio. When we took the tour, that man was Grandmaster Caz: a key force in early rap who never achieved mainstream fame despite writing a verse of "Rapper's Delight," the first commercially successful rap song. Caz is an amiable host, eager to share stories of his role in hip-hop's ascent; toward the end of our trip, he performed his verse and then told the story of how Big Bank Hank scored a spot in the Sugarhill Gang by rapping over one of Caz's practice tapes—and subsequently “borrowed” Grandmaster's lyrics for the hit without crediting the author. Other well-known Hush Hip Hop Tour guides include Kurtis Blow, Rahiem of the Furious Five and Reggie Reg.

The tour provides the uninitiated with a lively rundown of hip-hop basics. During our circuit of locales important to the genre—undertaken in style on a coach bus outfitted with audiovisual equipment to screen supporting materials—Caz grilled passengers on the nature of hip-hop. After entertaining some thoughts from the peanut gallery, he explained that hip-hop was more than just music, and broke down the art form to its four elements: DJ-ing, MC-ing, break dancing and graffiti.

Caz then walked his guests through each of those components. In addition to showing off a Grand Concourse mural honoring DJ Kool Herc (pictured above), gesturing to an uptown (shuttered) Conway store that was once Harlem World—site of numerous MC battles in hip-hop’s early days—and recounting the night he earned the title "Grandmaster" by working the turntables with uncommon ferocity, he gave courageous volunteers a chance to break-dance at a basketball court on 106th Street and Park Avenue.

Caz introduced our group to experienced B-boy Alfred Pollo Perez, who taught a group of novices some basic moves and eventually guided them as they incorporated said maneuvers into a solid beginner’s routine. Mobile-phone videos were recorded, moments were Instagrammed and much merriment was had by all. More outgoing groups may also freestyle (improvise a rap, that is) on the bus, though our party met the invitation to do so with a silence fueled by the universal fear of sounding foolish in front of colleagues.

The bus makes stops at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel (where Brooklyn's own Notorious B.I.G. was laid to rest), basketball mecca Rucker Park, the Apollo Theater, the Bronx Walk of Fame (where Grandmaster Caz is among the honorees) and a litany of other notable backdrops for hip-hop history. At each of these locations, Caz and his friends relate stories and commentary about its relevance to hip-hop.

The accessible approach makes Hush appropriate for dedicated fans and perplexed neophytes alike. And who knows? By booking a seat on the bus, you may plant the seed for this performance at your next family gathering: