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DOC NYC Review – 1970s NYC Gang Subculture & Its Influence on Hip Hop Spotlighted in “Rubble Kings”

DOC NYC Review - 1970s NYC Gang Subculture & Its Influence on Hip Hop Spotlighted in "Rubble Kings"

You’re more than likely familiar with the 1979 film, “The Warriors,” the cult classic about an all

out battle royale amongst colorfully costumed (but brutal) street gangs in New York City. Vividly

over-the-top, the film’s depiction of gang culture pales in comparison to the real-life gangs who

inspired it, the titular “Rubble Kings” of director Shan Nicholson’s latest documentary.

The doc takes a look back at a time when black and Puerto Rican gangs populated literally

every corner of the South Bronx – gangs with names like The Savage Nomads and The Skulls,

The Homicides and The Dirty Ones – who wore distinct colors, had complex hierarchies, and

clung to each other in an urban landscape that offered nothing much else to live for.

There frustrations, the film argues, were born not only out of the deterioration of the Bronx in the

early 60s due to big business and white flight, but also the frustration and anxiety over the

unfulfilled promises of the troubled 60s. The gangs, in a sense, were a kind of counter-cultural

movement all their own – teenaged kids who styled themselves off the Hell’s Angels and viewed

themselves more as outlaws than hooligans.

To tell the tale of how this movement of sorts affected gang culture in the Bronx and

surrounding boroughs for years to come, Nicholson employs interviews with the men and

women who experienced it first hand, the most engaging and informative of the bunch being

Ghetto Brothers gang founders “Yellow” Benjamin Melendez and “Karate” Charlie Suarez.

Bolstered by extensive and vivid archival footage of the Ghetto Brothers at the height of their

reign, the doc focuses in on how Melendez and Suarez channeled their anger away from the

neighborhood and towards the Man, gradually morphing the gang from a violent brotherhood

into a politically aware social club that would clean up the neighborhood and eventually serve as

the catalyst for one of the largest gang truces in New York City history.

But this is also, quite cunningly, a documentary about the birth of hip hop. Afrika Bambaata and

Kool Herc appear to give the final chapter of the story – how the street gangs were really the

progenitors of the b-boys, the DJs, the MCs, who would shape a cultural movement that

channeled the anger and despondence of hood life into a collaborative, transformative new form

of expression. It’s all fascinating stuff, and while this is a documentary that formally isn’t doing

anything groundbreaking, its strength lies in allowing the people who lived the story to tell it.

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