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Hip Hop’s 2nd Birthplace, Part 5: Negril Nightclub

Hip Hop at 50
This is the fifth in a series of posts that celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Birth of Hip HopOur exploration takes us to the seminal places of Hip Hop’s early days in our neighborhoods and introduces some of the instrumental figures in the downtown world of Hip Hop.

Negril Nightclub: 181 2nd Avenue

Club Negril was a small reggae bar in the East Village on 2nd Avenue between 11th and 12th Streets. Located in a basement with capacity of 200, it was frequented by Bob Marley and the Wailers and other reggae groups.

181-189 2nd Avenue (l. to r.) in 1975, very similar to how it looked in 1981 when Club Negril was located where the circular striped awning of “Ipanema” can be seen in this image.

Starting in late September 1981, a British expatriate known as Kool Lady Blue ran a weekly Hip Hop Night at Club Negril with Michael Holman, who helped book the acts. The first show’s line-up was the same as the recent seminal Bow Wow Wow Ritz show at the nearby Ritz: Rock Steady Crew, and DJ Jazzy Jay. The first few shows drew very small crowds, and Kool Lady Blue realized the Ritz shows were a hit not just because they were drawing hip hop fans, but were attracting attendees from a wide range of backgrounds and exposing them to hip hop.

Grandmaster Caz and JDL at Club Negril. Credit: Joe Conzo, Jr.

Kool Lady Blue threw a grand reopening of Negril on January 7th, 1982 featuring a mash-up lineup including Kosmo Vinyl of the Clash and DJ Scratchy, the DJ for the Clash along with Rock Steady Crew, DJ Jazzy Jay and Jazzy 5 MCs.

According to this interview with Kool Lady Blue: “The club was jumping with a great mix of people from punks, to NY trendies, NY art scene, to musicians, fashionistas to the South Bronx kids. I can remember David Byrne, John Lydon, Billy Idol, Andy Warhol, Basquiat, Joey Ramone, Debbie Harry, Julian Schnabel, Carolina Herrera, Keith Haring, Francesco Clemente, Madonna etc. all hanging out with the Bronx kids and downtown hipsters. Awesome.”

Flier for a 1982 Club Negril show

Transition to the Roxy

Club Negril was closed by the fire department by April 1982. Kool Lady Blue needed a new spot for her club. The Roxy was a huge roller rink/roller disco at 515 West 18th Street. She located the DJ right in the middle of the 4,000 capacity space, surrounded by dance floors and graffitied walls and curtains.

Exterior of The Roxy in 2009 after its closure in 2007

The Roxy, with the help of Fab 5 Freddy and other bookers and artists, became one of the city’s most popular clubs and a breeding ground for hip hop culture. According to Kool Lady Blue’s interview: “I wanted the Roxy to be a mash-up club, a cross-cultural experience for all tribes to share – a club for everyone. It was primarily a dance music club and the thing that made it cutting edge and special were all the hip-hop elements and sounds fusing together with the electronic or electro dance sounds. It was indeed the first mash-up club, the first truly multi-racial, multi-cultural dance club in NYC with that hip-hop ‘flava.’ “

This blog was partially adapted from the research done for our 2nd Birthplace Tour (Hip-Hop at 50). We would like to thank the following people and organizations for their invaluable input and support in developing 2nd Birthplace:

Amanda Adams-Louis36 Chambaz of Stylz, Big Tara, CricketDJ SpinnaElena Romero,  Eric “DEAL”FelisbretFlashTalksJames Top, Justine Leguizamo, Keistar ProductionsKyra Gaunt, Leeanne G-Bowley, Martha DiazMichael Holman, and Peaches Rodriguez.

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