NORIN RAD: "My first question would be....when did you start breaking and what got you involved in it?"
IMPERIAL JC:"Okay, basically what it was...back, you know, in the early 1970ies we used to live in a complex. It was six buildings and all the kids used to be in that one complex you know and everybody had birthday parties every month and we went to all the different birthday parties all through these years, you know? And they would always have dance contests, you know what I'm saying... and when they had these dance contests I would go in there and just like win all the dance contests. You know doing Michael Jackson moves... you know stuff like that and I'm having a big big Afro and all that and the kids that promoted the parties they would always want me to come. I went to this one party which was done by a friend of mine who lived two floors down from me and his name was Steven and I seen him doing a dance that I had never really seen before, you know? Like a kool laid back type of dance, you know what I mean? They're doing that record "Africano" by Earth, Wind & Fire and that's the first time I seen dudes doin' some real smooth stuff and go on the floor. Everything was smooth! It wasn't going crazy, you know? 'Cause they was trying to impress the girls..That's what it was all about it was about impressing the girls...it wasn't so much about impressing the guys, you know? You would certain moves so the girls would go, "OOOH!!" So I learnt how to do those moves and once I learnt how to do them..I met a friend of mine at De Witt Clinton (high school in the Bronx) his name was Freeze...Freeze was a beast..a breaker of back in the days..he was more into going to the floor that type of stuff....and he met me one day in school and said, "Yo, I want you to get down with me!" I said, "Well, but you know I don't know how to do all that what you're doing. I know how to do what we're calling Freestyle....." He was like, " Nah, I teach you how to do it whatever!"Anyway me and him got together. We started a group called The Red Devils. It was like seven or eight of us and Freeze was the leader and Freeze taught us how to be smooth but also how to battle other guys if we had to, you know what I'm saying? But me I liked to do all the smooth stuff because it just looks better! And the clothes that we were wearing you didn't want to get your clothes dirty, you know what I'm saying? You don't wanna go through all that! So what you saw me doing when I came to Germany was the smooth way of breaking. It was called Freestyling. We didn't have a name for it...it was just something that we were doing because of the music. I used to be always known for being a good dancer from like 5 years old all the way until I was 16 or 17 years old, you know? "
|"Africano" by Earth, Wind & Fire ("That's The Way Of The World" 1975; Columbia Records)|
IMPERIAL JC:"Yeah, from Highbridge, yes! I lived in Highbridge.. right there on a 167th & Anderson Avenue. Then we moved from Anderson Avenue to Ogden Avenue and that's where it all started really really clicking for me when I moved to Ogden Avenue."
NORIN RAD:"Okay, now you have mentioned those birthday parties where you used to dance at back in the early 1970ies...what were some of the venues where you and the Red Devils would rock at? Could you name some?"
IMPERIAL JC:"Okay, yes! Back then it was a lot of stuff in the schools, you know? We used to go to the schoolyards..166....Places like that! I got to see Clark Kent one time on Morris Avenue...there was a school on Morris Avenue and it was a big battle..it was Clark Kent against somebody and that was the first that I got to see Clark Kent dance and I can remember from that day on it made me really wanna dance, you know what I mean? Cause he did some things that were ridiculous!!! He was dancing with the guy and pulled out a can of Raid!!! Sprayed the man with Raid and we all went nuts! Like, "Woooow!" It was something that we all liked! But..yeah, most of the schoolyards back then. JHS 82... We was young, you know what I mean? It was kinda hard...we couldn't get into clubs so we had to go the parties that they were giving in the schools and then Freeze who was older than us he would be able to go to some of the clubs that we couldn't go to."
|Can of Raid|
NORIN RAD: "Like the Hevalo and those kind of spots, right?"
IMPERIAL JC:"Right, we was too young to get inside. So we couldn't go."
NORIN RAD:"Now you've just said that one specific reason for the first generation of B-Boys not to focus on the floor moves was that it was a must for you back then to dress fly for you wanted to impress the girls and didn't want to mess up your gear. This is something I've heard time and again. Could you describe how the B-Boys of your generation would dress like?"
IMPERIAL JC:"Okay, mostly you would put on a nice pair of Pumas, you know the suede joints (Puma Clydes)...with a pair of Lees...the bell-bottom Lees and any type of knit sweater or cardigan...all that kind of stuff. Like I used to have this brown sweater....matter of fact I think you got that sweater not in that colour but I seen you post it on facebook."
NORIN RAD:"Oh you mean that Alpaca V-Neck?"
IMPERIAL JC: "Yeah, that V-Neck, yeah! I had one like that! I used to rock that so much they probably thought that's all I had! (laughs) I loved that one! Then the Cortefiels...I had a Cortefiel..I loved that Cortefiel..a black Cortefiel with the fur on the side ....Oh my God!!! I rocked that coat so much I could throw that coat against the wall and it would stand by its own!
So much stuff.... Then we started rocking the Overlaps....I had every single colour Overlaps you could think of..blue, black, light green. That was our gear so we used to rock that! Like every weekend...our good stuff, you know what I mean? School is throwing on some regular jeans all that but going out you dressed up fly! You know back then silver medaillons was big!"
|Norin Rad rockin' that Alpaca V-Neck with the Mockneck and the Kangol|
NORIN RAD:"Could you explain to me what a house medallion is?"
IMPERIAL JC:"Okay a house medaillon is basically when you see that medallion it looks like a house.... and then you have like Jesus or whatever inside the middle of it. And then you have the regular medallion where there is just a picture of a face of whoever. Mary or whatever...stuff like that! Mine..I had both. I had a round medallion and a square medallion. Now the square medallion was bigger and I had a little red diamond in it...a red ruby in it. And then when I started getting a little big for myself then I went out and got me a gold medallion. When I started rocking the gold medallion they always tried to stick me up. Oh yeah! Every time I would come in there they would look at me like, "He got on gold!" They wanna take that, you know what I mean?"
NORIN RAD: "From where would you get your jewelry back then?"
IMPERIAL JC:"I would go to a store called Jew Man in the Bronx. The thing about Jew Man...you had to go there with a couple of people 'cause if you go by yourself they stick you up! Take your money, take your clothes...so we used to go there with a whole bunch. And then we used to go down to Delancey Street. We used to go there right around holidays... yo know, Christmas time. We would go down there and we would just rack up! You know, buying all kind of gear...cause everything was cheaper down there."
NORIN RAD:"Okay, back to breaking. From what I have been able to gather so far in terms of information regarding the way the black B-Boys would dance it seems as if almost everybody would do certain kind of routines, you know characters. Like James Bond would do Get Smart with the shoe or Clark Kent would do Superman coming out of a phone booth. Did you and the other members of the Red Devils do these kind of routines as well?"
IMPERIAL JC:"What happened was... we were trying to be different than everybody else 'cause we knew that everybody was doing characters. So we told everybody to have a signature move...their own signature move! Not somebody else's... So I had this thing called The Windmill... what happened with the Windmill is...The guy that I'm dancing against, right? He would be standing in the center of my windmill and I would spin around and around on my knuckles and my feet... I would spin all the way around him and when I had come almost fully around him I would freeze in the air..BOW!!! on 'em and I used to kill them all the time! Freeze's signature move was..he would do like some moves on the floor and then he would just run like towards the guy (that he battled) and do a fly kick type thing in the air and come back and freeze on his ear!! Then we had this other kid named Manny...Manny was kind of big...Manny was good with dancing up. Like he wouldn't go on the floor a lot but he did some time but he was good with dancing up...Like doing little things in your face to get you mad, you know?"
NORIN RAD: "Like intimidating you, right?"
IMPERIAL JC:"Right, right, that's right! Everybody had their own signature move. My signature move was the windmill."
NORIN RAD:"In that era B-Boys danced to the whole song,right? Not just to the break part as it became the norm later on, right?"
IMPERIAL JC:" Basically what they would do is...Everybody is like warming up, you know? Like we used to do easy moves until that break came. When that break came we just went nuts!!! Throw all of your moves out, you know what I mean??? So we would wait like... "Africano" the beat was hot....you went right down because the beat was at the beginning, you know what I mean???"Apache" you had to wait for it, you know?? "Bongo Rock" you had to wait for it..."
NORIN RAD: "What about "Listen To Me" by Baby Huey?"
IMPERIAL JC:"Yes, yes!!! Oh, that was another one!! ( gets excited) You had to wait on it, you had to wait on it! Because the break part comes after, "hear what I'm saying!" (sings) That's when you went nuts!!"
NORIN RAD:"You also told us when you were with us in Germany that back then it was also about how you carried yourself at a party, about being kool..."
IMPERIAL JC:"My family we're all from Harlem.....we are all originally from Harlem...so everything was about being kool back in the day..... it wasn't about being all crazy it was just about being kool. When you danced you did whatever you did.. jumped back on the wall and you was kool again!!!
NORIN RAD:"Like it was nothing...like you didn't even break a sweat..."
IMPERIAL JC:"Right, right, exactly!!!! And the girls they would see that ..they would be like,"I wanna talk to him!" "Look how smooth he is! Look how he's getting down!" You know what I'm saying??? You would see how they were looking at you, how they were checking you out....and you'd be like, "Yeah, I got that! I got that!!" You know what I mean?!"
NORIN RAD:"Maybe this sounds like a strange question but could it be that all those black movies that came out during the early to mid 1970ies like Shaft, Superfly, The Mack had an influence on you B-Boys back then? I mean the main protagonists of these movies were guys who would fuck you up in a minute and then be kool again in a second while attracting all the females to them at the same time...Was that an influence? Subconsciously maybe?"
IMPERIAL JC:"Oh yeah...these movies did do a lot!!! See we used to go to the movies every week. So we used to see every movie that came out, every black movie that came out and you know we would come out of the movie theatre, you know, that stuff would rub off on you, you know what I'm saying? People would look at you like, "Look at this little kid!" But watching these movies was influencing us to be kool and we took that with us when we danced because if you look at those movies when they're having their little parties everybody be kool. It wasn't no jumping around and spinning on your head it was just kool, you know what I'm saying?"
NORIN RAD: "Plus many of these movies also featured vicious beats that make you wanna go off!"
IMPERIAL JC:" Yeah, I love that beat from Black Belt Jones.....Even when I play that beat now...I love that... 'cause it takes you back to the 70ies, really!"
NORIN RAD:"From what I have heard so far many of the first generation B-Boys would also incorporate the Robot into their dancing. Was that something that you did, too?"
IMPERIAL JC:"Yeah, that was a Michael Jackson move!"Dancing, dancing..." (starts singing "Dancing Machine" by The Jackson Five) When they would dance to "Dancing Machine" they would do that Robot! That's where we were gettin' that from....The Jacksons!"
NORIN RAD:"So Michael Jackson was an influence too young B-Boys in the Bronx in the 1970ies .."
IMPERIAL JC: "You see the Jackson 5 was big to all the kids back in the day. We all looked up to them. Everybody wanted to be Jackson 5. You see them on Soul Train so you were just imitating them ...the Jacksons."
|Michael Jackson doing the Robot on Soul Train|
NORIN RAD: "And I guess James Brown was a huge influence, too?"
IMPERIAL JC:"Oh yeah, yeah..cause James Brown doing the split and all that stuff..yeah! Now James Brown he was a smooth dancer. If you could pull off some James Brown moves you were nice, you know what I mean? But everybody couldn't do James Brown so they stuck to Michael Jackson."
NORIN RAD: "So what were your top five songs to go off to back then?"
IMPERIAL JC:""Africano" is one...that is the first."Bongo Rock", "Apache", Dennis Coffey..."Scorpio"."
|Norin Rad and Imperial JC in Cologne, 2013|
END OF PART ONE