Hip-Hop Legend Visits Valhalla Campus

Hip-hop pioneer Grandmaster Caz attended Professor Kelli Naik’s Understanding Mass Media class as a guest speaker in the Gateway building on Monday November 5. Caz spoke to students about the foundations of hip-hop, and opened up about what it’s like to be a performer in the music industry.

Grandmaster Caz goes by the stage name Casanova Fly. He is better known for being a part of the band The Cold Crush Brothers. Caz started out as a B-boy, and would later be inspired by the Godfather of hip-hop, DJ Kool Herc, at one of the first official hip-hop parties in August of 1973. He made his way into the party despite being under age, and it was there he decided that he’d become a DJ. Dedication, appreciation and passion were the qualities Caz possessed that helped him become the hip-hop legend that he is today

“Are you with me?” Caz asked the crowded classroom, acting as if he were behind the mic at a concert. His talk began with the question “What is hip-hop?”. Various students responded that hip-hop is a lifestyle, an experience and a culture.

Caz broke down the four elements of hip-hop culture using the analogy of a periodic table. He said each element is represented by the four legs the table stands on: 1) The MC or master of ceremonies on the mic. 2) The DJ who provides the music. 3) The B-boys or break dancers who get the party going. 4) The Graffiti or Aerosol artists who make the streets beautiful.

Caz further explained that the DJ was considered the main event at parties back in the day. “There weren’t people rhyming over the beat,” said Caz. “Artists today are known as rappers because the influenced the DJ had.” The purpose of the mic was for the DJ to make announcements over the music. It wasn’t until later that DJ’s picked up the idea to add a hook, then a rhythm, and then verses to their set, thus evolving into the sound that hip-hop is known for today. The media coined the term ‘rapper’ for the original name of the MC.

Professor Naik’s previous student Eric Rhamos, who is close friends with Charlie Rock and DJ Kool Herc, was able to share his personal experience and co-sign on how hip hop got its start. “I used to sneak out of the house,” Rhamos said. “Back then you’d hear about the Jam through word of mouth. The parties would be in the park for free and they’d set up their speakers to light post to get the music going until the cops came to shut it down.”

“Can you identify hip-hop just by looking at it?” Caz asked. “The most important element in hip-hop is developing your own unique style.” Caz explained your rhymes must be tight, your moves on point, and your clothes must be fresh.

For years Caz lived and breathed hip-hop. It was his intention to become ‘hood famous’ and be known in the neighborhood as the ‘ghetto celebrity.’ Nobody knew what hip-hop would become 45 years later. With the support of his mother and her permission to use funds from his college savings, he invested in sound equipment. Words wouldn’t discourage Caz from pursuing his dream. Having been inducted into the Bronx Walk of Fame in 2008, he is honored to see his name on the Grand Concourse and takes pride in his accomplishments.

Today it’s much easier for new artists to make a name for themselves in the music industry, according to Casanova. Social media plays a big role in gaining exposure. Self-promotion is key. In the early days of hip-hop, groups formed together with the basic elements of the MC, DJ, and B-boy, each with their own unique style. Today, Caz encourages students who have a passion for music and want to make it in the industry to have a separate career while working on their own projects. “Surround yourself with like-minded people,” said Caz. “Finish your education and obtain a job, while following your passion.”

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