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Children of Latin Quarter

Note from the editor: In our continued celebration of 50 years of Hip Hop Culture, 206 Zulu News is taking time to look at moments along the timeline of Hip Hop’s evolution, both big and small. Knowing that sometimes small instances can tell the biggest stories, staff writer Camilo Almonacid has taken on the task of looking deeper into those single moments that contain the people, places, politics, and power of day to day life in this vivid and dynamic culture. Using historic photos as prompts, this series aims to expand on these seconds and minutes, drawing out how deep the answer can be to the question, ‘what’s in a moment?’

In these four installments, Camilo will explore the stories found in the spaces and settingsshown in this series of remarkable photographs…

Photo #4: Latin Quarter (The Paradise Gray Collection/No Half Steppin’)

There was a spot in Times Square, 48th and 7th Ave, a landmark club that was a forbidden utopia of inaccessible secrets, where the convergence of time, space and unity, like in the poetic meters, coalesced, synergizing, rhyming with unconstrained syncopations, catapulting the art form of rap to new and intricate levels, but also providing cautionary teachings about the fatal flaws of ego.  

This was Latin Quarter, where everybody came to congregate and make friends; where hungry artists who wanted to be stars performed as label execs, hungry for new acts, watched; where hard knocks like the original 50 Cent (5’2″, incorrigible and with a reputation for robbing anyone), flossed with diamonds, and snatched some jewelry too; where publicists, purveyors, out-of-towners, tourists, the young, the old, and people of all colors partied together. 

Whereas the Roxy and other clubs might have been seen as bougie cocaine spots, or sex pick ups, the LQ was about raw Hip Hop and the culture of having fun. If you wanted to be somebody in Hip Hop, you had to rock the LQ stage and if you were dope, you could get signed. If you weren’t, the audience booed you off stage like they did to MC hammer and Kid N Play.  If the word spread around the boroughs that you were terrible, you were done.  Effectively, this word-of-mouth quality control kept all the performers motivated to come proper or else. 

Paradise the Architect from X Clan played a big role in booking shows and hosting at LQ. He said people came from all over, including England and Japan, and the ads that aired on Kiss FM reached heads in NJ, Philly, and Connecticut.  But sometimes the mix of people was a double edged sword. The LQ became known for its tough crowds and fighting, a place where your chain would get snatched.

It was a tough spot, no doubt. One time, as legend has it, there was a two hour fight because one of 50 Cent’s boys tried to snatch Jam Master Jay’s gold chain but was unsuccessful. JMJ punched the guy and then all hell broke loose. A 6’9”, 5th degree black-belt security guard known as Robocop was swinging a samurai sword until it all ended with a gunshot and everybody scattered.

After Paradise and other members of the community got fed up with kids being slashed in the face by chain snatching thugs every night, deep concerns over the origins of the gold arose. Considering the gold coming from South Africa and the diamonds from Sierra Leone, raised questions about the ethics of how the materials were harvested, and the role this played in black on black violence began to enter the space.

A meeting of the minds was called by Afrika Bambaataa at Latin Quarter to discuss how to rid the culture of diamonds and gold. It was concluded that they would replace the chains with African medallions similar to what Bambaataa wore. They purchased some leather medallions and began giving them out, confronting those who wore gold and diamonds and reminding the people who believed rap breeds violence, that in fact it’s the opposite; the music is for some, is a direct path out of violence.

In 1989, the doors of Latin Quarter closed. For some, the energy and significance of LQ has never been reincarnated.  For them, the beginning of the end happened when the vibe drifted from having a good time and dancing to the thug life. The building was torn down and replaced by a 22 story hotel.

Latin Quarter, the club where Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope once performed but was closed and reopened as a soft porn movie house only to be closed again for screening prohibited content, and then reopening as a Disco club, only to close again, but then be occupied by the Hip Hop community for several years has a lot of stories, but also a lot of secrets. 

Only the space knows what the air was like when the old school met the new school, when the changing of the guard occurred, when KRS-One battled Melle Mel, when Red Alert spun the wheels. Only the space knows the palpable nights when Ultramagnetic MC’sQueen Latifah, or Mc Lyte, or Heavy D, EPMD, Nice n Smooth, Salt n PepaX Clan, Public Enemy, De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, Tribe Called Quest, Eric B and Rakim, and many others were moving the crowd and marauding the ears of the youth.

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Camilo Almonacid
Camilo Almonacidhttps://camiloalmonacid.myportfolio.com/work
Camilo is a multi-talented, bi-coastal artist with over ten years of experience creating dynamic stories that explore the diverse voices of America. In addition to being a playwright and teaching artist, he is also a skilled freelance writer who has collaborated on branded content projects with major media outlets like Netflix, Remezcla, and Vice Media.