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  • Alex Kuchma

Last Night at the Loxy: How Underground Hip-Hop Was Experienced

Dew, stained into the very infrastructure of the concrete pipelines. Lines that paint the city a web. Lines that however neutral, organise the inhabitants above. The underground becomes the heartland of the city. The grime, the hustle, the hardened shell - originates beneath the city streets. The subways not only move the people but encourage those people to participate in the city itself. For the homeless, the underground is shelter. As metaphor, the underground remains home to even more. Black markets, organized crime and subculture all root their identities in this imagined space. For most of the world, the underground represents death and decay. In the urban reality, the underground facilitates life, but of a variety not far removed from the cemetery's grim.

For hip-hop, this underground has always been home. As the divisions between hip hop's corporate and the culture's grass roots grew - the very aura of hip-hop was dug deeper and deeper beneath the concrete slabs that made it. Before hip-hop had an identifiable 'underground,' the culture itself understood that it was this environment that spoke to them - over that of the sunlight above.

When we started seeing the recordings, a lot of us in the Zulu Nation stayed away from that at first because people thought once it got into vinyl it was going to kill the culture. - Afrika Bambaataa.

In Flemingdon Park, Toronto - these imaginations were realized. Although hardly a unique story, by the late 1980s, Flemingdon Park (or Flemmo as it is commonly referred) had incorporated hip-hop into its literal underground terrain. With underground pathways connecting building complex to building complex, through underground parking, and nearby subway routes - Flemmo had an underground that the youth felt particularly fashionable, alluring, and more importantly; hip-hop. There's no better example of this than the Loxy. The name given to an underground storage room for the duration of one summer, sometime near the turn of the decade - when hip-hop turned from Public Enemy to The Wu-Tang Clan and when African Medallions were being traded in for martial arts VHS tapes. The sheer obscurity of the space demands a sense of allurement - of myth. 'It was Johnny B's step-mother,' Chris Jackson remembers. She was the one who owned the joint. Deep in the basement of a Flemmo apartment complex was a regular storage room. However, to kids with access, this was an imagined hip-hop playground. A meeting spot for heads - a privatized community hub that catered to the hip-hop tradition. Furthermore, this was a space that felt, despite the opposing legalities, owned and operated by the hip-hop community - their own space, with their own name and identity attached to it.

To many, this is just what kids do. But if we wish to understand how hip-hop was engaged, then we must admit, that we are speaking of the activities of the youth. 'They were the older kids,' Jackson remembers of Johnny B and his friends. They would bring boom boxes, cassette tapes of their favourite albums, food and drinks - all the ingredients for a good night. For Jackson and his friends; Fathead and Headquarters, they had an invite.

The Loxy was basically an interpretation of what we thought New York hip-hop was, and what we wanted Flemingdon and Toronto hip-hop to be. [...] It was like a half door, so you had to scrouch down to get in. I was only there twice. But it was something that some of the older guys [would occupy]. We were all part of the hip hop scene in the city. In Flemmo. We had rap crews, and dance crews, and DJs. The older guys turned that room into The Loxy. They turned it into a space where they would just go hang out, play music, do some freestyle sessions. - Chris Jackson.

Far too often a history is drawn from memories. Capstones of success within the timeline of a particular person, region, or industry are isolated and used exclusively to formulate a history. Yet remembering a highlight reel chooses to forget the mundane. The day to day lives that make a culture what it is. Hip-hop was, and still is, a youth movement. Although there's value in a macroscopic viewing of the culture, moments like the Loxy represent much of what hip-hop had been made of. Kids being kids; engaging in the culture that they love in the most authentic ways that they know how.

The Loxy was shut down by the end of a summer. Johnny's step-mom discovered the enterprise and the operation was put to a halt. But Chris and his friends, Fathead and Headquarters, they continued. I'm sure in some capacity, so did the older kids that frequented the space. They found new ways to incorporate hip-hop into their lives. New spaces to occupy to build community, friendships, and art. For them, the Loxy was just a moment. For everyone else, it was forgotten.

Underground subcultures, particularly of the New Yorkian variety, often take this shape. Hip-Hop, the Beats, the Fairies of Chauncey's 'Gay New York' - articulations of underground, sometimes literal, sometimes figurative, but always tinted with the identity of the culture itself. For the Loxy, this literal underground was not vandalized into a hip-hop aesthetic, but for the hours of the night that it was the Loxy, it was hip-hop through and through. From the music, to the clothing, to the dialect and to the mood - it was hip-hop.

We don't want no trouble we just came to hang. Maybe sip a little something and shoot the breeze. Some of us high on life, others use the trees. No bloods no Crips, no guns no clips. Just a bunch of fellas running off at the lips. Cause hanging with your friends be the thing to do. Let me see if I can explain my gang to you. - Masta Ace, Me and My Gang

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