‘In the 1970’s, crime was the major income of the Bronx.’
The real gangs of New York that inspired Walter Hill’s The Warriors (1979) are revealed in Rubble Kings, a documentary that links music with mayhem on the streets. From 45 mm to 45 rpm this is the story of gangster violence and gangster rap (or at least hip-hop), revealing the horrific gang warfare in the Bronx in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the brutal beatings in initiation ceremonies that led to press reactions and the revelations of a wider turf culture which created more violence and – eventually – led to peace.
‘The troubled 1960’s gave rise to the violent 1970’s’
Rubble Kings tells the stories of some of these gang members, of guys who ‘wanted to be as repugnant and repulsive as possible’. The film is strong in its recognition of the social problems faced by the city in the 1960’s – the deprivation, lack of housing and lack of jobs, and it expands this to incorporate wider issues such as the Vietnam war and the political events. Race issues are also raised as is the emergence of political events that saw Martin Luther King and JFK as vanguards of the American cultural revolution, only to be assassinated. The hope of the 1960s gave way to disenfranchisement and disillusionment. The film follows the gangs’ transition from vicious violence to political ideology and music.
‘The Bronx was going to be bathed in blood.’
The film’s focus lies with interviews with many former gang members including the surviving leaders of the – then – notorious Ghetto Brothers. They described how the gang formed, how it grew (eventually it would have over 2000 members in the Bronx alone), how members were initiated and how the gang defended themselves against other gangs – the turf wars. What is particularly interesting is the narrative link to Walter Hill’s film – where Benji Melendelez, the Ghetto Brothers’ designated peace-maker was ‘murdered trying to make peace’, as he met with other gangs in an attempt to broker a truce. Unfortunately he was murdered. In Hill’s film, this scene was the catalyst for an all-out assault on one of the gangs, but in reality it did lead to a peace deal between the gangs, many of whom went on to lead more productive and creative lives, becoming political activists and/or musicians. Interviewees include Afrika Bambaataa, Kool Herc, DJ Red Alert and, of course, the surviving members of the Ghetto Brothers.
A fascinating documentary, Rubble Kings is for anyone who has seen and enjoyed The Warriors, is interested in the birth of hip-hop or the history of gang culture.