“I want to preserve this culture called Hip-Hop.”
Curtis “Grandmaster Caz” Brown has seen it all. Hailing straight from the birthplace of Hip-Hop, Caz is more than a pioneer but a witness to the culture. He was only 12 years old on that faithful day when Hip-Hop was birthed at a basement party at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue. “I grew up down the block from Sedgwick Avenue,” he explains. “Kool Herc was the biggest figure, not only in my neighborhood, but all over New York City.”
Caz is a living legend. As we hop on our Zoom call to conduct the interview, he tells me that he has a plane to Miami to catch in 45 minutes. One thing becomes abundantly clear right away; Caz still thoroughly loves this shit.
Caz was a typical inner-city New York kid — running around with his friends, going to the park, and getting into trouble — during the birth of Hip-Hop. Personally, I grew up with the myth about how the 1977 New York City blackout became a catalyst for New York City kids to start emceeing and DJing in the late ‘70s. When I ask, he pauses for a beat and then chuckles before giving me a response.
“I was outside playing in the park when the blackout happened; I ran around and got a lil’ somethin’-somethin,’” he replied. “But I don’t know if that was the reason for it blowing up.”
For Caz, Hip-Hop is a way of life. Growing up and seeing the culture evolve, he tried his hand in every element until he found his calling.
“I’ve had so many beginnings and start overs and connections throughout this culture,” he says. “Before then, I was doing graffiti and b-boying.”
When Caz finally found his rhythm on the mic, he formed the Notorious 2 with J.D.L, who would later join the Cold Crush Brothers. This was life-changing for Caz. The 12-year-old kid running around the city would have never thought that only 6 years later he would be touring around and making money off of the hobby he and his friends had in common in the Bronx projects.
“JDL and I formed the Notorious 2 before we were both recruited by the Cold Crush Brothers, and from there, we made history together.”
Grandmaster Caz attends the 31st annual Hispanic Heritage Awards at The Kennedy Center on September 12, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images)
Nick Cannon (C) poses with rappers Melle Mel (L) and Grandmaster Caz during his launch of Ncredible product line at Radioshack on February 23, 2016 in New York City.
The Cold Crush Brothers knew that they were superstars. So it was time to switch things up.
While b-boys and DJs rocked clothes that their OGs and local drug dealers were wearing, Caz thought they should be dressing like the rockstars they were on their way to becoming.
I ask him about flamboyant fashion sense in Hip-Hop, from skinny jeans to rappers wearing dresses. Caz understands the fashion is all an evolution.
“I think every generation has its sense of style and adaptation in fashion,” he explained. “Back then, we dressed like that because we were touring with Rick James and Gap Band and saw how rock stars were dressing.”
Caz has seen it all. From b-boying to G-Funk to crunk to trap, Caz has the best insight into the multiple transformations Hip-Hop has undergone throughout the years.
And Caz understands that things always change. There is a new generation of artists who have to put their stamp on the culture, even if they don't always know much about what came before. “The further away it gets, the weaker the communication,” he explained. “A lot of the attitude with these younger kids is they wanna make their own mark.”
Caz just wants to see the young artist win. He has seen firsthand the abuse and mistreatment of black artists in the record industry and wants to see all of them successful. “This culture is a billion-dollar industry built on the backs of these artists.”
Caz is grateful. He is thankful for his own experiences and happy to see the culture he helped create become the phenomenon it is today. After almost 50 years of contributing to the culture, all Caz wants is to be a part of it and stay part of it. When I asked him what he wants people to remember about his legacy, his answer was more gratifying. “I show you better than I can tell you. I cover every part of Hip-Hop. I can even beatbox, rap, I DJ. I want to preserve this culture called Hip-Hop."
* HEADER CREDIT: Grandmaster Caz looks at Hip-Hop memorabilia at the Hip-Hop Museum Pop Up Experience in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew CABALLERO-REYNOLDS / AFP via Getty Images)