MAS Story Writers Blog

Fight the Power

Posted in Uncategorized by MajerleKJ on November 5, 2009

Hip-hop historians will point to DJ Kool Herc who with two turntables rehabilitated 70’s Bronx gangbangers or Afrika Bambaataa who with cultural awareness and hypnotic break-beating of his Zulu Nation united the urban youth of NYC to strive for political meaning. Or Kurtis Blow or Spoonie G who lived in Harlem projects and ignited a non-violent revolution through rhyme and dance, inspired by African roots and the love of family. Stories abound from the Five Boroughs in the late 1970s – of battles, sticky summer evenings on front staircases and a time when hip-hop was defining itself and growing its roots.

New York was an epicenter for music and culture because New York was an epicenter of everything. Historians and journalists focused so much energy on the East Coast that they missed what was going on at the Western shores of Lake Erie, where hip-hop was being pushed to new, unfathomable boundaries by a cultural invasion of the most unlikely source. Ask a journalist about Fridays at Ray’s Car Wash and they’ll look at you puzzled and mumble something about proper citing of sources. But ask lifelong Detroiters from the vibrant neighborhoods on East 7 Mile Road about Fridays at Ray’s and you better find a comfortable place to sit down.

See, the car wash is a front at Ray’s. You have to at least define your building as some sort of business otherwise it’s just a house, and it’s rude to spend all night beatboxing under the stars at someone’s house every night. They came from as far as Flint down to Ray’s on Friday nights, Michigan’s best prepped to battle for the honor of not only their state but their country. Dice games were the order of business on Friday afternoons, the players calming their nerves until the familiar tan and green Impala with Ontario plates bounced its way into Ray’s gravel lot. Teenagers, engrossed in games of four square, stopped to gawk and let their rubber ball roll across the street. Ray’s finest collection of lyricists took one last look at their sheet of rhymes and tried to look nonchalant as they leaned, legs crossed, on the air hose machines.

The Impala was always immaculate, a sharp contrast to the rusted wheels in the lot and an insult of sorts to the car wash. The man who emerged was also a contrast – dressed in a slimming light brown suit with darker brown elbow pads and skin a shade of white so severe that the folks at Ray’s had to squint. He was MC Neato Pete, a self-made legend on the kind streets of Windsor, Ontario, a ferry ride across Lake Erie. When he rapped, he sounded like when he talked. He didn’t need to put on a front – this was a time before toughness was respected and required in the hip hop community. He connected with the people at Ray’s because he riffed on everyday topics, the common bonds shared by Americans and Canadians and the characters in the neighborhoods that brought them together. Windsor was in many respects a long way from Ray’s, and a longer way still from NYC, but Neato Pete earned his respect the way Detroiters appreciate it – by working harder than anyone.

He never lost at Ray’s, and though this disappointed the locals they felt no ill will towards the plucky Canadian. He never lost anywhere, really, but then again he never went anywhere else. Like others at Ray’s, he was happy to stay where he was, among family, not stretching his means, not flaunting his skills. This was the 70’s at Ray’s – just don’t ask a historian about it.

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