POPMASTER FABEL (ROCK STEADY CREW / NYC)
Interview done by Pat (Zulu Nation Switzerland)
(This article was published in Pat’s Funky Fresh Hip Hop News / Issue Nr. 3
Thanks for your support and for allowing us to publish this article!!)
Holy Koran 2:42 “And cover not truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth when you know”.
Please introduce yourself ….
Peace, my name is Popmaster Fabel, my real name is Jorge Pabon and I’m an active participant in the hip hop movement and a witness to its growth since 1975.
What crews are you with?
Originally, when I first started doing Electric Boogie, that’s how we called it in New York before we knew the other names like Boogalooing, Strutting or Popping, Mr. Wiggles and I were partners in Popping, we met in 1979 in the Art and Design High School and were also graffiti partners, and we formed a crew named Electric Company Dancers in 1980. In late 1981 or 1982 Wiggles and me met Doze who went also to our High School, he introduced us to Crazy Legs, Ken Swift, Frosty Freeze and their brothers from the westside. They had boogiers like Kippy D and King Keith. So around this time Wiggles and I became members of Rock Steady Crew too. Several years later, Wiggles and I helped form a group called Magnificent Force and actually one of our first performances was in Switzerland for the Zurich Jazz Festival and we also did the Berlin Jazz Festival in the fall of 1983. Icey Ice, Fast Break, Cosmic Pop, Wiggles and myself toured Europe with brasilian percussionists called Nana Vasconselos and we also did the movie Beat Street under the name of Magnificent Force. Shortly after this time some of us became the New York City Breakers, so Wiggles and I did shows with them and we also went to Italy with the Furious Rockers. Around 1987 I stopped dancing for about two years and when I started dancing again, Mr. Wiggles, Lockatron John and Mr. Twister were forming a crew named the Rhythm Technicians and I became a part of that crew. When we invited Crazy Legs and Ken Swift to several projects, we started using both names, the Rhythm Technicians and Rock Steady Crew. So we had to chose Ghettoriginal Productions, this company’s owned now by Mr. Wiggles, Adesola, Ken Swift and myself and that’s more or less where we’re at right now. My wife and I also have a company named Tools of War, that’s a hip hop merchandise and distribution company, but we also go a little deeper than that. We like to go to panel discussions and get involved into various events that feature hip hop. Of course I also got down with Zulu Nation in 1981, at one point I was part of the World Supreme Council around 1989. I’ve also been a graffiti writer in TC5 back in 1982 and other crews like Crazy Young Artists, we used to hang out with Daze. More recently I got down with TDS, The Death Squad.
How do you see the changes in hip hop from 1982, when it was about fun and the love of the game and its commercial side, which has been coming up in the last years?
Well, I feel that this happens to many cultures, first it’s a celebration of life, people do it cause they love it and because it’s a form of expression. Then there are people who want to see you all around the world and that want to share this experience. That’s also what has happened to rock’n’roll … and at that point it becomes marketable, where you can do some money of something you like to do. I don’t think that there is something wrong with making money if you’re a good dancer, dj or graffiti artist. If you go to do a show and they’re collecting money at the door, some of that should be yours, because you’re the reason why they’re coming. When I want to dance, I just turn the music on and start to dance, but when I have to dance when somebody else is telling me, it becomes a job. So I think there’s a balance that we have to keep. People that are into hip hop, there’s a time when you should get paid and there’s a time when you celebrate it just like we always celebrated it. But now I have to make my loot, back then our parents used to pay for us, we had the time to do our free parties, now we’re older, we have to pay the rent, some of us have children, if we don’t make money, that could end our career. So you could lose on both ways. You can lose cause you think you’re so special that you have to make a million dollars but you also lose the culture if you’re not able to get to an event because you have to work besides at the GAP or at McDonald’s. So you should keep the balance between the extremes..
So, do you personally just live of the dancing?
Well, I had a regular job for years, I used to work at a bicycle shop selling bikes and fitness equipment, for the last two years I didn’t have no regular job. I’ve been doing shows with Jam on the Groove which is an off broadway production and I thank Allah that this gave us enough work that I just can get by. But of course I have to make money besides, that’s why I have Tools of War. We sell my videos and my wife also sells DJ Swamp Breakbeats, a 1995 DMC Champ and really soon we’ll have mixtapes and other stuff. It’s still through hip hop that I make my money. It’s a difficult struggle and I don’t think that this is for everyone. The advise that I would give to younger kids is : Don’t make hip hop your number one, don’t put all your hope in one thing, it’s just a lifestyle, if you can make money of it, it’s a blessing. But if your ankle springs, what are you going to do ? So you have to have a degree or skills in something else. A lot of kids believe that all they got to do is rhyme good to be on top and that’s the same type of dream that is sold to boys playing basketball. There’s a very slim chance to get in the NBA and it’s the same thing with hip hop.
Over there in Europe we’ve got a problem, we don’t know about the terms Popping, Locking, Boogie, Boogalooing, Smurfing, … would you try to explain it to us?
God willing, I’ll try it … I’m still learning also, I’m still a student in Hip Hop, in Islam, everything I’m interested in, I’m a student. I like more to be a student than a teacher, because the student always benefits. Once you think you know everything, you become to most stupid person in the world. Let me start off with Popping. When Wiggles and I first heard about it, most people over here called it Electric Boogie. We didn’t know too much about the westcoast, then we learned about the armwaves and different moves within popping. Then we learned the “pop”, jerking or contracting your muscles is the actual “pop”. Then we learned that going from side to side with your feet is a movement called strutting. But we never really know where all this came from. Then eventually we met a guy named Sugarpop from the westcoast in 1983. He told us about all the roots, it’s like somebody coming from the westcoast and meeting Froosty Freeze or Kenny explaining him his dancing. Well finally got the chance to learn the truth about the terminology, even till this day actually, I didn’t learn it all from Sugarpop, but also from some brothers from the Bay Area. They guys from California say, that each of their towns called a certain style a certain thing. Boogaloo Sam from Fresno and his brother, Poppin’ Pete, two of the pioneers of the westcoast dancing came out with something they’ve called boogalooing. This made its way from the west to the east and it’s been shortened from boogalooing to boogie. There’s a lot of people who gave their own styles their own names. It goes that far that there are even people who tell you not to call it popping, because that would be the same thing as calling breaking footwork. I’ll be very honest with you, I’ll not hang myself by telling you one word for this dance. Fabel accepts every little bits of truth. The moment somebody will prove to me that there’s one right word, I’ll be with him.
How would you describe your own style of dancing with all these angles and stuff?
I’ve always liked style more than moves, you know. Like just buggin’ out to the beat and whatever happens happens, improvisational. I was always like angles. My early influence has been a brother named Loose Bruce from the Pop-O-Matics, you can see him in the movie Wild Style, he was from San Diego and must have moved to New York in 1979 or 1980, he was one of the best, if not the best, guys on the east coast. He used to pop with a lot of sharp angles and I started to model after him. I was like : “I wanna be as good as this guy”. But of course the big problem in hip hop is that if you’re not original you’re going to hear it in the circle. So I had to take what I learned and make it fit me. So I started exploring with different angles and invented something called maze-style. I pretend like I’m trapped in a maze and try to get out. All of the movements are keys to the next dimension, the next door. So this came out of the angles, you have to make sharp turns to open the doors. So I made up this whole imaginary thing and every maze is different. I use the tiles at the floor to guide me. I picture one and try to go through it. That’s one style I developed. Sometimes I even travel through actual mazes like from chair to chair. I also swing my arms a lot, my friends used to call me sword-arms, like the sword-arm-masters, because it looks like I’d fight with swords. There also I got influenced by Luce Bruce and Kool Keith, who most of you know from Ultramagnetic MC’s, he was a real dope popper. We started to come out with the alphabet-style, we used to spell out words and letters with our dancing. He was amazing. We also took our inspiration from movies that featured strangely moving creatures, like Sindbad’s travels, clash of the titans or Jason and the argonauts. Also the movies that had hydraulics like Total Recall or Robocop were kinda interesting for us. Sometimes I even get inspired by just watching bulldozers and trucks, because it’s all hydraulic. In the beginning, before we started hanging out with the guys from the west coast, our style was different, because the music was different. Planet Rock, Looking for the perfect beat, … made us dance faster than those in the west. But when we met the guys, it was like forming the full circle, we finally knew how the dance looked like originally. That was a very big step, not just for myself, but for the whole east coast.
How would you compare the New York dance scene to the rest of the world?
When we started travelling again around 1990, we met some of the guys from Europe and Japan we were like : “Wow, these guys are still doing it”. And they we’re doing what people call today powermoves, there was not so much fancy footwork. So what happened was that, we had to tell to get more into footwork. I give Europe credit for keeping hip hop alive, you have these big jams that are all like woodstocks. People come from everywhere to get to these jams. Over here we just have B-Boy Summit and RSC Anniversary. But even if New York sometimes loses the momentum it always takes somebody from over here to correct it. And if it wasn’t to Ken Swift and some guys like him, people would have forgotten about B-Boying. Besides of Maurizio who always did everything with flavor, there were a lot of people who did their moves without finesse. I like to share information, but what happens is that some people get information, they get the original Lee-suits and do tv-show, but do you think that they ever mention where they’ve got the information from. I have a problem with that, not because I wanna hear Fabel being mentioned and because I love to hear my name, but because it’s historically disrespectful. It looks like they knew how we dressed. Whenever you hear me talking about people I’ve learned from, I mention them. A lot of people are getting a lot of fame based on stealing information and pretending they lived it, both in New York and overseas.
So what’s Fabels projects for the future?
Now I’m involved in Ghettoriginal and we’re about to go to Japan for the second time kinda soon with Jam on the Groove. Hopefully we can continue to do our work with Jam on the Groove, but honestly I’ve got to say that we’ve got some problems with the producers. There’s a lady who wants to cut me out of the project. So anyway, god willing, I’ll be with that. There’s also the Tools of War project of getting a real good catalog together. My cousin is helping me with that, so people will soon be able to order new hip hop merchandise, that’s old photographs, graffiti-designs, flyers, records, tape, videotapes, … hopefully my wife and me will also continue to represent Tools of War in various panel discussions on the history of hip hop and how hip hop affects society. I have a lot of ideas, but they’re not solid yet, so I should not mention them. I also try to introduce hip hop to my mosque, the allianza islamica, the pure form of hip hop, because as you know that muslims are very strict in what they let their children and families be exposed to. I feel that hip hop can be used to communicate to the youth of today.
What would Popmaster Fabel from NYC let the people out in the whole wide world know?
Well, I’m very happy to see that hip hop has become a global phenomenon. I’ve been to Europe many times and I found a lot of love. Especially in Paris, that was the best audience I’ve ever performed. I would like to thank Allah for letting us share a culture like this. I give credit to the Europeans for the will to know more about the origin of the culture and to the conscious people who try to represent the culture properly. And I feel that at a certain time, the Americans will have to look at Europe to see how hip hop is being celebrated. The jams over there are closer to what it used to be here back in the days. That’s beautiful and I hope that I’ll have more opportunities to get over to Europe again. As Salaam Alaikum to all the muslim I’ve met out there and peace to all to Zulus and peace to everybody who loves hip hop and who helps to preserve. We should all learn how to become good students, before becoming a good teacher.
Holy Koran 49:13 “O mankind ! We created you from a single pair of a male and female and made you into nations and tribes, that we know each other and not despite each other”.