An Open Letter to DJ Scott La Rock
If you're from New York, there have been countless arguments over which borough is better. While some may look at the Bronx as the forgotten borough -- gentrification surely hasn't taken over yet -- one of its greatest contributions to society has been the birth of hip-hop. It's hard to compete with that. Unfortunately, one of hip-hop's rising stars and the Bronx's very own died on Aug. 27, 1987. Scott Sterling, better known as DJ Scott La Rock, passed away after being gunned down on the very Bronx streets he helped put on the map. As a promising talent, he was ultimately the culture's first true example of a dream deferred.
As a founding member of rising rap collective Boogie Down Productions, Scott La Rock was one of the architects that helped draft the blueprints for the way aspiring artists and executives go about breaking into the industry. He was also the conduit to present one of the greatest MCs of all-time to the rap populist and shifting the course of rap history in the span of two years -- he went against the grain and invested in himself. But more importantly, he was a man that believed in family, positivity and peace. Not only did he talk the talk, he walked the walk.
Born March 2, 1962, in South Ozone, Queens, Scott Sterling was the product of a stable, but single-parent home -- his parents split when he was 4 years old. But the Bronx was his home, first living in the Morissania section of the borough before settling down in Morris Heights, a working-class neighborhood close by. Before he got his name as a DJ, Scott would've been labeled a "nerd" and a "jock," excelling in both academics and athletics while at Our Savior Lutheran High School. He even earned a scholarship to Castleton State College in Vermont, where he would earn a varsity letter in basketball and major in business.
Scott turned out to be a college grad in 1984, then he returned to the Bronx with a newfound interest in hip-hop. He was a social worker by day and got his hip-hop fix by moonlighting as an opening DJ in the clubs. Scott, who had picked up a knack for working the turntables during his time as Castleton, also began learning the tricks of the production trade.
Ced Gee of the Ultramagnetic MCs helped light the fire when it came to Scott's potential as a DJ in the mid-80s. Looking to cut some records of his own, Scott La Rock began scouring the city for an MC, but accidentally stumbled upon one of the greatest to ever walk this earth -- at his job of all places. That MC would turn out to be a guy named Lawrence Parker, otherwise known as KRS-One, a resident of the shelter with visions of excellence equally grandiose to Scott's own lofty goals.
Originally going by the name 1241, Scott La Rock and KRS-One would eventually settle on the name Boogie Down Productions and proceed to cut a demo in hopes of gaining traction in the New York rap scene. And what better way to do that then by going to the hottest radio DJ in all of New York? After recording rough versions of "Elementary" and "Criminal Minded," they managed to get their tape into the hands of Mr. Magic, a big DJ on WBLS-FM and host of the iconic radio show, Rap Attack. However, they were disparaged by Magic, whom called their music wack and refused to give them the time of day.
Listen to Boogie Down Productions' 'Elementary"
While we'll never know how things would have turned out had Mr. Magic actually liked the record, what we do know is that his remarks sparked what would go down as arguably the greatest rhyme war of all-time. We also know that Boogie Down Productions' debut album, Criminal Minded, would become a classic. BDP had slayed the Goliath that was MC Shan, Mr. Magic and company and came out unscathed.
KRS-One may have been the face and mouthpiece for the group, but Scott La Rock was the heart and soul of BDP. He had served as a stoic general throughout their short, but tumultuous journey. Unfortunately, Scott La Rock never truly got to enjoy the fruits of his labor and was taken away far too soon. His story is a half-written page in the middle of a riveting book -- while you enjoy every second of it, the missing excerpt continues to haunt you. Twenty-eight years has passed since Scott La Rock was tragically stolen from us. On the anniversary of his death, here's a letter to a legend that didn't get to fulfill his dream, but impacted many along the way:
What's up, Scott. Hope these words find you in good graces. I've never had the pleasure to meet you and was actually born just a week shy of you being murdered, but you've left an indelible imprint on my life in spirit. Before I knew how to ride a bike, I had a pretty good idea that I wanted to do something in sports or entertainment -- kind of similar to your basketball exploits. But the universe has a way of working things out, I guess.
Some people may find it quite odd that I'm writing this letter, but my relationship with hip-hop is just short of spiritual and may even be just that. From what I've learned about you, I have a feeling you'd completely understand. I know you didn't live to even know who they are, but N.W.A., an iconic rap group from Los Angeles, just made a historic opening weekend at the box office with the release of their biopic, 'Straight Outta Compton,' and have people discussing biopics that could get made in the wake of its success.
I'm sure you'd be proud to know that Boogie Down Productions came up more than a few times in these discussions and it would actually make sense to have a biopic centered on you and the rest of the crew. The songs on 'Criminal Minded' surely resonated with early hip-hop fans and the fact that you never received the proper respect you deserve in comparison to other legends and pioneers would make for a great film. Hopefully, that will happen soon.
Speaking of death, it saddens me to say that your murder has yet to be solved. While two men were charged for the crime, they were ultimately acquitted due to lack of evidence and have since faded to black. When the trigger was pulled, I wonder if they were aware of who they were taking away from the world and how much you meant to an innumerable amount of people. But that's just one of those questions we'll probably never get the answer to.
With the passing of time, people have been able to get more insight into the events that surrounded your death and it's tragically just another case of brothers killing brothers -- over nothing. This is the very thing that you were striving to preach to the youth not to do. 'Criminal Minded' may have been the project used to lure the masses in, but the underlying message of peace, love and unity was always prevalent, especially in your personal life. From KRS-One to Just-Ice, D-Nice and a host of others, you helped change lives and placed your bets on people many consider the scum of society and presented them with a brotherhood that immortalized them in this thing of ours.
Your defense of D-Nice has not gone in vain and you would be beaming with pride looking at the man that he has become today. He still takes your death hard and it's a touchy subject, but he has gotten through the hard times and has weathered the storm. He continues to carry on your legacy. Who would've thought his cousin being hungry for a plate of cornbeef hash, corn on the cob and rice would change both of your lives? It's funny how things work out.
The same day that you were talking to Rock Candy Records about setting up your record label, D-Nice was actually on the phone with one of the guys that may have been responsible for your murder, which is pretty bugged out when you think about it. Things seem to happen by chance or maybe they're a part of some bigger scheme, it's up to us to decide at the end of the day.
But what can't be left to chance is the impact you had on D-Nice's life. One of his fondest memories is of you accepting him as a member of BDP, taking him down to Dr. Jays on 3rd Avenue and telling him that he was going to be like LL Cool J and all of the girls would love him. He may not have gotten to James Smith level, but he came out with classic records, helped move the culture forward and remains one of the more beloved people from his era still active and keeping up tradition.
KRS-One is still the same brash, boisterous guy you first met riffing about tokens at Franklin Men's Shelter. Your death may have been a big blow to BDP, but KRS-One managed to keep your name alive and add to the foundation that you created with his Stop the Violence movement, even referring to himself as The Teacha. He continues to be one of the most faithful practitioners of hip-hop as you knew it that we still have left. He and D-Nice have also patched up their differences after more than 20 years of subtle tension, which would most likely make you prouder than anything I've mentioned in this letter. BDP was a family and it's only right that it remains a brotherhood in your memory.
Many people have come and gone and hip-hop is continuously evolving, but your impact will forever be cherished and will never be forgotten. Much love and see you on the other side. -- Preezy
Listen to Boogie Down Productions' "Super-Hoe"
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