Christie Z-Pabon is all about hip-hop. As a renowned hip-hop event organizer, Z-Pabon, remains active and continues to cultivate the talent that originates from the streets. From graffiti artists, to DJ’s Z-Pabon channels the inspiring messages of hip-hop when it first began. We got a chance to speak to her.
Elan: What was it about hip-hop that made you fall in love?
Christie Z-Pabon: The hype beats and the samples are always my favorite. The DJs, the foundational dance forms and graffiti are my favorite elements. The fact that hip- hop music pulled in parts of my favorite songs from other genres like Doo Wop, Funk, R&B, Rock, Soul, Salsa…made it that much better and finding the original song that the artists sampled, was even better! I love the way the DJs can bring all the different genres of music into a DJ set and make it more exciting with scratching, beat juggling, blending etc.
Elan: Can you tell us a little bit about the Tools of War?
CZ: Tools of War grassroots hip-hop was co-founded by my husband, Jorge “Fabel” Pabon (VP of the Rock Steady Crew) and myself in the late 90s. It was named with the idea that there are many “tools” one can use in competing/battling within hip-hop culture: turntables, microphones, paint, one’s body, and especially one’s voice! Although the name might appear aggressive, the intent behind it’s use is actually to inform and educate people regarding not only hip-hop but many other social and political issues. As we grow, we are finding that it has also become a forum for voicing opinions and sharing ideas which might help in unifying and uplifting people all over the world.
Almost anything Fabel and I do, falls under Tools of War grassroots Hip Hop: including our True School NYC Park Jams, publicity, etc. Events that we organize or sponsor under T.O.W. are all ages, no drugs, no alcohol, free from profanity, racial slurs, offensive language, etc.
Elan: You’ve often discussed the difference between rap and hip-hop, words that are often used synonymously. What is the difference?
CZ: Hip-hop is the culture and MC’ing or rapping is an element within the culture of hip-hop. The other foundational elements of this culture include, but are not limited to aerosol art, dance and DJ’ing.
Elan: You’ve organized the True School NYC Summer Park Jams in the Bronx and Harlem for several years now. Can you tell us a little bit about the program and why it’s important?
CZ: Our park jams celebrate true hip-hop culture and bring people together. We focus on the DJs, but of course, the dancers make their own show on the ground! Hip-hop enthusiasts from all across the globe come to our jams. It’s like the movie, “Field of Dreams” at Crotona Park in the Bronx . People show up to the park and can’t believe that so many pioneers and legends of hip-hop, particularly from the Bronx and Harlem, are on the stage, in the audience, everywhere you look!
As I mentioned earlier, we keep it clean at the park jams, no alcohol or drugs, no profanity or racial slurs or explicit lyrics. We want everyone to feel welcome and leave feeling happy!
Elan: When you compare hip-hop when it first started to the hip-hop we hear today, what are you thoughts?
CZ: The hip-hop music of the 70s up to the mid-90s is my favorite. Each MC or crew had a DJ and you knew his or her name. Everyone had their own unique flavor and sound. While I did like NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton,” I think that it changed the game forever. It was so successful that it seemed labels were only signing gangster rappers and that’s all the radio stations would play. I liked the earlier times, when you could still see videos on TV or hear MCs on the radio who had positive messages or militant lyrics that made you think, like Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers, Da Lench Mob, Brand Nubian, etc. It seemed there was a place for everyone to fit in then. These days, you would have to go underground to find MCs who could even compare like Immortal Technique, The Narcycist, The ReMINDers, Medusa, One Be Lo, etc. Lately, I am happy to hear good beats and at least non-offensive lyrics but positive lyrics flowing over a great beat and good samples thrown in – is the best! The other elements of hip-hop are still very active – they just don’t get as much press.
I organize the biggest DJ battles in the nation, the DMC USA DJ Battles– which are part of the DMC World DJ Championships. My friends throw B-Boy/B-Girl battles across the world. The aerosol art/graffiti scene is always active and exciting – from the streets to the high-end art galleries!
Elan: You’ve often discussed that “you work to keep the hip-hop culture alive.” What do you mean by that and why is that important?
CZ: Clearly there are hundreds if not thousands of people contributing to trying to keep hip-hop culture alive but it’s important to me, as an event organizer, not to lose the foundation of hip-hop – since the Rap industry is all you see in the media. How hip-hop started and how they did it back then, are my main interests. I was not there for the first 2 decades of hip-hop in NYC, but I make sure to work with pioneers and legends who were – and who can bring back that magic and electricity for all – young and not so young – to experience.
Elan: If there is one thing that you’d like for people to take away from your work, what would that be?
CZ: If there were one thing that people could know about my work and me– it would be that I am passionate about and give 1000% to the events that I organize. It means so much to me that they are safe, peaceful, professional and most of all authentic!
Images provided by Joe Conzo