FRANKIE “SIRSWIFT” HERNANDEZ
BBOY SIRSWIFT AND PARTNER FREDDY BURN THE ROCK STEADY CREW IN BATTLE
Excerpt from “The Breakdancer”, a novel by Frankie Sirswift Hernandez
It was 1984 and me and Freddy Fresh were on a mission to establish ourselves as the best Bboys in the world. First up – the Rock Steady Crew.
At that time, New York City was the Breaking (aka Breakdancing) capital of the world. The top Bboy crews were Dynamic Rockers, New York City Breakers, Rock Steady Crew, Incredible Breakers and Magnificent Force Crew. Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and every other city in the world were about 1 year behind, stuck on trying to learn Breaking from the documentary film “Style Wars”.
Hip Hop was in its infancy. Rap music played on NYC radio stations KISS FM and WBLS. Underground rap artists such as Slick Rick, Fearless Four, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, Kurtis Blow, and Treacherous Three were coming up. Run DMC was still underground but would soon blow up with the hit song “It’s Like That”. Jay-Z, Biggie Smalls and LL Cool J weren’t even on the map yet.
Music was produced on vinyl records or cassette tapes. DJ’s mixed records on Technics 1200’s. Mobile phones, PC’s, and Internet were technologies not invented for the average person. Beepers aka pagers were just beginning to surface. Rotary phones or landlines were a luxury. The addition of NYC pay phones on city streets provided the convenience to call someone for $0.25.
I grew up in poverty, raised by my single mother, no one to call Dad, fatherless. I was raised in Manhattan’s Washington Heights, surrounded by violence from gangs such as the Playboys, Uptown Crazy Crew, Savage Nomads, Zulu Nation and Ball Busters. Three blocks from where I lived, the Kings of “crack,” Capo and Yayo were flooding Washington Heights with their crack cocaine.
Breaking was my positive escape from all the drugs, gangs, violence and crime surrounding me. Breaking gave me an outlet to express myself through dance, to entertain, to compete, to socialize, network and release all this energy and hyperactivity I had coursing through my veins.
Freddy was Dominican, first generation American and was living in poverty with his brother Jose and mother Mireya. At least Freddy knew who his dad was.
Back then, when Bboys competed, they didn’t shake hands or hug after a battle like Bboys do now. In fact, today’s Bboy culture is united, strengthened through the bond of camaraderie and Breakers possess the greatest sportsmanship. Back in the 80’s, when we battled, we usually fought afterwards, a contradiction to why we battled in the first place—to avoid fighting. It became routine for me to defend myself against Bboys who had no sportsmanship and were too prideful to suffer a loss on the Bboy floor. I’m low to the ground, five feet five inches and so of course everyone thought they could beat me up.
Because of this fact, Freddy and I traveled into hostile territories to destroy Bboy crews accompanied by our friends, our brothers, our tough ass crew—the Fully Down Boyz. We had Jose, Cedric, Jose V, Eddie, Cojito, Ink, White Boy Frank, Fonzo, Deb, Geo, Little Frankie, V-jay and a whole lot more I can’t remember right now.
On this cold winter Saturday night, we got hooked up to go to a club called Skate Key, a dance club and roller rink up in Allerton Avenue in the Bronx, enemy territory we knew, but home to the Rock Steady Crew at the time. Freddy and I planned this for weeks. It was part of our master plan. On average, we practiced for over 5 hours a day to perfect our moves and sets when we were not performing for McDonald’s or Mama Lu Parks. Where top Bboys usually perfected three sets, me and Freddy perfected over twelve each. And that’s not including our burners (called Freestyle at World Bboy Battle) which we performed to perfection. Freddy and I possessed the Bboy arsenal to annihilate entire Bboy crews by ourselves.
Our master plan was to prove to the world that we were the best, unstoppable, and armed with every move, powered by great finesse of footwork and sick combinations of Powermoves. Our mission on this Saturday—destroy Rock Steady Crew. Strip their title as one of the best Bboy crews in the world.
Twelve of us entered the 125th street 1-train station, slid tokens into the turnstiles and headed up to the train platform that hung over Broadway. Everyone knew the risks we were taking. No one in NYC traveled outside of their hood, unless he had a death wish. If a gang didn’t kill you, the NYC cops did, and if you were lucky enough to survive their assault, they would lock you up for some trumped up charge that would stick because we were Hispanic and Black.
As me, Freddy and the Fully Down Boyz, waited for the train on the platform, a black brother in his 20’s, also waiting for the train, flashed his .9mm Glock at us, the silence yet stern facial expression clearly saying “don’t mess with me”. I turned away and ignored him. We all did, none of us wanted to die. I’m thinking, “we’re a Bboy crew, not a gang!”
We got to Skatekey and waited a long line to get in. The club was huge and packed. The music was loud with underground Hip Hop music that the radio wouldn’t dare play! I couldn’t help but notice all the fellas in the club were dressed to impressed in leather bomber jackets, Lee jeans, Adidas shell tops, and Cazals, just like me, Freddy and the rest of our crew. Obviously, we all shopped at the same store on Fordham, 125th Street or the L.E.S.
Immediately, we ushered ourselves through thick crowds, looking for familiar faces. And there they were in a Breaking dance circle (called cypher today), surrounded by a mass group of their fans and followers. Crazy Legs, Ken Swift, Buck Four, Flex, Little Lep, Chino and Kuriaki were all basking in the limelight as little 10-year-olds Cujo and Cano took turns performing and wowing their crowd. Me and Freddy walked up to Crazy Legs and I interrupted his conversation with Flex.
“I got fifty me and my partner will burn your whole crew,” and flashed him President Grant. Me and Freddy figured he wouldn’t battle and risk his reputation for free, and to no-names like me and Freddy. Money we were sure would motivate him, especially since it was his home turf and his crowd. Crazy Legs looked at the bill then smirked. He’s taller than me by six inches and when he came closer, it seemed as if he were hovering menacingly over me.
“Let’s do this,” he said, and reached for the bill in my hand.
“You gotta earn it,” Freddy said with contempt, his voice slicing through the music like a razor blade.
“Where’s yours?” I jumped in, reading his eyes for a tell-tale sign showing he was broke.
Crazy Legs tapped his pants pocket. “Right here.”
No one warmed up, stretched or flexed any muscles to prepare the body for this physical war. The only warmup I had was taking off my bomber and Cazals and handing them to Ink. Me and Freddy knew the drill. This wasn’t the first time we battle an entire crew. We developed a system to increase our chances of remaining undefeated.
The crowd got even bigger around the dance circle, as if word of mouth has spread about this battle. Even the DJ knew about it because he scratched in “It’s Just Begun” from Jimmy Castor. And just like that, Crazy Legs entered the cypher, took center stage and kicked off the battle. He began with toprock, mocking us with his hands and facial expressions before he dropped into footwork, his legs swiftly kicking, tapping and swiping, and ended in a bridge freeze. Me and Freddy looked at each other and started belching in laughter, doubling over even, like children laughing at clowns in a circus. His set is the exact same one he performed in the movie “Flashdance.” Didn’t he have any other set to throw against us?
I began toprocking to counter, but Freddy pushed me back. I did not object. I knew how much Freddy hated Crazy Legs.
Freddy’s Footwork was fast and furious and so superior that the crowd hushed and fell silent as if an invisible giant hand had gagged their mouths simultaneously.
We took turns battling, but it wasn’t fair at all. I didn’t even break a sweat. Our footwork and Powermove combinations drove their fans wild with amazement. We didn’t just burn them. We humiliated them in front of their fans and when they stopped entering the cypher and declared defeat, their fans cheered for us. “Sirswift. Freddy Fresh.” Music to my ears. I loved it. Cherished it. Will never forget it.
Of course, Rock Steady Crew was heated. Especially Flex, who boxed in the amateur league. How dare we come to their home turf, burn them and humiliate them? When I saw Crazy Legs and Flex approach us, I sincerely believed they were going to pay us the money they owed us. Instead, Flex punched Freddy in the face and knocked him back. Reflexively, I hit Flex in the mouth and he fell. Then all hell broke loose as everyone was hitting everyone. I remember fighting Buck Four and Flex at the same time. The Fully Down Boyz represented and did damage against the rest of the Rock Steady Crew. Suddenly I was pulled away by a football-sized bouncer and, feet dangling from the floor, I was carried out of the club. Our entire crew was also kicked out.
As we stood in front of Skate Key, we wondered why Rock Steady Crew weren’t thrown out with us. Then two men approached us, aimed shotguns on us, ordered us not to mess with Rock Steady and instructed us to leave. We left of course, but not before cursing them out.
The word on the street spread fast about how Freddy and me burned the entire Rock Steady Crew and then beat them up afterwards. Popmaster Fabel from Zulu Nation stepped in and set up a meeting between us and Rock Steady to make peace. Rocksteady even invited us to the Circle Theatre for the world premiere of the movie Wild Style in which they casted. Was this a trap? Were they going to jumb me and Freddy or even kill us?
But I respected Fabel and trusted him and so me and Freddy took a train to Circle Theatre in the Bronx, no crew this time. In the theater, Crazy Legs shook our hands and apologized to Freddy and me. As did their entire crew. Beef was over. Peace was made.
Freddy and I had made history by taking down the Rock Steady Crew, one of the Best Bboy crews in the world at that time. Next up, New York City Breakers.