Merthyr’s place in New York’s hip hop history

WHEN hip hop fans visit a specially dedicated museum to the music in its New York birthplace among the records, art work and clothing in the exhibits will be two 12″ singles and a collection of magazines bought in Merthyr Tydfil.

The Universal Hip Hop Museum is due to open in the Bronx in 2023 and is backed by the New York State Department of Education and intended to be a space that will celebrate the culture and music that spread from the borough across America and the world while also popularising breakdancing, graffiti and DJing.

Those behind the museum, including legendary figures from the music’s foundation at block parties in the Bronx in the 1970s such as Grandmaster Melle Mel, inventor of the scratch Grandwizzard Theodore and rap star Kurtis Blow, have appealed for donations of items from across the world.

Richard Vaughan, from Cardiff, whose passion for the music born on New York street corners and parks was fired as a teenager in 1980s Merthyr, is among those to have answered the appeal.

He is now listed as the donor of the Richard Vaughan Collection on the museum’s website alongside artists, authors, filmmakers and percussionist Ralph Vargas the man behind the Funky Drummer series sampled by more than 100 hip hop tracks since the early 90s.

Vaughan’s donation includes 12 editions, from 1989 through to 2001, of the UK-based Hip Hop Connection, or HHC, magazine which before closing in 2009, was the world’s longest running monthly magazine devoted to hip hop culture. It was first produced in July 1988 which was six months before the legendary US publication, The Source, launched as a newsletter.

UK hip hop isn’t only represented by the magazines as Vaughan has also parted with a 12″ single, Live Like The Other Half Do, from groundbreaking act London Posse (pictured at the top of the page).

Richard Vaughan at the birthplace of hip hop in 2010

“I thought I’d donate as the HHC magazines have been sitting on a shelf for 30 years and I won’t miss a few of them. I’ve still got plenty left and I wanted to give something to the museum. I’ve said they can have all of my collection when I leave the (black) planet,” said Vaughan who has also donated a copy of Steady Mobbin, also on vinyl, by West Coast rapper Ice Cube.

“I used to get HHC magazine every month. I ordered it from my local newsagent, Proberts, at the top of the high street in Merthyr and the highlight of the month was going down there to pick it up.

“There was a record shop called Music Mania, ironically at the bottom end of the high street, that had these amazing sales every Easter. Singles were 25p and 12″ were 50p. I’d buy whatever hip hop was there. That’s probably where I got those singles.”

The October 1989 edition of Hip Hop Connection

But in 1990 a then 17-year-old Vaughan didn’t have to rely on magazines and records to bring hip hop to Merthyr as Rodney P and Bionic also made their way to iron town at the Heads of the Valleys.

“The London Posse played at Charbonniers nightclub in Merthyr in 1990,” recalled Vaughan: “They turned up 15 minutes before closing time. I reminded Rodney P of that at the Welsh club (in Cardiff) at his gig there last year. He remembered it too.”

HHC magazine as it looked in October 1992

When Public Enemy, most politically and lyrically potent group hip hop had ever seen, toured Europe in 1990, the year they released their third album Fear of a Black Planet, the teenage hip hop fan travelled to London to see Chuck D, Flavour Flav, Terminator X and Professor Griff in Brixton.

“PE played at Brixton in March 1990, on my 17th birthday. The only way we could go and get back that night was to hire a taxi. It was £25 each which even then was reasonable,” recalled the now father of two.

“We nearly didn’t go as the tickets were delivered to the wrong house in my street but luckily I got them and four of us got driven to Brixton and back by a racist taxi driver who was doing 120mph on the M4 to get back for (local nightclub) The Kooler shutting at 1am.

“The concert is a bit of a blur but to see them at that point in time in Brixton was immense. 3rd Bass supported and they weren’t that well received for obvious reasons. It was Griff’s last tour before he was sacked for making anti-Semitic comments. I’ve seen PE about 12 times since.”

A signed copy of PE frontman Chuck D’s book Fight The Power

Now in his 40s Vaughan remains a dedicated hip hop head and ten years ago travelled to New York where he visited the working class apartment building at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue that has been recognised as the birthplace of hip hop as it is where DJ Kool Herc organised a party in the communal room in August 1973.

A CD signed by Grandmaster Caz at a Harlem soul food restaurant

During the trip Vaughan, who plans to visit the museum when it opens in two years time, also joined Grandmaster Caz’s hip hop tour of New York and was featured in a video produced by The Guardian newspaper.

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