From Blocks to Bookshelves: One Man’s Passion for Curating Hip-Hop’s Legacy
What do Sylvia Robinson, A Tribe Called Quest, Biggie Smalls, The Roots and Wu-Tang Clan all have in common? If you said they are all significant contributors to the Hip-Hop culture, you’d only be half-right.
On this Saturday, March 7th, the Clinton Hill Branch of the Brooklyn Public Library will be holding the Friends of Clinton Hill Library Christopher Wallace Bookcase Dedication Celebration from 1pm-4pm. Along with art and musical performances, the website states that a bookcase highlighting materials on Hip-Hop, graffiti, Brooklyn and music history will be dedicated by the Friends to Honor Christopher Wallace, otherwise known as Biggie Smalls.
The person who is responsible for connecting the dots to make this happen has been working for the better part of the last decade to curate opportunities that solidify the legacy of some of Hip-Hop’s brightest stars.
Leroy McCarthy, 52, is a filmmaker and lifelong Brooklyn resident. He grew up in East Flatbush and attended Cheyney University before settling in Clinton Hill in 1998. He’s been in this community ever since. McCarthy is the man responsible for honoring Christopher Wallace with the co-naming of St. James Place and Fulton Street as “Christopher Wallace Way.” Since he started that campaign back in 2013, he has gotten five other blocks co-named after Hip-Hop stars, including Sylvia Robinson Way in New Jersey, Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor Way in Queens, Wu-Tang Clan District in Staten Island and Avenue of The Roots in Philadelphia. Plans are in the works for future street-naming ceremonies, including among them, De La Soul in Amityville, and the Beastie Boys in the city. Although the movement has steam now, it hasn’t always been easy. In fact, the first time he tried to get Christopher Wallace Way, he was met with backlash and insults.
“August 2013 is when I first started the campaign to get the street named for Biggie at the corner of St. James and Fulton.” McCarthy said. “I got the petition signed, and I got support from the community. I brought all of that to the Community Board meeting, and at that meeting, one of the members said a lot of derogatory things about Biggie, but one of the things that stood out, was that she said he didn’t have the “physical characteristics’’ to be a role model. That set us back for a while, but in 2018, I got support from the City Council and then it was dedicated in 2019.”
Leroy’s passion for the culture is honest, and his ability to turn city blocks into works of Hip-Hop legacy is rooted in his unique skillset.
“In the 90’s, I moved out of New York and went to Atlanta. I was the college DJ rep for Bad Boy Promotions, so I have a background in music. But also, I work in film and television production as a location manager. So, I know where locations are, and plus, I’m from New York and I know Hip-Hop and where acts are from, so I just combined my knowledge about both things and used that to try and honor the culture in the best way I know how.
“But the thing that brought me to this and the energy behind this, is that I know that Hip-Hop is part of the American fabric now and should be respected in the same way as country music is and how rock and roll is. I didn’t think that Hip-Hop was getting that respect. So, I’ve tried to get this done and have been successful with getting these blocks named. My goal is to honor acts that have been revolutionary. Everyone that I have reached out to, to honor, has changed the game. This is where my calling is, combining my passions with my ability to work in communities.”
The dedication of a bookcase to Christopher Wallace, in the very neighborhood library that he was raised around and frequented as a child, is quite an awesome way to marry Hip-Hop and literacy. As Leroy puts it:
“For Saturday, I’ve organized with the Brooklyn Public Library to have a bookcase dedicated to Biggie. This is the library three blocks from where he lived, so this was his library growing up. The bookcase is going to be dedicated to Biggie and it’s going to have books dedicated to Hip-Hop, art, culture, fashion and photography. The Brooklyn Public Library has been very supportive of this. I’m not only doing this for Biggie, but I’m organizing for bookcases at libraries close to the other streets that I’ve been able to name. In this way, I’m trying to connect Hip-Hop outreach with literacy.
“I’ve gotten positive responses from Staten Island, Roosevelt (Long Island), Amityville for De La Soul, Long Beach (California) for Snoop, LA for Nipsey and even in Oakland for Tupac. So, this project will hopefully encourage kids to go into libraries and actually read about Hip-Hop, which will hopefully lead them to read about other things.”
The Clinton Hill Branch is located at 380 Washington Avenue in Clinton Hill. The dedication starts at 1pm, and will have live music, art installations and surprises for everyone. For more information, please go to the Brooklyn Public Library website.