On the latest episode of “Drink Champs,” N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN sat down with legendary b-boy Crazy Legs to discuss the rise of breakdancing, inventing the windmill, beefing with Q-Tip, and more.
Born Richard Colón in The Bronx, New York, Crazy Legs is a breakdancing icon whose contributions to hip hop culture have earned him international recognition. He gained attention in the early 1980s when he appeared in the groundbreaking documentary Style Wars, which chronicled the burgeoning music scene in New York City, and Charlie Ahearn’s Wild Style in 1983, where he played himself and showcased his incredible dance moves. As the craze continued to sweep the globe, Crazy Legs became a cultural ambassador for the movement, traveling to Paris and London as part of the “New York City Rap Tour” with fellow pioneers Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmixer D.ST, Fab 5 Freddy, Futura 2000, and more.
The b-boy icon was also in Hollywood films such as Flashdance as a street dancer, which ultimately gave him the opportunity to appear on David Letterman’s late-night show, and provided voice-overs for the television comedy series “Kung Faux.” His influence on hip hop culture continued to grow throughout the 1980s and beyond. As the leader of the Rock Steady Crew, Crazy Legs helped to define and popularize breakdancing, and his incredible skills and showmanship made him a beloved figure. Crazy Legs also played himself in the classic film Beat Street, further solidifying his status as a cultural icon.
REVOLT compiled a list of nine facts we learned from his “Drink Champs” interview. Check them out below, and watch the full episode here.
1. On b-boying going mainstream
B-boying is characterized by its emphasis on aesthetics, coordination, acrobatics, and complexity of the dancer’s body movements. Being one of the most well-known forms of hip hop dancing, it sprang out of The Bronx during the early 1970s. Headspins, hand glides, and backspins were just a few of the groundbreaking moves popularized by Rock Steady, who helped propel it to the masses. To kick the conversation off, Crazy Legs discussed how it went mainstream after appearing on “The David Letterman Show.”
“That came out in ‘83, Flashdance, so when we did David Letterman, that was kind of wild. We get set up to do the show and the dude that I was with doing the show, [Ken Swift], was coming off of being high the night before. He was all f**ked up and we were like, ‘Oh s**t, how are we supposed to do these routines?’ It was wild,” the icon shared. Regarding Letterman, he added, “He’s a d**k. That’s him. I didn’t like him. It was that dry humor that I didn’t get coming from where I come from.”
2. On the negative connotation behind the word “breakdancing”
Despite its widespread use, the word “breakdancing” is often loathed by those who initially started the b-boy movement. In previous interviews, legendary dancers such as New York City Breakers have frequently referred to it as a pejorative phrase created by the media for sensationalism. However, Crazy Legs stated that the term actually came from his manager at the time.
“The word breakdancing doesn’t come from hip hop. It came from my former manager, Kool Lady Blue. She misspoke in a meeting and she was also our publicist,” he shared. “We didn’t know she was feeding it out there like that and that’s how it got into the press. A lot of people say the media made that term up, but it was her.”
3. On Fab Five Freddy
In the late ’70s, Fab Five Freddy made a name for himself as a graffiti artist in New York City’s underground art scene. He eventually became a performer after expressing the theory that breakdancing and rapping are both types of street art. As told by Crazy Legs, Freddy got his start through one of his hip hop-curated shows.
“I found out some dirt. Should I air it out? I talked to Fab Five Freddy, and I was trying to get Cold Crush or Fantastic, so Fred injected himself and his boys. That’s how he got his thing in terms of being a performer in the scene. The first swindle,” he explained.
4. On Afrika Bambaataa being called the “father of hip hop”
Known for his groundbreaking work in electro music during the 1980s, Afrika Bambaataa’s innovative tracks have influenced the evolution of hip hop to this day. As one of the pioneers of breakbeat DJing, he was coined “The Godfather,” a fitting moniker for someone who has had such a significant impact on the genre. However, Crazy Legs shared that he didn’t want to be called that largely because he drew inspiration from DJ Kool Herc.
“In the early ’90s, Bam was like, ‘Don’t call me the father of hip hop.’ He was inspired by Herc as a DJ, so he wanted to give him the ultimate hip hop thing, which is not fair because if you start taking apart the elements of graffiti, DJing, breaking, and MCing, who are his peers in each one that are going to say the exact same thing about him being the father of every other element? It’s not going to happen,” the icon explained.
5. On inventing “The Windmill”
Among the several b-boying moves pioneered during the ’70s, The Windmill is particularly well-known thanks to the influence of Rock Steady Crew. While fellow member Ken Swift is frequently credited for its invention, Crazy Legs told N.O.R.E. and EFN that he came up with the move during his teenage years.
“I did that on Crotona Avenue in The Bronx in a hallway just practicing. I was just trying not to hit those doorways,” the living legend revealed. “I did that when I was maybe 13… I actually called it ‘The Continuous Backspin’ but after a while, we were already traveling years later. People didn’t know the names of these moves because more people were starting to break again. So names change because people don’t know; we’re not hanging out with every crew.”
6. On Latin erasure in hip hop
In the annals of hip hop history, the African American community is often lauded as the genre’s prime architects. One of the trailblazing figures of the movement was DJ Charlie Chase of the Cold Crush Brothers, who deftly infused his musical stylings with nods to his own Latin roots. With a pioneering spirit and a dedication to his craft, Chase helped to lay the groundwork for a new era of hip hop that embraced the full spectrum of its diverse origins.
“I think they don’t understand from my perspective, everyone in here is my brother. From a New York perspective, that’s how we rock. If you grew up in those areas that have you living in different communities, it’s going to be different for them,” Crazy Legs stated. “At the same time, we have our own struggles in the Latin community because if we’re not into salsa… If you do a song and you don’t drop Spanish in it, that die-hard Latino community is going to see them as yours anyway.”
7. On Wild Style being the first hip hop movie
Wild Style, widely recognized as the first hip hop film, featured several influential players from the New York hip hop scene of 1981, such as Busy Bee Starski, Rock Steady Crew, the Cold Crush Brothers, and one of the genre’s founding fathers, Grandmaster Flash. It captured the indelible moment when the underground subculture exploded throughout the globe, permanently altering the landscape of pop culture across music, fashion, and the arts.
Crazy Legs shared, “Wild Style is the genesis for real hip hop movies, even before Beat Street or anything else. Wild Style is the first movie to select all of its cast based on actual legitimacy in the game. There were no record labels involved, so if you weren’t in there, you weren’t actually involved.”
8. On getting into an argument with Q-Tip
Later in the interview, the legendary b-boy talked about getting into an argument with A Tribe Called Quest member Q-Tip. According to the dancer, Tip thought he was asking for a discount, which led to a disagreement. “I wanted to book Q-Tip for something and I wasn’t asking for a discount. He was kind of treating it like I was and was giving me the runaround,” he said.
“We have a back and forth and I’m like, ‘I don’t know who this motherf**ker thinks he’s talking to.’ I goof around and play a bit, but I can become a different person if I have to. It was text — normally we talk on the phone, but he was banging his chest a little something while he was on text. He’s confused right now, he’s talking to the wrong dude,” he explained.
Later on, Legs shared that he defended Tip during his notorious beef with Wreckx-n-Effect. He continued, “You do you. F**k you. And by the way, when he had that beef with Wreckx-n-Effect and all that hardware was waiting outside in case something jumped off, I’m the one that supplied that for you.”
9. On watching Freddie Mercury get fellatio on stage
Freddie Mercury achieved worldwide fame as the lead vocalist of the rock band Queen and someone who pushed gender boundaries. Legs recalled a time when he witnessed Mercury receiving oral pleasure on stage during his birthday.
“We go inside, and we’re all dudes from the hood, and it’s all gay. We’re like ‘This might not be our night.’ It was a private party and it turns out that it was gay. We go there, and we’re looking on stage, and it’s guys on the mic, then all of sudden he brings someone up on stage and dude starts giving him head,” shared Crazy Legs. He continued, “We’re like, ‘Yo, well we gotta get out of here now. This ain’t our scene.’ I get outside… I’m like, ‘Yo, Howie this happened on stage, what’s going on?’ [He replied,] ‘Oh that’s Freddie Mercury, it’s his birthday.’”